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February 17, 2008

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We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it — and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again — and that is well; but she also will never sit down on a cold one anymore.
-- Mark Twain

publius: excellent.

I think there's something else, though. Two other things, actually. First, what looks to an outside observer like the intellectual exhaustion of large chunks of the party. I recall a time when Republicans did have more intellectual energy than Democrats seemed to -- and note, I don't mean to be praising their ideas, just saying that they presented them with more energy. But now I don't see any of that at all, just an endless focus on tax cuts and militarism and being all yay for America without doing any of the things (opposing torture) that are needed to keep America a country worthy of their cheers.

I mean: to me, the difference between the Democratic and Republican primaries, not in terms of positioning on the liberal/conservative spectrum but in terms of intelligence and nuance, has been breathtaking.

The second is that the leader of the party at the moment is an idiot, and that the party, for its part, seems to have embraced defense of its leadership at all costs as a sine qua non.

Maybe there's a third thing: that the Republicans have gotten to that awful stage in the development of political parties and movements in which a lot of energy goes into devising more and more arcane purity tests, rather than encouraging fresh thinking and tolerating disagreement among people who are broadly speaking in keeping with the party/movement's goals.

Having these things all come together, and then the historical accident of the 2002 elections to temporarily mask it, is a sort of horrible version of harmonic convergence. -- I mean, I've been waiting for the Republicans to fall off a cliff for a while, but back in the mid-90s when I first started to think that eventually voters would recoil against some of the stuff they were doing and see them for the radicals I took them to be, I never dreamt that the intellectual exhaustion and the intraparty loyalty tests would happen at the same time as a leader of astonishing idiocy and lack of concern for the party, and that all of this would be temporarily masked by a period of national lunacy, so that the party could basically run off a cliff.

good points all, but I especially agree with this:

I mean: to me, the difference between the Democratic and Republican primaries, not in terms of positioning on the liberal/conservative spectrum but in terms of intelligence and nuance, has been breathtaking.

I mean, that's just obviously true, right? I of course have my biases, and it's an interesting philosophical question of whether I can see clearly beyond those. but still, it just seems like the democratic primary was orders of magnitude more substantive and intellectual and nuanced. maybe some conservatives could weigh in on whether they agree with that or not (even if they disagree with the policy preferences, etc.)

i mean, romney's almost like a character in a novel that symbolizes the whole thing. here's a smart, capable guy who consciously chooses to be a rabble-rousing idiot.

Americans have more to fear from global business interests than we have to fear from the teachings of Mohammed. Privacy laws need to be protected. Federalist 46 and all that.

I’m with you on this one Publius.

Regarding your invitation:

Romney got into the race to honor his father’s aspirations. He is smart enough to realize that when 25% of the population in a pure democracy can’t find the Country on a map, you’ve got to go dumb.

Growing respect for the Founding Fathers, who limited voting rights to lien-free landowners.

I’m sure they’ll all transform into squawking Hayeks if Obama or Clinton win

I take umbrage at this cheap shot against Selma Hayek's pioneering works on free-market liberalism; it's hardly her fault that her canon has been co-opted for self-interested purposes. For shame.

Looks like clintonite Evan Bahy to me.

And o then, not only is the noisome beast sinking to the ground trying to regain breath, but our champion is as fine and just a leader as anyone might hope for.
On our side the light is certainly getting brighter and the fog is lifting.
Just sitting here singing quietly watching you people do all the dextrous heavy lifting.
Thanks. Really swell.

I'd heard rumors that the Democrats now hold majorities in Congress, but based on this I may have to start believing it.

I could not agree more. I'm a limited government conservative, and I used to consistently vote Republican. I have been astonished at how quickly and completely the party has become untethered from its intellectual roots.

I have been baffled at they way the Republicans have quashed policy debate with absurd litmus tests focused on particular methods. The result has been a party committed to ever more tax cuts not fiscal responsibility, a party committed to military adventurism not competent foreign policy, and a party committed to authoritarianism and torture not limited government.

I will be voting for Obama or Clinton in November. I don’t think I am alone.

Very good stuff, Publius.

One thing I'd add about 2006 is that the Republican leadership knew a lot more about how much Democratic leaders were lying through their teeth than the rest of us did. They knew about Pelosi and Reid's participation in secret briefings years before even as P&R were telling us about their desire for serious investigations, and so on. So the Republican machine had good reasons at the top not to expect the rhetoric to amount to anything, and I think you can look back and see that confidence percolating downward.

