April 06, 2005

Bill Bradley's widely-discussed prescription on what ails the Democratic Party has found at least one detractor, Mickey Kaus:
The problem, of course, is that the Democratic party's most stable institutional elements are also its most problematic elements: 1) unions; 2) the civil rights and Latino lobbies; 3) the senior lobby (AARP); 4) institutional feminists (NOW); 5) trial lawyers; 6) Iowa-caucus style "progressives;" and 7) Hollywood emoters. If a national problem could be solved without trampling on the interests of this institutional base, Democrats would have solved it in the decades when they were in power. What's left are the problems that can't be solved--even solved in accordance with liberal principles--without trampling on these liberal interest groups: competitiveness, for example, or public education, or entitlement reform. If the Dems' permanent institutional base is what gets to "develop" and "hone" the ideas to be adopted by the party's presidential nominee, then the Democrats will in perpetuity be the party of union work rules, lousy teachers, mediocre schools, protectionism, racial preferences, unafforadable entitlements, amnesty for illegals and offensive rap lyrics! That winning collection gets you, what, 35%?
I think Mr. Kaus is missing the point. Senator Bradley, in his column, is talking about a different type of entity when he refers to the "base" of the Democratic Party; not the constituent groups (AARP, NOW, NAACP, etc.) but an amalgam of think tanks, 527's, and George Soros-type philanthropists (the "base" of a pyramid), similar to the groups and individuals that helped seed the conservative resurgence after the '64 election. Bradley is not suggesting that the GOP became the majority party by relying on ideas generated from the Republican counterpoints to the groups mentioned by Kaus, such as the Moral Majority, the Right-to-Work League, the Birchers and the White Citizens Council, but from entities such as the Cato Institute and the A.E.I., which took the ideas that motivated the people in those groups and made them a better sell to an American electorate that otherwise frowned on explicit pitches to racism and lobbing nuclear warheads at the Russkies.

In short, Bradley is proposing that Democrats nurture an institutional structure for creating and selling their own "wedge issues", a liberal version of the Heritage Foundation or the CPD, generating studies and policy proposals that validate the core beliefs of the party faithful (and hopefully, maintain some academic credibility). From there, the ideas would filter up the pyramid, through the blogosphere and Air America, to Congressional staffers and lobbyists, and finally to our campaign strategists, who can use them to retake control of the country. Sounds good on paper.

No comments: