When I first started this site back in April of '02, one of the reasons blogging was so attractive to me was my frustration with the lazy, sloppy, predictable thinking of so many of the people who got paid for pontificating about politics. Case in point: this article, which has received much publicity in the blogosphere, calling for the Democrats to "purge" certain elements, including Michael Moore and Move-On, from the party. The "Moore Wing", the argument goes, cost the Democrats this election by creating the appearance that the party was soft-on-terror, giving Bush the 3+% boost in the electorate necessary for him to prevail. Using the creation of the A.D.A. in 1947 as the inspiration, the Democratic Party should boot out the offending elements, just as Truman, Humphrey, et al. did the same sixty years ago to the Wallacites.
Several things are wrong with that prescription, even if we put aside the merits of the writer's position on fighting terrorism. One, the so-called Michael Moore/Move-On Wing of the party doesn't exist, since neither is part of the party in the first place. Moore, for example, famously supported Ralph Nader four years ago, and as far as I can tell, didn't go out of his way to campaign for Democrats down the ticket this time; if he went out and made speeches for Brad Carson or Tony Knowles during the campaign, the public record is pretty silent. Moore has a following today because he makes entertaining, provocative movies that lots and lots of people watch, and for all the talk about the mistakes and questionable assertions he sometimes throws into his documentaries, he is still, compared with much of the media and blogosphere, an honest voice. When he loses that, the party won't need to "purge" him, since he will no longer have a following to worry about.
Even if we are to assume, as the writer does, that the exit polls indicated that Bush's improvement over his performance in 2000 resulted from the perception that he was "tougher" on the terrorists than Kerry, that Kerry would have won back that segment with a more "serious" view towards the problem, and that Michael Moore and Move-On don't take the problem seriously (and anyone who has seen F9/11 knows that's not the case), you still run into the problem that the "wing" of the party you are trying to purge is at least as large as the aforementioned segment of the voters that voted for Bush last month, ie., 3+ percent. So we can call that a draw.
The most telling thing about the article is that it's clear the writer would have come to the same conclusion if John Kerry had done marginally better in Ohio. Clearly, the writer isn't attempting to formulate an objective analysis of what happened November 2, but trying instead to use the results to justify his desire to marginalize those who disagree with him. To put it another way, if Kerry was busy right now selecting his Cabinet, does anyone believe that the writer would have advocated rewarding the Moore Wing of the party for the victory they had just provided the Democrats? Of course not; he would be calling it a test of Kerry's leadership for him to defy his base, and exclude from counsel those, like Michael Moore and Move-On, who opposed the invasion of Iraq (and, as this writer notes, a stance for which history has already vindicated them).
Secondly, the writer may not be old enough or historically aware enough to understand this, but asking the Democrats to emulate what its governing wing did in 1947 is not exactly the most propitious historical precedent to follow. First, a history lesson: in 1944, the party bosses, realizing the FDR was ailing and that he had no obvious heir other than the Vice President, maneuvered the then-Number Two, Henry Wallace, off the ticket in favor of Harry Truman. Wallace, however, still a powerful figure within the party, remained in the Cabinet after Roosevelt's reelection that fall.
When FDR died in April, 1945, followed shortly thereafter by the Allied victory in Europe, Truman became President, and a split developed as to how to deal with the fact that our erstwhile friend, the Soviet Union, had effectively seized all of Eastern Europe in the aftermath. Wallace supported a more accomodationist position, spoke out against the Truman Doctrine, and was cashiered in 1946. The Democrats took a shellacking in the mid-term elections, fell out of power in Congress for the first time in a generation, and, divided between two different factions that claimed to be the inheritors of FDR's mantle, looked around for a way to regroup.
Hence, in 1948, the faction supporting Henry Wallace formed the Progressive Party to challenge Harry Truman, while another group, claiming to be liberal anti-communists, founded the Americans for Democratic Action (A.D.A.), and tried to dump Harry Truman from the ticket and replace him with Dwight Eisenhower. When that went nowhere, and Truman's renomination was assured, they tried a different tack: co-opt the Progressives on another issue on which they had broken with the national Democratic Party, civil rights. The Democrats had begun to make inroads in the North with the growing black vote during the Roosevelt Administration, in no small part due to Henry Wallace, but after FDR's death the party's position was tenuous, what with a large regional bloc devoted to the principles of apartheid. So a series of small but significant steps were taken, culminating in the passage of a pro-civil rights plank at the 1948 Convention.
The Democrats, of course, won in 1948, thanks to a worse-than-expected performance by Henry Wallace and the Progressive Party, which was due in large part to Truman's historical breakthrough in capturing a significant chunk of the black vote. Here, though, the story starts to get rather grim. The decade following that election saw not the rise of A.D.A.-style liberalism, but of Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon, as well as names long-forgotten to history, like Karl Mundt, Carl Curtis, William Knowland, and Strom Thurmond. Eisenhower was elected, as a Republican, for two terms, and the Republican Party controlled the Presidency, pretty much unabated, until 1992. The breakthough with black voters, so important in the 1948 victory, and so vital in giving the Democratic Party its greatest accomplishments in changing the face of America, would have its own political consequences down the road.
In fact, it's hard to see that period as being anything other than an unmitigated disaster for the Democratic Party, at least in its role as electoral mechanism for candidates. After 1954, the Democrats were resigned to controlling Congress, with its unwieldy and ultimately unworkeable coalition of Southern Dixiecrats and Northern liberals, until even that began to break down in 1980. When a Democrat won the Presidency, it was due either to running a novelty candidate (JFK, Jimmy Carter) or to a freakish historical event (assasination of JFK boosting LBJ, or Nixon's resignation and subsequent pardon leading to Carter's victory). And whether it was Tailgunner Joe denouncing the Truman Administration as a Communist front, or Bush the Elder using a veto of a bill requiring students to pledge allegiance to the flag as an excuse to challenge his patriotism, the Democrats were consistently, and successfully, portrayed as the "weaker" of the two parties when it came time to defend America. As far as capturing swing voters is concerned, making the party inhospitable to Henry Wallace failed miserably.
So clearly, the long-term fortunes of the Democratic Party are not necessarily served best by "purging" anyone. Nor should they be, since the whole notion of a political party in America purging someone for a politically-incorrect position is a noxious one, to say the least. It should be noted, in fact, that Henry Wallace wasn't "purged" by anyone; he left the Democratic Party, after it became clear that his position on issues pertaining to the Soviet Union would no longer advance his fortunes. If anything, one of the reasons we "fought" the Cold War in the first place was to repudiate the notion that some Central Committee or Party Directorate could have a monopoly on the truth. American political parties allow for grass roots participation and influence over their direction in ways unimagined in totalitarian states.
American political parties are often frustratingly cumbersome, but one of the ways in which they have made this country great is by being inclusive. In the end, that inclusiveness is empowering, since it puts the individual in a much better position in our democracy than members of more traditional political parties have.