A little more seriously -- this is a very interesting and plausible analysis, publius, but I do wonder if how much hindsight bias there is here. Let's not forget that even before 9/11, the GOP was already a collection of strange bedfellows, and many of us were already confused as to how the party of evangelicals supporting government bedroom surveillance was also the part of free-market libertarianism as well as the patron of a whole host of industrial interests.

George W. Bush's schizophrenic alliance to all the factions of the party put all those contradictions into sharp relief, and the war only upped the ante of absurdity, as Bush went from "no nation building" to "world police" in the blink of an eye, and both the isolationist and warhawk wings of the party just clapped and honked and jumped up and down like a pack of seals on a meth binge.

The 2008 primaries seems to have exposed many of those rifts, as every wing basically ran their own candidate, and the whole thing turned into a comedy of errors because no one knew who to criticize and who to support, but the question, for me, is still: why not sooner? Or, alternatively, what's changed to counteract the GOP's lockstep advantage and clearly superior narrative control? (And since the former is still holding pretty strong in Congress, what's happened to neutralize its benefits?)

I think there's a few more nuances here that are worth pointing out:

First, it seems clear that the national security narrative made the lockstep enforcers lazy. Without that unifying issue, the GOP's iron discipline had been the key to everything else, the highest priority, because the coalition was just too fragile without it.

Once that was no longer the case, everyone started to go different ways -- the corporate wing set up K Street, the fundies passed anti-gay-marriage amendments, and the libertarians deregulated everything in sight -- and the inconsistencies didn't matter, because in order to win elections, all that was necessary was yelling, "WAR! WAR! WAR!"

But once the war issue lost some of its saliency, the ideological drift was huge; there was no unifying principle to rely on. Surprisingly, the lockstep has remained very consistent -- but what I think we saw in 2006 was that many of the party heavyweights were left in the lurch, without constituencies: DeLay, Santorum, et al. had tried to have their cake and eat it too, draining the evangelicals and corporatists and everyone else, and they had nowhere left to go.

I think that's consistent with much of what you say, but I do think it suggests caution; the GOP's fundamental strengths still remain. The elected officials still march in lockstep, and their message control is still quite good. The intellectual inconsistencies of their coalition are no more absurd than they were in 2000. And many of the guys who got caught with their hands in the cookie jar have already paid the price. The ones remaining have been backfilling those gaps for years now.

The point, I think, is that the GOP spent their windfall on new toys rather than long-term investments, as you say; rather than using the war as an opportunity for consolidating the party and locking in their gains, they got lazy and greedy and assumed that they'd finally won the ideological war.

The Democratic Party is already starting to show some similar complacency; despite the fact that half the party is thinking murder thoughts over Clinton and Obama -- two ideologically similar candidates, really -- and despite that our Senate majority is still getting schooled and that the House isn't much better, at the same time everyone's being alarmingly sanguine about the prospects in 2008 and going forward.

The lesson here is that there's clearly an opportunity, but if we don't consolidate our gains, we could still very well blow it, and badly. Our party discipline still sucks. The lip service to "I'll vote for the nominee in November" paints over the fact that a lot of Obama and Clinton supporters are acting like children. We're still vulnerable in the center, not just to Liebermans but to single-issue voters who are no longer tied to the GOP and now free to vote based on ideology. As hilzoy points out, the GOP has closed ranks quickly, and they've utterly stymied the Democratic Party for the last two years despite the lack of a unifying mandate.

We have practically nothing to show for 2006, despite the supposed sea change; instead, the goalposts seem to have moved from Senate and House majorities (which would have been seen as the keys to the kingdom in 2004) to veto- and filibuster-proof leads. Our ability to pass policies can't depend on having those kinds of margins. That's a fool's errand. There are reasons to be happy about the House's move on FISA, but the Senate's failure is a reason for long-term worry: if we can't win an issue like this with a majority, we're whistling past the graveyard. Our fundamentals are weak. Whatever mandate we lucked into in 2006 won't grow on its own; as we move away from Bush, we'll face the same dividing-the-spoils mess the Republican are facing right now. Things need to change or we're going to be in the exact same spot sooner or later.

... I mean, not to rain on the parade or anything, but to the extent that we're winning recently, it doesn't really seem to have been a result of anything we did. In fact, a lot of it seems to have been despite the things we did.

We can't depend on the outcomes of policies we don't control or on the predictable-and-enjoyable-though-not-constant screwups of the Republican Party. If we don't control our own destiny as a Party, then we're just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It's important to be really careful with "we" in this kind of situation.

