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As the possibility that Senator Kerry will win the Presidency becomes more apparent (I refuse to say that it is becoming more likely, because I think it was always a strong possibility, and we're only just beginning to see it), I've had several conversations by e-mail or in person that go something like this:

Me: "You know, we're really fooling ourselves if we think everything's going to change overnight just because Kerry wins. We can't start singing "Happy Days Are Here Again." There's so much work to be done, and the political environment is so poisonous. Imagine the disaster if there is a backlash against Kerry, as there was against Clinton, and we lose everything in 2006. The election is just the beginning of the hard work."

Other person: "Yes, yes, I agree completely." And then, "We really have to organize to hold Kerry's feet to the fire, so that he does the right things, not like that awful sell-out Clinton." Or, "I agree. Kerry could break our heart. He wasn't such a great Senator, after all."

So, actually, you don't agree. In fact, I think you don't even know what I was saying. And if that's the attitude that liberals go into the next administration with, we are sunk. While we're busy "holding Kerry's feet to the fire," the Republican right will be trying to chop off his head. I won't take this metaphor further, but before we know it, we'll have four years of paralysis followed by a landslide for the Jeb Bush-Tom DeLay ticket in 2008. (OK, I exaggerate slightly, but not about the paralysis.)

Yes, there is a place for holding Democratic politicians accountable, for building a strong movement on their left flank that both pulls them toward the left and protects them as they take chances. But political maturity means recognizing just how limited the next president's freedom of movement will be. The very best-case scenario would be a slightly less Republican House and a narrow Democratic edge in the Senate, combined with an electoral result that is sufficiently decisive that it represents an unmistakable rejection of Bushism. It's not impossible to get something done in that situation, which is basically the mirror image of what Reagan had in 1981. But it will require Kerry to put his first priority into working with moderate and not-so-moderate Republicans, from Snowe and Chafee to McCain and Hagel in the Senate, and their handful of counterparts in the House. Basically, I think he has to force them to decide: Do you want to work together to govern this country, or do you want to wage another pitched battle? But he has to listen to them and accomodate them, even ahead of liberal factions within the Democratic Party, because otherwise, he's dead in the water.

And then there are two things that Kerry has to do fairly early in his first year or two: He must deal with the long-term fiscal crisis, which in this case means raising revenues by, at the very least, ending the scheduled tax cuts, restoring the Estate Tax, and clawing back the upper-income and investment tax breaks from the three Bush tax cuts, or preferably by a sweeping tax reform. And he has to deal with Iraq. That will put Kerry in the position of asking the American people for the sacrifice and patience that Bush never acknowledged, in support of a war that Kerry would never have launched and does not own. If he feels horribly like he's been set up, it's because he was.

Democrats of all stripes have been beautifully, responsibly cynical in uniting behind a solid candidate and setting all our internal disagreements to the side, in the interest of ending the current insanity. However, too many people seem to think that the sentence ends November 6, and that at that point a battle for the soul of the President can begin. In particular, the old debate over the priority of long-term deficit reduction (aka "Rubinomics") vs. social and health spending seems ready to burst out as soon as the election results are in.

And there's nothing wrong with that. No one should bury their opinions, and we will all be stronger for the most vigorous debate about options. But as Kerry moves forward, there has to be as strong a commitment to helping him succeed there was to electing him, so if he doesn't embrace exactly the position we want, we're still on board.

In general, I often think that liberals/the left have a one-directional view of political power: it's about pressure. The idea is that, as an advocacy group or activist, you line up and unite to get someone elected, and then after the election, your role becomes to put pressure on him or her. And often, this cycle ends in disappointment. "We helped elect him, and then he turned out to be just another politician."

What's missing from this approach to politics is the idea that politicians need support as well. Politicians are not just "good" or "bad," "our guy" or "just another politician." Even the most decent and committed politicians have to be savvy calculators of their own freedom to act and the consequences. Advocacy groups have to help expand that freedom of action, not only by threatening negative consequences if they do the "wrong" thing, but also by rewarding them for doing the best they can, even if it's not exactly what "we" want.

