THE BASE vs. THE SUITS….I’m not entirely sure what E.J. Dionne means in his column today about Russ Feingold’s censure motion, and yet somehow it still sounds like an interesting comment on the whole affair:

Democrats, unlike Republicans, have yet to develop a healthy relationship between activists willing to test and expand the conventional limits on political debate and the politicians who have to calculate what works in creating an electoral majority.

For two decades, Republicans have used their idealists, their ideologues and their loudmouths to push the boundaries of discussion to the right. In the best of all worlds, Feingold’s strong stand would redefine what’s “moderate” and make clear that those challenging the legality of the wiretapping are neither extreme nor soft on terrorism.

That would demand coordination, trust and, yes, calculation involving both the vote-counting politicians and the guardians of principle among the activists. Republicans have mastered this art. Democrats haven’t.

Turning a minority into a majority requires both passion and discipline. Bringing the two together requires effective leadership. Does anybody out there know how to play this game?

My guess is that there’s a fundamental difference between the parties that Dionne is ignoring. On the Republican side you have lots of establishment figures who want to move the party in a more extreme direction, which makes a partnership with their activist base a pretty natural relationship. For the most part, the conservative base believes that Republican politicians, in their heart of hearts, are on their side, so they’re willing to cut them some slack when it comes to practical politics.

On the Democratic side, that’s not true. There are very few establishment politicians who actively want to move the party to the left, which means that the activist base quite reasonably doesn’t believe that everyone’s singing out of the same hymn book. So the dynamics are completely different.

Unless, of course, Dionne is making a completely different point that I missed. Comments?

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