Monday, August 14, 2006

The Coalition of the Sane

The main trick in all politics is not winning for one party or the other, but establishing hegemony for a coalition of the sane over the insane. (nod to Stirling Newberry) For two generations after World War II, the coalition of the sane lodged power in bipartisanship. It was Roosevelt, who disempowered the isolationist crazies of the Republican Party by creating a "tradition" of a bipartisan foreign policy. Civil Rights reform had a foundation in a bipartisanship in Congress in the 1950's and 1960's, which disempowered the crazies, who made up the Southern Democratic caucus. "Bipartisan" was the means by which Reagan governed, and it was the rallying cry of those, who wanted to restore responsibility to the budgeting process.

In the political divisions of the 1960's and 1970's, the craziness of McGovern was recognized and the craziness of Nixon was not. The crazies were nurtured in the Republican Party, through Iran-Contra and David Stockman's mendacious fiscal policy. The rejection of the crazy Left of the Democratic Party became a defining element of political identity for both the Reagan Democrats and Clinton's DLC.

The crazies have been in charge of the Republican Party for a decade or more, and the Republicans have controlled the country for 5 years running.

If the coalition of the sane is to reassert itself successfully, it will have to do so entirely within the Democratic Party. Democrats defining themselves in contradistinction to 60's radicals, who are long extinct except in the imaginations of fools, no longer works. Bipartisanship, as a formula for power on behalf of sanity, for power on behalf of decency and rationality, no longer works. The Republican Party stands four square for torture, national bankruptcy, perpetual war, fake science and corporate corruption; no one can compromise on policy with a Republican Party gone insane, and expect a sane result.

Lieberman did not understand the clear political implications of these two political developments: the rise of Republican insanity or death of bipartisanship. The Democrats will have to define themselves as not-insane, not-Republican and persuade the country to reject Republicanism with all the shrill disgust, which can be mustered. Then, the Democrats will have to take power, and cooperate and compromise among themselves to arrive at sane and practical policy.

On present trends, I guess the Democrats cannot avoid taking control of at least one house of Congress. The trickier thing may be getting the brand of sanity on Democratic policy compromises.

Democrats have been trying to get policy proposals together, like they were re-packaging soap for a national ad campaign.

They face two critical problems. One is that what they need to sell, nationally, is the ability of liberal and conservative Democrats to compromise with each other, to arrive at rational policy and a reasonable way forward.

On a number of issues, Republicans have been refusing compromise and forcing gridlock on controversial issues. Democrats can only win nationally by being on both sides of many of those issues, and selling, not the ideology of any representative Democrat, but the ability of Democrats to forge compromises, which move the country forward. There should be pro-life and pro-choice Democrats, both; the trick is to sell the idea that Democrats, unlike ideologically committed Republicans, can compromise productively on ways, which both preserve individual autonomy and reduce the frequency of abortion.

The ability of Democrats to compromise, practically and productively, has to be sold in place of a bipartisanship, which no longer works for the country, because compromise with the radical and insane Republicans is no longer possible.

The rejection of 60's radicalism, which has defined the identity of so many DLC-type corporate-whore Democrats of the center can not longer be tolerated, if Democratic compromise is to replace a defunct "bipartisanship". Conservative Democrats from conservative regions have to sell respect for the pragmatic and idealistic qualities of progressive and liberal Democrats from the Northeast and the big cities, and vice versa.

The other big problem for the meister of the Democratic message is that the country needs a radical change of direction. Republicans may have pursued a radical change of direction since the 1960's, if not the 1930's, but, after the success of the New Deal, they always sold small changes in direction, better management, etc. Nixon sold himself as a hard-headed, more practical liberal; Reagan spoke the idealistic language of the New Deal even as he was chipping away at the foundation stones. Democrats do not have the luxury of such Whiggish incrementalism.

Everything about the Republican program of shifting the tax burden onto the future middle class, of perpetual war and infinite debt in the service of Oil, of raping the land and polluting the air to create "economic opportunity", is wrong and has to change.

Selling the country on the ability of Democrats -- conservative, moderate and liberal -- to compromise productively is going to be easy compared to the task of confronting the country with the necessity of completely changing direction, in order to find a way forward.

The country may need several more years of catastrophic Bush failures -- more Iraq, more Katrinas, economic recession -- before a majority are really willing to accept that a complete change of direction is necessary and desirable.

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