June 12, 2006
Who will let me pull a Lieberman out of my tent?
In a must-read column today titled "Can liberal bloggers and Democrats get along?" Inquirer political analyst Dick Polman casts a disapproving look at the left wing blogosphere, and while he plays his cards pretty close to his chest, I get the impression he thinks the bloggers are childish and a bit out-of-control.
The left-leaning bloggers are the most energized force in the party these days, a burgeoning grassroots phenomenon that ultimately threatens to rewrite the rules of Democratic politics. Even so, they are still widely dismissed - especially by the Democratic professionals in Washington - as ranting geeks who lack clout and don't deserve to get it.The picture Polman paints is grim. It's ranting geeks who don't know how to dress versus cowardly politicians who won't say what they think:
Moulitsas doesn't look like your typical power broker; in his soccer jersey and baggy shorts, he looks more like the kid who might mow your lawn.As I say, it's a must-read, and (among other things) Polman focuses on the blogger-inspired movement to take down Senator Joseph Lieberman -- and anyone who might sympathize or think like him:
...the drive to oust Lieberman is really the next big test of the bloggers' political clout. They detest Lieberman. Any politician perceived as siding with the GOP, or sucking up to President Bush, is described as "pulling a Lieberman." Any Democrat who defends Lieberman is denounced.One of the tragic aspects of being a RINO is that no matter what I do, there's just no way for me to "pull a Lieberman."
I realize that bloggers are highly unpopular these days (witness the frantic rhetorical attempt in New Jersey to tar Glenn Reynolds and all bloggers with legal training with an Ann Coulter aroma), but Polman's piece highlights something else, and that is the inherently different vulnerabilities of the two major parties where it comes to internal dissent.
This touches on why I became a Republican. (Er, why I went from being a DINO to a RINO.) Right of center bloggers -- whether ordinary conservatives, paleocons, neocons, big business Republicans, or libertarians -- are simply not seen by mainstream Republican Party operatives as anywhere near the same threat that the left of center blogs are by their Democrat counterparts.
Polman does not say why. Instead, he focuses on things like Moulitsas' baggy shorts ("he looks like the kid who might mow your lawn"), and the leftie blogger preference for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches over shrimps and martinis. I think such superficial matters conceal something more important, and that something is a genuine fear of what the leftie bloggers say.
They admit what Democrats are not allowed to admit. That they're socialists. That they are staunchly antiwar, and in general oppose a strong national defense. That the United States is a big, bad imperialistic power. That big business is bad.
For the Democratic Party, such views are bad for business. However, the people who think that way are increasingly the rank and file. And every one of them can now start a weblog. The party leaders cannot afford to alienate them, but they wish they didn't exist, and that they could be stuffed into a closet somewhere.
Dissent within the Republican Party is a lot more complicated. True, there are many right wing Republicans (as well as left-leaning and libertarian Republicans), but they don't all fit into a single camp. Even though libertarians and social conservatives agree that the mainstream has sold them out, if you ask why, they're almost on different planets. Let's face it, how do you compromise between not enough religion versus too much religion? Or "bring back sodomy laws" versus "bring on gay marriage"?
I think that not only do right of center bloggers range across a broader political spectrum, but the Republican Party has been tolerant of a multiplicity of views for a longer time than have the Democrats.
Some of this is because of the well-established Big Tent phenomenon. Anyone can join the Republican Party, but there's little expectation that by doing so, you're going to get your way. By their very nature, libertarians, religious conservatives, gay Log Cabin Republicans, and isolationist conservatives all know they aren't going to prevail, and they have been accustomed to not getting their way for a long time. In general, though, at election time they tend to traditionally realize that if you're a minority in a party that's out of power, you won't even have a chance at having influence.
In contrast to the Big Tent, the Democrats have a lot of small tents consisting of loud and determined activists. They're quite used to getting their way, and they don't value compromise. "Party unity" consists in making promises and hoping they'll shut up and remain as invisible as possible. Above all, being a Democrat means never admitting that you're for socialism. It must be kept in the closet. Too many out-of-the-closet socialists behaving like spoiled brats means trouble at election time, because America has still not yet reached the point where a majority of voters will vote for admitted socialism.
An admitted socialist Democrat cannot win. Yet on the Republican side someone like Ronald Reagan could still theoretically come along and openly admit opposition to socialism, and win. It is this inherently covert nature of Democratic Party politics that makes leftie blogs a much more serious threat. Let's face it, the Democrats are much more afraid of being seen as the party of Sheehan/Rall/Moore than the Republicans are of being seen as the party of Coulter/Falwell/Moore.*
This is not to say that Republicans don't call each other names, or advocate extreme positions that might cause embarrassment to the party leadership. It happens all the time. It's just that it really doesn't really make the party look bad by exposing deep dark secrets. If anything, dissent is one of the Republican strengths.
Thus, blogging -- something bad for the Democrats -- might actually be good for the Republicans. Republicans have thicker skins and not much of a closet to hide in, whereas socialism and antiwarism are now coming out of the Democratic closet, while Lieberman (if he is allowed to live) will be stuffed in.
What about me? Don't I count? I know I'll never get my way, and I have long described myself as politically homeless. If I show up hungry and in need of a political party that will at least tolerate my views, where would I go? I have to say, I think a big tent full of people yelling at each other is more likely to tolerate me than a collection of small tents populated by people who have never learned to get along.
*The dynamics of this are in themselves fascinating. I'm quite accustomed to being told that I belong to the party of Jerry Falwell (and of course these days it's the party of Ann Coulter, who they're trying to morph into Bush's spokesman in chief). The difference between me and my Democrat friends is that I never defend Jerry Falwell, yet they will defend Michael Moore or Cindy Sheehan -- for the simple reason that they agree with Michael Moore and Cindy Sheehan!
This is why I'd feel less comfortable criticizing Cindy Sheehan at a gathering of Democratic activists than I would criticizing Ann Coulter at a gathering of Republican activists.
In my experience, Democratic activists are more likely than Republican activists to behave like the foul-mouthed commenter here.
(I suspect it has something to do with the extent to which individuals are accustomed to being told "no." Might involve childhood experiences or something, but I hate being judgmental about things beyond people's control.)
UPDATE (06/13/06): My thanks to Glenn Reynolds, for linking this post, and to all who read it.
(It's worth pointing out, though, that child rearing is something beyond my area of training and expertise, which means that according to some, I should keep my mouth shut about it.)
UPDATE (06/14/06): Follow up post here.
posted by Eric on 06.12.06 at 07:33 AM
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