The New Model Party

The AP reports on early voting in Ohio on Tuesday:

Five people were waiting at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections when doors opened at 8:30 a.m. Two in line said they were voting for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, including John Fuller, 73, a retired hospital orderly from Cleveland. Fuller said voting early would allow him to work on Election Day helping others get out and vote….[snip]… Julia Kramer, 19, a Case Western Reserve University freshman from New York City and an Obama volunteer, was second in line. She said she’s been working on campus to register out-of-state students to change their registrations to Ohio because of its critical role in the election.

Something is this reminds me of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army.

By 1644, the English Civil War had reached a stalemate. The Parliamentary leaders, the country gentlemen and city merchants who had launched the rebellion, realized that they needed a better army to win decisively. They replaced their muddled coalition of militias with a single professional force, recruited largely from Puritan farmers, and led by officers chosen on merit. This sober, disciplined, godfearing army wasn’t just good enough to win: it was superb.

Look at the record:

* Defeats: 1; Santo Domingo (Hispaniola)

* Victories: 12; (England) Naseby, Langport, Preston, Worcester; (Ireland) Lisnagarvey, Drogheda (+ war crimes), Wexford (+war crimes), Clonmel (Pyrrhic); (Scotland) Dunbar, Inverkeithing; (against Spain) the Dunes, Jamaica.

Judging by results, the New Model was the finest army ever raised in Britain.

Its real place in history flows however from the transformation of its ethos in the hothouse of war from religious to political radicalism. The Army’s Putney Debates of 1647 were the first true expression of British and American democracy, though the oligarchs (including Cromwell and Ireton) narrowly won at the time, and their successors held on for two centuries.

To overcome the huge disadvantage of his colour, Barack Obama has had to create a unique national political machine to deliver him first the Democratic nomination and now the presidency. Read Sean Quinn’s admirable reports from the field to gauge the depth and superiority of Obama’s “ground game”. As far as I can see, it owes little to the traditional structures of the Democratic party, exemplified in the DLC. It is essentially a praetorian guard, like the various movement-parties created by Charles de Gaulle. Is there any precedent in American politics for this? The civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements were bigger and longer-lasting, but operated largely outside party politics.

It now looks, with the progressive implosion of McCain’s campaign, that Obama’s New Model Party may well deliver him not just victory but triumph. Nate Silver’s model gives him 338 electoral college votes today, without allowing for the full range of ground game effects. Mr Fuller and Ms Kramer are not in any model. And there are three debates and more bad economic news to come.

Like Oliver Cromwell, Barack Obama is more conservative than his core supporters. (Cromwell was originally against executing, or even deposing, Charles I.) An electoral sweep, backed with a movement that can still be mobilised against a recalcitrant Congress, would give President Obama an authority greater than any of his predecessors since FDR. In this scenario a more vindictive politician could get away with putting Bush and Cheney on trial for treason: fortunately for the republic as well as White House malefactors, this won’t happen. Obama clearly has the moderate temperament of Augustus or William the Silent rather than the hubris of Julius Caesar or Napoleon III.

What he won’ t be able to do is shelve his sweeping promises and govern from the technocratic, establishment centre like Bill Clinton. He will have to be a great reforming president or fail.

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