>> Thursday, January 07, 2010

It's actually kind of impressive how many obvious errors of analysis Charles Lane packs into a few paragraphs here:

I can't remember a more breathtaking 48 hours in politics since Barack Obama's election in November 2008. Byron Dorgan is out; Chris Dodd is out; Bill Ritter is out. Who would have thought that just one year into Obama's promising presidency, the Democrats who had pinned their hopes on him would be dangerously close to political meltdown?


Dick Morris sees a "New Two-Party System" in which centrist Democrats are getting squeezed out of a liberal party that has no real place for them any more.

That's about half right. It's more like we have four political parties stuffed into two. Roughly speaking, the Democrats consist of a liberal wing (epitomized by, say, Howard Dean) and a centrist wing (think of Arkansas's Blanche Lincoln). The Republicans include a conservative wing (e.g., Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio) and an ultra-conservative wing (Sarah Palin). These are not recent developments. Both parties have been ideological and regional coalitions for decades.


Now, however, under the Internet-intensified pressure of recession, terrorism and global uncertainty, the four parties are breaking out of the two-party mold that had previously contained them. On the Democratic side, President Obama finds himself torn between progressives demanding an ideologically pure health-care program, among other agenda items, and a pragmatic wing desperately attempting to hold together 60 Senate votes by whatever means necessary.


The past is not prologue, but party instability of this magnitude could be the harbinger of even bigger changes. The U.S. political system actually fractured into four major parties in 1860 -- and we all know what happened next.

I suppose one could just note that he quotes Dick Morris as a serious political analyst and then go home, but for the record:

  • The idea that there's "no room" for centrists in the Democratic Party couldn't be more absurd. There remain plenty in the Democratic caucus, and as we've seen all too vividly they wield an enormous amount of leverage.
  • What Dorgan's decision not to run again has to do with a split between progressives and "centrists" is, to put it mildly, unclear. As far as I can tell, no significant progressive blogger sees Dorgan's resignation as a good thing, he wasn't facing a primary threat, etc. etc.
  • Chris Dodd was, as Senators go, progressive. And far from being part of a "political meltdown," his decision not to run makes it nearly certain that the Dems will hold a formerly vulnerable seat.
  • The idea that progressives are unwilling to compromise on health care, in contrast to a "pragmatic wing" of centrists, is a near-perfect inversion of the truth. Progressives have, in fact, been willing to accept any number of odious compromises in order to get a health care bill passed. It's the Liebermans and Stupaks who are the nihilists willing to kill health care reform in order to (in the latter case) restrict abortion rights or (in the former case) indulge in unprincipled narcissism.
  • The fact that teabaggers sometimes want the Republican Party to run more conservative candidates hardly means that they aren't willing to work within the party.
  • All of the large, "brokerage" parties that characterize two-party systems contain tensions. But, of course, American parties are in fact far more disciplined and ideologically coherent than has been the case historically. The idea that there's an unusual degree of partly instability is utterly wrong. As for Lane's suggestion that we could be on the verge of an 1860-like party crackup -- care to make it interesting?
An impressive piece of work.


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