March 13th, 2006

Voted for Dean

Surrender, Surrender, But Don't Give Yourself Away

There was a lengthy article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine section on the 2008 presidential campaign strategy of Virginia governor Mark Warner: Matt Bai, "The Fallback." And when I read the following excerpt, half the world came crashing in on me.
Thanks to the inscrutable wonder of campaign finance laws, Clinton can roll every penny that she doesn't spend on her Senate campaign into a presidential account, which is why she could well start a bid for the White House with as much as $75 million, on course to obliterate the party's previous fund-raising records. No matter how much a governor like Warner raises in his political action committee, on the other hand, the rules say that he can't spend any of it on a presidential run; it can go only for general political activity, mostly backing other candidates. This means that should Warner decide to run, he'll have to start again from zero, while Clinton is backing up 18-wheelers to the bank.

What's more, Clinton will arrive in early primary states with a built-in base of voters. She has been campaigning in these states, off and on, for 15 years and knows every stop along the way; she can count on the endorsements of most of the local elected officials and interest groups, all of whom come with their own e-mail lists and organizers. ...

So formidable are the obstacles to challenging Clinton that even a lot of party operatives who don't think she's the best candidate are likely to work for her, just to be on the winning side. And this is precisely the strategy that her team has thus far cultivated. Just as Karl Rove set out to make George W. Bush's nomination seem inevitable in 2000, successfully freezing much of the money and talent that might have flowed to his competitors, so, too, do Clinton's advisers seem to be sending out signals that resistance is not only futile but also dangerous.
In other words, the Democratic Party is conceding the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, without even waiting to see who the Republicans will nominate. The Onion had it right; the Democratic Party has gotten used to being the powerless opposition, and is clinging to that self-perception with both hands.

When Robert Heinlein wrote his 1948 non-fiction masterpiece Take Back Your Government, the Democratic Party was the party enjoying single-party rule in America. It wasn't in all ways a comfortable fit, even then, for Heinlein, but when he ran for office himself, he ran as a Reform Democrat, hoping to beat the Machine Democrat candidate in the Democratic primaries. Although he does not discuss his own run in the book, there's a chapter in there that explains why, and reading it shaped my thinking. He argued that campaigning for a party that can't win, whether the opposition party in a single-party state or a third party in a normal year in America, is a waste of everybody's time and money, because if it's not about governing, or at least credibly attempting to govern, then you're better off not calling what you're doing "politics." Indeed, the Libertarian Party has never been more influential than it is now ... when hardly anybody left alive in America has actually heard of the Libertarian Party. Everybody in politics, though, knows about the Cato Institute and most of them know Reason magazine, and, of course, libertarians control the economics departments of an awful lot of ivy-league and near-ivy schools. They for all practical purposes retreated from actually running for office, and concentrated on the war of ideas, which was smart strategy on somebody's part.

So if the Democratic Party is going to keep trying this hard to lose, perhaps it is time for any of you (us) who want to actually have a say in how the country is run to run as isolationist, small-government conservative Republicans. Given the lock that the Democrats for the Leisure Class have on the party fund raising and nominating process, that viewpoint's probably not any more alien to the Republicans than it is to the current Democratic hierarchy. And for those of you (us) who can't in all good conscience caucus in the same party as the Religious Right, it may actually make more sense now ... and notice who's saying this, mind you ... to give up on actual politics and concentrate on funding a think tank, publishing one or more policy journals, and winning the war of ideas in the press and in academia. For the next ten years, anything else may well be a total waste of time.
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