Sunday, February 06, 2005


David Brooks has a great opinion piece entitled A Short History of Deanism which describes the same process that Simon Rosenberg, a one time-contender for DNC chair, fervently advocated. That would be the gradual takeover of the Democratic Party by its radical wing through a process of creeping elitism. Here's David Brooks:

Since the 1960's there has been a breakdown in the machinery that allowed Americans to work together across class and other divisions. The educated class has come to dominate, and the issues of interest to that class overshadow issues of interest to the less educated and less well off. But the two major parties were affected unequally. The Republican coalition still contains some cross-class associations, like the N.R.A. and the evangelical churches, which connect corporate elites to the middle classes. The Democratic coalition has fewer organizations like that. Its elite - the urban and university-town elite - has less contact with the less educated. ...

Howard Dean, in his fervent antiwar phase, mobilized new networks of small donors, and these donors have quickly become the money base of the party. Whereas Al Gore raised only about $50 million from individuals in 2000, John Kerry raised $225 million, including $87 million over the Internet alone. Many of these new donors are highly educated. The biggest groups of donors to the Dean and Kerry campaigns were employees of the University of California, Harvard, Stanford, Time Warner, Microsoft and so on. ...

They tend to be to the left of the country, especially on social and security issues. They may not agree with Michael Moore on everything, but many enjoyed "Fahrenheit 9/11." Perhaps they are among the hundreds of thousands of daily visitors to Daily Kos and other blogs that savage Democrats who violate party orthodoxy. Many Republicans are mystified as to why the Democrats, having lost another election, are about to name Howard Dean as party chairman and have allowed Barbara Boxer and Ted Kennedy to emerge unchallenged as the loudest foreign policy voices.

The answer, as Mickey Kaus observes in Slate, is that the party is following the money.

If David Brooks observed the trend, Simon Rosenberg worked to make it real. In a New York Times article entitled "Wiring the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy" on Rosenberg's site, a vision of new Democratic Party is presented which not so coincidentally resembles what Brooks was describing. Written before the November US Presidential elections, it described efforts by Democratic Party activists to create a counter-version of the Great Right Wing Conspiracy.

In March of this year, Rappaport convened a meeting of wealthy Democrats at a Silicon Valley hotel so that they, too, could see Stein's presentation. Similar gatherings were already under way in Washington and New York, where the meetings included two of the most generous billionaires in the Democratic universe -- the financier George Soros and Peter Lewis, an Ohio insurance tycoon -- as well as Soros's son and Lewis's son. ... The plan is to gather investors from each city -- perhaps in one big meeting early next year -- and create a kind of venture-capital pipeline that would funnel money into a new political movement, working independently of the existing Democratic establishment. ...

Into this vacuum rushes money -- and already it is creating an entirely new kind of independent force in American politics. Led by Soros and Lewis, Democratic donors will, by November, have contributed as much as $150 million to a handful of outside groups -- America Coming Together, the Media Fund, -- that are going online, door to door and on the airways in an effort to defeat Bush. These groups aren't loyal to any one candidate, and they don't plan to disband after the election; instead, they expect to yield immense influence over the party's future, at the very moment when the power of some traditional Democratic interest groups, like the once mighty manufacturing unions, is clearly on the wane. ...

The electoral defeat of John Kerry probably accelerated rather than retarded the process. He was proof, or so it could be said, that Democratic centrist politics was no longer competitive. With Kerry out on first, it was natural that the Deans should step up to the plate, whatever their RBI. The loss of the blue collar wing of the Democratic Party, regarded by Brooks as a political liability, was viewed as lightening ship by the New Democrats; a slimming down to make them both harder-hitting and more agile. One thing that Brooks fails to discuss is why Deanism should necessarily be confined to American borders. Its natural constituency is the cosmopolitan elite for whom a passport is a fashion accessory. Recently, the Guardian led a campaign by European celebrities to tell voters that they should elect John Kerry. When they did not, one European newspaper asked "How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?"  Deanism knows no bounds.

Brooks notes that 'eliti-zation' has affected both political parties because its roots lie in the breakdown of community life over the decades, the difference being a matter of degree. As he so eloquently put it:

As you may recall, Ralph Kramden was a member of the Raccoon Lodge in "The Honeymooners." ... But as Prof. Theda Skocpol of Harvard has demonstrated, these fraternal associations lost members in the 1960's. Instead, groups like NOW, Naral and the Heritage Foundation emerged as the important associations in American life.

Important yes; but fraternal, no.


A reader writes to say that although Dean may be a disaster for the Democrats, the process of which he is a part is likely to make the party healthier in the long run.

Almost every human endeavor that I am aware of holds to a few truths:

  • Open and honest debate leads to “truth” with greater certainty than any closed-room politics.
  • Trial and error leads to knowledge and experience.
  • Decentralized power and decisionmaking is more efficient, in the long term, than any centralized system.

The Dems are possibly, right now, experiencing the "pain before the gain." A Dean chair might well be a disaster, but fundamentally, this does not matter. The process has changed. The process has gone from political bargains to the scientific method. Truth will be revealed. Errors will be corrected.

That might well prove to be true, although it doesn't address the observations of Brooks. But then, who knows? The nice thing about history is that it happens eventually.