The pro-war or at least pro-capitulation-to-Bush camp of Democratic leadership, the Democratic congresspeople who capitulate on some issues and vote well on others but get screwed by leadership's acceptance of Republican "filibustering" and such, and various Democratic voting constituencies all have quite different experiences in recent years, different concerns, and of course different hopes and fears. It's a good exercise to say who you mean to speak for, if you're using "we".

I'm trying to be consistent about that myself. I, um, am making progress at it, with success to be determined at some future date. Yes. Yes, that must be it. :)

As a total cynic I expect the mess Bush&Accomplices left to explode into the face of the next (probably Dem) president. Come the next election, the GOP will successfully sell that as a proof that Dems (or moderates in general) can't be trusted with power (to a degree that may be even true, if the "moderate" Son of Cain wins). They are recycling the 1918 dagger for years now in expectation of that.
All bets are off should there be a real (not just hyped) terror attack (not committed by domestic right-wing loonies) on US soil or should Bush manage to Tonkin in the Iran war he desires.
I also see a high probability of an attempt on the life of the Dem candidate and can't predict the effect of that.

I agree publius, but I'm interested in the omission, in your post, of the MCA debate in 2006.

This was the Republicans' flagship 2002 redux set-up, and the Dem leadership avoided it by choosing power over principle. Plenty of Dems are mad at them about it -- some because they thought it unnecessary, others because they thought it unworthy.

[Oops, last sentences omitted.]

But plenty of people in both camps realized that imposing a purity test was worse than facilitating more of the same -- that is, that staying home would be playing right into the Republicans' hands -- and so turnout wasn't materially suppressed by the cave-in.

Bush will undoubtedly try to cook up something in the fall to make the Dem candidate, and Dems in general, choose between alienating independents or the base. We just have to keep our eyes on the prize.

they've utterly stymied the Democratic Party for the last two years despite the lack of a unifying mandate.

This I disagree with, to this extent: they have a unifying mandate. Protect the President

an interesting and instructive analysis, publius, but I take a little bit of exception to this:

"I assumed that 2006 would get the GOP’s attention, but apparently I was wrong."

Considering the # of GOP congressman not running for re-election (what is it now? 22? 24?) it would seem that the '06 election DID get the attention of a # of them. It is only the true beleivers who still seem to be blinded. And seeing as incumbents nearly always win, the '08 election is shaping up well for the Dems in the House.

Any comments about how that fact fits into your (and others) analysis?

tom

first, i appreciate adam's points above - good stuff.

tom - i think these may be separate questions. retirements are like futures markets - the gop defections basically means that these people think it's going to be a while before they're back in the majority. so, sure, some of that is related to 2006.

but what i was specifically talking about was the strategy of the remaining people to raise fears -- and lie -- about FISA. that's the old 2002 strategy that had served them so well. it really is the best thing in the world for democrats b/c they'll stand their ground on FISA and then see that the sky won't come crashing down around them

It’s not so much the thrashing itself...

Thrashing? There was no net change in the House, and the Republican gain in the Senate was +2. Sure, the Democrats had bigger hopes, but it seems weird to me to call it a "thrashing" from which to draw grand conclusions.

Adam: clapped and honked and jumped up and down like a pack of seals on a meth binge.

Heh, a more perfect description of just about everybody at Bizarro World has yet to be devised.

"Thrashing? There was no net change in the House,"

Which is a major loss, since historically the party not holding the presidency makes gains in the House in off-year elections. The Democratic gain in House seats in 1998 was the first time since James Monroe's second term that the party of a president in the sixth year has added House seats. 2006 was the first year since 1922 that the Democrats didn't lose a single seat.

Historically:

Let's look at the last half-century of midterm elections for the U.S. Senate from 1950 to 2002. Note that we are including all midterm elections, both the first midterm election of a presidency and the second one in the sixth year of the two-term presidency. On average, the president's party has lost three Senate seats in each of those 14 elections.
For the out party to not gain in a midterm is to lose badly.

what gary said

Re: the thrashing point, it's also important to note the psychological impact of losing control of the Senate. Seats 50 and 51 are bigger than the rest.

OT, but I see hilzoy is going to guest blog at Sullivan's site this upcoming week. I guess the response from her last tour there was pretty positive.

And it will be nice to see a pro-Obama voice that doesn't feel the need to engage in unreasonable Clinton bashing.

the Dems had a meandering nominee who decided far too late to come out strongly against the war

This seems a distinctly odd way of describing a candidate chosen by the Democratic Party at the polls. John Kerry didn't just fall from the Heavens. He beat a number of clearly anti-war candidates--Dean, Kucinich, Braun, Sharpton.

