Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Rectification of Names

On bloggingheads tv [bloggingheads.tv] Robert Wright calls Mickey Kaus on Mickey's standard transgression: feigning Democrat. It's a bit like the folks who pretend to be Taoists without ever actually having read a Taoist text. You have a good idea, and some existing ideology packages it in a handy brand. "Kausist" just doesn't sound as good as "Democrat," even if Kaus is pretty anti-Democrat. Faux-nemesis Andrew Sullivan [time.blogs.com], who thinks conservatism is whatever God revealed to him over the morning newspaper, is a similar case of depicting one's political goals as political realities. It's fundamentally dishonest.

Yet I am sympathetic to one aspect of Kaus's project. He hopes, as I do, that the center can hold. I like the Gang of Fourteen. I like the president's immigration bill (Kaus doesn't). Why he doesn't just call himself a centrist instead of a Democrat is beyond me. As Wright pointed out, for the past decade Kaus has opposed Democratic control of the House. Kaus claims he wants the Democrats to have the White House, but not Congress. To me, Wright, and virtually anybody else, that means he's not a Democrat.

I'd like the Democrats to sweep the House, the Senate, and the Presidency, so you'd think it would be easy to identify me as a Democrat. I'd like to, really I would, but like so many other folks, I don't know what the party stands for. Too often, I think the answer is machine politics. The party never really found a way to win once the South stopped being solid, and while I think Republicans may be just as bad, what I've seen in the Northeast makes me no more confident than I felt in Byrd-era Virginia.

Today is primary day in New York, a day that always pisses me off because you can only vote in the primary if you are registered to a particular party. You might as well call it "machine politics day" or "celebrate blind partisanship day." Nominations are pretty much determined by party elders. If the Democrats want to stand for something, maybe it would be a good idea to hold open primaries and let voters pick the candidates they want. It would make the party more centrist and hold off the humorless Kossacks (who adapt the rhetoric of populists, but who support unelectable candidates (Hello John Kerry!)).

Most importantly, open primaries might prevent the bizarre transformations that candidates undergo between primary and general election. Voters might actually know who they are voting for. Then the Democratic Party could stand for something, and we could be the ones who determine what that is.

Kausfiles is here . This guy is funny.


JohnMcG said...

It's interesting to me that someone like Wright would imply that there is value to tribal loyalty. It seems like tribal loyalty is one of the largest impediments to the US enacting some of his foreign policy ideas. We want to be "good Americans" and "support the president," and thus give him the benefit of the doubt. Is being a "good Democrat" that much better than being a "good American?"

At least Kaus is thinking through the policy implications of his support for candidates rather than blindly supporting his "team."

The other thing that's interesting is that Kaus bristles at being called on his disloyalty. I think this shows what a powerful force party loyalty remains.

august said...

On further reflection, I think the main thing Kaus gets out of calling himself a Democrat is a weird kind of street cred. If he's outside the party, he's just another sniper. But if he's a Democrat -- then presto-chango! He's fair-minded and reasonable!

I agree that Wright's view is harder to guage. I think he would argue that he was simply in favor of honesty from Kaus.

Also -- I'm not sure my argument passes the ghost test of actually producing a desirable outcome. The results of the primaries would have been identical, and the only change i can think of in recent memory might have been more support for McCain (blech) in 2000. But I do think that tribal loyalty is destructive, and perhaps that alone is sufficient reason for my wishing to dilute party identification/strength.

JohnMcG said...

I think if Kaus could choose which Party would adopt his policies, he'd choose the Democrats. But you're right, is does make him seem like he's arguing against interest when he probably really isn't.