Sunday, March 18, 2007

Messages and Movements

The strongest and most powerful high-level strategy of the conservative movement has been to keep the conservative movement "on message", and to make the Republican party identification secondary to that message. This strategy entails that the movement is going to lose some elections (Carter, Clinton, 2006 congress, etc.), but it also means that a lost election is not a defeat, merely a setback.

This strategy has additional benefits. Even when the Republicans lose an election, the continued power of the conservative movement still affects the behavior of Democrats. We have only to look at Clinton's evisceration of welfare, his sacrifice of labor rights and environmental concerns to his free trade agreements, and his support of the blatantly anti-free-speech Communications Decency Act. The spinelessness of Democratic politicians continues precisely because there isn't a principled progressive movement underlying the Democratic party's electoral success.

I don't read many conservative or Republican sources, but I never see any Republican politician or movement conservative trying to promote compromise as an intrinsic virtue. Rather, every compromise is presented as an incremental gain for the overall goals of the movement; compromise is not itself a principle, it is merely what the conservatives have to put up with until the scourge of liberalism is someday eradicated.

I often see liberal and Democratic blogs take the Republicans to task for "pandering" to their base. It's of course important to note precisely to whom Republicans are pandering, but the notion that politicians in general shouldn't pander is preposterous. I don't know about you, but I want my politicians to pander to my political beliefs, and I do not want my politicians to ask me to pander to their professional limitations. If they want me to pander, they can pay me $165K/year.

Yes, I vote for my politicians knowing that they're going to cut deals, but I want them to come to the table asking for the whole cake, not giving half of it away before they even sit down.


  1. Chuck Schumer has it just right when he says that the Republican panders to two basic groups: the 'theocrats' and the 'economic royalists'. (And they have great support from 'think-tanks' providing marketing material that get people to think that these two groups have their interests at heart.)

    Democrats pander (or should anyway) to just about everyone else. Good for them!

  2. Democrats pander (or should anyway) to just about everyone else. Good for them!

    If they did pander to everyone else, that would be nice. But whom do they pander to? The theocrats and economic royalists. The only difference is that the Democrats pander half-assedly compared to the Republicans' whole-assed pandering.

  3. Too many Democrats are indeed cut-and-runners: from their own (supposed) principles. It would be better if they actually acted like the Republicans say they would.

  4. We have only to look at Clinton's evisceration of welfare...

    To be fair to Clinton, his original proposal was far more generous than the one he signed into law (on what was, I believe, a third revision). Jason DeParle's excellent book, "American Dreams," is a wonderful primer on the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. My review of it is here.

    You highlight an important point that can't be made enough: Republican loyalty is to the party first. Democrats, unfortunately, appear loyal to, at best, local constituencies only so far as they get themselves elected. The brilliance of Republicans was in convincing the local districts that their interests were the same as the national party plank.


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