10 January, 2006

The Myth Of The Democratic Base

This is an idea that's been bouncing around in my skull for the last two months, so kindly excuse any stray echoes. However, this post by the Mystery Pollster started off in a way that renewed my thought process:
Over the last few weeks, bloggers have debated the appeal of a potential presidential candidacy by Hillary Clinton to the "base" of the Democratic party.
Notice how he put the word base in the quotation marks up there? Good.

Because we Democrats don't actually have a base to speak of.

Look at the GOP of the past twelve years or so. They have three easily identifiable sections that can always be relied upon for an boost completely independent of, but oftimes in the lead position of, the basic rank-and-file of the Republican Party. Think of them as more of the Red Bull of partisan politics:
  • The Religious Right: As a whole they will always support the social portions of the Republican platform and, by extention, the platform as a whole. Period. Ad infinitum. Ad astra. Ad nauseum. And the party knows it, too. See: Gary Bauer, Pat Robertson, James Dobson.
  • Economic Conservatives: Particularly those of the low-taxes/low-spending variety, they are the central axis on which support for the economic portions of the platform rely on. The party doesn't need to know this one, as they tend to be at the forefront of the push anyways.
  • Social Libertarians: Read as strict constitutionalists, this category is the spiritual home of a vast majority of NRA members, but also contains the property-rights supporters and members of the Fourth Amendment Foundation. See: Charlton Heston and pre-Bush-the-Elder/post-Richard-Nixon Hunter S. Thompson.
Well, that is an easy set of bullet points, isn't it. Simple. Honest. Direct. Everyone in their categories and every category interested in a single goal. And what else is it?


So let's take a look at the majority factions of the Democratic Party. Again, this is not including the basic rank-and-file liberals that the party depends on for its general existence, but the specific categories that supposedly make up the base and the different single-issue sections involved.

Social Liberals
  • Pro-Choice Campaigners
  • Feminists
  • African-American-centrics
  • Mexican-American-centrics
  • The Political Correctness Movement
  • Big-E Environmentalists
Economic Liberals include:
  • National Heath Care advocates
  • Social Security advocates
  • Big Government advocates
Political Liberals include:
  • Rank-And-File Democrat (as opposed to liberal) Voters
  • The Socialist/Communist Minority Wing
  • Civil Libertarians
Notice the difference between the two sets of bullet points? Not yet, huh. Well, it's simple. Our party is being pulled in vastly different directions by every single interest group within the greater definition of the word Democrat, while the GOP's bullet point list is all pulling together towards a common goal, namely the continued dominance of their political viewpoints in the public arena.

And far be it for these different categories of liberals to work together on an issue, or even place the party above their own specific area of concern. Look at the Nader candidacy of 2000 for an example of how one specific section of the alledged Democratic base splintered off to support their own set of issues. Sure, it was great in most of the country for the greater cause of "raising awareness of (insert-issue-here)" that the more liberal folks out there constantly attempt, but in the end it cost us the White House for eight years, which shows that the means did not justify the ends.

Admittedly, there are folks that represent many of these ideas in the same body. Look at folks such as Kevin Drum, Duncan Black, and Josh Marshall for the biggest of the blog-writing examples. However, their range tends to be limited strictly to the latter of the overriding categories, and leave the first category completely alone. Once that first category is breached, regardless of severity or intention or other areas of concern, those involved are considered to be (at least in the realm of public perception and political definition) single-issue voters and reduced to simply being single-issue activists based off of that one category.

You need another example? I have two words for you: Amanda Marcotte. 'Nuff said?

And you want to know the really difficult part about this whole issue? The party as a whole cannot survive without the social liberal wing. Should every single member of the social liberal factions be sent off into a political netherworld and fend for themselves on the ballot, the only parts of the country that would continue to be represented by Democrats would be the most traditionally liberal areas.

And so, we must continue the unwieldy methods as best indicated in this post on the Daily Kos back in October. Why? Because the socially liberal factions of the party demand their pound of flesh and prominent display on the platform. If it is not provided, they will threaten to take their toys and leave, and thereby flush the commode on any hopes for a Democratic victory for that year.

Which is why there is not, and cannot be, an easily defined "Democratic Base", at least not in the way the Republican Base is defined. Our party relies on so many different (and constantly shifting) alliances that to be able to define them in one fell swoop is impossible. And any attempt to do so is futile, as those very same alliances will insist on primary credit.

1 comment:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

My take is that the Democratic base is pretty analogous:

* Unions (this provides the grass roots efforts that the religious right provides the GOP).
* Social Liberals (this provides the money that the low tax crowd provides the GOP).
* Minorities (as in the case of Social Libertarians in the GOP, they provides a grass roots base for Democrats because the other party strongly opposes them and because both the economic justsice of the unions and the social justice of the social liberals, resonates with them).