The 51% SolutionIs this where we really are? Are we in a religious war between the American evangelists and the modernists, with a large group in the middle who don't know really which side to choose?
Ronald Brownstein, the LA Times political columnist, provides a window into the essential cluelessness of the centrist pundit, as he tries to figure out why the Rovian brain trust is sending Shrub out on partisan search and destroy missions at a time when so many GOP candidates are plaintively asking the voters: "Can't we all just get along?"
Bush is moving in the opposite direction. As he often does when he's under political pressure, he's accentuating the disagreements between the parties and presenting the differences in the starkest possible terms . . . Bush now routinely labels Democrats "the party of cut-and-run." At a recent Republican fundraiser, Bush went much further. "The Democrat Party . . . has evolved from one that was confident in its capacity to help deal with the problems of the world to one that . . . has an approach of doubt and defeat," he declared.
As Brownstein notes, this isn'st exactly the normal rhetoric of a wartime leader trying to unify his people. From this, the pundit glumly concludes:
Even if Bush succeeds, such a result still will measure how much he has retreated from his hopes of building a broad majority coalition.
This is Broderism (i.e. the willful denial of reality) reduced to the point of absurdity. There is nothing in the record of the past six years that suggests building a broad majority coalition has ever been the objective of the Rovian political project. Just the opposite, in fact. The
goal has always been to create a narrow, but solid, majority -- a dependable 51% or 52% -- that would leave the GOP machine in firm control but reduce the need for the kind of moderate compromises required to hold a broad coalition together. Thus the overwhelming emphasis on keeping the conservative base energized and motivated, no matter what. As long as the base is on board, the extra 12 or 15 percentage points needed to reach a majority can always be picked up one way or another -- without having to cut too many non-conservatives a slice of the pie. Or so the theory holds.
It's really just a redneck variation on the old Leninist strategy for a party dictatorship -- if the GOP machine can control a majority of conservatives, and conservatives can control a majority of Republicans, then Republicans should be able to control (barely) a majority of the voters, and thus the country.
In a true one-party state, like the old Soviet Union, this process can be taken to its ultimate conclusion, i.e. totalitarian rule. But in even a nominally democratic society, there are risks in trying to broaden the pyramid's base too widely. At some point, the chain of control -- a majority of a majority of a majority -- can break down.
The fact that Brownstein can's see this (or won't admit it), even after the events of the past six years, is par for the course. One of the machine's most valuable resources -- a kind of built-in cloaking device -- is the tendency of the corporate media to take political propaganda at face value. It's all part of that "trust" and "social capital" that Sebastian Mallaby finds so precious. (Club him again, Duncan.)
Or, to quote Keyser Söze: The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.
However, while Rovian goal (permanent GOP rule) and strategy have remained fixed, the tactics have changed considerably over the course of Shrub's presidency, and particularly after 9/11. In his dismay and disappointment, Brownstein is harking back to Bush 1.0 -- the uniter, not a divider, who promised to work as well with the Democrats in Washington as he claimed to have done in Austin. (Seems like decades ago, doesn't it?)
But the uniter-not-a-divider riff was a purely tactical response to the Clinton impeachment and the backlash it triggered -- a political tide that might have swamped Shrub's 2000 presidential aspirations if he and Rove hadn't put some daylight between themselves and the Holy Inquisitors of the Republican Congress. And if Bush had won a comfortable victory, I'm sure the ploy would have been abandoned as soon he took the oath. But the Florida dispute, and the effect it had on Shrub's numbers, made it necessary to continue the charade through the first few months of his presidency. Thus the early, token gestures towards bipartisanship on the No Child Left Behind Act and Bush's "faith based initiative," even though both efforts were designed primarily with partisan political purposes in mind -- to peel away slivers of Democratic support in minority communities in the first instance, and to help build the Christian conservative patronage network in the second.
What might have happened if 9/11 had not happened is an interesting hypothetical. After successfully negotiating with (read: peeling the shirt off) the "moderates" and passing Bush's first round of tax cuts in the spring of 2001, the administration then began to act as if it saw the way clear to move hard right -- that is, until Jim Jeffords's defection swung the Senate to the Dems and temporarily brought the whole project to a crashing halt.
And then, of course, everything changed.
