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Friday, November 17, 2006

Militant Moderate Musings on the Democratic Party

Thanks to the folks at Prawfsblawg for allowing me a temporary venue for sending random, half-baked, vaguely law-oriented thoughts out into cyberspace. First, a shout-out to my beloved Arkansas Razorbacks, who trounced Tennessee last weekend 31-14. So the underappreciated and long-suffering Hogs are finally getting their due from the rankings gods, having moved up to # 7 in the BCS rankings. Those of you lucky enough to be born Arkansawyers, let’s call those Hogs … Whoo Pig Sooie!

Now for the vaguely law-oriented part of my first post. For those of you who are not yet sick to death of all those water cooler conversations about the election and what it all meant (that would be myself and about five other people, all of whom live inside the Beltway), Yale Law School has an interesting e-debate on the future of the Democratic Party, at www.openingargument.com. It includes essays written by Nancy Pelosi, Ryan Sager, Reihan Salam, and – my personal favorite – Yale Law Professor Peter Schuck. Schuck, author of the recently published “Meditations of a Militant Moderate,” offers his views on "what Democrats should do to regain, hold, and justify power.” His most colorful suggestion for the Dems: Have more babies. The fertility rate of Democrats is far below that of Republicans. As Don Corleone might put it, it is time to go to the mattresses.”

On a more serious note, Schuck urges the Democratic base to “get out and meet your fellow Americans.” The base, in Schuck’s view, “seems clueless about what the rest of America is like…. The base wishes that American society were more like Europe, and America does not.”

Posted by Melissa Waters on November 17, 2006 at 08:05 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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If you look at the message coming from the Democratic party, it just isn't the message that Schuck is describing, perhaps with the exception of the abortion issue. How does Schuck's claim square with the fact that Clinton pushed Welfare Reform and remains the most prominent Democratic fundraiser out there? Take crime as another example. The Democratic mayor of New Haven, who just lost the Connecticut governor's race to Republican Jodie Rell, just announced that he is increasing the New Haven police force by some incredible multiple. Or take a closer look at Barak Obama's voting record, in favor of the Class Action "Fairness" Act, for example. Even the closeness of recent elections (say the last six years) seems to me to be a data point that contradicts this thesis.

Posted by: ADL | Nov 20, 2006 10:16:38 AM

"Before Tuesday, I honestly worried that Karl Rove understood more about America than I do, or my friends do. Now I know that in fact he doesn't."


"There was a referendum on Obama's vision of a tolerant America in which Reds and Blues have more in common than they suspect and a strident self-righteously religious and jingoistic America that thrives on hate and selfishness.

And the main issue was the Iraq war which symbolized everything wrong with the second America. Until Tuesday, I believed that most Americans were in that second camp.

But I should have known better. This summer we were in Montana. We had driven over from Idaho, checked into a hotel, went into town and the first thing we saw was an anti-war demonstration, the centerpiece of which were
the combat boots of soldiers killed in Iraq.

A small sample of those boots, I should say. Maybe 200 pairs. I walked over to the women seemingly in charge, gray-haired women in their 60's, who looked like they had left their farm duties to memorialize these young dead American kids.

I asked how they were doing. They told me that there was no hostility. People just walked over, looked, sometimes cried, and mostly gave no indication of how they felt. No one was hostile and they had been out there for days.

In two weeks of traveling in Montana and Wyoming, I kept meeting people who hated the war. Even cowboys. In a small town in Wyoming at the Friday night rodeo, the announcer asked the crowd to stand up and applaud a local boy just back from Iraq.

And then to applaud the roommate of a local boy who had just finished West Point. I mean, these were patriotic folks.

So I asked a few sitting near me if they thought the war was a good thing for America. Virtually in unison, the response was "we don't support the war. We support the boys." This was in a small town near Riverton, Wyoming. Probably about as Red as it gets.

So now Conrad Burns is defeated in Montana. Barbara Cubin, the Wyoming Congresswoman, is in a recount. Both states have Democratic governors.

In other words, the intolerant bigots do not own this country. Not even the so-called Red States. Howard Dean's 50 state strategy was vindicated big time. But that is another discussion.

For today I just want to celebrate the rebirth of the knowledge that a majority of Americans do not buy into the loathsome divisiveness and hate that is what the Rovian strategy was built on.

Before Tuesday, I honestly worried that Karl Rove understood more about America than I do, or my friends do. Now I know that in fact he doesn't."

Posted by: Bart Motes | Nov 18, 2006 12:18:55 PM

I read invocations like this -- the Democratic "base" vs. "America" -- as calling to mind the red-blue state divide, the coasters vs. "fly over" country. But perhaps he's talking more broadly. In any event, I chafe at his invocation of "America," because an effort to anthropomorphize a country will end up making it like some, not all (or even most), of its inhabitants. "America" is not religious. Perhaps most Americans are religious, but I'm not even sure about that, depending on how you define "religious." (Self-reporting polls say from 38% to 44% of Americans go to services each week, but the actual number is characterized by others at around 20%.)

