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.

But he's mighty ticked off: "The media elite have failed us, the political elite have failed us. Republicans have failed us because they can't govern. Democrats have failed us because they can't get elected."

He warns that any Democrats who try to fight blogger power will "be relegated to the dustbin of history." Referring to the next round of presidential candidates, he declares that "it is their responsibility to come to us... . We are a force to be reckoned with." Yet in the next breath, here comes the insecurity: "We're not the far-left extremist wackos that everybody else seems to think we are."

They feel empowered and aggrieved. And no wonder: measurements of their clout, potential or real, are quite elusive. The bloggers and their followers are an increasingly vocal faction within the Democratic base - people who are fed up with losing, and want cowering Democrats to stand up for progressive principles - and they can virtually create insurgent candidacies by raising fast money online. But they have yet to prove that their passion can be translated "offline" - as they call it - into real achievements at the ballot box.

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 can't.

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


Aw, when you linked to a person's comment, I hoped it was mine...

Also, this has been bothering me for years. Shouldn't it just be Democrat professionals in Washington, rather than Democratic?

Democrat is the party, and is a name/noun. Democratic is the political practice, and the two things are different.

If you are saying a town leans Republican, you say, "That town is Republican." If you are saying a town leans Democrat, shouldn't you say, "That town is Democrat," rather than, as I always hear, "That town is Democratic?" Isn't that just saying the town votes?

Or, have the rules of language changed because so many people used them wrong?

Jon Thompson   ·  June 12, 2006 5:50 PM

Jon: Republican is both a noun and an ajective. Democrat is a noun; Democratic is the adjectival form of the noun. Thus, "Democratic base" is correct, and the rules of language have not changed.

Eric: Thanks for linking Dick Polman's article. I hadn't seen it. You also present an interesting thesis -- that blogging is good for Republicans but not for Democrats. I'm not sure I agree, but it might explain a great deal about the 2004 election if even close to true.

I've lurked on your blog for a while, though never commented before. Love the name.


Holmwood   ·  June 12, 2006 7:56 PM

For "ajective", above, please read "adjective".

Holmwood   ·  June 12, 2006 7:58 PM

Sorry about the confusion; I have read about this issue before, and I usually try to use the term "Democrat" in the proper sense.

There's unresolved tension in my writing between the colloquial flow (the way I might talk) and the proper style. The more spontaneously I write, the more likely I am to "talk." And the longer the post, the more likely I am to miss errors.

Because of this sloppiness, I'm very forgiving of errors in others -- so Holmwood, there's no need to correct yourself. (Thanks for your comment!)

You will not find me correcting people's grammar or inserting things like "(sic)" even if I see typos or errors in thoughts I disagree with. All I want to know is what people mean.

Eric Scheie   ·  June 12, 2006 8:31 PM

Though this isn't a novel observation, I've always viewed the Democrat Party as a coalition party (various groups with disparate interests save one, being a part of a powerful party) and the GOP as a consensus party. Why else can blue collar workers coexist with feminists or the homosexualists? Or union members and environmentalists? Or african-americans and jews? Or african-americans and homosexualists? As a result, there is less potential for unity and tolerance among Democrats, because hating/resenting Republicans is not much to rally around.

Ned W   ·  June 12, 2006 10:28 PM

Ned: For a moment, I didn't understand what homosexualist meant. Then I realized that it probably means something along the lines of Christianist. That is, a political philosophy in some way pertaining to homosexuality (Christianity for Christianist). Am I correct?

Eric: I didn't mean to correct or attack you. I was asking because it bothered me specifically because I wasn't sure.

Holmwood: Thank you for the information.

Jon Thompson   ·  June 13, 2006 12:26 AM

Exactly, Ned. That's why the Republican Party has principles that its members more or less agree on, while the Democrat party has a vacuum where its principles ought to be.

Actually, that's unfair. The Democrats do have one principle that they uphold faithfully: nothing is more important than the pursuit of power.

Harry   ·  June 13, 2006 12:34 AM

I thought you article was one of the most open and refreshing articles I've ever read! You are quite correct in asserting that the GOP has disparate groups, but that those groups are smart enough to vote the right way come election time. However, you did not accurately represent the numbers.

There are many millions of republicans who are perfectly happy with Ann Coulter's commentary, and Rev. Falwell's public musings. I am one of them. By contrast, there are not that many Rockelfeler republicans left. 50 years ago maybe it was difrrent, but today, more people become republican becasue of disgust with the atheist lifestyle promoted by democrats, than they do because of economic policies. And, of course, the oxymoronic " fiscally conservative, socially liberal", has been shown to be non-existent.

So, everything you said is true. An you are perfectly permitted to think what you will of people like Coulter ( no matter how wrong headed I think you are for thinking that way). But please bear in mind that you are still only a minority. Moderately liberal views in the GOP should be respected and listened to, but not implemented in practice.

Robin Benes   ·  June 13, 2006 10:54 AM

I do not believe Robin's assertions to be correct.

Robin -- Do you have numbers to back your assertions that 'Rockeller Republicans' or 'fiscally conservative / socially liberal' Republicans do not exist in large numbers?

I think that actual numbers might suprise you. For example, most "Reagan Republicans" and "Bush Republicans", not to mention most "neo-conservatives" (including any number of the policy-makers themselves) appear to hold this exactly the sort of beliefs you say are non-existant in the GOP.

Why do you think the Defense-of-Marriage amendments are used as an only half-serious pander to the base, rather than a full-on policy imperative? Because that sort of policy is not quite as popular among the Republican voting public as it is among a certain part of the base, would be my guess.

Do you imagine Republican-leaning bloggers such as Glenn Reynolds or Sean Hannity to be far outside the mainstream when they deride Coulter's rediculous polemics or Falwell's hilarious explanations of weather as G-d's wrath? How about Rush Limbaugh, do you imagine him and his multi-million person listening audience to be largely outside the Republican mainstream? He has also been known to mock Falwell and to support personal freedoms over moralizing laws in a number of cases.

Marc Siegel   ·  June 13, 2006 1:36 PM

Marc- I believe that Robin is an agent provocateur. How authentic does it seem for someone to come forward and say, "Golly-gosh. Thanks for supporting us, but we don't care what you think?" I submit that the answer is that it seems as authentic as the claims of your average diet product.

Jon Thompson   ·  June 14, 2006 4:43 AM

"seen the Democrat Party as a coalition party and the GOP as a consensus party."

as stealth socialists attempt to seize power, their strength is their undoing

similar to watching Islamist state-sponsored mercenaries degenerate into street mafiosi

DINO- that's excellent- but are some RINOs deliberate infiltrators, weakening the party at the Congressional level?

alzaebo   ·  June 14, 2006 6:14 AM

I became a Republican because of their athiests values.

Well not really. I was brought by economics and war. The athiesim I bring to the party for free.

M. Simon   ·  June 14, 2006 7:41 AM

What you are watching is the demise of the Democrats.

Eventually we will get two parties and the main issues will be social. The drug way, abortion, etc. The war and economics will be settled issues.

M. Simon   ·  June 14, 2006 7:50 AM

Thanks for all the comments! One small point: I barely mentioned "Rockefeller Republicans" and I recognize they are few in number -- as are the Log Cabin Republicans. But there are also big business conservatives, religious conservatives, atheist conservatives, libertarians, NeoCons, Paleocons, etc. Total them all up and you have the Republican Party.

I take issue with the statement that "the oxymoronic ' fiscally conservative, socially liberal', has been shown to be non-existent." It is neither orxymoronic nor non-existent. I am surrounded by such people in the Philadelphia area, and they are a major part of the Republican Party, and as to oxymoronic, that depends on the definition of social liberal. Is it a contradiction to say that the government should stay out of our personal lives as well as our financial lives? Does not limited government mean limited government?

Bear in mind that a large number of Bush voters in 2004 believed that abortion should be always or mostly legal:


M. Simon, welcome! I suggest everyone read your piece titled "Coalition Warfare":


(BTW, I was in Rockford a couple of weeks ago, and saw you mentioned in the local paper.)

Eric Scheie   ·  June 14, 2006 5:04 PM

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