The Washington Post’s Dan Balz presents an interesting piece over at The Trail:
The story line almost writes itself: Democratic president candidates snub centrists but plan to court liberal bloggers. Another sign of the party’s leftward drift?
That’s the easy and partially correct interpretation of what is happening this week. But not the whole story ….
The article focuses on the fact that none of the declared Democratic presidential contenders will be attending the Democratic Leadership Council’s annual summer meeting, a gathering that, in past cycles, held prominence among presidential hopefuls. The candidates are citing scheduling conflicts, which phrase is often rightly interpreted as a mere excuse; and, as Balz points out, some of them have found time to address the YearlyKos convention in Chicago later this week.
Various factors might influence the Democratic contenders’ decisions:
After George Bush’s reelection in 2004, Democrats were absorbed in a discussion about how they could do a better job of winning votes in rural areas, how they could speak about religion and values in a more authentic and open way, how they could compete in fast-growing exurban areas that were leaning heavily toward the GOP. That was the focus of attention at the DLC in 2005.
Hillary Clinton’s call at the 2005 DLC meeting for party unity ruffled the feathers of some party liberals, and disappointed a good many Democratic bloggers; the period of the DLC’s strongest influence not only saw the generation of new ideas, but also the willingness to pick fights in order to start debates. This latter attribute seems considerably less necessary in the current fractious political climate that has developed in the shadow of the “War on Terrorism” and the debacle in Iraq.
I will go so far as to say that Balz’s considerations miss a certain aspect of a vital point:
The Democratic Party has moved to the left since Bill Clinton left office and many independents have moved toward the Democrats because of the Iraq war.
And it’s true, but what is missing is a consideration of why the party is coming back to the left. When Bill Clinton took office, he achieved his victory by playing to the center. The effect was that when Bill rolled rightward toward the center, the party followed. One of the effects of this shift is that voters have complained in recent years that it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell Democrats and Republicans apart. And let’s face it, why would you vote for a fake Republican if there is a real one on the ticket as well?
In recent decades, Democratic attempts to match Republican methods have hurt more than they help. Many on the left find themselves voting for Democratic candidates in order to prevent Republicans from taking office. One point I make whenever the occasion demands is that voting for Democrats is my great concession to the right wing.
The image of alienated Democrats, however, only serves the GOP, who exploit the situation to present Democratic candidates and officeholders as lacking integrity. But that is the trap of politics. If you don’t appeal to voters, you do not win office. At present, the voters do not want to approve of abstract principles, they want to be served according to exacting, even if oft-contradictory, demands.
Perhaps this perception of the finicky voter derives from the increased attention given the swing bloc, but these voters–even more than the partisans or, more specifically, leftists–place high value on integrity.
The truth of the matter is that while the current political climate may render part of the DLC’s appeal irrelevant, the Council might also have the effect of undermining Democratic electoral chances.
If the party is truly swinging leftward, it seems to be for the better.