Why The Radicals Hurt The Democrats

Sam Tanenhaus had an interesting op-ed in The New York Times where he states that Dean’s "radicalism" could lead to a Democratic renaiassance as the Goldwater movement led to the Reagan Revolution.

It’s a theory that seems to be relatively popular among many political scientists, but there are several key differences between the radicalism of Dean and the radicalism of Goldwater.

Dean’s radicalism is based partially on ideology, but it is driven by an absolute hatred of the Bush Administration. Unlike Goldwater, who was more idealistic, Dean’s campaign is based on a repudiation of Bush Administration policy more than any other single factor. It’s difficult for movements based so strongly on a single personality (or opposition to a single personality) to successfully morph into real long-lasting movements.

However, in defense of Dean, he is also partially riding on a larger societal trend. The subculture of the radical left has established itself strongly against a resurgent American conservative movement. Indeed, the nation is more ideologically polarized than before on both sides.

However, even with this polarization, most American voters aren’t tied strongly to either liberalism or conservatism. Survey after survey has shown that swing voters are the key to electoral success. The Reagan Revolution swept the nation in 1980 because Reagan attracted many moderates who agreed with his stance of a stronger American foreign policy. Bill Clinton captured moderates in 1992 and 1996 by his focus on the economy and his "new Democrat" message.

The current ideology of the American left is completely out of sync with the national mood. September 11 provided the American public with the horrible knowledge that foreign policy cannot be ignored. It woke up America’s latent Jacksonianism and forever altered the American political conscience.

The current "progressive" movement may bear superficial similarity to Goldwater’s conservative movement, but the ideological core of the movement does not have the widespread appeal to become a major mass movement. It is too focused against the Bush Administration, it is based on an ideology that specifically eschews military force in defense of American values, and it appeals only to a narrow segment of the voting population.

Perhaps in 20 years the Dean revolution might produce a real mass movement. However, the Dean movement seems more akin to the failures of McGovern and Mondale than it does to the Pyrrhic victory of Barry Goldwater.

3 thoughts on “Why The Radicals Hurt The Democrats

  1. Only a Republican in the year 2003 could keep a straight face while suggesting that a moderate like Howard Dean was the antithesis of Barry Goldwater. Your only justification for branding Dean as some far-left Lenin lover is that he opposes the war in Iraq, and isn’t afraid to say so or to say that he opposes the current administration’s position on the war. Outside of the war, Dean is on par with nearly every other Democrat on the ticket and in some cases is to their right. Even George Will said that the swagger of conservatives in regards to Dean’s potential candidacy has the potential to bite them on the ass hard since he could simultaneously fire up the base while appealing to the center, something Al Gore wasn’t able to do.

    Left-wing boogeymen don’t run on a platform of supporting the death penalty, raising the Social Security eligibility age, or passing a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. And outside of the war, your charges of extremism by Dean aren’t supported by his record or his rhetoric, with the exception of his support of gay marriage which is the issue most likely to sink him if the race is close since most middle Americans are staunchly against gay marriage.

    You guys may (emphasis on may) win this round by painting Dean as some fringe left-wing nut if the Iraq situation doesn’t get considerably further out of hand between now and next November (and there’s really no indication that things won’t continue to deteriorate there). If Americans still believe by next year that 10 American deaths and a billion dollar price tag every week is an acceptable price to pay for overthrowing and occupying an unarmed regime, then Dean will almost certainly lose. Beyond that though, it’s clear that most Americans don’t have the stomach for the perpetual state of unilateral war that this administration and its neoconservative puppetmasters want. It’s unlikely that a political party seeking to dominate the world through incessant war will be able to portray the other side as white-flag waving pacifist extremist nutzos for very long before it backfires.

  2. He is running on a platform of repealing all tax cuts including middle class tax cuts, he has no credibility whatsoever on critical issues of national security, and his campaign is a one-note chant of incessant Bush bashing.

    His policy positions stand at odds to his credentials as a moderate, and he offers little to anyone that doesn’t already share his visceral hate of George W. Bush.

  3. Maybe repealing some of the tax cuts would be a good idea, compromise could be worked out. As I recall, GWB had no credibility on foreign affairs until terrorists forced him into the situation, as he had handled the incident with our spy plane and the Chinese pretty poorly. Since he plans to run against Bush, shouldn’t he be bashing him and his policies? Expand your mind a little Jay, look beyond the party line.

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