Or rather, nothing changed -- except that the Rovians were handed a political windfall of the highest order. If Brownstein is just now noticing the use of partisan attack rhetoric to try to score electoral points in the middle of a war, then I guess he must have sleep walked through the 2002 mid-term elections. If there is one, single, overriding reason why I despise Karl Rove and his masters, it's because of the way they expropriated 9/11 and the social solidarity it created and used them for the basest, sleaziest partisan ends. Likewise the invasion of Iraq -- back in the giddy days of "Mission Accomplished." There is no greater proof of the moral bankruptcy of the Republican machine and the Rovian style of politics.
But the irony is that 9/11 also thrust upon the Rovians what they had deliberately not sought at the polls: a broad, sweeping majority. If they had adapted accordingly, and revised their fundamental strategy (or at least done a better job of camouflaging it) we'd probably be a hell of lot closer to the GOP equivalent of the thousand year Reich (well, twenty years, anyway). But the 51% solution -- the vision of a country run for the greater glory of the campus Republicans of the 1970s -- won out.
This was probably inevitable: The Rovian world view is both deeply pessimistic and infinitely cynical (which is one of the reasons why I feel I understand it so well). The working assumption seems to be that the partisan divide between Republican and Democrat -- or more accurately, between conservative and non-conservative -- is too deep to fill and too wide to bridge. That being the case, 51% is the best either side can hope for, as well as the most politically effective and efficient majority. In other words, the best of all possible worlds.
There is a double irony to that, because in pursuit of their 51% majority the Rovians have repeatedly felt compelled to betray their own conservative base -- digging into the pork barrel with both hands, passing the biggest boost in entitlement spending since Social Security was COLAized, cozying up to the gambling industry, etc. All so they can attract that 10 to 15 percentage point sliver of uncommitted voters, while giving nothing but the finger to Democrats and Democratic leaners, even though many of the latter were ripe for the picking in the wake of 9/11.
So now they have the worst of all worlds -- a Democratic base ready to walk over burning coals to vote against them, a broad mass of centrist ex-supporters who feel badly used and abused, and and a conservative base that is disillusioned and disgusted with the cynical compromises required by the 51% strategy.
Is it any wonder Shrub is cranking up the hateful, divisive rhetoric in a last, desperate attempt to make the old 9/11 magic work one more time? Fear literally is the only thing they have -- plus the bully pulpit and the money to spread that fear across the airwaves. But this certainly isn't the negation of Rove's original political hopes, it's a last-ditch defense of them.
Maybe it will work and maybe it won't. But the important lesson (one the Ronald Brownsteins of the world will never, ever mention in print) is what Rove's 51% strategy says about the America's future. Because if Turd Blossom is right (and he may well be) then this isn't really one country any more. It's a battlefield divided between two bitterly hostile partisan armies, with an indeterminate number of undecided or uncommitted voters -- "the civilians" -- left stranded out in no man's land.
Karl's OK with this, conceptually. He may be losing this particular battle, but those are just the fortunes of war. They'll be other opportunities to counterattack. Karl's troops are also OK with this -- they don't really see their political enemies as their fellow citizens any more, if they ever did. As one former White House speech writer puts it:
Friends, neighbors, and countrymen of the Left: I hate your lying guts
I guess I'm OK with it, too. After all, I hate them just as deeply as they hate me, if not more so. I also don't see much of a future in the plutocratic fraud that goes by the name of "democracy" in this country, nor do I expect the hollow men of the punditburo to suddenly wake up one day and see reality, no matter how patiently and politely they're asked to open their fucking eyes.
So why bother pretending to be polite? Why not turn politics into the verbal equivalent of mud wrestling.
But while Karl may be OK with this, and the pod people of the authoritarian right may be OK with this, and I may be OK with it, I don't think the indeterminate number of uncommitted voters who are stranded out there between the partisan lines are OK with it. They seem to want something more than a 51% solution, and they don't seem to understand why they can't have it.
Who's going to tell them?
Posted by billmon at 03:30 PM
Dear God, I hope not. Go back and read the history of England between about 1500 and 1700. We don't need that war all over again. There isn't that much disagreement between us modernista and the religous evangelists for it to be worth killing or imprisoning each other. But that is where this is headed.