Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Building a Better Party

A really rich guy is basically giving a lot of money to the Democrats. This is a very welcome development. Something that's been bothering me in recent years is what I've come to call the "Assumption of eventual victory" attitude of liberals: it's the idea that our views are just plain right, goshdarnit, and since the truth always wins out, all we have to do is wait for the people to come 'round to our way of thinking and sweep all those wrong-headed conservatives out into the street. Thus we end up with lackluster candidates who basically "play defense". Matthew Yglesias pointed a form of this out last week, as did Morat. It's quite a problem, and it represents a dilemma I've been stewing over for a while: What is more important to me as a liberal? Is it beating George W. Bush in 2004? Or is it starting the longer, harder work of pushing the debate in America back toward the left, even if that possibly means taking a huge one on the chin next November?

I am thinking here of the 1964 election, when the Republicans sent Barry Goldwater to his doom against Lyndon Johnson. Goldwater got blasted out of the water. The election was not even remotely close, and it seemed that liberalism was ascendant once again. But in the wake of the 1964 campaign, Republicans started the long process of gathering future voices for their party (including a fellow named Reagan), and basically laying the ideological groundwork for the eventual conservative era that began in 1980 and reached its current high point starting in 2000. So what's more important? Preventing any more damage (as I see it) from this President, or working now to ensure a "New Liberalism" in 2020 or so that will hold sway for several decades? I'd love to see a Democratic President take office on January 20, 2005; but I also want to stop "holding the line". I want to see Liberals discuss things not in terms of "stopping the bleeding" or "preventing any further damage", but in terms of enacting what we believe. What scares me is the prospect of getting beat in 2004, and having liberals basically go to sleep again until 2008.

So I think it's time for Liberals to start doing some heavy lifting. We need to fix our own ideological infrastructure and get some arguments; we need to stop waiting for the country to wake up and see the natural goodness of our positions. And if we do get blown out next year (which I emphatically do not believe is a "given"), let's make damned sure we do it in such a way that gets the fires burning again. This means being proactive in shaping the debate and concentrating on winning local, grass-roots elections with good, articulate candidates -- two things the Republicans have been really good at doing for a number of years now, and two things the Democrats have not.

(Demosthenes has more thoughts on Soros.)

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