Determining the nature of the Democratic Party

October 3rd, 2003 – 7:38 pm
Tagged as: Uncategorized

William Greider has long been one of my favorite writers in the field of politics. It was his One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism that first really got me thinking about the many flaws in “globalization,” and it was his columns that kept me subscribing to Rolling Stone after my musical tastes had changed.

Now he’s written something about the current Presidential race that does a good job of summing up what the upcoming Democratic primaries are really about. You can kind find it stuck among some other commentary (which is also worth reading) here, but I thought I’d single this part out for attention:

Incumbent presidents seldom lose reelection unless they are buried by adverse circumstances and it seems obvious the 2004 election is already the prisoner of such events. Bush has very limited options to cauterize his self-inflicted wound in Iraq, but even less control over his jobless economy. Yet none of the Democrats is likely to defeat him if these troubles abruptly disappear. On the other hand, I can imagine almost any of the Dem candidates beating Bush if the country remains in its double-bind quagmire.

My point is, the Democratic nominating contest is essentially about determining the nature of that party, not the “electability” question. Howard Dean represents anti-establishment insurrection from the ground up. His popularity is not about left or right issues (as the media and his opponents keep claiming) but rides upon the swelling anger people feel toward Bush and the Dems’ own complacent, top-down, risk-averse, corporate-compromised leadership. The press is still on Dean’s case, picking away at his supposed contradictions. But the Washington Post fronted an insightful counter-version by Laura Blumenfeld (October 1) that explains Dean’s empowering language and angle of vision. It’s not about him, he tells voters, it’s about them — all the people who feel ignored and disenfranchised, not only by Bush the right-winger. but by their own party’s Washington elites.

Dean is profoundly correct in this critique. If he survives their assaults and prevails in the nomination (I think he can), it will be like an implosion of the insider illusions governing the Democratic party. He lacks their esteemed connections to the corporate-financial infrastructure that runs politics, so why is he raising more money? Because he has a list of people — active citizens, not monied contributors — unlike anything the party itself possesses (I’ve heard Dean’s database variously described as 400,000 or 600,000 or 1.2 million names).

This new form of power is derived from the wondrous technologies (computers and the Internet), but actually involves the way the party used to organize voters before it converted to spin-marketing techniques. The party does not itself keep such lists any more (though it might rent them from other organizations). Why bother with names and addresses when they have polls and focus groups? The Doctor might stumble, of course, but his nomination (even if he then loses to Bush) would produce a profound ventilation — actually a violent shake-up — in the modern methodologies of what used to know as the party of working people.

Who could be against that? The Democratic incumbency. The last thing they want in their lives is competitive elections or citizens who come out of the woodwork to launch their own techno-grassroots campaigns. Yes, incumbent Dems all want Bush out, but they would much prefer it’s done by a safer, more reliable candidate.

General Clark? I don’t mean to pick on him but he seems the perfect vessel for conveying a “new face” sense of change without actually disturbing the status quo. A number of fellow bloggers accused me of seeing black helicopters when I earlier described Clark as the Clinton establishment’s stalking horse [see "More Stupid White Men"]. But that is self-evident now that Clark is an active candidate. Mr. Bill’s Hollywood friends are swarming around the General with money; his campaign is run by Clintonoids. The General’s tepid economic-stimulus plan is off-the-shelf stuff from the Democratic Leadership Council. He is being tutored on economics by Citigroup godfather Robert Rubin and Gene Sperling, the DLC’s economist in chief.

If you want four more years of Wall Street economics guiding the Democratic party, go with the Four Stars. If you are ready for risk and real change, listen to the Doctor. People who put aside convictions in order to win an election often wind up regretting it. I know I did during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

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