The other dimension of this is that, just as in the election, people have to be able to look beyond their own issue or interest. The key thing here is taxes. Everyone interested in education, health care, environmental issues, work and family balance, etc., can have no higher priority than restoring the long-term fiscal balance so that government can act on these issues. Looking at the history of state tax policy, it's easy to see that people will put their energy into a tax fight if they think they will be at the head of the line for the resulting revenues. For example, if a governor proposes an income tax surcharge in order to reduce class sizes, the teachers' unions and other education advocates will throw themselves into it. But for the revenue battle ahead, everyone needs to be involved, even if they have no assurance of being at the head of the line for the revenues. Again, the unity that has gone into the election itself must be sustained, if Kerry is to succeed at all.

The first years of the Clinton administration were a searing and educational experience. On the one hand, the administration was a little too smug and triumphalist, too unfamiliar with Congress to understand the limits of its power. On the other hand, no one could ever have predicted that the Republican leadership would have given the word, "Do not let this president succeed, even when you agree with him." It had never happened before. But outside groups, those that became disenchanted with Clinton in various ways, also never quite appreciated the limits to his power.

I'd like to focus some attention in this weblog to the question of how to make the Kerry administration succeed, to understand the limits of the next president's power and how to give him more room to move. Why not? -- While everyone else is focusing on the election, a few of us should think about what might come next. I've created a new category here, "The 1/21 Project," for the day after the inauguration. I'd welcome other thoughts on this in the comments and on other blogs that link here.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on April 19, 2004 | Permalink


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» Heat Resistant Feet from Pandagon
Mark Schmitt has some interesting remarks on the liberal reaction to a Kerry win, namely, he's concerned that the left will be busy "holding Kerry's feet to the fire" while the Right will be working to chop his head off... [Read More]

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I've come to the conclusion that Kerry will have to spend so much time undoing all the problems he will inherit that he won't have any time or money to tackle any "big idea" projects like health care or tax reform. Not to mention the fact that I don't think the Right will back off from their destructive tendencies, so I don't expect any "eturn to civility" or any such thing like that.

Posted by: Goldberg | Apr 19, 2004 1:27:38 PM

People seemed pleasantly surprised that the party, long derided as a big tent of special interests, is now so unified. This unity has emerged from an atmosphere where those groups can't accomplish anything. They hate Bush for that reason, and want a president who can do things for them. I share your insight that we need to do what we can to make Kerry's presidency a success, but I fear that divisions are inevitable, and that groups will be looking out for themselves, and not for the big picture.

Posted by: Kennedy | Apr 19, 2004 1:36:05 PM

An excellent post, but I think you give short shrift to the issue of whether Kerry is up to forging a compact with rational Republicans. The campaign thus far makes me skeptical. Kerry continally attacked General Clark as not being a real Democrat because he had voted for Reagan, despite the views he had enunciated on taxes, Iraq and choice on the issue of abortion. The attacks caused Clark to move the left, which made his candidacy less attractive to independents and disaffected Republicans. I have yet to see Kerry make a pitch for the support of these two groups.

Posted by: Vadranor | Apr 19, 2004 2:13:05 PM

Mark, I think that you're missing out on what will happen if Kerry wins: a fundamental realignment.

Think about it: at least Clinton ran on an agenda of social spending, but was forced to revise that plan when he "discovered" the reality of the deficit. Kerry is actively running on Rubinomics. This would appear to leave a gaping hole to his left, which I imagine will be filled by somebody.

Posted by: asdf | Apr 19, 2004 2:40:49 PM

Who knows what position Hagel, McCain, Shays, et al will find themselves in the next few years? It might be smart to try to persuade them to take the Jeffords route. A series of desertions will happen only if November sees a landslide and by 2007, DeLay, Santorum, Norquist, and the real GOP kingmakers, Ailes and Hannity, have made life impossible for them.

The most important near-term and medium-term policy for a Kerry Administration will be rhetorical: educating the electorate about the Republican Party's slide toward rightist fanaticism, patiently, never shrilly (as the campaign has tended to do), demonstrating the chasm between the Reagan and H.W. Administrations and the post-1994 party. That is risky, but vital, because the attacks from the right will be ferocious and often eloquent, and Kerry must get people to understand that the right cannot legimately claim the legacy of popular Republican Presidents.

It would also be helpful to continuously bring up Teddy Roosevelt's legacy; the current discourse among conservatives boils down, really, to a reopening of debates that were won and lost during the Progressive era. It's not a coincidence that Karl Rove's favorite President is William McKinley. Such an effort, of course, requires a quality the Democrats have not posessed for at least 20 years, and maybe never have: a willingness to make a serious, multi-election-cycle investment in political strategy.