The two parties are an interesting contrast at the moment.

As publius says, the GOP may finally be running aground. They certainly have become ideologically and strategically rigid. And the collapse of the Reagan coalition that has been predicted now for over a quarter century may finally occur (though I'll believe it when I see it).

On the other hand, the serious candidates for the Republican nomination this year were actually a good deal more diverse in terms of their policy views than the three serious candidates for the Democratic nomination.

As has been the case for at least two decades, the great divide in the Democratic Party remains the one between the grassroots--who want us out of Iraq, want a generally people-centered set of economic policies, fear the authoritarianism of the Bush administration, and favor impeachment--and the party leadership (including Clinton and Obama) who favor a militarily aggressive foreign policy, support pro-corporate economic policies, are looking forward to taking advantage of the great increase in executive power that the Bush-Cheney administration has effected, and take impeachment no more seriously than they take single-payer healthcare.

The lesson of the 2006 election and its aftermath is, unfortunately, that progressives are more or less willing to be the abused spouses of the Democratic Party.

Once again, the one actually progressive Democratic presidential candidate, Dennis Kucinich, gained no traction at all. Once again, the party will nominate someone who supports bloated military budgets, the insane "war on drugs," neoliberal economic policies and other bits of Beltway conventional wisdom. At least this time 'round, there's a 50% chance that the party will nominate a centrist with real charisma.

Publius,

I agree with your analysis that the GOP campaign tactics which worked so well from 2002-2004 seem to be poorly suited for 2008, but you also seem to imply (not explicity, but in the tone of your posting) that this has longer term implications for the balance of power between the Democrats and the GOP. This doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I think the Democrats may wind up winning resounding victories this year only to find that their prize is a poisoned chalice. From where I stand this year looks like it could easily be 1976 all over again. Consider the similarities:

1 - The military, cultural and fiscal hangovers from the aftermath of a failed or failing war, including an Army that needs to be rested, refitted and rebuilt, a sour public mood, and a huge debt which we will need to pay down.

2 - A decline in US global power, prestige and influence, which means a greater opportunity for enemies to inflict symbolic humiliations on us which would enrage popular opinion in this country.

3 - A stagflationary economy with falling asset values, a declining dollar, commodity price inflation, high energy prices, and a recession which is likely to be prolonged and painful.

4 - A necessary rebalancing of power between the Presidency and Congress + the Courts, which even if done successfully will tend to make the next President look weak compared with the preceding Imperial Presidency. This will reflect poorly on the political party which holds the White House, at least with low information voters, since the President is the symbolic head of the party.

5 - Problems that arise between the White House and Congress when both are controlled by the Democrats (see 1976-1980, 1992-1994) because of their weaker internal party discipline (compared with the GOP) and greater ideological spread between conservative Dems and progressives, which translates into more acrimonious relations between the Hill and the WH (compared with when the GOP controls both).

Given all of these factors, I think the next President (especially if they are a Democrat) will really have his or her work cut out for them not to end up being judged as the Jimmy Carter of the 21st Century. If this happens, then 2012 looks to me to be a lot more like 1980 than like 2008. In other words, just because the GOP is down now, don't expect that they will stay down for very long.

In this context, I don't quite understand how you can condemn the Republican 2002 redux campaign strategy as being too "unique and historically contingent" when you don't know what is going to happen later this year and next year (and the year after that, and...). Without knowing what the future holds in store for us, how can we tell whether the current political climate in 2008 is really a baseline of normality against which the abnormal years of 2002-2004 can be judged, or is just a period of temporary calm which may prove in the long run to have been the more unique and contingent moment?

On the terrorism issue specifically, do you really think the probability of another major terrorist attack on US soil is significantly less than 1? If you think this probability has gone down to near zero, isn't that an endorsement of the Bush administration's counter terrorism policy, or are we safer now despite Bush? If you think that this probability is closer to one, doesn't it seem likely that the GOP's stubborn focus on a politics of fear may prove to be a wise long term investment which pays dividends for them down the road - like a Bear market investor shorting stocks in anticipation of profiting from a downturn?

It seems to me that you are making the same error you accuse the GOP of - taking current conditions and extrapolating them into the future. Do you really expect that the political climate in 2010 or 2012 will resemble the current one, or is that just a default assumption to be used for lack of anything better?

I'm not trying to be nasty or difficult here - I can imagine that you may have good answers to these questions, I'm just not clever enough to think them up on my own, which is why I'm asking.

