Monday, June 05, 2006


We Need to Work Out a Code

There has been a lot of discussion about the whether having real liberals challenge more centrist Dems. in primaries is a bad or good thing. While my general attitude has been, if the Club for Growth didn't hurt but rather helped the Republican party, why should liberal primary challengers hurt us?

However, listening to NPR (which is supposed by many to be on "our side") and it's coverage of Jane Harmon's primary challenge has got me thinking that maybe liberal primary challengers can be a problem. How? Well, because now we have on tape centrist Democrat Jane Harmon pandering to liberal special interest groups in a very explicit manner. To the extent that some view any Democrat as a liberal, such pandering by centrists won't matter (but to the extent to which wankerishness and being in the spotlight seem to correlate with centrism ensures something worse -- that public perceptions of liberals are based on the wankerishness of "centrist Dems"), but to the extent that some do correctly place people like Harmon in the center of the political spectrum, such pandering only re-enforces the notion that Dems. only care about "special interest" groups in their base and even the most conservative of Democrats is way to the left of the mainstream at heart.

But, you say ... Republicans do the same thing. How come it isn't a problem for Republicans? While my wont would be to answer in terms of the IOKIYAR media double standard or to simply quote JFK and say "whoever said life was fair", there is something else going on here. When faced with liberal challengers, centrist Democrats can and ought to display their liberal credentials just as Republicans do when faced with conservative challengers: a party cannot do well electorally in today's political environment unless it can energize its base and give people a reason to vote for them. On the other hand, we Democrats need to learn from the Republicans how to be more discrete about throwing meat to the base. While you see even "centrist" Republicans visiting right-wing institutions, they are always careful about what they say to their base even as they pander to them. While Jane Harmon explicitly mentions specific "special interest" groups in her bragging about how liberal she is (otherwise a good sign -- centrist Dems are starting to realize that liberal is not the "L word" -- to the extent that all Dems are viewed as liberals, Dems cannot win elections if they run away from liberalism rather than run toward it), you would never see a Republican do a similar thing -- the Republicans speak in code that way they are not on the record as supporting conservative special interest groups. People hear Harmon speak about the groups she supports and think -- "wow, what a pandering liberal even Jane Harmon is" ... the Republicans are smart enough not to say such things directly in regards to their support of and by groups even further from the mainstream lest people think "I thought Rep. X was ok, but he's in bed politically with the whackos and racists".

It is fine and good for people like Jane Harmon to realize we in the base count for a lot. In the long run such a realization can only help Dem. election prospects, if only by getting out the Dem vote and by reminding people "liberal" is not a bad word. But such a reminding will only work if the "special interest" aspects of liberalism are hidden a bit. People like Jane Harmon need to realize that their words spoken at liberal institutions will be carefully noted: thus they need to learn from the Republicans not only the lesson sof the importance of energizing your base and not running away from how you are labeled (look at how the Republicans changed the overtones of the word "conservative" from bad to good and "liberal" they changed the other way), they need to learn how to speak in code.

We Dems. all need to get together and develop a set of code words via which politicians can throw meat (or given the nature of our base, tofu ;) ) at the Dem base without being seen as pandering to special interests. So how do we get our code?

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