hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Thursday, November 04, 2004
Some recent comments on the Winds of Change, Pandagon & Yglesias:


Here is an extremely cynical, uncharitable diagnosis of the problem:

. . .My vote [for the decline of the Democrats] is mainly Vietnam, the end of the draft, and the resultant heavy Republican tilt to the military. When two sides are fighting it out, an uncommitted person is more likely to choose the side that controls the money, the jobs and the guns. Not to say that liberals *can't* win elections. They can and will win this year mainly due to the manifest incompetence of the Bush administration (hah!). But they are fighting, and will continue to fight, on uphill terrain until they close the money/jobs/guns gap. . . From the point of view of Republicans, I think Michael Barone's "Hard America, Soft America" describes what's going on in the heads of Republicans, and how they see themselves as on the side of the angels. Put simply: the inefficiency and customer frustration at the DMV, especially in comparison with private sector retail efficiency, makes regular people distrust any politician who suggests more government as the answer. . .

In regard the "Real Americans" issue, I think it is an issue, and a very real problem for the Democrats. If you want an explanation for the unshakeable self-confidence of Republicans in their own fitness to rule, versus the pathological timidity and cautiousness of the Democrats, there are only two real explanations: 1) the heavily Republican tilt to the military officer corps, and the somewhat lesser tilt of the enlisteds. I don't know if you remember all the Republican hacks saying during the 2000 election, smugly and almost gleefully, "I can't tell you how many officers and junior officers have told me they're going to resign if Gore wins the election". The purpose of such noxious swaggering was clearly to make weak-minded swing voters fearful of the consequences of voting Democratic 2) the fact that the Republicans have had substantial majority support of the majority ethnicity for a long, long time.

There is a very real phenomenon of "Majority Momentum", which is the fact, that in a really close, bitterly contested election, swing voters will be strongly influenced by their peer group, and thus the majority choice within any particular ethnic community will receive a boost in the closing days of a close, bitterly contested election. Thus, all else being equal, "on the fence" black voters will be more likely to vote Democratic, and "on the fence" white voters will be more likely to vote Republican. In the words of the Simpson's, "One of Us! One of Us! One of Us!"

I don't have any real solutions for the Democrats, except not to panic: Democrats still have a hold on at least 40% of the white vote, so the problem is probably not nearly so serious as I am making out. But when the vapors are on me, I do sometimes worry that our national politics will become like some sections of the south writ large, where the Republican party becomes where white people basically belong, where swing white voters who could potentially be Democrats instead succumb to peer pressure, and only oddballs and antedilevian white people remain/become Democrats. . .

Apologies for length. As I said, this is too depressing and cynical a viewpoint, more than is warranted by the reality, especially in light of the fact that Clinton beat these guys like a rented mule. The key difference between Clinton and Gore & Kerry is that Clinton projected optimism, joy, and serene, calm confidence at all times, and was at all times charitable and generous to his political adversaries. Probably over-generous. Clinton made the whole game seem like fun, rather than earnest, painful duty, and people always enjoyed listening to him and seeing him on their television screens . I actually have a tremendous amount of respect for Gore & Kerry as people and as policy-makers, but nobody was a better Democratic politician than Clinton.


I read somewhere a good one about how when the Republicans lose an election they treat it as an outrageous but temporary departure from the natural order of things, and they get really angry and righteously indignant. While when Democrats lose an election they treat it as a matter for existential loathing, self-doubt, and despair over the rejection of their entire worldview and value-system, causing much self-pity and musing about whether happiness is really possible at all in this horrific veil of tears.

I am a stubborn, stubborn person, and I remain convinced that Senator Kerry would have been a far superior President to . . .That Man, even though a (slight) majority of Americans disagreed with me. And I remain convinced that the right way to go about politics is to fight hard (but not fanatically) for what you believe, and try to bring people over to your side over time, rather than try to insincerely change what you believe in response to losing a couple of elections. Kinsley's (funny) essay "Democracy Can Goof" expresses what I believe on this score.

Obviously, when you don't get your way, there is the temptation, even subtley, to expect bad news or to dwell on bad news so you will be "vindicated". This is a grievous sin, and I hope my fellow Democrats don't fall prey to it (many of them have, but only temporarily. They'll get over it). In any case, it does not just afflict Democrats. Some Republicans or Clinton-haters obssess over and magnify any bad news from Kosovo, while at the same time dismissing any bad news in Iraq as insignificant - if you compare it World War II. Sen. Lugar said about Kosovo "This is Clinton's war, so when he falls flat on his face it's not our problem", or words to that effect. This is a shocking and indefensible statement from a senior Senator, and not merely a film-maker, but I believe it would be very wrong to permanently label Sen Lugar as a Very Bad Man Who Wants America To Fail, instead of treating it as an uncharacteristic lapse. I wish you were similarly charitable to Kos.

Obviously, I hope Bush does a good job, and I wish us all good fortune. But losing an election won't change my mind that Bush is currently following many policies that I believe are . . .suboptimal. And losing an election will not change my belief that we would probably be better off if the policies or the people I like had gotten their keys to the car, or if Bush changes towards my direction. Nor should it.


yup, you're right. There will probably be nearly no Senate filbusters of judicial nominees. I think there is one thing we can do, though. The red state Democrats will not be able to filibuster judges based on ideology (or character), but they can, and must, insist that all judges must answer, on threat of filibuster, some simple, no-bullshit questions on their judicial philosophy. Do you agree with Roe v. Wade? Why or why not? Do you agree with Bush v. Gore? Why or why not? How, in detail, would you interpret labor, environmental and civil rights law?

We *have* to do this. We have to nail their trousers to the mast. At this time, we cannot stop them from getting their agenda through, but we can *not* allow them to do it without public scrutiny and public exposure.

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