11/12/2004

The Architects

In her column entitled "The Architects of Defeat", Arianna Huffington quotes James Carville from late in the campaign.

"If we can't win this damn election," the advisor to the Kerry campaign said, "with a Democratic Party more unified than ever before, with us having raised as much money as the Republicans, with 55% of the country believing we're heading in the wrong direction, with our candidate having won all three debates, and with our side being more passionate about the outcome than theirs, if we can't win this one, then we can't win shit! And we need to completely rethink the Democratic Party."
Huffington starts from this quote and proceeds to place the blame for the electoral defeat squarely at the feat of Carville and his fellow Clintonistas, concluding:
As at almost every other turn, the campaign had chosen caution over boldness. Why did these highly paid professionals make such amateurish mistakes? In the end, it was the old obsession with pleasing undecided voters (who, Greenberg argued right up until the election, would break for the challenger) and an addiction to polls and focus groups, which they invariably interpreted through their Clinton-era filters. It appears that you couldn't teach these old Beltway dogs new tricks. It's time for some fresh political puppies.
Carville was probably correct when he said that the time has come to "re-think the Democratic Party", although I am concerned where that re-thinking is going to lead. McCauliffe is on his way out, and the bitter frustration resulting from two consecutive defeats at the hands of Bush/Rove may have some Democrat insiders pondering a purge of the Clintonistas from the hubs of power.

It's hard to imagine a worse choice, either for the Democrats or the country.

For all his despicable rhetoric ("Drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you'll find."), Carville and those of like mind are moderates - Democratic Leadership Council members who believe that the party needs to run close to the center to be competitive in national elections. Nonsensical whining about moving to Canada and secession aside, the last two elections have been competitive. Two races lost by a total of four million votes is not the 525-13 electoral body slam that Reagan laid on Mondale in 1984.

If Carville and other DLC-ers are shown the door, it seems likely that the Democratic "re-thinking" would result in a hard turn to the left; perhaps culminating in the ascension of Howard Dean to the party chair. With Dean at the wheel, the danger is that his notions of pacifism and isolationism would steer the party away from the center and away from the mainstream. Huffington seems to believe that the election swung on the war and terrorism. If that's the case, Dean probably would have taken a worse beating in the general election than Kerry did. The party quickly distanced itself from Dean's message once the primaries started, and with good reason.

If the DNC should find itself realigned to serve Howard's ends, it risks giving the Republicans "supermajorities" in one or both houses of the legislature. That outcome is one best avoided.