Friday, February 20, 2009

Bipartisanship and the new Parliamentary Era Part Five

Bipartisanship and the New Parliamentary Era Part Five: Into the Present

I feel like a professor who has dwelled too long on the old stories and run out of time at the end of the semester. You're all familiar with the recent history, but let's briefly review it through my thesis, that the stumilus vote represents the final realignment of American politics into two parties centered around consistent ideology and party discipline.

The rise of the netroots, which in its primitive form can be traced back to MoveOn in 1998, gave progressives an organizing, fundraising and news network to compete with the right's talk radio, mega-churches and mail lists. And as a result, the Democratic Party got nudged a notch or two leftward, especially when “no chance” netroots candidates won in 2006.

The hanging chads of 2000 united Democrats in we-was-robbed outrage and, also important, killed progressive third party prospects (We forget now that Al Gore ran as a moderate, not as Saint Global Warming, and Ralph Nader had a lot more progressive support than we care to remember). There was only one game in town for the left now: working inside the Democratic Party, where it was an article of faith that Bush had stolen the election.

Rubbing salt in the wounds, Bush proceeded to act like he'd won a Reagan-size majority, governing from the right after campaigning from the center.

2004 was a throwback, Cold War style election. Howard Dean had proven that the new ways worked, but at the last second before Iowa, Democrats had a panic attack and decided they HAD to go with the “safe” choices: John Kerry (“They can't attack him, he's a war hero!”, ignoring the lessons Max Cleland learned in 2002) and John Edwards (“He'll help us win the South!”)

The abysmal fall Kerry campaign was the end of an era. The end of 50.1 to 49.9. The end of running 18 state campaigns funded by large donors and ignoring important down-ballot races. The end of “I was for it before I was against it.” The end of the Vietnam-Boomer generation. The end of cautious, cold feet choices.

Republicans overplayed their hand with remarkable cynicism and chutzpah, as symbolized by the mid-decade re-gerrymander in Texas. In the short term, it was successful, replacing five moderate Democrats with arch-winger Republicans and pushing the poles further apart. But it was just one of many things that said, these guys don't play by the rules.

2005 was the breaking point. So many milestones. Social Security privatization. Roberts and Alito. And every day the war, the war, the war. And worst of all, Katrina.

In both parties, activists tried to enforce party discipline. The anti-tax purists Club For Growth targeted open safe seats and “RINO” incumbents, and Democrats went after Joe Lieberman. While Joementum won the 2006 general as an independent, Ned Lamont had sent a message that ending the war was a core Democratic issue.

The 2006 massacre landed hardest in the northeast and rust belt and on the few surviving moderates, “Bush enablers” as Dave Loebsack called Jim Leach. New England, the bedrock of the GOP in the New Deal Era, was down to a lone Republican House member, Chris Shays of Connecticut.. By 2008 he was gone and only three were left from New York. What was left of the House GOP was disproportionally Southen, male, and white (all but the three South Florida Cubans).

Finally, victory seems to have had a liberating effect on congressional Democrats, no longer scared of Rovean retaliation.

So Democrats now have something to build on: not just a big majority like 1965-66, which was infected with segregationists. They have a progressive majority, and hopefully the will to use it. And the face an opposition party that is nothing BUT an “opposition” party, revelling in the fierce urgency of no.

President Obama's hand of conciliation has been slapped away, and the American people, sickened from decades of least common denominator politics, are smart enough to see it. In a parliamentary system, you don't consult the minority. You govern. Which is what needs to happen now.

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