An issue Kerry could, and should, use to capture the economic agenda is ANTITRUST. Stepped-up enforcement, at least to all but the opportunists and libertarians on the right, manifestly the right thing to do now. But it is also a potential WEDGE ISSUE; what NASCAR or office-park dad is not disturbes to see his workplace fall under the control of a conglomerate thousands of miles from his influence, which does not care much about the long-term health of the division of the company he works for, or the quality of its work? Merger mania hits a lot of suburbanites where they live, in their sense of control over their lives.

Posted by: Sean Flaherty | Apr 19, 2004 3:02:08 PM

Well, I basically agree that we need to be ready to support Kerry, and I certainly hope the Democrats do remain behind him, as well as the special Interest groups. I like to think that Move On will work hard to continue burning Republicans when they embrace unacceptable right-wing positions - ie. destroying already existing environmental regulations, worker protections, and social programs.

However, I don't think Kerry can be satisfied with just fixing our Fiscal Situation. That may be Priority One on the Domestic Front, but addressing foriegn policy and finding a way to increase employment are both going to be such big priorities that I don't think Kerry can win either the election or his first year in office without really addressing them.

Finally, I understand when Moderate Democrats tell us Liberals Democrts that we have to behave so that we can get anything done. However, it's always been hard to accept when (1) The Moderates tend to get what they want and (2) when they do things that undermine all our efforts. It's all too common to see Moderate commentators, pundits, and politicians earn their "bipartisan" and "Moderate" credentials by slamming some Liberal Democrat for being out of touch. Party Loyalty runs both ways, and far too many moderate Democrats spend their time slamming leftist Democrats and then turn around and complain when leftists don't feel particularly supportive in return.

Finally, I would argue that Kerry needs to have more of a vision than simply, good fiscal policy, good employment, and good foreign policy. By the mid-term elections the Liberal Base of the Party will need to have some significant accomplishment to point to beyond these basics. Personally, I would argue for a better Energy/Environmental Policy, and I think it's both feasible and so important as to be necessary. Finally, it would go a long way to making more Liberal/Leftist Democrats like me say in 2 years, "Here's why I'm really proud to be a Democrat" as opposed to simply, "Here's why we're better than Republicans".

Posted by: MDtoMN | Apr 19, 2004 3:06:44 PM

Yep. It's important to remember that the problem will never be Kerry, but the right wing.

Posted by: tristero | Apr 19, 2004 3:29:32 PM

I think our whole nation is heading straight toward a cliff, and Kerry's cheering us on. What's Kerry done recently?

* Voted for the war in Iraq, and showed no interest in getting out.

* Publically approved of Sharon's plan to permanently settle parts of the West Bank.

* Publically approved of the assassination of that nasty Hamas jerk, at a time when the Moslem world was outraged over the killings in Fallujah. You know, that's *one* hornet's nest I didn't want to smack with a stick.

* Said that "atrocity" was too strong a word to use in reference to the Vietnam War.

Kerry can have my vote, but not my soul. We're headed straight for total war with Islam, and the centrist Democrats have done nothing but enable Bush and demonize anybody who disagreed with them. And they're *still* giving smug lectures about how they're reasonable moderates and everybody else should just shut up.

FWIW, my major political priorities are a balanced budget and a minimum level of governmental competence--and I like handguns--so I'm not exactly a traditional Democratic leftist. I'm just somebody who thinks that the Republicans and DLC are leading this nation straight into hell.

I fully expect Kerry to govern *very* badly--though not nearly as badly as Bush--and I will exercise my responsibility as an American citizen to oppose policies that I believe will lead to total disaster.

Posted by: EK | Apr 19, 2004 3:56:13 PM

What we really need to do, once Kerry is in office, is destroy the Republican coalition. The first to peel off is big business. Make it clear to them what they will lose if they don't play ball -- they all depend on having a cooperative Federal government. Next, start auditing the religious groups, and use the IRS to destroy their ability to engage in politics. Move around the pork and shift the spoils to our constituencies rather than theirs. There are ways to do this using only Executive power and narrow control of the Senate -- basically, we should use every trick that Bush has pioneered.

Only once they are crippled will we be able to do anything.

Posted by: Rich Puchalsky | Apr 19, 2004 4:20:20 PM

A well-timed post, to start thinking about this now.

A thought that relates to your discussion of liberals as the new conservatives opposing scientific advancements in genetic modification. While conservatives oppose scientific advances related to stem cell research in biology.

