Friday, September 28, 2007

Why It's So Important that Hillary be Defeated

I have refrained so far from explicitly coming out in favor of any Democratic presidential candidate, or of explicitly bashing any of our presidentials. In fact, many may remember my post I would work hard for a Hillary/Lieberman ticket, in which I took the position that getting Republicans out of the White House was too imperative to allow intra-party fights to sour our work ethic and enthusiasm.

But now I must insist on the importance of explicitly coming out against the Hillary juggernaut. As is obvious from observing the recommended list on any given day, many here are already boosting their own preferred candidates in a hope of defeatign Hillary for the Democratic nomination. But the majority of progressive bloggers here and elsewhere are taking more of a wait-and-see approach to this primary--partially, I am sure, in a desire to avoid the sorts of meltdowns that took place in the wake of Howard Dean's narrow loss in the 2004 primaries.

The first reason for my change in attitude about this election can be found in my post from yesterday titled The Time for Radical Change is NOW. As much as America cannot afford 4 to 8 more years of Republican leadership, America cannot much better stand 4 to 8 years of middling lack of leadership on ticking time-bomb issues that require immediate, radical attention: reversing the income inequality gap, significantly curbing carbon emissions, and defunding the military-industrial complex (which includes, of course, withdrawing troops from Iraq.)

But the second reason is one that strikes close to home for the netroots: if Hillary wins, it will not be seen as a victory for both progressives and Democrats, or a mandate for progressive values. No matter how far to the left Hillary tacks in the primary to make herself seen as a viable agent of change (laughable as that may seem to us), her eventual victory will be seen as nothing less than a huge slap in the face to the netroots progressive movement, and a vindication of DLC ideology.

If you doubt this, look no further than today's preening and repulsive column by Washington darling David Brooks in the New York Times. In the tauntingly titled "The Center Holds", Brooks takes the opportunity to disparage the entire progressive movement and the netroots by using a single cudgel: Hillary's increasing lead in national Democratic Party polls.

In the beginning of August, liberal bloggers met at the YearlyKos convention while centrist Democrats met at the Democratic Leadership Council’s National Conversation. Almost every Democratic presidential candidate attended YearlyKos, and none visited the D.L.C.

At the time, that seemed a sign that the left was gaining the upper hand in its perpetual struggle with the center over the soul of the Democratic Party. But now it’s clear that was only cosmetic.

Now it’s evident that if you want to understand the future of the Democratic Party you can learn almost nothing from the bloggers, billionaires and activists on the left who make up the “netroots.” You can learn most of what you need to know by paying attention to two different groups — high school educated women in the Midwest, and the old Clinton establishment in Washington.

The reason, says Brooks, is Hillary's lead in the national polls--which stands in opposition to the prevailing preference of the progressive blogosphere and many of the educated activists in Hollywood and elsewhere. Meanwhile, says Brooks, the DLC is still firmly in the driver's seat when it comes to making policy in the Democratic Party:

Clinton has established this lead by repudiating the netroots theory of politics. As the journalist Matt Bai makes clear in his superb book, “The Argument,” the netroots emerged in part in rebellion against Clintonian politics. They wanted bold colors and slashing attacks. They didn’t want their politicians catering to what Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of the Daily Kos calls “the mythical middle.”

But Clinton has relied on Mark Penn, the epitome of the sort of consultant the netroots reject, and Penn’s approach has been entirely vindicated by the results so far.

In a series of D.L.C. memos with titles like “The Decisive Center,” Penn has preached that while Republicans can win by appealing only to conservatives, Democrats must appeal to centrists as well as liberals. In his new book, “Microtrends,” he casts a caustic eye on the elites and mega-donors of both parties who are out of touch with average voter concerns.

Fourth, the netroots are losing the policy battles. As Matt Bai’s reporting also suggests, the netroots have not been able to turn their passion and animus into a positive policy agenda. Democratic domestic policy is now being driven by old Clinton hands like Gene Sperling and Bruce Reed.

Moreover, Brooks argues that in spite of the lip-service Democratic politicians may offer the netroots, the kowtowing and cowardly votes that the Congressional Dems make are reflective not of fear of Republican retaliation, but rather of their own (outdated) views of the electorate.

The fact is, many Democratic politicians privately detest the netroots’ self-righteousness and bullying. They also know their party has a historic opportunity to pick up disaffected Republicans and moderates, so long as they don’t blow it by drifting into cuckoo land. They also know that a Democratic president is going to face challenges from Iran and elsewhere that are going to require hard-line, hawkish responses.

My point here is not to argue with Brooks' self-satisfied pompous idiocy. It would be too easy to point to polls showing that voters prefer Democrats to Republicans on handling terrorism. It would be too obvious to point out that the electorate can no longer be described as conservative, or that the views of the public do not reside in vaccuum, untouched by recent events and experiences. It would be too simple to point out the victories of self-described progressives and the losses of DLC dems in 2006, or to indicate that Clinton's strong name recognition among those who barely pay attention to politics may be helping her significantly--especially since the attack ads haven't yet begun. It would be too facile to demonstrate that preference for presidential candidates is dependent on a variety of factors, arguably the least important of which is specific policy views.

None of that is the point. The point is that in the noxious air of Washington, D.C., in which the major decisions are made, people like Brooks will misguidedly see a Hillary victory as a reason to breathe a sigh of relief and remain comfortable with a lack of serious change in the way business is done in American government. Regardless of the reality of the situation, Hillary's inauguration will be nothing less than confirmation of the prevailing wisdom of the status quo--just with a little less swagger and explicit giveaways to Wall Street, the oil industry, and military contractors.

Hillary, unfortunately, has made her stance clear--and that tiger isn't going to change its stripes. She is the DLC candidate, and she is intending on staying that way. And as far as she has swung left in order to capture the Democratic primary, she'll swing just that far back to the center in the general election, working under the misguided theory that she must do so in order to appeal to "moderate" voters (who, by and large, actually stand to the left of the Party overall on most issues).

And because she has chosen that strategy, the actual repercussions of her hypothetical victory are beyond the control of us, the Congress, or even Hillary herself. The message that will be sent to America at large is that while Bush's excesses will be gone, nothing major will actually change--and "the adults" like Broder will still be firmly in charge.

For that reason, if for no other, there can no longer be any ambivalence about Hillary's candidacy among the netroots. This is not an issue of some better and some worse candidates from among a good field. The battle has been pitched by the Beltway class: either she wins, they get vindicated, and we lose--or we win, she loses, and people like David Broder are forced to explain just what happened to their precious conventional wisdom.

There's just no other way.

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