Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Broader Shade of Blue

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States of America and the current Republican majorities in the House of Representatives, Senate, Governorships and many state legislatures (not all of them Red States) has placed the Democratic Party in a position somewhat similar to the one that the Republican Party was in after the 2012 election cycle - out in the political wilderness, wondering how they got there, at a loss for a concrete plan to find their way back and looking for one of their own to take the fall for it.

Enter the Dean-Moulton Line of Demarcation. It's a term that NPR's Domenico Montanaro pretty much made up on the spot, but it's a useful one, so let's run with it a bit. The central debate of Dean-Moulton is this: in order to get more votes especially in redder areas than their normal stomping grounds, Democrats have to shift their party platform. So, do they shift towards a more Progressive platform, to put more daylight between themselves and the Republicans - the Jim Dean position? Or, do they prepare themselves to run to the center when required - the Congressman Seth Moulton position?

The answer, I suspect, lies in what one thinks of how the electorate works, and what it wants. The Dean position says, in effect, that there are more votes to be had by running harder to the Left. From my layman's perch, this says a couple of things to me, both of which I've heard from people who would strike me as being in the Dean camp. 1) That there is a relatively large number of disaffected voters to be picked up, who are currently to the Left of the Democratic Party as a whole. These are people who are highly unlikely to ever vote for Republican candidates, and the reason that they don't turn out for Democrats is, when it comes down to it, from that far to the Left, the center and the Right are pretty much indistinguishable, to the degree that many "moderates" are, as far as they're concerned, simply Republicans who may or may not have actively pledged allegiance. 2) That most reliably Democratic voters are reliable to the point of being givens. Their brand loyalty means that wherever the party platform goes, left, right or awkward, they'll still be reliable votes. To be pejorative about it, they're sheeple, unthinking drones who'd vote for Satan or a ham sandwich, as long at they ran on a Democratic ticket. So those votes don't need to be contested for. So moving to the left to pick up the disaffected progressives has little, if any downside.

The Moulton position says that a move Right towards the center, or at least the flexibility to do so, is a more likely winning strategy. Again, my layperson's analysis of the calculus involved tells me that the thinking is that most of the votes that have been left on the table are in the space between the Republicans and the Democrats, and that many people who don't vote, and thus are available to be wooed, feel that both parties have moved too far away from their positions to be worth chasing down. I suspect that it also postulates that people do make the switch from one party to another, depending on which is closer to their own interests. Generally speaking, to be politically active without it being more or less a waste of time requires that one line up with one of the Big Two political parties. Smaller groups, like the Libertarians and the Greens, are seen as something between protest votes and markers of mental illness, and so are taken at all seriously in the political scheme of things. The centrist position strikes me as less self-assured than the alternative; their pitch to those on the leftmost edge of the spectrum is less "Who else are you going to vote for?" than "Half a loaf is better then none, and while we won't go as far as you'd like, it's certainly farther than you'd get otherwise." I'm not sure that I see the wisdom in appealing to the pragmatism of the edges, but then again, I'm not in politics, either.

Whether or not the Dean-Moulton Line of Demarcation takes into account the current ground truth is, for me, an unknown. My own analysis of the election in November tells me that there simply wasn't enough enthusiasm for the Obama years left to carry a Democrat into the White House and give the party control of Congress, regardless of whether that was Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. And so, like the recriminations of the Republicans before it, the issue may simply be solved when the population tires of the brand of government that President Trump and the Republican Congress have brought with them. For those people who felt that the Obama Administration had adopted a policy that lay somewhere between ignoring them and throwing them under the bus, I'm uncertain of either Mrs. Clinton or Senator Sanders represented enough of a change to gain their votes. But when the nation sours on the Republicans, it's also unlikely to matter whether or not Dean or Moulton have won the argument. Bigger events will likely have been the deciding factor.

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