Leveling the playing field

Let’s look at the mechanisms Karl Rove hoped to use to create a permanent majority and disable as many of them as possible.

In addition to asking themselves the short-term question “What can we deliver for our constituents, and the people we’d like to have as constituents, right now, or at least make Bush veto?” and the longer-term question “What’s our motto and program if we take the White House in ’08?” Democrats need to ask themselves the structural question: “What structural advantages do the Republicans have, and how can those advantages be weakened?” We were markedly bad at that post-1974, as the Republicans were markedly good at it post-1980 (remember “de-funding the left”?) post-1994 and, especially, post-2000.

One blogger or another said recently that Tuesday’s result makes obsolete Tom Edsall’s book Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive For Permanent Power. I would say the opposite. The Democrats controlling Congress need to think seriously about, and try to dismantle, the factors that made permanent power a realistic goal for Rove and his co-conspirators. (As a libertarian acquaintance told me Thursday, “They shouldn’t have gone for permanence. Even the Nazis only wanted 1000 years.”)

Nobody’s happier than I am that we won. But if Bush had left a competent viceroy in Iraq, or if Mark Foley had used the telephone instead of IM’s, we might not have taken back the House. And if S.

R. Sidarth had suffered a flat tire on the way to the event at which George Allen called him “macaca,” or if Rush Limbaugh had kept his nasty little mind and flapping tongue off Michael J. Fox, we certainly wouldn’t have taken back the Senate. This election was a payoff for an astonishing amount of blood, sweat, and tears (to say nothing of money) donated by Democrats. But it was also a gift from the Republicans. In gratitude for their generosity, let’s make that gift keep on giving by using some of the power we just regained to level the playing field for the future.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

8 thoughts on “Leveling the playing field”

  1. > and if S.R. Sidarth had suffered a flat
    > tire on the way to the event at which
    > George Allen called him "macaca," or
    > if Rush Limbaugh had kept his nasty
    > little mind and flapping tongue off
    > Michael J. Fox, we certainly wouldn't
    > have taken back the Senate.
    Perhaps, but as you read deeply into the history of WWII you realize that the Axis leaders had a propensity to do really stupid things over time, which finally caught up with them. That propensity was congenital in the kind of people who desired to form an Axis and rule the world; it wasn't just a coincidence.

  2. Agree with Cranky. When winning is all that matters you tend to screw up governing. Americans, it turns out, think governing is of some importance. It remains to be seen whether governing well will result in an electorate that cares more about comity & justice that about fear & exclusion.

  3. "Democrats need to ask themselves the structural question: 'What structural advantages do the Republicans have, and how can those advantages be weakened?' "
    I agree, but there's a big challenge here.
    What are the two biggest structural advantages held by the Republicans?
    (1) Their connection to monied interests, and
    (2) Their connection to evangelical Protestants.
    Those factors are very difficult to dismantle or rival.

  4. Well, not surprisingly, that didn't take long.
    Gone is any concern for the greater good; government, less than a week into the new regime, is simply a mechanism for transfering goodies to favoried groups. I suppose the criticisms of Delay and company are now withdrawn.
    Similarly, the drive to harm the political apparatus of the opposing party is straight out of the DeLay playbook. The K Street Project wasn't, contrary to what many believe, about funding the Republican party, but about depriving Democrats of what they'd enjoyed for a generation.
    It's good to see what level Mark thinks at. I have a feeling that most in his party's leadership is on a similar level. So, can we at least knock off the disgusting moralism, especially as it's now transparently hypocritical. We know that there's nothing that bugs the left more than hypocrisy .

  5. Oh, this is rich: we're getting a lecture on hypocrisy from right wingers.
    When the party you oppose is as corrupt and incompetent as the current Republican party, it iss any decent, thinking person's obligation to keep them out of power as much and as long as possible.
    No apology necessary, and no hypocrisy to it.

  6. I'm in favor of nationalizing military contractors. They have become a fundraising pump and kickback cesspool for the Republican Party. Because of politcal influence, they are not providing any market-based economic advantages anyway (see: cost-added and no-bid contracts).

  7. Thomas, Kleiman was explicitly talking about "levelling the playing field" for the two parties in political campaigns — NOT tilting it in the direction of the Dems.
    As for your statement that the K Street Project was just fair compensation for what the Dems had done previously: there doesn't seem to be any evidence that the Dems, up to now, have ever resorted to the sort of flat-out extortionary and restrictive tactics that Gingrich, DeLay and Norquist devised between them. As further evidence of how unusual the past decade has been, see the Associated Press' 2002 article ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A48314-2… ):
    "The 1994 revolution that gave Republicans control of the House produced a seismic shift in federal spending, moving tens of billions of dollars from Democratic to GOP districts, an Associated Press analysis shows.
    "Rather than pork-barrel projects for new GOP districts, the change was driven mostly by Republican policies that moved spending from poor rural and urban areas to the more affluent suburbs and GOP-leaning farm country, the computer analysis showed.
    "The result was an average of $612 million more in federal spending last year for congressional districts represented by Republicans than for those represented by Democrats, the analysis found. That translates into more business loans and farm subsidies, and fewer public housing grants and food stamps.
    " 'There is an old adage,' said House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.). 'To the victor goes the spoils.'…
    "When Democrats last controlled the House [not to mention the Senate and the White House] and wrote the 1995 budget, the average Democratic district got [only] $35 million more than the average GOP district…
    "Between 1995 and 2001, AP's analysis found that 20 of the 30 fastest growing federal programs already had disproportionately benefited constituents in GOP districts Republicans took over in 1995.
    "Similarly, 20 of the 30 programs that were cut the most had disproportionately benefited Democratic districts before the takeover.
    "Spending on child care food programs was slashed 80 percent; public and Indian housing grants were virtually eliminated; rental housing loans for rural areas and special benefits for disabled coal miners were cut by two-thirds; and the food stamp program was cut by a third."

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