The Democrats’ Blank Slate

Can you make people vote Democrat, or are they born that way?

Born free, but they are everywhere in jeans, holding clipboards, ringing the doorbell while I’m trying to keep my risotto from scorching: Lurking behind Joe Klein and Robert Reich’s argument over the Democrats’ future is an unresolved question about voter preference: how much isinherent, how much can be done about it? The Fray took on a version of this earlier this week in the Chatterbox discussions of whether demography would ride to the Democrats’ rescue. In the Politics debate, the question is whether candidates should move to the center, where the votes are, or whether candidates should move mobilizers. Publius thinks Democrats who want to drum up new constituencies are all wrong here:

[T]here is the hope that the younger non-voters, 18-30, will break Democratic if they vote. But this is a bit of a will-o-the-wisp too that is mainly based on the experience with the young of a generation and two ago, who are now older. Today’s young – except at Harvard and other places where guys like Reich teach – give every sign of holding views that are sufficiently complex and divided to place them squarely in the center.Nothing good will happen to the Democrats nationally until they realize that Reich’s eternal hope that the triad of minorities, labor and liberals can be fashioned into a sustainable majority is simply out of date.

On the other side of this made-not-born divide is dyingbreedlefty who thinks left mobilization can work for the Dems as it has for the Working Families Party in New York, or PIRG, or ACORN. What makes lefty’s post especially interesting is what he means by “work for the Dems”:

Give one of [these activist groups] some real money, a la the Christian Coalition, and let them become the activating force mobilizing people around one or two key issues (I like tax cuts for the working and middle classes and universal health care myself). Don’t let a single politician from around the country get away without taking a stand on those two issues, and back it up with op-eds, articles in the political magazines, studies, rallies, lobby visits, and press. They’ll draw fire from the right wing, but they’ll give cover to the moderates, and create a buzz on those issues. They’ll also give rise to the next generation of political activists and politicians. Its a lot easier to mobilize people around issues than around something as wishy washy as a party.

Turnthe left into the DLC’s difference while making them do the legwork? Jesus-of-Nantucket suggests Nancy Pelosi is already providing cover for a moderate presidential candidate in 2004. This all sounds so Machiavellian, so Vin Weber. Things may be looking up for the Democrats. …

Jack Kemp with cred: Jimmy the Celt likes Klein and Reich’s “low boiling points,” but supports Reich’s claim that the Democrats don’t have the Republican’s discipline with a story about privatizing Social Security:

About ten years ago, the conservative foundations and think tanks (Heritage, Cato, American Enterprise, Manhattan) got together and decided on a long-range plan to transform the idea of privatizing Social Security from a fringe obsession (akin to a return to the gold standard) to a respectable, viable public policy option. They did it. … [T]he Dems are disciplined, kind of, only about focus-group mush messages and other here-and-now tactical considerations. They are poor – in every sense of the word – at building a durable political force.

America the Prize: One of the more difficult things to do in any discussion of what the Democrats should do now is to keep it focused. Take this thread where four smart posters—Captain Ron Voyage, Zathras, Godels Yodel and Geoff—offer several possible explanations for the Democrats’ failure—strategic error on taxes and Iraq, poor candidate quality, lack of emotional appeal to voters (policy, people, persuasion)—and several prescriptions. Now, if someone would PowerPoint this brainstorming session (Laurent Murawiec?). …

Fighting Back:Christopher Hitchens responds to Fray critics with his typical verve: “It’s an honor to be misunderstood by some people.” Because his is a global response, I have not posted it in The Fray proper, but here at the bottom of the article, below my initial Fray selections. …

Like, totally: In the Today’s Papers Fray, Bruce has begun an important discussion of William Safire’s piece decrying the super-snooping “Total Awareness Initiative” at DARPA here (The thread stops, and starts up again here.) … 8:30 a.m.

Thursday, Nov. 14, 2002

The edge of whiteness: Yet another report from the Chatterbox Fray. Tim Noah’s latest “Democrats 36,000” entry has provided Tom Schaller, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County political scientist, with a jumping off point for a debate about white political loyalties in general and for some score-settling over Chatterbox’s account of the Kathleen Kennedy Townsend loss in particular. Look below the article for more signposting and some relevant quotes. …

No spin-off zone: While the Harry Potter-related Frays (Gizmos on the new video game; Movies on the new movie) are understandably moribund—people haven’t seen the things yet—the Readme discussion of Law & Order reruns has addicts confessing right and left. Perhaps the Fray can answer the nagging question: Why do powerful women like the reruns? Geoff, a rerunner, begins a discussion herewith the supposition that the show is unique, even among the other Law & Order outlets for its “refusal to engage in cloying sentimentality”:

These stories are narratively gripping, but without indulging the American penchant to psychoanalyze everything. Does Michael Moriarty care about justice because his mother breast-fed him too long? How the hell would we know? Does Chris Noth have abandonment issues? I’m not sure. …But I can’t see anything about this explanation that makes it particularly “feminist”. Given what programmers did to the Olympics when they wanted to bring over the “female demographic” (GAWD!), it doesn’t seem to fit with stereotype driven marketing (though I won’t quibble with reality) … 9:30 p.m.

