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"Chuck Norris doesn't read books; he stares them down until he gets the information he wants out of them."
- ChuckNorrisFactsdotcom

Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Wow does everyone seem to be in a cranky cynical mood today! (And this is coming from me!)

posted by Rachel 10/22/2003
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A big excerpt from an even bigger
"But during the primary process, the factions in each party contend with one another. In the primary process, the candidates work within a self-selected political subset of the nation, which is unrepresentative and polarized, and "extreme". In their own way, every faction is extremist and is defined by the ways in which it differs from the mainstream, and to gain nomination, a candidate has to form a majority coalition inside the party, by appealing more strongly to enough members of enough extremist factions than any of his opponents. In a sense this is somewhat similar to the way that splinter parties become part of ruling Parliamentary coalitions in Europe, but in the US it's an emergent property of our electoral system rather than being formally part of the national charter. Also, having this happen before the general election means that particularly detestable extremists who someone game the system and disproportionately influence the process still have to face the general election, where their candidates will carry that detestable burden.

Such groups are more likely to be "vote for" than "vote against". They're agnostic on many issues but have strong preferences for certain points of view on others. It's another multidimensional problem. On any issue, a given position will attract support strongly from some factions, weakly from others, and will draw weak or strong opposition from yet other factions. Sometimes there will turn out to be a sweet spot, some locus of positions which maximizes overall support. (Not always, though.) If such a sweet spot exists, then all the candidates will tend to be drawn towards it.

That's what seems to be going on in the Democratic party now. And because of it, I think they have little chance of winning the general election next year. The single biggest advantage Bush has is that he faces no important competition within the Republican party for nomination, and therefore he doesn't have to go through this process of trying to appeal positively to the various extremists within his party.

Those same positions which the Democratic candidates must embrace now in order to have a chance of being nominated will work against them in the general election, because right now the Democratic coalition is dominated by factions who are particularly alienated from the American mainstream and some of whom profess opinions that the majority of Americans detest.

Last week's recall election in California doesn't prove that there's a new Republican majority forming in California, but it definitely did prove that the Democratic factions which have been dominating the primary process do not appeal to the broad majority. Between them Schwarzenegger and McClintock got more than 60% of the vote, including a substantial percentage of blacks and Hispanics who usually support the Democrats. The Democrats only prevailed in an enclave centered on, yes, San Francisco.

This serves as a confirmation of the 2002 Congressional elections, where the Republicans gained seats in both chambers and the Democrats lost control of the Senate. Historically, the opposition party usually gains strength in the mid-term elections, and so Republican gains were noteworthy, not least because it meant that for the first time in decades, the Democrats control none of the presidency or the two legislative chambers.

Neither of those necessarily proves an increased commitment to the Republicans. What they both do prove is decreased support for the Democrats.

Any political position or locus of policies which is viable within the Democratic primary process will be fatal in the general election. Any locus of policies which would be even remotely viable in the general election (such as the one held by Lieberman) is fatal within the primary process. Like Groucho Marx, who said that he wouldn't want to belong to any club which would have him, the Democrats will refuse to nominate any candidate who actually would have a chance of winning.

There are Democrats who could actually run against Bush and would have a chance of winning. But they won't get that chance.

Some factions are not assets. In times past, the Republicans were badly hurt overall by the influence of Southern segregationists, and later by the influence of the religious right. But over the long run this also tends to be self-correcting, as less extreme members of those factions, and especially as members of other factions, come to realize that the cost of pandering to those factions exceeds the benefit of doing so, and that overall it's counterproductive.

Republican candidates still give lip-service to supporting the religious right, but they no longer have much real influence. The segregationists no longer have any influence at all. The Republicans collectively finally realized that attempts to please those groups were causing them to lose. So with a power realignment inside the party, which deemphasized the most odious voices, the Republicans have become stronger over the last fifteen years.

But that's because they've realigned to be closer to the American center. That's healthy; it's what we would want to have happen. They're winning because their policies and candidates are more like what the voters actually want.

Right now the Democrats have equally poisonous factions, but the Democrats haven't yet marginalized them. Some of them are blatant, shrill, extreme, uncompromising and unfortunately for the Democratic candidates particularly influential within the party. Some are easily tagged with pithy phrases like "tax and spend liberals" or "Blame America First". They're a liability rather than an asset to the Democrats, but there hasn't been any kind of serious backlash against them within the party itself. And there probably won't be until the Democrats really crash and burn after pandering to them, which is the most likely outcome next year.

Actually, they've been in a slow motion train wreck for a while, but they're in denial. In 2000, "Bush was selected rather than being elected". In 2002, it was just bad luck because of the war. Just wait until next time; we'll get them next time.

And the candidates are criticizing each other, and they're all criticizing Bush. Other advocates who align with the Democrats are also criticizing Bush. There are claims that it's affecting his poll numbers. But his poll numbers now don't matter with respect to next year's election.

A year is a long time, and even if things are not as good now as they might be for Bush (or are not perceived that way by many), if they've improved by next September then what's happening now won't matter to him. Some events wipe away what came before. (Those of us who were nervous about the UN dance last winter forgave Bush once he finally launched the invasion of Iraq.)

Few voters are making a decision about next year's general election now. Either they've already decided long since, or else they'll decide next summer.

The Democratic campaign for President began in earnest several months ago, but the Bush campaign won't really start until next spring.

