Rachel Maddow last night issued a very harsh and eloquent denunciation of Obama's decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed before a military commission at Guantanamo rather than a real court. At the end of her monologue, Maddow focused on the contrast between how the Republicans treat their base and how Democrats treat theirs, specifically emphasizing that the White House announced this decision on the same day it kicked off Obama's re-election bid. About that point, Rachel said this:
A Democratic President kicks his base in the teeth on something as fundamental as civil liberties -- he puts the nail in the coffin of a civil liberties promise he made on his first full day in office -- and he does it on the first day of his re-election effort. And Beltway reaction to that is. . . huh, good move. That's the difference between Republican politics and Democratic politics. The Republicans may not love their base, but they fear them and play to them. The Democratic Party institutional structures of D.C., and the Beltway press in particular, not only hate the Democratic base -- they think it's good politics for Democratic politicians to kick that base publicly whenever possible.
Only the base itself will ever change that.
How will that happen? How can the base itself possibly change this dynamic, whereby politicians of the Democratic Party are not only willing, but eager, to "kick them whenever possible," on the ground (among others) that doing so is good politics? I'd submit that this is not only one of the most important domestic political questions (if not the most important), but also the one that people are most eager to avoid engaging. And the reason is that there are no comforting answers.
One thing is for certain: right now, the Democratic Party is absolutely correct in its assessment that kicking its base is good politics. Why is that? Because they know that they have inculcated their base with sufficient levels of fear and hatred of the GOP, so that no matter how often the Party kicks its base, no matter how often Party leaders break their promises and betray their ostensible values, the base will loyally and dutifully support the Party and its leaders (at least in presidential elections; there is a good case that the Democrats got crushed in 2010 in large part because their base was so unenthusiastic).
In light of that fact, ask yourself this: if you were a Democratic Party official, wouldn't you also ignore -- and, when desirable, step on -- the people who you know will support you no matter what you do to them? That's what a rational, calculating, self-interested, unprincipled Democratic politician should do: accommodate those factions which need accommodating (because their support is in question), while ignoring or scorning the ones whose support is not in question, either because they will never vote for them (the hard-core right) or will dutifully canvass, raise money, and vote for them no matter what (the Democratic base). Anyone who pledges unconditional, absolute fealty to a politician -- especially 18 months before an election -- is guaranteeing their own irrelevance.
It was often said that Bush/Cheney used fear as their principal political weapon -- and they did -- but that's true of the Democratic Party as well. When it comes to their base, Democratic leaders know they will command undying, unbreakable support no matter how many times they kick their base, because of the fear that has been instilled in the base -- not fear of Terrorists or Immigrants (that's the GOP's tactic), but fear of Sarah Palin, the Kochs and the Tea Party. Rachel herself made this point quite well before the 2010 election:
I talked at the top of the show tonight with Gail Collins about how one way to motivate your natural base for an election is to make your base afraid of what the other side has to offer. And that is true. That works. That works on both sides. It works for conservatives about liberals and it works for liberals about conservatives.
But one less soul-sucking way to motivate your base and to win an election and to keep winning elections and to, frankly, have history look kindly upon you, is to get your base to cheer for you -- not just to cheer against someone else, but to see you standing up, not just to bad guys with worse ideas than you, but to see you standing up for what is right because you know it is right, because we know you know it's right, even though you also know standing up for it is hard.
It may be that this fear of Republicans is rational (or, given how many GOP-replicating policies and practices the Democrats embrace, maybe it isn't). But whatever else is true, one thing is for certain: dedicated partisans who pledge their unbreakable, eternally loyal support for any Party or politician are going to be steadfastly ignored (or worse) by that Party or politician, and rightfully so. If you spend two years vehemently objecting that certain acts so profoundly offend your principles but then pledge unequivocal support no matter what almost two years in advance to the politicians who engage in them, why would you expect your objections to be heeded? Any rational person would ignore them, and stomp on your beliefs whenever doing so benefited them...
The impotence of the loyal partisan voter
Tuesday, Apr 5, 2011