EDM: Supermarket to the newly disempowered: The Chatterbox discussion of John Judis and Ruy Teixeira’s Emerging Democratic Majority turns to their answer to the question: whither the liberal white working class? Judis and Teixeira think the liberal culture of high-tech enclaves (“ideopolises“) staves off the would-be “patio men” inside, but Noah disagrees. For him, it’s the way these cities serve as shining beacons of the good that can be done when government underwrites a tolerant, creative knowledge community. frankly0 doesn’t think so:

[T]his connection between government monies and the flourishing of ideopolises has NOT been so very conspicuous and extraordinary that it has raised the ire of the likes of Rush Limbaugh. I dare say that only a quite small number of very sophisticated voters in an ideopolis have the faintest awareness of this phenomenon. Yet, according to Noah it is this fact that truly drives the average white working class male in an ideopolis to vote Democratic. Is this some kind of Freudian analysis you’re doing, Timothy, where the most important things work on voters on an entirely unconscious level?

If not cultural osmosis, and if not unconscious economic assessment, then what? Mitch offers his armchair evolutionary psychological account in “It’s the women, stupid” (aka Alan Alda’s revenge) …

The day the clown cried: Speaking of freudian romance, reactions to Daniel Menaker’s piece on Woody Allen and psychoanalysis have been caught in the riptide of responses to Hell Hath No Fury (which have been, on the whole, useless). The Bell offers this account of Woody’s unaccountable claim that he is nothing like the characters he plays:

[H]is denials are just that - intentional fibs … “I already offer my private life to you guys in my art,” he seems to be saying. “Therefore it is only respectful for you to pretend with me in other settings that my private life is secret and known to me alone.”That is the conundrum of Woody Allen upon which Mr. Menaker seizes. Allen combines the soul of a mature artist with the id and ego of a fourteen-year-old. He will gladly place himself, warts and all, before you but the only acceptable response is adoration.

Think you’ve seen that mix of desperation for control before? The Bell says he has, in Jerry Lewis. For more discussion of the fact/fiction line, see socalchango’s post here

Content of their caricature: Responding to Chris Suellentrop’s assessment of House Minority Leader candidate Nancy Pelosi as “caricaturable,” Captain Ron Voyage notes  that

The GOP leadership is equally caricaturable as a bunch of wealthy, fat and mean crackers–does Brooks honestly believe Pelosi is more caricaturable than Newt Gingrich or, for God’s sake, Phil Gramm?

And while marylb still wants the Democrats to hew to the “appealing” types like John Edwards and Harold Ford, Jesus-of-Nantucket thinks picking Pelosi makes good sense:

Is Nancy Pelosi too far left? Is Tom DeLay too far right? Of course! But the Republicans’ success suggests an ideologically gonzo congressional leadership may have some advantages. Here are a couple of the top of my head:1) Energizes the base.2) Gives the presidential candidate someone to triangulate against.3) Makes the split-the-difference position, which many wrongly equate with reasonableness, actually centrist, rather than skewed right.4) Bonus: She’s from California, the only place the Dems are likely to to raise money (not Texas or Tennessee)

Now, if all these people would just pick a thread and go with it … 9:20 a.m.

Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2002

Fables of the reconstruction: Undoubtedly, the central political debate on the Fray of late has been the possible reconstruction of the Democratic party. Last week, the Fray was ahead of Slate with its solutions. This week, Slate articles are providing new grist. One overarching question: is the critical change going to be demographic—that is, bottom-up—or will it be strategic—that is, top-down? Naturally, all good answers mix and match the two.

The demotic: In Chatterbox, the sprightly discussion of the “emerging Democratic majority” turns on the demographic question of the working class: do they exist as a class? (See this thread for an excellent debate.) Can they be won over? Should they? The last is the point at which principle meets demography, and Kimmitt opts for principle:

Great – all the Democrats need to do to win the next election is to pander to a bunch of homophobes, racists, and religious zealots. Or, more to the point, pretend to pander to them like Clinton did so we can get on with the business of running the economy reasonably well and maintaining domestic order – because white working-class men are not capable of seeing beyond their prejudices to their real interests.Is it possible to be too cynical? Or is this realism? It feels very dark.