Schuck is making the unremarkable point that the base of the Democratic party is farther to the left than the median American. That's true, just as the Republican base is similarly "out of touch" with "America." ("The [Republican] base wants religion in the public schools; America believes in the separation of church and state.") What I find offensive is Schuck's characterization that the Democratic base has to go out and meet their fellow Americans. Why isn't he telling that to the Republican base, too? The fact is, I'm sure most members of the Democratic base know that they are in the minority. But they believe in their policy choices, and they want to convince everyone else that their policies are the best for the nation. (As does the Republican base.) It's not ignorance; it's a difference of opinion.

If Republicans had set out just to mirror what "America" believed at any particular time, the party would have been much less effective in leading the U.S. down a more conservative path. Schuck is free to disagree with the Democratic base, and even to opine that he thinks their policies will lead to lost elections. But he shouldn't say they're clueless.

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Nov 18, 2006 9:44:58 AM

Matt and Patrick,

I'm curious as to why you assume that Schuck is equating the "Democratic base" with "East (or West) Coast elites". There's nothing in his essay that makes such a link, unless it's his criticism of the Dems for nominating a "Massachusetts liberal" in John Kerry. (Of course, given that Schuck is one of the proudest New Yorkers I've ever met, that could just be a Yankees vs. Red Sox kind of thing, who knows?). Schuck lives in NY, teaches at Yale, and as far as I know, has spent most of his life living on the East Coast and working in "elite" institutions. As a proud Arkansawyer with a bit of a chip on my shoulder where East Coast elites are concerned, I sometimes commit the very kind of error that both of you rightly criticize -- but I doubt that Schuck would do so.

It's true that he criticizes (rightly, in my view) the elitism of the Democratic base -- and he makes assumptions about "what the rest of America is like" with which one could certainly disagree. But I don't think his assumptions are based on geography -- in fact, my guess is that when he talks about "the rest of America", he's including folks who live in New York, California, Massachusetts, DC, and so on.

For what it's worth, here's a reprint of the "get out and meet your fellow Americans" portion of the essay, so you can judge for yourselves. (And keep in mind that he begins the essay with this caveat: "Given limited space, I must resort to many generalizations....")

"In crucial respects, the Democratic base—the activists and groups that control the party’s nominating process—seems clueless about what the rest of America is like. America is deeply religious. The base is deeply secular. America is unabashedly patriotic. The base views outward patriotism as hokey and manipulative, if not embarrassing. America is patient in the face of tough going and adversity, particularly when the government undertakes dangerous and difficult missions abroad. The base expects quick results and puts the worst face on government failures (except when the Democrats are in control). America thinks that public policy should reflect and advance conventional morality; it strongly supports welfare reform and a tougher line against criminals and other bad actors who are irresponsible citizens and parents. The base despises welfare reform and believes, against much evidence, that social injustice is what causes crime and that criminals can be rehabilitated through more social services. America is deeply offended by licentious behavior in public places and the media; the base mocks this stance as hypocritical, puritanical suppression of expressive freedom. America treasures its natural environments but wants those values balanced against other needs. The base regards such balancing as the (secular) devil’s handiwork. More generally, America is moderate in its policy views; in contrast to the base, it prefers some restrictions on abortion to none, civil unions to same-sex marriage, controlled access to guns to flat bans; anti-discrimination to affirmative action; limited group profiling to policing deprived of useful information; fairly-administered capital punishment to categorical abolition; equal opportunity to equal outcomes; job flexibility to job security. Simply put, the base wishes that American society were more like Europe, and America does not."

Posted by: Melissa Waters | Nov 17, 2006 4:37:16 PM

whoops: USFS!

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Nov 17, 2006 12:13:43 PM

Thanks for that Matt: I've driven all kinds of trucks for a living, worked on both government (forest service) and contract (private) fire crews, I've done trail construction and maintenance for the USFA and for an equestrian trails foundation, have worked as a construction laborer, was for many years employed as a finish carpenter, and presently supplement my income with landscape maintenance for our small condo. association. I don't have a credit card, a microwave oven, a cell phone, and have never owned a new car (nor a suit for that matter). I've never been east of the Mississippi River nor flown in a plane. I've lived on the California Coast most of my 50 years and do thus do not make a nice fit with the stereotype you rightly bemoan (perhaps some would count my vegetarianism as 'elitist,' but I'm not sure why). And none of my extended family members or friends who live out here are 'elitist snobs' (although I did work on the homes of a few who fit that description: largely super-rich LA folks who had recently moved to nearby Montecito). I've always rather identified with the 'working class' (broadly construed) although our income is close to that of the 'working poor' (at least in our neck of the woods). And, owing to my love of the Constitution, I am ardently patriotic, believing myself to be a 'real' American. Oh yes, I vote Democratic (well, I might vote Green in local elections).

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Nov 17, 2006 12:12:50 PM

I appreciate Schuck's argument, but his whole "go out and meet your fellow Americans" is just as condescending as he thinks the Democratic base is being. A Starbucks barista who lives on the coast and votes Democratic is no less American than the rancher who lives in Idaho and votes Republican. Somehow (and it's probably no accident), coasters have been characterized as elitist snobs, and folks in the Midwest, South, and West are "real" Americans who get their hands dirty and buy Chevy trucks while listening to John Cougar. C'mon. There are elitist snobs in all regions and in both parties. If you took the median American, she would live on the coast and work in a service industry. Maybe Schuck should also encourage folks in Idaho to visit New York and meet some "real" Americans as well.

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Nov 17, 2006 9:59:14 AM

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