Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Democratic Stupidity

Here's how James Caesar sums-up the Democrats in his new article over at the Weekly Standard: "The Stupid Party." According to Ceasar, after a half-century of scientific progressivism, the Democrats moved toward nihilism by the end of the 1960s:

This split between the liberals and the radicals in the late 1960s and early 1970s cost the Democratic party its confidence, and the party has never been quite the same since. The New Left did not take over permanently, a task for which it was morally, intellectually, and above all politically unfit. Once it became clear--as it did in the 1972 election--that the majority of the American people had no sympathy for the New Left's cause, especially "revolution," the old liberal mainstream was in effect asked to step back in and serve as the public face of the party, and it did so in the persons of Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis.

But the New Left didn't disappear. Renamed the cultural (or multicultural) left, it decamped from center stage and repaired to safer quarters in the universities, where it managed to carry out much of its program. Inside the Democratic party, it ceded actual leadership, but maintained an impressive power base and exercised enormous influence on the policy agenda. Usually, the old liberals found the cultural left too dangerous to embrace, but too powerful to resist.

The result by the 1980s was a much weakened liberalism that was no match for a renewed conservative movement. Sapped of energy, liberalism had become, in Paul Starr's words, mostly "defensive" and "oppositional." Liberals tried to stick to the catechism of the older values, but were often pushed off course by the conflicting priorities championed by the cultural left. Liberals lacked any clear conception of first principles or anchoring ideas to guide them. Except for the fact that the Democratic party remained the home of almost all of the intelligentsia, it had now become the "stupid party" of American politics, an honor previously reserved for Republicans. Not even the two Clintons, with their high IQ's and a new generation of policy wonks to serve them, could change this. The "New Democrat" thrust was wholly strategic and practical: to move the Democratic party to the center and to "reinvent" government. Whatever other contributions may be ascribed to the Clinton Democrats, deep reflection about the party's theoretical foundations was not among them.

Caesar says things have gotten worse during the Bush years. Especially noteworthy is the vacuity of the foaming netroot hordes of the radical left:

Today, the Democratic party mainstream has its values, its instincts, and, as usual, more than its share of 10-point programs. It even has its "isms," represented by its leading troika: the pragmatism of Hillary Clinton, the idealism of Barack Obama, and the populism of John Edwards. Yet its intellectual reservoir has shown itself to be lacking in depth and confidence. Today's Democratic mainstream is no more willing or able to stand up to the party's present leftist insurgency than the older mainstream was to stand up to the New Left. The tenor of the current left is best captured by something Lionel Trilling said in 1949 about conservatives: They do not "express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas."

Even this description may be overly generous. The journalist Matt Bai, in his recent book The Argument, undertook an anthropological field trip to investigate the natives who inhabit the progressive coalition of billionaires and bloggers. The big money men and women--what the left used to call, back when it framed matters more astutely, the "obscenely wealthy"--are mostly people who have made their fortunes recently. (George Soros, the godfather of the movement, is an exception.) The last thing these newly rich would wish to be called, however, is nouveau riche; they are bobo billionaires who profess to regard their own fortunes with nonchalance. Steven Gluckstern, for example, who helped bankroll the Democracy Alliance--a new organization to fund the rebuilding of the progressive infrastructure (dues $200,000 a year for five years)--told Bai, "I don't really care about money. I mean, I like it. You can do fun things with it. You can give it away." All in this progressive money set, which includes some of Hollywood's more modest donors, follow the new progressive formula of buying political influence while decrying the influence of money in politics.

The allies of the wealthy, the bloggers, are the coalition's hit men. Almost all are males in their thirties. The two most prominent, "Markos and Jerome" (Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga of the Daily Kos and Jerome Armstrong of MyDD), gained their fame and won their political clout by latching onto Howard Dean's candidacy in 2003 and using the Internet to help create the "Democratic wing of the Democratic party." Their websites not only constantly abuse thought, but show contempt for intellectuals, even while gaining influence among them. The language is often violent and vulgar. The moving spirit of the Daily Kos is one of anger and resentment, which, when not directed at Democrats who dare to stray from the wing line, is directed at the president, the vice president, and the Iraq war.

The bloggers in turn are teamed up with the new, Internet-reliant grassroots associations like MoveOn and ACORN. What emerges from Bai's study of the coalition is that the tone of MoveOn's recent New York Times ad assailing General Petraeus as "General Betray Us," far from being exceptional, is perfectly typical of the discourse preached and practiced by this so-called progressive coalition. The ad stood out because it exposed to the world at large the ugly style the new radicals have developed for use among themselves--and because it forced the main Democratic presidential candidates, who declined to disavow it, to show publicly their fealty to the movement.

The Democratic party, its prowess renewed by a taste of success in 2006, is riding the crest of a political wave. It is the stupid party triumphant. What serious Democrats must now consider is whether to accept this state of affairs--or begin to think deeply enough to find a principled ground for rejecting a faction in their midst that is not only stupid but dangerous as well.

What's interesting about Ceasar's piece is how nicely he captures the chest-thumping narcissism of the hard left blogosphere. Markos Moulitsas is the worst - his megalomania I've called "The Daily Kos Syndrome" - but the same massive narcissism is found among most of the top radical lefty blogs.

These trends wouldn't be much more than a nuisance, except that many in the not-too-smart Democratic congressional majority lack the nerve to stand up to these idiots. Even Hillary Clinton, alas, can't stick to the firm centrism she sought to establish during her first Senate term. Certainly she's got the brains - if not the backbone - to rescue the Democrats from their stupidity, although I'm not holding my breath.