I think there's room for a science and innovation initiative. It should link to funding for basic research and possibly commercialization. It should focus on the need for highly educated workers at lower levels and the need for world class science and math education in public schools so that we have the technicians to support the scientists we already produce in universities.

There's room for responsible science initiatives, such as monitoring ingredients and organic practices. But leaving the government's role to monitoring and labeling, less than requiring. Allow the market to guide through demand.

I believe there's a solid majority of people in this country who believe innovation now is essential to the country's prosperity for our children. Put mainstream liberals firmly in the camp of what Virgina Postrel calls economic dynamism. (note that I'm not calling for her broader agenda of liberatarian small government, just encouraging innovation)

I believe Kerry could do that while putting our fiscal and foreign policy house in order. And it would mark an important set of issues to build consensus around.

Posted by: charlesw | Apr 19, 2004 4:21:23 PM

An excellent topic to which I had not given much thought. My fear is that of Goldberg's. That there will be so much cleaning up to do, that any new ideas will be pushed to the back burner.

Ironically one model to think about might be Nixon who won an election in a very divided country in the midst of a war that was becoming increasingly unpopular. He also faced a Congress in opposition control and a public that was at the very least skeptical of him given his history.

Now Nixon had the advantage of not caring about domestic policy allowing him to sign a large number of Democratic bills and focus on foreign affairs. Kerry won't have this luxury. Still if he can roll back the most egregious of the Bush tax cuts, work with Republicans to get the budget under control, he may be able to focus on fixing the Bush disasters in the Middle East and Iraq. These would be my somewhat limited hopes for a Kerry first term.

Posted by: Stuart | Apr 19, 2004 5:32:07 PM

There are issues that the voters trust the Democrats on. Taxes is one of them.

And Mark is correct that taxes should be the big kahuna for all of us. Because it can be a win-win-win issue. In one legislative act, we could restore fiscal balance, realign the distribution of economic resources (as profoundly as any 'welfare' program), empower the public sector (the Clean Air Act, for example, is still pretty good law, especially if you have people to enforce it), and get an efficiency enhancement.

The Republicans have put the tax code in play; this a game we can win.

Posted by: jBoa | Apr 19, 2004 5:41:07 PM

I'll suggest one other thing that I think could be vital for a Kerry administration: an aggressive media strategy.

I think it's axiomatic that, if Bush loses, most Congressional Republicans and the national Republican party will adopt an offensive, Gingrich-esque strategy of sabotage. Any and all proposals will be denounced as leftist, in an attempt to move the outcome as far to the right as possible, and any attempt at compromise will be taken as a concession.

And while it is true that this MAY, ultimately, alienate enough of the (pathetically few) centrist Republicans, I think it will certainly, especially in the short run, hamstring any efforts by Kerry, and make him look ineffective as well.

Unless he goes on the offensive immediately. For example:

-- Hold detailed, public, painfully transparent investigations of national security lapses under Bush. How did Iraq turn into such a quagmire? How was Valerie Plame's identity leaked? What exactly was the role of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, and who at the Bush White House was involved? There's probably enough juicy scandal in any of these to keep the media machine fed for months.

-- Conduct thorough, neutral, scientific investigations of, and hearings on, the effects of pollution on children's health, drinking water, and other close-to-home environmental issues. Find and make available detailed, personal close-up stories of families whose lives were deeply hurt by faceless corporate polluters. Turn the EPA into Erin Brockovich.

-- Encourage the creation and information of a shrill amen-corner of Congressional Democrats from safe districts, left-wing publications, well-placed anonymous Administration sources, and of course the blogs, to keep pressure on Republicans, while allowing Kerry and the official Administration to appear soothingly centrist.

This is all very aggressive, but the best defense is a good offense, and as you note, a Kerry Administration will be playing defense even under the best electoral scenario.

Posted by: bleh | Apr 19, 2004 6:03:41 PM

EK - so, this is about your soul, your feelings, how candidates make *you* feel?

This is not about you. It's the identical sentiment/complaint expressed by thousands of DeanLoverKerryHaters on the net. Don't be so self absorbed. Politics is NOT about how you FEEL. It's about everyone, all of us, because there are nowhere near enough of you to command a majority of anything. It's a coalition. Be a good member, be a good citizen, not somebody who thinks his or her own views are dominant - when they clearly are not.

