Get Your Base On

Why the election will come down to turnout

Does anyone really believe that conservative pundits have the Democratic party’s best interests at heart?

Apparently, the Democratic candidate (no matter who that candidate is) will lose by pandering to some mythical “shrill and unstable” party base, which is going to drive the center to the Republicans. If only they’d be more supportive of unpopular wars with dubious origins, stop asking questions about unprecedented corruption and deceit, and fighting the “class warfare” that the right wing began over twenty years ago, they might have a chance in the 2004 election. Of course, by this calculation, the Democrats will probably still lose, but at least it won’t be a blowout.

Maybe I missed something. I thought that Al Gore “lost” in 2000 because the left was divided between him and Ralph Nader. I thought that reclaiming the “Democratic wing of the Democratic party” had energized the party as never before. I thought that Dubya was maintaining what support he has by playing shamelessly to his base — the religious conservatives who see him as nearly a savior in his own right.

After the September 11th attacks, after the details of the Patriot Act became public, after a war begun on pretenses that are dubious at best, through staggering inside deals and betrayals of intelligence operatives and the continuing decay of the democratic process itself, only half of Americans bother to vote, and then only during the presidential campaign. While this apathy is nothing new, a relatively recent development is the increased fervor of the party faithful — on both sides. Ironically, this drive has been fueled more by opposition than by support. Many Republican successes were driven by tremendous antipathy for Clinton, and the left is energized by its disgust with Bush and those perceived as his puppeteers. Nevertheless, while policy battles are arguably more important than they have been in decades, and the division between the parties has all but ended the “Republicrat” meme, American politics has largely been left to these power bases.

It would make sense that the tremendous wave of patriotism and solidarity that rose from the ashes of New York and Washington would mean greater engagement in the issues and their meaning. Apparently, we do not live in sensible times. President Uniter, when handed an unprecedented opportunity to end the divisive rhetoric in the capitol, instead used the opportunity to push a radical agenda and to go for a majority in the Senate. (Or more accurately, Rove and Cheney did.) Is it any wonder that the Democratic party has become as combative as it has? They have exactly one real hope, and that is to re-energize what had become a weak and divided liberal base.

Fortunately for the Democrats, in the wake of the narrow but devastating losses in 2002, their base mobilized itself. Infuriated with an administration that called fifteen million protesters worldwide a “focus group” and determined to do something about it, the base may be occasionally shrill but is by no means unstable. Organized, united, and determined to defeat Bush in 2004, this growing group is willing to accept reasonable compromise with both a candidate and a party to win. There may be some circular fire now, but the large, stable core of the movement is based on the desire to win the general election. Once a candidate is chosen, expect a movement both broad and deep to become highly active in supporting that candidate through what will undoubtedly be one of the hardest-fought elections in American history.

Of course, the right wing is just as determined and mobilized. They have enjoyed unprecedented victories over the last three years, and despite some truly epic whining about the evil libruls that run everything (except, you know, the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, television, talk radio, and the corporate world), know that they’ve got a good thing going (for them) and want to keep it. Badly. The current Republican leadership, after decades of cultivating this power base, knows how to keep it happy.

Meanwhile, the Democratic party may be having some trouble adjusting to its suddenly vibrant constituency, but the leaders are learning fast. Kicking Ass, the official Democratic blog, is clearly the real thing, which is a small but important sign that the party Gets It when it comes to the Internet half of this new energy. What they need now are boots on the ground. As it happens, labor, environmentalists, and civil rights activists are working to form a broad-based alliance to get Democrats elected.

While many swing voters remain, they seem fairly evenly divided at this point. Barring an act of sheer genius or epic stupidity by one of the campaigns, this is unlikely to change a great deal. Even if it does, their numbers are relatively small, while the core constituencies are larger and stronger than ever. While it is certainly wise to make a serious effort to court undecided voters, the real effort — particularly for the left, which still has more support for its views among the populace at large — is to get the true believers to the polls. On the road to the White House, the right of way will go to the strongest turnout.

(/) Roland X

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