But what the Democratic candidates are saying now will come back to haunt them. Their only hope is to embrace extreme positions now in order to get nominated, and then to mellow their positions during the campaign for the general election in hopes of appealing to the center. It isn't going to work. The Republicans will make sure of that, even if no one else does, and the overall impression that the Democrats are creating through their rhetoric is that they are negative, defeatist, alarmist, and nitpicky. They are perilously close to giving the impression that they think we actually deserved to be attacked in September of 2001, and that we have no right to fight back or to defend ourselves.

But when Bush begins his campaign, he'll be campaigning for the general election even though primaries will still be going on. His message won't be tuned to appeal to party factions, because he won't have to. Even as the Democratic candidates continue delivering an extreme message designed to appeal to extremist party factions during the ongoing primary process, the message Bush will be delivering will be positive, constructive, reassuring. He'll say that things had been bad but they're getting better. By the time the Democrats have finally selected a single candidate, Bush will already have won the general election.

The Democrats will try to demonize Bush, to make him seem horrible so that their own candidate is seen to not be as bad. But whoever it ends up being will emerge from the primary process carrying so many hot-button negatives that he'll compare unfavorably to enough voters to let Bush win.

That's a simplistic evaluation, and there are always other factors which could become involved. Bush can't take anything for granted. If things really go to hell next year, then an extremist Democratic candidate might have a chance. If the economy once again tanks, and if by next summer there has been no tangible improvement in Iraq, and if Iran tests a nuke and then threatens us with another, and if war breaks out in Korea, and if there's another terrorist attack on us which is even more destructive than the last one, then that would have the effect of seriously discrediting Bush overall. (Maybe; these things are tricky, and some of those might well work in his favor depending on the exact circumstances.) But if the economy continues to recover, and if the rebuilding process in Iraq has shown real progress by then, and if there hasn't been any diplomatic catastrophe elsewhere, (i.e. Iran actually builds nukes but doesn't admit it and doesn't test them, the situation in Korea continues to simmer but doesn't boil over) then for all intents and purposes Bush will be unbeatable by any candidate that the Democrats actually end up nominating. The process they're using to pick that candidate pretty much guarantees it.

So 2004 will be the nadir for the Democrats. Barring extraordinary events, in 2004 the Democrats will crash and burn, and then many in the Democratic party will finally start asking whether the "Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party" is actually a liability rather than an asset, something to be isolated and frozen out instead of pandered to. Given that they, like the religious right, have nowhere else to go, it's not even clear that the Democrats actually need to pander to them. If that happens, the Democrats may again become viable in the US.

The Republicans eventually did that to the Falwell-Robertson religious right, and that's part of how they regained viability. But the practical effect of that was for the overall party ideology to move closer to the uncommitted American center. It wasn't just a cosmetic change, an attempt to find a new way to deliver the same old message.

If the Democrats eventually marginalize the Tranzis, they too will move closer to the American center, from the "opposite side". If a disaster in 2004 doesn't bring that about, they'll suffer further disasters in 2006 and 2008 (and 2010...), and eventually they'll make that change, and once again become competitive out of narrow self interest. For in the long run, not even leftists like being ideologically-pure losers. There's no substitute for victory.

Which is interesting: it means there's a natural tendency for the two parties to self-correct and to track the national political consensus (which itself changes over time), and also a tendency for them to polarize on different sides of the center, but not too far away from the center. And thus there is a natural tendency in the long run for them to continue to present us with real choices. Sometimes parties fade for a while, but they respond by adapting and recovering. It's happened before.

Clinton was not the last Democratic president; the Democrats will yet again control the White House.

But they won't do so in 2004. I think 2004 will instead initiate what sports franchises refer to as "team building", forcing the Democrats to start contemplating that now-classic rhetorical question: "why do they hate us?"
I guess we just have to wait another election for them to hit rock bottom. I wish we didn't because I generally don't believe that this kind of one party dominance is healthy. But... I think maybe it's the best situation for this particular point in history. Only time will tell. Signs point to a growing awareness of the problem. (That is the first step.) I don't think they'll do enough soul searching to fix things in time for 2004. I'd like it if they'd get on the ball for 2008.
Good grief! Turns out I'm a neoconservative.
  • My #2 result for the SelectSmart.com selector, Ideology Selector, is Neoconservative

    Conservative has such a nasty connotation to it. Thank you Pat Robertson. I'm also pro-choice, pro equal rights for gays, and pro legalizing drugs. But I tend to vote republican so I guess I'll accept the neocon label until something better comes along.

    posted by Rachel 10/22/2003
    . . .
  • There you
    "There are people who are so convinced of their conclusions that they assume that no other answer is possible. If others seem to disagree, it's because those others just aren't fully aware of the situation, and must have it explained to them. And if the others still don't seem convinced, then it will get explained again, and again, only louder each time.

    It doesn't occur to such people that someone else might have just as good an understanding of what's going on but still come to a different conclusion. Brant doesn't seem to recognize that someone can have exactly the same data but still come to different conclusions.

    It amounts to a failure by such people to understand their own inductive reasoning process. Without going into too much detail, induction is not objective, and two people can work from the same data and arrive at different inductive conclusions because they may place different values on different parts of that data. Brant thinks that dead and wounded American GIs is the most persuasive piece of information in this case, and doesn't understand that a lot of us consider other things to be more important. If we don't agree with her, she assumes it's because we don't know that Americans are dying in the war. It's inconceivable to her that someone might well know that and yet continue to support the war."
    That phenomenon is what I find so infuriating about the left today. I hated it in college. I hated it after the 2000 election. I hated it post 9/11. I hated it then I hate it now. It showed up during the California election. This inability to recognize that other people may sincerely disagree with you. It gets in the way of a rational discourse on the issues. Get over the conspiracy theories and the accusations of dirty tricks.

    posted by Rachel 10/22/2003
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