Posted by: Hypocrisy Fumigator | Apr 19, 2004 7:44:01 PM

Excellent post. Add to which: The likely effect of the bursting of the current real-estate bubble.

Plus, a narrow Kerry victory will likely to set off the VRWC's attack dogs (well, even more than now). There will be some item they will throw up from the campaign, some inaccuracy or bias, that will make them see Kerry as illegitimate, in the same way they saw Clinton.

(Christ, makes me wonder if we actually want to win this election, rather than letting the Republicans sit in the mess they've made, like a baby that's pooped its diaper).

Posted by: Tom | Apr 19, 2004 8:46:22 PM

As we are in part responsible for Bush's presidency, it is our responsibility to build a liberal coalition somewhat stronger than a November Kerry victory. That means changing American minds on numerous issues. Changing a politician's mind without providing a base of support is juvenile thinking.

Rather than harp on Kerry, I hope liberals will just reload and start hunting better Congressional reps to replace the failed conservatives and lukewarms occupying too many of those seats. So far, most of the energy has gone to emulating what worked for the GOP in building the conservative movement (think tanks, media crtiques, liberal talk radio) with too little on original ideas (like Dean brought).

Strategy sessions in every city of 50,000 or more that provide cultural and social settings to enjoy should be the order of the day after November, while targeting the development of longterm online media outlets that will be the future source of spin replacing TV news.

Getting a Kerry win is not a reason to declare victory but represents just the first step in a recovery program.

Posted by: Kevin Hayden | Apr 19, 2004 9:06:20 PM

"Don't be so self absorbed. Politics is NOT about how you FEEL. It's about everyone, all of us, because there are nowhere near enough of you to command a majority of anything. It's a coalition. Be a good member, be a good citizen, not somebody who thinks his or her own views are dominant - when they clearly are not."

You know, by any reasonable standard, I'm not a member of the left. I'm only supporting the Democrats because the Republicans are insane, and third parties are self-defeating.

Now, I'm all in favor of wars of liberation. But not if the political leadership is corrupt and incompetent, and the American people are fundamentally unwilling to make the necessary sacrificies--half a million troops on the ground and a trillion dollars to rebuild Iraq. Doing these things by half-measures is a recipie for disaster.

It was obvious to *me*--if not to the self-proclaimed "centrists"--that we were taking an enormous risk in Iraq with little upside. Now the Democrats are standing around, acting surprised that Bush has screwed up and Sistani is awfully close to declaring war. This was *predictable*, folks, and sneering about peaceniks doesn't excuse the Democrat's collosal misjudgement.

I'll make another prediction: If we give Sharon a blank check, invade Najaf, and allow US snipers to keep firing on civilian children, then Iraq will explode. Given a standard 10:1 ratio of troops to insurgents, we can't handle more than 13,000 insurgents in Iraq. Sistani could probably produce 1.3 million in less than 24 hours. We're in over our head, and this is *not* a political game.

Kerry's past and current behavior suggests to me he just doesn't get it. He's acting like national security takes a back seat to the current spin cycle. Sure, maybe Kerry needs to act this to get elected, and maybe he's secretly thought the war was a disaster all along.

Yes, I'm well aware that nobody agrees with me, except Pat Buchannan, Senator Byrd, and a bunch of random Deniacs. I'm also aware that this does not add up to a politically viable coalition.

Hence, my earlier statement: I'll vote for Kerry (at least he's not a complete nutter like Bush), but once he's elected, I'll continue to argue for a strategically sound foreign policy.

I'm griping about this here because (1) you're all going to vote for Kerry, regardless of what I say, and (2) if I don't gripe about it here, I'm going to gripe about it to swing voters. And that would be bad.

Posted by: EK | Apr 19, 2004 10:56:30 PM

EK, I think you're damned cool. Or should that be, damned, but cool.

You sound exactly like half of the republicans I know. And I think that your attitudes are the reason that Kerry will probably win (although it is really still Bushes' election to lose, and it'll be close, no matter what), in spite of whatever weaknessess Kerry inevitably exposes.

Even for the self-parody right wing America suffers from today, you have to be at least a halfway *competent* nutjob.

Unfortunately for him, Ceremonial President Bush is even failing as nutjob *theater*. Everybody's just getting bored. The ultimate kiss of death in a country of celebrity-worshipping novelty addicts.

Posted by: joeKelly | Apr 20, 2004 12:02:15 AM

Very good post.