(There are also excellent quibbles with Chatterbox’s premise from Meph here, who says Judis and Teixiera aren’t praying for an economic apocalypse, and from Roublen here.)

Old men and the sea change: Meanwhile, in Politics, Joe Klein has begun a dialogue with Robert Reich about what the Democratic Party should do. This is a top-down question that depends importantly on some bottom-up facts. Part of Klein’s prescription is to attract younger voters at the expense of the AARP. This doesn’t fly with several posters. Take Dean here:

The reason that the Democrats focus on the elderly is because they are much, much more dependable voters than the young. Recruiting the young, the hip, the cynical, and the future activists is much more of a long-term investment strategy, rather than something that will pay off in new votes now.

Of course, if W.V. Micko is right here that the young people Joe Klein wants to put at the center of the Democratic Party are “natural party workers,” then something might be done about the unpleasant “patio men” that Kimmitt fears above. Strategy over demographics?

Another engine: The obverse of Democratic reconstruction is Republican overreaching. More on that later, but anyone new to the debate would do well to start with Abre los ojos’s post and the subsequent thread.

Fraydometer fraud: Last, The Fray hit 5,000,000posts today. History guy had been running a pool on when the post would hit here; I asked for guesses as to content here. I had feared it would be something so unacceptable it would have to be deleted. It turns out my fears were not on a grand enough scale. (Deej is the winner of my silly contest and receives the old Fray card catalog. He can drive to Redmond to pick it up, but it will take an 18-wheeler to get it home.) … 9:40 a.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2002

Fightin’ woids:Ben thinks Christopher Hitchens is being deliberately disingenuous about the meaning of chicken hawk (so does Dennis Sweet here). Still, for ben that is not as bad as the argument that

because Al-Qaeda targeted civilians, we need to bomb Iraq. All his hysteria about … suburban Washington being a war-zone like Kabul (yeah, right) doesn’t address this issue. We were attacked by a largely Saudi group of religious fundamentalists, not secular Iraqi Ba’athists. There is no connection.

JackD defends the use of “chicken hawk” with this:

The fact that many in the administration, including the President, have less than exemplary histories in the context of facing possible combat is relevant to the assessment by the public at large of the credibility of their assertions of likely success as well as the threat that they claim needs meeting with the blood of Americans and Iraqis.

But Publius responds by taking calling the bluff of the ostensibly pro-soldier anti-war faction here:

I for one am game to let veterans of the US military alone decide whether it’s a good idea to knock out Saddam: so, let’s arrange a national referendum in which only veterans can “vote” for or against supporting an attack on Saddam, if and when it becomes imminent. Let’s see what the hawk-hawks think, eh?

Make it a Blockbuster nightmare: Video Business columnist Paul Sweeting believesBen Fritz is right that will never make money.

He’s wrong, however, in assuming it’s “pure PR.”Some day, the studios know, the Internet is going to be the backbone of a new form of direct-to-home delivery of movies and an important revenue stream (although probably not in the straight download mode they’re testing with Movielink). Their goal at this point, is essentially monopolistic. The studios’ greatest collective fear is that another Blockbuster Video could arise in an emerging new revenue stream while they’re not looking.

The gales of November came early: A bit of catch-up here. Responding to William Saletan’s last Ballot Blog  entry, “How Minnesota Voters Got Snowed,” The Bell’s terrific post here sums up the Democrats’ climatological problems in the heartland. Just a snippet:

[R]eports of snow jobs regarding this election are common by the analysts who serve as weatherman for the losing side. However, it is very clear to me this is one snow that is sticking. Democratic attempts to gain momentum should be done with extreme caution - current road conditions really ARE potentially icy and hazardous. … 1:20 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 11, 2002

Style counseling: After Dahlia Lithwick’s post-mortem on Winona’s clothes, Churchill wants to see the girl’s interrupted career resume:

I know NOTHING about fashion, seasons or runway shows, when they occur, how they are coordinated or in what style Marc Jacobs conducts his. However, I can hope against hope that whatever the next season is that is being sent down the catwalk, Winona is modelling the latest Marc Jacobs togs - “…they make me feel great about myself, slim, self-confident and larcenous.”

Capybara rightly recollects that, pace Lithwick, O.J. did use the fashionista defense, denying 31 photos of himself in the Bruno Maglis thus: “I would have never owned those ugly-ass shoes.”

