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Here's an election season joke for you- Q: How many Democrats does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A: It's irrelevant, they don't know they're in the dark! [pause for laughter]

Okay, okay, I'm no comedian, so I'll stick to blogging. But in all seriousness, I think there's some truth to the Democrats-are-out-of-touch-with-American-voters argument. A lot of people agree on this premise, but the reasoning behind it is hotly contested. I'm sure y'all have had it up to here with me and Adam and the centrist-liberal schism within the Democratic Party. Yet the rest of you seem to be woefully silent on the issue.

I'd like to bring to your attention an interesting piece by Michael Grunwald from yesterday's Washington Post, entitled "How to Reconnect with Voters and Realize Your Dreams of Victory: A Step-by-Step Guide for Democrats."

Yet despite the strength of its title, Grunwald's article fails to live up to its promise. Instead of offering a comprehensive plan to a gaining a Democratic majority, Grunwald's op-ed is really more a recounting of a debate familiar to most of us—the conflict between those within the party who want it to take a hard left towards views reminiscent of Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, and Karl Marx, and those centrists who want to maintain the middle-of-the-road path that brought the Democrats their only White House victories in the last quarter of a century. (Can you tell whose side I’m on?)

On one side of the party are the liberal activists and bloggers who very nearly propelled Howard Dean to the nomination in 2004 and who were largely responsibly for handing him the chairmanship of the DNC last year, much to the consternation of inside-the-Beltway centrists within the party. This side maintains that Democrats must learn to grow a little backbone, standing up for progressive policies and running liberal Democratic candidates who are anti-war, pro-choice, pro-gun control, and anti-Bush. This half of the party, Grunwald argues, wants Democrats “to be less apologetic, less wishy-washy, more willing to speak truth to power, more . . . liberal.” Until they define themselves as a clear Republican alternative, the left flank argues, the Democrats are destined to remain the minority party.

On the other side are the moderates of the party, who argue that in order to win elections, the Democrats must appeal to the middle-class heartland voters concerned more about national security and taxes than social issues like gay marriage and school prayer. These Democrats want the party to run candidates who are “less elitist, less negative, more respectful of red-state values, more . . . moderate.” These centrists want a party that appeals to the middle class values voters in a country that is essentially right-of-center. Otherwise, the argument goes, Democrats will be doomed to remain the hoity-toity party of the overeducated “we know what’s best for you” urban elite.

Grunwald does not offer an opinion on which of these sides is most likely to result in Democratic gains in November, reflecting a party that is still torn between the two positions. The liberals can point to some impressive victories so far this campaign season—in Montana, grassroots candidate Jon Tester won by a huge margin the right to face off against incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns for a highly poachable seat against establishment pick John Morrison, who outspent Tester by nearly a 2-to-1 margin in the primary.

Another upcoming race to watch will the Virginia Senate primary. Harris Miller, a longtime Democratic activist, and Jim Webb, a recent convert to the party who endorsed Bush and Republican Sen. George Allen in 2000, will compete for the right to oppose Sen. Allen in the general election. The polls point to a primary that is too close to call. This race offers a slight variant on the liberal-centrist model, however—Miller, the candidate with the liberal bona fides and strong grassroots support, is not a Beltway outsider but a Washington lobbyist, and Webb, the choice of many Democratic insiders, is a newcomer to the party, a former Reagan administration official and veteran who wears his son’s combat boots as a symbol of what the administration did wrong in going to war with Iraq. Though Miller offers clearly defined liberal positions on the issues and a long history as a Democrat, Webb has garnered the endorsements of key figures within the party, including 2004 nominee John Kerry and Minority Leader Harry Reid, who have both expressed opinions that Webb offers the best chance for victory against Sen. Allen.

No matter who wins on Tuesday, look for both sides of the intraparty debate to spin the election results like a cheap plastic dreidel on Hanukkah.


Adam Hearts Dems said...

Rachel, i think that you completely miss the point. I'm not arguing for more liberalism in the party. I happen to be a pro-life and pro-choice Democrats who strongly supports reducing the number of abortions and I do not support the legalization of euthanasia. I am a supporter of keeping illegal drugs illegal and I am very much in favor of smaller, more efficient government, with balanced budgets, less waste and corruption, and tax reform that cuts taxes for most Americans. I support free trade agreements. You could call me a moderate or conservative Democrat, but I consider myself a liberal nonetheless.

The point is, while the conventional wisdom in the punditry class holds that this is a war of liberals and moderates, it is not. The bloggers, myself included, simply want Democrats to be authentic. We're not saying we don't want moderates in the party, but what we want are politicians who will say what they mean, and mean what they say. Authenticity is the key. Russ Feingold is a deficit hawk and fiscal conservative, but he's called a liberal. Ben Nelson is considered a conservative Democrat, but he supports a big government program like Medicare.

We don't all fit so neatly into a political spectrum. What all Americans, but especially Democrats want is to cut the crap and institute a new politics of hope, inspiration, and honesty. If you're a moderate Democrat, God bless you and run as one. If you're a liberal, run as one. But don't pander to constituency and issue groups and change your positions or mask them so you can win an election. Americans would rather disagree with someone some of the time who is honest and passionately argues their honest positions, than someone who hides what they really think in a cynical attempt to get elected by being everything to everybody and ending up being nothing to nobody.

You say Miller is a liberal, that's false, he is a conservative Democrat, and has little grassroots support. Jim Webb is the fan of the netroots and has been consistently opposed to the war in Iraq, unlike Miller, just a small correction.

Rach C said...

The point is, while the conventional wisdom in the punditry class holds that this is a war of liberals and moderates, it is not. The bloggers, myself included, simply want Democrats to be authentic. We're not saying we don't want moderates in the party, but what we want are politicians who will say what they mean, and mean what they say. Authenticity is the key.
This says the guy that hates Joe Lieberman so much he just bet me 5 bucks that Lamont would win the primary?
I'm just saying. *cough*Hypocrite!*cough*