"are looking forward to taking advantage of the great increase in executive power that the Bush-Cheney administration has effected,"

The other charges in your sentence have evidence to support them that I'm aware of. This one, not so much, but perhaps I'm just unaware: what's the proof of this, as opposed to just speculation?

The other charges in your sentence have evidence to support them that I'm aware of. This one, not so much, but perhaps I'm just unaware: what's the proof of this, as opposed to just speculation?

I'm not sure what would constitute proof, but here are two pieces of evidence....

First, other than Kucinich and Dodd, none of the Democratic candidates have much criticized the Bush Administration's doctrines of executive authority. Nor has the Democratic-controlled Congress shown any real interest in challenging the Bush administration over these issues.

Second, with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter, every president since FDR has done whatever he can to increase the power of the executive branch relative to the other branches of government. The only significant decreases in executive power in the last three-quarters of a century occurred when Congress was willing to assert itself against the weakened Nixon and Ford White Houses.

However necessary a ramping down of presidential power might be, such a development would be very unusual in the context of the modern presidency. Most people who are elected to offices want to have more, not less, authority vested in their office of choice. Absent a candidate's very clear position against the Cheney-style Imperial Presidency v. 2.0, I think it's pretty safe to assume that he or she would simply take up its mantle upon taking the oath of office.

Carter looked weak because he looked weak. Congress was also strong because it had won its battle with Nixon. I know democrats will be more eager to stand up to a democrat than they have been to stand up to bush, but I don't think any 44th president is going to look weak compared to congress.

Publius, I hear what you're saying, but I think there's another interpretation of the FISA fight. Namely, the Republicans thought the Democrats would back down.

At that point, the headlines would read stuff like:

"Democrats back down to President on FISA"
"Democrats give in on spy powers"

etc.

These headlines reinforce 2 narratives:
1. Republicans were right on security
2. Democrats are weak in standing up to Republicans.

So I think its more that they thought it was a fight they could win. And historicall, its a good bet. Enough Dems gave in on a ton of recent "national security" fights to allow Republicans to claim victory on those, I'm sure they thought there was an excellent chance to do it again.

That's why you always hear conservative talkers warning Democrats about things. The whole point is to convince them to back down, because they understand that their agenda isn't popular and needs to be seen as the victorious one to get supporters.

Also, on 2006, I imagine the Republicans believe there are 2 reasons for their losses:

1. Corruption (which your post didn't touch)
2. Iraq policy

As far as #2, the only one that implicates national security, Republicans believe that they have changed policy with the "surge."

Or, alternatively, what's changed to counteract the GOP's lockstep advantage and clearly superior narrative control?

What's changed is that Republican governance under George W Bush has been an unmitigated disaster.

Some of that is due to the unique incompetence and unseriousness of Bush himself. Much more of it is due to the intellectual and, IMO, moral poverty and shallowness of current-day conservative thought and policy.

In other words:

it’s a party that has no serious answer to the big issues of our day

The reason Democrats did well in 2006, and are likely to do well in 2008, is because they have better policies.

IMO they're better on principle, but lots of folks would not agree with that. But, they're also better because they acknowledge and account for basic, real world ground truth. That gets traction with folks across the ideological spectrum.

publius referred above to "thinking man's conservatism". My general impression is that there are lots of very smart people in the conservative movement. There's no lack of big ideas there.

The problem is that their ideas, when actually implemented, don't really make people's lives better. On the contrary. So, they've lost support.

Thanks -

McConnell was on TV tonight. He is brilliant and makes good points defending surveillance. All his points are valid. But I’ve got two rules that have served me pretty well to date:

1. Never trust a co-worker who refers to you as ‘buddy’.
2. Never trust a professional who refers to himself as a ‘professional’.

McConnell broke #2. And he follows the same career pattern after some truly honorable service in Vietnam.

1. Polishing schools.
2. Government work in the trenches.
3. Highly paid work in the private sector (Booz Allen Hamilton; $4 billion in consulting revenues; 19,000 employees; working out to $210,000 per head average; imagine what the top 300 bring in)
4. Return to government service at the top.

Prediction: Next stop, a return to an even more lucrative insider private sector job. Possibly ‘consulting’ for foreign interests (Clinton, Dole, Tom Ridge, Bush 41, Giuliani, Albright, and God knows how many others).

There are forces that want to use the challenge that the teachings of Mohammed present us with to take away our privacy rights. These forces present the larger threat to our freedoms. Good for the Democrats for standing up for privacy rights.

IB: "other than Kucinich and Dodd, none of the Democratic candidates have much criticized the Bush Administration's doctrines of executive authority."