I too have thought about how difficult it will be for Kerry to govern. The Right wing attack machine will go into overdrive; the compliant press will be their echo chamber.

As November nears and Kerry looks like a winner (from my mouth to God's ears) it will be important for him and his campaign, Democrats running for office to give voice, in a loud and redundant manner, of the twin disasters that George Bush is leaving behind as his legacy.

The financial picture is a gaping deficit far into the future. Kerry needs to let the American people know that it will need fixing and that they must hold Republicans feet to the fire.
Iraq as of now may not be salvageable and the costs to us, in terms of money and blood are higher and will increase. Kerry, when president, could stay the course as the Iraq war becomes more unpopular with the American people. Initially I was in favor of the tha Carol Mosely Braun position, we broke it, we have to fix it. Now I worry that all the damage has been done and will keep being done and it will not matter what a new administration does there. I am afraid of Kerry falling into the LBJ syndrome.

I think that if we liberals make an aggressive case for the values we hold dear it will enable Kerry to govern more effectively. Clinton was president for 8 years and in less than three George Bush has undone almost every good thing that Clinton accomplished. I think we should be cognizant of the sad fact that despite Bill Clinton's political brilliance that it was his very moderation that lead to that sad outcome.

I agree we need to support Kerry, not undermine him, but pushing for progressive legislation , I think, is one way to do that. Remember that Kerry's best poll numbers against Bush were during the tail end of the primary season as he and the other Dems made a very strong, pretty progressive case against George Bush. Kerry needs to lead and not be driven by the CW that soft voiced "moderation" is the way to get the independents.

I do understand the constraining parameters that he will have to work with in terms of dealing with a close House and Senate. However I hope that you do not think that by retreating bak to DLC Clintonism in terms of crafting legislation that that we enable Kerry to govern effectively.
We need to back him forcefully with words by Dem leaders like Pelosi and Daschle (who has been too acomodationist) and and the Democratic eletorate, but I don't think we help that by endorsing Republican-lite policies.

Posted by: Debra | Apr 20, 2004 12:54:02 AM

Mark is painfully correct here, and wise liberals will heed him.

Whenever a liberal interest group wins a political battle, the group's leaders complain. For example, let's say an environmental group has been pushing for 100 units of progress over five years, and it finally wins a policy to achieve 100 units of progress over seven years. What's the result? "We are disappointed that the administration chooses to allow the world to descend into a self-made hell because of its craven caving to the special interests that insisted that our goals couldn't be achieved within five years."

Or a liberal group will push for years and years for a new policy, and it will get 90 percent of what it wanted, and the group's leaders do nothing but complain over the missing 10 percent. There's no praise for the political leaders who stuck their necks out and achieved 90 percent victory when they could have settled for 75 percent victory.

We've all seen and heard this pattern -- so much so that we don't even notice it anymore. It's why liberal groups get marginalized, and why they make such wonderful targets for lampooning.

Posted by: Holden | Apr 20, 2004 11:26:48 AM

It wasn't to make ourselves feel good that millions of us tried to stop this war; it was because we love our country enough to try to stop it when it's walking off a cliff.

It's deemed politically impossible for Kerry to campaign on getting us the hell out of Iraq. Well, that doesn't make it any less urgent or imperative for us to do so. Wishing and hoping won't bring it about, either; we are going to have to build a popular consensus to make it possible, once he's elected.

And it appears we'll have no help from "wise", "serious" liberals once again. Frankly, I've had it up to here with being condescended to and marginalized by centrists who at best allowed and more accurately encouraged Bush to march this country off the invade-Iraq cliff.

Posted by: Nell Lancaster | Apr 20, 2004 2:27:47 PM


Maybe the League of Conservation Voters, the Human Rights Campaign, Americans for the Separation of Church and State, NARAL, the NAACP, and other Liberal Groups do challenge Democrats and try to continue pushing their agenda. At the same time, every single Liberal Group that has my address has mailed me and urged me to vote for Kerry. So stop pretending that they don't support Democrats sufficiently. They ARE the Democrats, and they do more to raise money and build power than any moderate group I know.

