Commentary - #16 May 25, 2005

Miscellaneous Journal Notes for Writing

Post-mortem on 2004 elections by leading left-liberals: 2 articles in MOTHER JONES (Jan.-Feb., 2005) -

  • P.37: ?A Gathering Swarm: The mobilization to defeat George W. Bush was innovative, passionate?and ultimately insufficient. But its fusion of movement and machine could yet transform the political landscape?, by Todd Gitlin; and
  • P.40: ?Life of the Party: Democrats need to start acting more like the people?s party they once were ? and less like a traveling road show that packs up after each election?, by Michael Kazin.

Most liberals ?just don?t get it? as to why the Democrats lost on Nov. 2 nd, 2004. These two do. They recognize the importance of political party organization. Remarkably, however, like others who have written on the ?new politics? or ?civic renewal,? they fail to recognize the importance of what political scientists call ?local political infrastructure.? They do not even cite LPPCs, even from their ?experience? helping to GOTV in Scranton (Gitlin) and Cleveland (Kazin). Kazin recognizes ?the need to redemocratize the Democratic party? and that ?citizens revere volunteerism.? His remark that ?the Democratic Party has done little to show ordinary Americans that it desires their ideas and participation as much as their votes? could as well be made with regard to the GOP.

Gitlin is also right in identifying the decisive difference as political organization: ?Republicans?devoutly believed in disciplined power?and the alternative to power is not freedom but powerlessness.? He over-reaches or is mistaken, however, on some key points:

>> On the ?fusion of movement and machine? ? This may have been apparent in some places but, overall, the Democratic effort was opportunistic and dis-organized, not close to achieving ?fusion? then or later. Gitline himself recognizes that the Democrats ?succeeded in linking machine organization with movement verve? in only a few places, and ?fell plainly short in Florida and Ohio.?

>> That ?This was a cause. It was, in its own way, a salvation movement on behalf of Enlightenment.? This remark reveals both incredible overstatement and misunderstanding. The only word missing is ?The? before ?Enlightenment? to complete the arrogant overreaching. Gitlin?s remark also reveals a misunderstanding derived from his background as a child of ?60?s politics though on the cusp of the ?60?s generation in terms of age. He is clearly coming down on the side of ?cause? and ?movement? over ?machine? even though a strong case can be made (as in WE, THE PEOPLE: A Conservative Populism) that the ?60?s generation represents a ?failed political generation? because of its devotion to the ?side? that Gitlin prefers.

The word ?swarm? in the title of Gitlin?s article is also suspect. It is like an intellectual taking a bow in the direction of the new science of complexity, which shows how new, organized patterns of behavior emerge from flocks of birds or swarms of ants doing what they have been programmed to do. But is a citizen of a democratic republic to be viewed as member of a ?flock? or a ?swarm.? Hardly, unless one?s leaning is towards a mass-psychosis politics of a ?movement? or a ?cause.?

Indirectly, both Gitlin and Kazin begin to diagnose and imply some key prescriptions of what needs to be done if there is to be an effective ?fusion? and ?life? for the Democratic Party. Ironically, they fail to draw out implications or helpful prescriptions for party organization, notwithstanding some excellent observations of both the ?what went right? and ?what went wrong? variety. First, they both observe (Gitlin, directly; Kazin, indirectly) that the armies of volunteers lacked practical political experience. They had to pick up ?canvassing? and other political skills quickly, via instruction, peer pressure and OJT (on-the-job training).

Second, they observed Democratic ?armies? to be largely ?out-of-towners.? This should have been noted as a key sign of substantial local weakness of the Democratic Party in terms of the viability of its ?local political infrastructure? ? and a problem to be addressed aggressively after the election -- but it wasn?t, by either author. Similar observations were made by this author during his book tour during the run-up to Nov. 2 nd in two battleground states, Florida and Missouri, but reliance upon outsiders did not seem to be as great for the Dem?s as for the GOP in those two locations. The capacities and capabilities of their local party committees need to be assessed, built-up, broadened and deepened by both major parties if they are to survive the new era of ?digital democracy.?

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