Au contraire. Obama. Clinton.

Another important sign of the Republicans’ myopic focus on 2002 is the youth vote. Think about it – if you are 25, then you were 17 years old when Bush took office. That means there’s a large and increasingly politically-active segment of the population that has only known Bush. To them, conservatism is not Bill Buckley or Russell Kirk or Edmund Burke. It’s George Bush, John Yoo, and Tom DeLay. It’s a party that has (institutionally) appealed to humans’ most base instincts throughout their political lives. And it’s a party that has no serious answer to the big issues of our day – particularly health care and energy. I mean, good lord, if you want some welcome relief from the Obama/Clinton wars, just peek over at John McCain and Mike Huckabee’s policy shops.

Just thought I'd echo that paragraph. I'm slightly older than 25, but not by enough that Reagan hadn't been elected president by the time I was born - and my first political memory is that of the Berlin Wall falling. (To date my age pretty precisely, he'd been elected but not taken office). In my lifetime, there have been three Republican presidents and one Democratic one.

I look at Republican claims to be fiscal conservatives and scratch my head. Two of the three Republican presidents have smashed the record for breaking the budget by comfortable margins (and the third wasn't great and got clobbered for reneging on his tax policy). On the other hand, the one Democratic president has not only balanced the budget but put it into surplus.

I look at the claims of the GOP to superior morality and wonder where they are coming from. Not only is the name the GOP somewhat deceptive, a bunch of practical polygamists hounded a man for having an affair - and everything else they could dredge up. Then I look at scandals from Iran-Contra onwards and notice that they are largely on the side of the so-called Grand Old Party.

Then there's the defence issue. I don't care which side won or didn't win the wars before I was born. (In particular, Vietnam is about as much an issue as WWII for me). As I count it, there have been four shooting wars in my lifetime: Iraq 1, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq 2. Iraq 1 was a complete mismatch. Bosnia actually did something useful. Afghanistan was planned by the Clinton staffers and is being fucked up by Bush. And if there was a more stupid way to run an unnecessary war like Iraq 2, it probably involves nukes. Aimed at your own cities. Will someone please explain to me why I'm meant to think that the Republican's so-called toughness is any more than compensating for a lack of actual success (or experience based on the numbers of GOP draft dodgers) by waving their dicks around. (And it's not as if the covert war record is good for the Republicans - particularly when you count Afghanistan in the 1980s as having been run by Congress - yes, I've recently seen Charlie Wilson's War and am currently reading up on it...)

Meanwhile, over and over the GOP are proving that electing a party that claims to detest government makes about as much sense as electing a conductor who hates music. And this is a summary of pretty much the entire experience of the Republican party in my lifetime.

As a European, most of the above can be taken with a pinch of salt - but it also causes me to wonder why the party that is so right wing it can only fly in circles is even remotely competative with a party of the centre right and that shows some signs of being civilised.

"As I count it, there have been four shooting wars in my lifetime: Iraq 1, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq 2."

How could you leave out the monumental battles and ginormous sacrifices of the noble and triumphant war that produced this classic war epic?

"I don't care which side won or didn't win the wars before I was born."

I know what you mean, but possibly this sentence could be improved with a bit of rephrasing. I suspect you don't actually mean that you think it would be fine if, say, Germany and the Axis had won WWII, do you?

but it also causes me to wonder why the party that is so right wing it can only fly in circles is even remotely competative with a party of the centre right and that shows some signs of being civilised.

Apparently, Francis, you haven't tuned in to American television. Spend two hours in front of what passes for "news" over here, and you'll understand.

IMO they're better on principle, but lots of folks would not agree with that. But, they're also better because they acknowledge and account for basic, real world ground truth. That gets traction with folks across the ideological spectrum.

OK, no disagreement there on which platform is better -- my question is what's changed since 2000 and what's changed since 2006. The GOP platform is the same as in 2000; it's equally bad. Bush was already discredited in 2006. What makes this election special, or indicates that it's part of a trend? It seems to me that an equally plausible explanation is that the Democrats are being as complacent as the GOP was in 2002, even though they've got less to show for it. I don't know if that's necessarily true, but I'm not convinced that we've finally "broken through" or anything like that -- we've heard that tune before.

And, more importantly, I'm still curious what it was that everyone thinks the left did any differently; if the only difference is that the GOP screwed up or that events outside everyone's control changed the landscape, that seems to indicate that the Democrats still don't control their own destiny, and that any gains are still theirs to lose. Maybe that's overly pessimistic, but I'd love to hear a convincing explanation to the contrary.