…Capitol’s gang: Not much debate about the death of British rock following David Samuels’ piece on Idlewild. Covoj mock-objects here:

Radiohead killed British rock? Please! Blasphemy!You might as well posit that Pearl Jam killed American rock … ok, bad example …

VZ h8r: James is helping Rob Walker in his struggle for the best adjectival form of Jackass. Those who would like to aid in the search, click here10:45 a.m.

Dontfencemein: Many, many posters have noted the changes in Fray nicknames introduced over the weekend. Nicknames must now be less than 20 characters and can no longer incorporate spaces, punctuation symbols and so on. What’s left? Letters, numbers, dashes, and underscores. (I am no longer “J.D. Connor,” but have become “JD_Connor,” for example.) These restrictions are part of the preparation for registration and are standard across all Microsoft Passport sites.

Of course, as Fray Editor, I should have told you this was coming. I am sorry that I did not, and assure you that our future steps toward registration will be better publicized. …

Friday, Nov. 8, 2002

Suellentropology: Chris Suellentrop discovers  that Harry Potter is a hero straight out of American naturalism—always finding himself doing things (instead of doing them), discovering abilities (not cultivating them). But it’s funnier to think of Harry as a little George W. Bush.James offers the following sequels (complete with plot summaries I can’t blog here):

Mr. Suellentrop derides Harry Potter as a “glory hog who unfairly receives credit for the accomplishments of others and who skates through school by taking advantage of his inherited wealth and his establishment connections.” As history shows us, however, Harry Potter has an auspicious life ahead of him. Watch for the following best-sellers!”Harry Potter and the Goblet of Budweiser”…”Harry Potter and the Corporate Boardroom of Secrets” …”Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Rove” …”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Malapropism” …

Max Fischer Players saw this coming here, and thinks Slate’s contrarianism is “trite and boring.” Thanks! Early posts have the best chance of a good read—once this hits the msn homepage over the weekend, expect a deluge of Potterphiles. … 12:50 p.m.

24 hour party people: What should the Democrats do? Move left, center, or serpentine? There is debate all over the Fray, and the posts below usually have good threads attached. William Saletan thinks it’s obvious that “there’s no reason to vote Democratic if the Democratic candidate is identical to the Republican” The Slasher—a non-Dem—disagrees. And his main reason is Republican party discipline. For example,

Are you pro-choice and that’s your dealbreaker issue? If so, you would be NUTS to vote for a pro-choice Republican Senator over a pro-choice Democrat, because you can never be SURE the Rep will not vote for an activist anti-choice judge for the Supreme Court. He’ll be under enormous pressure not to reject the candidate of a Republican President. It’s even worse in the House. …The fact is that Democrats AS A GROUP are way to the left of Republicans AS THEY VOTE, and it’s silly for them to do other than to emphasize this difference. If the things the Reps are doing work out well, nobody is going to give credit to the Dems if they “me too” on it. Go where you CAN win, not where you can’t.

(W.V. Micko envies that discipline here.) …

Kerry on: And where can the Democrats win? Quasi-neocon Abre los ojos (who was yesterday’s Hillary booster) thinks  Kerry’s eco-defense mix could be attractive:

I remember a few months ago getting excited about Kerry’s proclaimed vision of a several year, large-scale national program toward alternative energy sources. Kerry proposed this strategy as an integral component of a strong national response toward gaining a further measure of independence from volatile regions of fossil fuel resources … Indeed, I remember hoping for something of this sort of vision from President Bush, but it never came.

(Even more con Shelia hopes  the Democrats run Hillary, and shudders at the thought of Kerry vs. Bush.)But even Alo sees the problem with Kerry: mobilizing the Democratic base.

Move the center: Doodahman has a suggestion  (that sounds very James Carville circa-1992 to me):

Saletan is correct: the Dems must stay in the center. What he is omits is this: the drift over the last twenty years, where the policy spectrum has lurched so far to the right that center positions [on health care, tax reform and education—J.D.] are deemed leftist, is what must be corrected. It’s not a crime to advocate that the gov’t use resources to help just plain folks, damnit. It’s smart policy. It’s time that the Dems and their supporters stopped apologizing for populist programs, and stopped tolerating their mischaracterization as leftist policies.

(Adam Masin has a similarly aggressive plan for the middle here.)

The souls of plants, II: The Dear Prudence letter that has elicited the most response comes from a man whose wife’s newfound vegan radicalism threatens their marriage. Should he give up meat? Is this a deal-breaker? Is meat even the issue? (MOH here.) There are several other good long discussions, begun by Tina’s here, Joe here, and EE here. (Looking for “Souls of Plants, I”? Here.) 11:00 a.m.