Tuesday, December 27, 2005

When power is all that matters

Benjamin Wallace-Wells' Washington Monthly profile of far left blogger Markos Moulitsas (Daily Kos) highlights the growing problem the Democrat Party has with extremists gaining influence:

The younger-than-35 liberal professionals who account for most of his audience seem an ideologically satisfied group, with no fundamental paradigm-changing demands to make of the Democratic Party. They don't believe strongly, as successive generations of progressives have, that the Democratic Party must develop more government programs to help the poor, or that racial and ethnic minorities are wildly underrepresented, or that the party is in need of a fundamental reform towards the pragmatic center--or at least they don't believe so in any kind of consistent or organized manner.

As this generation begins to move into positions of power within the progressive movement and the Democratic Party, they don't pose much of a challenge on issues or substance. So the tactical critique takes center stage. Moulitsas's sensibility suits his generation perfectly. But it also comes with a built-in cost. Moulitsas is just basically uninterested in the intellectual and philosophical debates that lie behind the daily political trench warfare. By his own admission, he just doesn't care about policy.

It's here that the correlation between sports and politics breaks down. In sports, as Vince Lombardi is said to have put it, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." When the season is over, you hang up your cleats and wait for the next season. But in politics, that's not the case--you have to govern, and if you don't govern well, you won't get reelected. So while tactics and message are crucial, most voters will ultimately demand from politicians ideas that give them a sense of what a party is going to do once in power. Wanting to win very badly is an admirable and necessary quality in politics, and Moulitsas is right that Democrats have needed it in greater quantity. But it is not really a political philosophy.

I think Wallace-Wells has hit on the fundamental problem: the new guard really doesn't stand for anything, they just want power for power's sake and are willing to do anything to get it. This helps bring an understanding of the lack of honesty and the irrationality that characterizes so much of the anti-Bush and anti-war rhetoric. If you really don't care what happens to the country, only who's in power, the "Bush lied" and "let's pull out of Iraq" mindset starts to make a little bit of sense.

And it helps explain the differences between this group and those of us who do care about what happens to our nation, our concerns and goals are so different that we end up talking past each other. It sheds some light on how a faction can be so outraged that we dare to spy on terrorist communications while most Americans would be outraged if we didn't. It really comes down to what is more important to you, your party or your country. For those like me who really don't have a party (neither stands for much of what I care about, that one gets the big issue right is far from sufficient to earn my loyalty) or for whom party politics is but a means to a philosophical end, it doesn't even seem like there is a serious choice to make. But for some power is itself the end, and nothing else matters.


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