Adam: offhand I think a couple of things have changed since 2000. First, according to me in my infinite wisdom, the GOP was taken over by its radical lunatic wing in 1994, but the results of this did not become clear immediately, since they didn't have the power to do whatever they wanted, and had to compromise. Since 2000, of course, they have had that power, and the results are evident.

I think this has thoroughly discredited not just a lot of Republican politicians, but also e.g. talk radio people, and the entire storyline that said: if only the world weren't dominated by liberals, things wouldn't be going to hell in a handbasket. It's one thing to make that argument when a Dem. is President, and another altogether to make it when Bush is, and when moreover the GOP is enforcing fierce discipline on its Congressional members.

This is, of course, not something we did; it's something reality did. But I don't think it follows that those gains are reversible in the short run. It takes a long time for people's ways of thinking to change, especially when they are not paying close attention. (Think how long the GOP retained a reputation for fiscal sobriety.) Bush et al have smashed a bunch of GOP strengths, and I do nt think it will be easy to undo this.

The second thing is that we're all a lot more active than we were. There are Meetups, there are blogs, and the blogs help to disseminate information that's not easy to come by otherwise. (One of the reasons I originally joined Emily's List back in 1991 or 1992 was that they told me all about interesting races in other states that I would not normally have heard of. I don't need them to play that role any more.) -- I mean: think of TPM's role in the Social Security fight. It was huge, and it happened by the wonderful expedient of informing citizens, which is always good.

Possibly another thing is: we are not complacent. It makes us more pragmatic: if Ralph Nader gets anything like his 2000 vote totals for a decade or two, I will be astonished. It makes us eager to win. It makes us less inclined than the present GOP to do loyalty tests.

But the institutional Democratic Party is still, for my money, way too complacent and mired in old politics. One thing I hope an Obama win would do is just destroy a number of consultants, etc., who signed on with the Clinton campaign. Having Mark Penn alone disappear from the party for good would be worth the price of admission. -- I suspect that signing on to the Clinton campaign, for consultants (not for voters or for policy types) is very, very closely correlated with the cautious, triangulating, focus-group-testing style of politics, and also with being both wrong and insufficiently imaginative. Clinton was the safe choice back when these people were picking sides. I would love to see all the "safe" Democratic consultants vanish.

Plus, by all accounts, the whole Clinton campaign is heavy on consultants, while the Obama campaign is heavy on organizers. I would love, love, love for the party as a whole to become Obama-like in this respect -- and I think that's independent of the fact that I prefer him on policy grounds, and as a candidate.

Adam: I'm still curious what it was that everyone thinks the left did any differently; if the only difference is that the GOP screwed up or that events outside everyone's control changed the landscape, that seems to indicate that the Democrats still don't control their own destiny...

By 'the left' in that sentence you seem to be referring to Democrats, in particular Democratic politicians. As someone who's on the outer left edge of the party, could I ask you not to use that term to refer to generic Democrats?

It's one of those things that left-wingers, liberals, and centrists Dems can agree on: libs and centrists because right-wingers call everyone in the party 'the left' in an effort to taint Dems with those scary socialist cooties; left-wingers because we're all too keenly aware of the policy differences between us and the leadership and mainstream of the party.

Thanks.

As someone who's on the outer left edge of the party, could I ask you not to use that term to refer to generic Democrats?

Ugh, I know -- you're right... And I was thinking about it as I did it... (You can probably see me intentionally avoiding it in the previous missives) I just got so sick of typing "the Democratic Party" or "Democrats" over and over... I couldn't take it anymore. Anyway, apologies. :)

Also, I think that's a good answer, hilzoy; thanks. It connects up publius' initial thesis with what I was puzzling over in my first post on this thread.

"I would love to see all the 'safe' Democratic consultants vanish."

My one small quibble is that I don't see this happening. A couple going into other business, sure.

But while if Obama is elected, they may lack for Democratic presidential campaigns to run for at least eight years, they won't lack for at least congressional hopefuls and incumbents seeking to gain or retain office, or for governors doing the same. They may have fewer choices, and be paid less, but they won't go away entirely, I suspect, before 2016.

Alas.

I mean, by 2016, maybe the environment will have changed sufficiently that they'll be sufficiently obsolete and aged to all be out of business. But I doubt before then, and I wouldn't count on it happening entirely by then, either. There's a lot of inertia to politics, and I lack confidence that the entire corpus of consultants will be regarded as entirely discredited by every incumbent and hopeful out there.

I figure getting them discredited, and their business reduced, 50%, or 75%, or maybe 80%, max, is probably about as good as we'll get for another eight years.

To be sure, you were likely engaging in a bit of normal hyperbole, and I'm being finicky, as usual. And I hope I'm wrong here.

Plus, by all accounts, the whole Clinton campaign is heavy on consultants, while the Obama campaign is heavy on organizers.

I've gone to a few Obama events here in Houston -- and the campaign itself had a precinct organization meeting/tutorial today. And i gotta say, the whole thing is very impressive. it's just impossible that HRC has something similar going. to be honest, i never really believed in "grass roots" organizing -- it seemed like a fantasy to me that was always irrelevant.

but this thing has made me a believer. this isn't some ragtag operation. it's very much for real

The question of what Democrats did to make this election different -- I think Hilzoy is correct, that it just took more time for voters to see how it played out to have Republicans of the modern variety controlling the Presidency and the Congress.

I have been thinking about my recently-deceased father a lot recently. He was a lawyer and an avid follower of politics, and he chided me once for complaining that "people" (the voters and, worse, the non-voters) didn't study the issues and vote rationally. He told me that people's knowledge grew and opinions changed on a longer time scale than I was expecting from them.

He insisted that we have to trust people to figure things out, but to realize that it takes time. They learn political lessons through their life experiences, not from books.

I think the interesting thing to watch is what happens to the GOP when "maverick" Mccain loses this fall. That seems like it would be a really good excuse for learning lots of bad lessons and further sinking into a circular firing squad and loyalty testing.

Bemused, I think there's excellent support for your father's view in the polling about public thought about Iraq. At first it was all rah-rah for the war. But then support started falling, and kept falling. Then support for impeachment started showing up, and has continued to grow. And the people at large managed it in the face of complete hostility from every corner of the media establishment. Really, the masses at large are doing much better at learning from their experiences than the very serious people are.

Nasty me sees parallels to Italy.
Berlusconi may become ruler for the 3rd time because the Left coalition didn't get anything done due to a) lacking party/coalition discipline, b) the Right coalition marching in lockstep and obstructing anything the Left did, c) Berlusconi controlling the media.

Since I do not think that Italians are more stupid than USians, I won't exclude something similar in the US in 2012 (or maybe as early as 2010 for Congress).

Mundus vult decipi...

my question is what's changed since 2000 and what's changed since 2006.

What's changed since 2000, as both hilzoy and bemused have pointed out, is that we've all had a chance to see what conservative Republican policy looks like when it's actually implemented. They're not good for the average Joe, and average Joe is an intelligent actor and has figured that out.

What's changed since 2006 is, IMO, not much. I'll be damned happy to see the back of Bush and Cheney, and will do whatever is in my power to put either Obama or Clinton in the White House instead of McCain, but I'm not expecting a 1,000 flowers to blossom on January 21, 2009.

Particularly in the areas of executive power and basic constitutional governance, there have been too many precedents set over the last seven years. Even given the cites hilzoy provides above, I don't see either Obama or Clinton putting a rollback of executive privilege front and center.

My expectation is that we'll achieve something like Eisenhower Republicanism under a Democratic banner, only with a stronger and more pervasive domestic surveillance and security apparatus. After the last seven years, I'll take it, but it's not where this country ought to be.

Thanks -

Adam: I just got so sick of typing "the Democratic Party" or "Democrats" over and over.

{Grin} Been there. It's fine to say 'Dems' and 'libs'. Fine with me, anyway...

To sum up your argument in a simpler way, the GOP is currently the equivalent of the Seattle Mariners' front office. The M's FO insists on seeing the 116-win 2001 season as a blueprint for success, rather than as a remarkable fluke (helps when you have no significant injuries for the entire season), and makes one mistake after another based on that assumption. The GOP does the same thing with 2002. May they suffer the M's fate.

My one small quibble is that I don't see this happening. A couple going into other business, sure.

I agree: there's too much of a "status quo welfare" effect for a little failure to matter.

May they suffer the M's fate.

Who's Ichiro in that scenario?

Who's Ichiro in that scenario?

No one. Republicans don't believe in identity politics.

Point being...they'll pick up on the wrong attrtibutes of voters and ignore the functionality...

(Dang. Really are a lot of Washingtonians around here...)

The heroin analogy is wrong. The rush is always the same, it just takes more product.

It's cocaine you are talking about. That first shot is never, ever relived. Ever.

(I feel that way when the Duke basketball team loses).

Sucks for you that it doesn't happen very often, shithead.

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