Waiting for the Pendulum to Swing

Waiting for the Pendulum to Swing….We want to first thank Kevin for giving us access to this terrific forum. We emerge with some good new ideas, a great deal of helpful feedback, and a huge amount of new respect (and we already had a lot) for the efforts of serious bloggers.

The two objections Kevin raised?the GOP never moved that far right, and anyway, things are swinging back?are helpful challenges. We responded to the first yesterday (and got a lot of help from those who commented on Kevin?s post). Just to repeat one key point: Simply listing the labels of the GOP?s big domestic initiatives hugely distorts the true content of their activities. Indeed, as we emphasize in the book, this distortion is a crucial component of the GOP?s larger attempt to cloak immoderate policies in moderate garb.

Kevin?s second objection is of even greater interest at the moment. Aren?t the Republicans cracking up? Isn?t the pendulum swinging back?

It?s Friday afternoon, so we?ll do this in bullet point style:

  • It is essential to recognize that Bush?s fate and the GOP?s are not identical. The heart of GOP power rests in Congress.

  • Polls this far ahead of an election tell us something, but confidence that the Republican Congressional majority is on the ropes is premature. As Chris Bowers noted yesterday at MYDD, ?generic? Congress polls from the summer of 2004?that is, far closer to the election?showed Democrats about nine points ahead of Republicans. Anybody remember how many GOP incumbents lost?

  • Given the deplorable performance of this government, its extreme initiatives, and the supposed dangers of an ?off-year, second-term? election for flagging presidents’ parties, it speaks volumes that we even have to discuss whether Democrats can pick up just fifteen seats in 2006. As we have argued, that such a small shift by historical standards represents such a big mountain reflects the GOP?s dramatic institutional and organizational advantages.

  • From our perspective, a critical thing to watch will be whether the Congressional GOP can restrain centrifugal tendencies that are currently on display. As observers, we need to distinguish between divisions that are largely staged for public consumption (to placate some audience) and those that truly undercut the GOP?s impressive capacity to coordinate political action. Staged activity occurs all the time, as Matthew Yglesias recently documented in an American Prospect article on GOP moderates appropriately titled ?The Fraud Caucus.? (One Democratic member of Congress complained that ?a moderate Republican is someone who throws a ten foot rope to a man drowning twenty feet off shore.”) And, ironically, staged ?independence? reinforces GOP control rather than undercutting it. Actual splintering would represent a truly important change in the political climate.

  • The focus of our book is on where the GOP?s organizational and institutional advantages came from and how they are exploited to pursue extreme goals and protect incumbents. We don?t focus on what agenda Democrats should present. In fact, we largely agree with Jon Chait?s excellent piece this summer, ?The Case Against New Ideas,” that the importance of the specific ideas, or even their tone, tends to be exaggerated. We should make clear that we do think ideas matter (thanks, “cmdicely,” for the call for clarification), particularly for governance, and indeed one of us has been arguing for making economic security a key Democratic theme for a while. Still, the crucial challenge for the Democrats over the next year is to work in as unified a fashion as possible. It was the creation of that unity, after all, that was Gingrich?s greatest contribution to the GOP?s success?in 1994 and since.

As we said, we?ve benefited enormously from this forum, and we?re grateful to Kevin for letting us reach out to and hear from an amazing group of serious political thinkers. We consider our book a journey of inquiry, not a blueprint for action. But we see the action brewing.

As we say at the book?s end, ?The next journey?a journey of action?will have to begin in living rooms and meeting halls across the nation. It will have to begin, as American democracy began, in the once-radical notion that ‘We the People’ are both the mapmakers and the navigators on the great voyage of discovery called democracy.? This week has made us more confident that the next journey will have many able guides.