Hofstadter via The Note? Not Quite

(Guest Post by Big Tent Democrat

Mark Halperin, of ABC's The Note fame, actually seems to get it better than just about all Democrats, until he proves he is just as stupid, or cowardly:

[M]any . . . believe that the Republicans' strategy of fighting from the base has worn out its welcome. Therefore, this view holds, a campaign that appeals to moderates, one waged from the center, is the only way for the party to maintain control of the House and Senate. Interesting theory, but it probably won't work. If the Republicans want to keep their majorities in the midterm elections, their best chance is to stick with the old, base-driven Bush-Rove electoral strategy.

Why? In the eyes of the Bush team, America is a polarized country, one where there are fundamental divisions worth fighting over. A president -- and a party -- should not worry about slender margins of victory or legislative control. The goal is to accumulate just enough power to use the energies and passions of the base to effect ideological change in the nation's laws and institutions, even if -- sometimes especially if -- those changes might be at odds with majority public opinion.

Broder? You listening? Democrats, you listening? More stuff to listen to on the flip.

Here's Halperin's channeling of Hofstadter to lead the Democrats to some sound advice:

It's important to note, though, that this strategy depends on something else: the inability of Democrats to play by the same rules, to go on offense. . . . If you have any doubts about the confusion of the Democrats, just look at the party's midterm strategy. On the one hand, Democrats are reluctant to push for liberal policies that would motivate their base. But the core of their enunciated message -- both vowing to stop the president's right-wing policies and blurring their differences with Republicans on highly charged issues -- has in recent elections been a recipe for defeat. Such equivocation is the kind of themeless pudding that does not match up well with the conviction of the White House message and is uninspiring to both the Democrats' base and the center.

At this point, Halperin understands what Democrats have not - being ashamed of your values - allowing the Republicans to define you and apply the Paranoid Style against you - appeals to no one. But then Halperin plays the fool - for reasons only he can explain:

As in 2002 and 2004, the Democrats have been baited into a heated discussion on terrorism and Iraq, blocking out debates that would be more favorable to their cause, like Social Security, the economy and gas prices. The Clintons have whipped up Democrats into a frenzy to fight back, but on Capitol Hill and on television they are largely fighting back on Republican terrain.

This is exactly what happened in the last two elections: Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove fired up the base on national security, taxes and social issues and found a way to win a majority of the electorate, even as they lost the allegiance of a majority of the country over all. The national security debate, the visibility of the Clintons and the momentum the Republicans gain from Mr. Bush's rising poll numbers -- all of these echo previous election cycles.

Critics of the Bush administration assert that the politics of the base has run its course, and that the Iraq war, the partisan zealousness and the conservative social policies of the administration have made voters yearn for a more centrist, bipartisan government. But Mr. Bush's opponents may be imprudently lulled by the current storyline and broad national polls, both of which miss the power and consequence of a Republican base that may have one more victory to give.

Oh please Halperin. So after all your insight as to how the Dem approach has not worked, you suggest they have been "baited" to do things differently, which won't work either. You silly man. Have you ever considered that the Dems could play offense, and define the Republicans? Including on Iraq and the terror issue? Well, actually, you did, a few paragraphs earlier. But you can't take the leap. You foolish man. Halperin saw it, but could not believe it. And yet it is true:

How did FDR do it and can Democrats defend FDR liberalism today? Maybe not by calling it FDR liberalism but they surely can and do when they have the courage of their convictions. The most prominent of these instances was the fight to save Social Security Faced with Media hostility, Republican demagogy and flat out lies, Democrats rallied to the FDR liberalism banner and crushed the Republican attempts to roll back the clock. FDR would have been proud of Democrats in that fight. No triangulation. Good old fashioned political populism won the day.

And that is FDR's lesson for Obama. Politics is not a battle for the middle. It is a battle for defining the terms of the political debate. It is a battle to be able to say what is the middle.
And I believe Hofstadter recognized this as well. Hofstadter understood what was liberalism's triumphs and how they were achieved and how they could be defeated.

Hofstadter would have understood so well that the Republican triumphs since Goldwater are not ideological "ideas" victories but rather victories of the psychological paranoid style - the "What Is The Matter With Kansas" question.

FDR governed as a liberal but politicked like a populist. . . . The lesson of Hofstadter is to embrace liberal governance and understand populist politics. It may sound cynical, but you must get through the door to govern. Lincoln knew this. FDR knew this. Hofstadter knew this. I hope Obama can learn this.

Democrats, put away the fear, Halperin knows the answer but is afraid to say it. Call out the Republicans. Do not cower. Be proud of what you believe in and be sure Americans know that you know what Republicans are. Victory is there to be grasped - if you have the courage Halperin does not. Just do it.

< The Truth Hurts: Hiatt is Right | Hastert, Republicans and Foley: Too Little, Too Late >
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    Re: Hofstadter via The Note? Not Quite (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sun Oct 01, 2006 at 11:06:08 AM EST
    WORD. FDR at Madison Square Garden, Oct. 1936: "The very employers and politicians and publishers who talk most loudly of class antagonism and the destruction of the American system now undermine that system by this attempt to coerce the votes of the wage earners of this country....It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them....this is propaganda at its worst-it is deceit....But they are guilty of more than deceit....they attack the integrity and honor of American Government itself....[they] are already aliens to the spirit of American democracy. Let them emigrate and try their lot under some foreign flag in which they have more confidence."

    Re: Hofstadter via The Note? Not Quite (none / 0) (#2)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Oct 01, 2006 at 12:04:25 PM EST
    Exactly JTL. Thank you for that great quote.