Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 27, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

WINNING....As we all know, George Bush's approval numbers are in free fall. Democracy Corps says this is good news for Democrats:

The fallout from these conclusions are quite dramatic. Democrats have a 9-point lead in the congressional balloting produced by a continuing fall in the numbers of people wanting to vote Republican. As in our last poll, Democratic House incumbents are running 10 points stronger against their opponents than Republican incumbents against theirs.

Unfortunately, this means exactly the opposite of what Democracy Corps says it means. Last June, as you may recall, Democrats had a lead of at least 9 points in generic congressional polls, but when November rolled around Republicans won 51% of the congressional vote. In other words, a 9-point lead at this stage of the game means that in reality we're running about even and that's bad news, not good. After the pummeling Bush has taken lately, Democrats ought to be far ahead.

This explains why I'm not as enthusiastic about the "netroots" as I could be. George Bush is failing miserably, his approval ratings are in the tank, the liberal base is seething with anger, and yet it's all translating into....nothing. E.J. Dionne explains why today:

[The Democratic] party's problems are structural and can be explained by three numbers: 21, 34 and 45. According to the network exit polls, 21 percent of the voters who cast ballots in 2004 called themselves liberal, 34 percent said they were conservative and 45 percent called themselves moderate.

Those numbers mean that liberal-leaning Democrats are far more dependent than conservatively inclined Republicans on alliances with the political center.

Dionne is right: this liberal-conservative split has been rock steady for decades, and its meaning is simple: energizing the base just isn't enough for Democrats. Even if every hardcore liberal in the country votes Democratic, we have to win about three-quarters of the moderates to gain a majority. That means we have to win support pretty far into the conservative end of that moderate center, and people like that simply aren't going to respond to anti-war rallies and screaming campaigns against John Roberts.

This is one reason I haven't blogged much about Roberts. The liberal blogosphere has made opposition to Roberts practically a litmus test of "getting it," of understanding that liberals can play every bit as hard as conservatives. But you know what? It's the netroots that doesn't get it. They think unyielding opposition to Roberts shows how tough we are, but what most Americans see including all those moderates whose votes we need is a guy who seems conservative, but also mild mannered, intelligent, and well qualified. It's true that he took nonresponsiveness to whole new levels during his confirmation hearings, but let's face it: that particular Kabuki dance started after Robert Bork flamed out spectactularly for being a little too forthcoming to Senate questioners. Roberts just refined it a bit.

The fact is, by every previous standard of Supreme Court nominees, Roberts is well qualified for his position. Is he conservative? Of course he is. But that's because the American public elected a conservative president and a conservative Senate. If we want better nominees, that's what needs to change.

And the way to change that is to change the minds of centrist voters who are tiring of George Bush and the Republican party but still wary of Democrats. They may say they're fed up with Bush, but when it comes time to pull the lever on election day they also need to feel like it's safe to vote for a Democrat. Right now they still don't.

That's the problem the netroots should start thinking about. After all, I think we've pretty much got the "energizing the base" thing down cold. It's time to take the next step.

Kevin Drum 9:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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