Second, I am so tired of hearing "moderates" construct straw men of Liberals groups. Whether it's opeds that suggest that Too Many Liberals Democrats scoff at religion (who does that publicly?), or Too Many Feminists don't care about International Issues, or Too Many Liberals Demand too much, or Too Many Liberals don't understand that we don't need a job program, all we need to do is get the fiscal house in order and open up more Free trade, it seems like so many of the Politicians and Commentators (and particularly the pundits and News reporters) are dedicated to denigrating the Left regardless of where the Left stands. Moderates also always suggest that the Correct Moderate position is politically expedient, even when it isn't (see free trade - I support free trade, but I'm not at all convinced that it's the clear political winner people suggest it is).

As I said before, Party Loyalty runs both ways. Everyone is worried about the Left abandoning Kerry. Personally, I'm worried about Moderates (Dems and Republicans) all refusing to play ball unless it's completely on their terms.

Posted by: MDtoMN | Apr 20, 2004 5:19:57 PM

What a great idea. I've been thinking of this, too, and hope to learn a lot from reading coming posts and comments. I think Kerry needs to have a plan for dealing with our dysfunctional media and personally would love to see him name Dean to head the FCC. A major initiative in this area could be a test of whether those conservatives you mention are interested in helping to govern instead of mud wrestle for another 4 years. Along with that, I agree with the previous commmenter who wrote about the need for investigative commissions -- real ones. And we need to find a way to put the faith-based initiatives idea to rest.

Posted by: cs | Apr 21, 2004 1:02:07 AM


Great points! I think centrists see power flowing one-way only as well. They think that satisfying the policy goals of the liberal groups is what those groups want, when clearly, it isn't. It is giving those liberal groups access to power and decision-making authority that will satisfy them and allow them to withold on satisfying short-term needs.

Posted by: Matt Stoller | Apr 23, 2004 1:42:06 PM

Decembrist: As usual, I appreciate the dose of realism. We need to understand the limits any elected official faces once he or she enters into service--however "progressive" his or her record is and/or intentions are. Buried under the more obvious travesties perpetrated by the Bush administration is that the necessity of its defeat will likely produce a further shift rightward by the Democratic party, at least in the short run.

The business over Kerry’s medals, predictably instigated by the Bush machine, has been revealingly muddled by Kerry’s wishy-washiness in response. As he struggles to have his cake and eat it too, will he be forced to say, to create the kind of national security cred that common sense campaign wisdom insists he have, that the war in Vietnam was a good idea, just badly executed? But to get back to your point, which I think concerns mainly the short term: What choice do we have but to go along?

Expedient rhetorical twists on the campaign trail can perhaps be forgiven, or at least understood. But we also need to gain an understanding of why we have no choice. Unfortunately, the limits you talk about have, in our political culture, become a kind of common sense, rather than a field political struggle; things that can be broken down, or at least shifted radically about, in other words. With this in mind, your larger point that we support rather than merely pressure Kerry (if elected) needs to be clarified, if not reconsidered. As it stands, it seems to recommend the benefits of those on the left getting out of the way and letting the experienced, the practical minded, and the realistic get the job done. I don’t think you really mean that, but it could be interpreted that way, as some of the comments on the post indicate. If you mean that we should support Kerry simply because the present context is so fraught with peril—because of Iraq, because of the imbalances in the economy, because of the realities of electoral politics and relations of power—I could perhaps be persuaded, at least for the time-being. More important, though, whether or not Kerry is elected in November I must argue for the necessity of a considered and critical posture—coming from the left—towards the present political conjuncture (which did not, I would argue, originate whole cloth with the election of Bush 2). Eric Hobsbawm wrote in his autobiography that the time of New Labour in Britain was "the time of the political realist and the technicians of government. And both must operate in a market economy and fit in with its requirements." So be it, said Hobsbawm. But still, he went on: "Our point--certainly mine--was and is that if critique is no longer enough, it is more essential than ever. We criticized New Labour [at the time of its rise, from the pages of the journal Marxism Today] not because it had accepted the realities of living in a capitalist society, but for accepting too much of the prevailing free market theology." I have in mind, of course, Kerry’s reported embrace of Rubinomics. There is of course more to the situation right now: namely, Iraq. But I am one who sees a greater arch of continuity over the last few decades—in terms of that market theology Hobsbawm talks about, and the way in which US foreign policy has been for the most part about making the world safe (in the ham fisted hegemony of Bush 2, or the “softer,” more internationalist hegemony of the Clinton years) for American versions of it. This forces one to look beyond election cycle temporalities, even if, at the same time, one must struggle with the particular urgency of the present.

Posted by: R Wells | Apr 27, 2004 3:47:43 PM