Saturday, July 14, 2007

Four More Years, pt. 2 (or "Not right now... I'm busy!)

Much has been made of the fundraising gap between the Republican and Democrat presidential campaigns as of late (as noted by the Chicago Tribune.) For his part, Barack Obama broke all manner of fundraising records, and leads the Democratic field by collecting over $32 million in contributions for the second quarter. Although Hillary Clinton is still the favorite of Democratic Party regulars, Sen. Obama's prowess in raking in the money speaks volumes about both candidates (as does the fact that Hillary has had to deploy her not so secret weapon so early in the campaign.) Meanwhile, the top GOP fundraiser - Rudy Giuliani - raised only $17.5 million during the same period.

The consensus of political observers is that this lopsided fundraising directly reflects the disparate fortunes of each party.

"Public opinion polls say Democrats are much more excited about their candidates than Republicans are about theirs," said Stephen Wayne, a government professor at Georgetown University. "There is a belief that it will be a Democratic year. So if you are enthusiastic about your candidates and you think you are going to win, those are two reasons that Democrats are doing much better at this point."
Professor and political analyst Larry Sabato concludes that the disparity in campaign contributions between the parties reflects an understandable lack on enthusiasm on the part of Republicans.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, attributed the GOP's money struggles to a broad malaise within the party. Republican voters, he said, "are depressed. Things are going poorly. Immigration split the party, Iraq is splitting them more than they're admitting. You've got a third of Republicans unhappy with Bush administration policies in Iraq, and I would predict flatly that number will increase."
While both Professors Wayne and Sabato are quite correct about the dissimilar circumstances of the Democrats and the Republicans, I suspect that much more is afoot between and within the parties that would account for the fundraising results seen thus far.

To be sure, we are witnessing presently a titanic struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party, with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama merely serving as avatars for traditional Democratic constituencies and the so-called netroots respectively. Prominently represented by Markos Moulitsas, and backed financially by the likes of and George Soros, the "New Democrats" intend to flex their political muscle. And if Moulitsas is to be taken at his word, these barbarians at the gate have no great loyalty to the Clinton establishment, and will demand that attention be paid to their own fringe agenda.
[Presidential candidate Howard] Dean lost, but the point was made. No longer would D.C. insiders impose their candidates on us without our input; those of us in the netroots could demand a say in our political fortunes. Today, however, Hillary Clinton seems unable to recognize this new reality. She seems ill-equipped to tap into the Net-energized wing of her party (or perhaps is simply uninterested in doing so) and incapable of appealing to this newly mobilized swath of voters. She may be the establishment's choice, but real power in the party has shifted.

Our crashing of Washington's gates wasn't about ideology, it was about pragmatism. Democrats haven't won more than 50 percent of the vote in a presidential election since 1976. Heck, we haven't won more than 50.1 percent since 1964. And complicit in that failure was the only Democrat to occupy the White House since 1980: Bill Clinton.

Despite all his successes -- and eight years of peace and prosperity is nothing to sneeze at -- he never broke the 50-percent mark in his two elections. Regardless of the president's personal popularity, Democrats held fewer congressional seats at the end of his presidency than before it. The Democratic Party atrophied during his two terms, partly because of his fealty to his "third way" of politics, which neglected key parts of the progressive movement and reserved its outreach efforts for corporate and moneyed interests.

While Republicans spent the past four decades building a vast network of small-dollar donors to fund their operations, Democrats tossed aside their base and fed off million-dollar-plus donations. The disconnect was stark, and ultimately destructive. Clinton's third way failed miserably. It killed off the Jesse Jackson wing of the Democratic Party and, despite its undivided control of the party apparatus, delivered nothing. Nothing, that is, except the loss of Congress, the perpetuation of the muddled Democratic "message," a demoralized and moribund party base, and electoral defeats in 2000, 2002 and 2004.
While the winds of change favored Democrats in 2006, the rift within the party remains as wide as ever, with the "Kos-sacks" still feel as though they are hostage to the whims of the Democratic machine. There is considerable disaffection amongst the party faithful, as much of the business of the Democratic Congress remains unfinished, particularly vis-a-vis the war in Iraq.

As for Republicans, our relative torpor reflects not only a palpable fatigue from carrying the mantle of executive power, but also our being faced with a crop of imperfect candidates, each with a considerable foible or flaw. But it also says something more generally about the constitution of typical Republicans as compared with Democrats. In very broad terms, Democrats are generally more emotive, as evidenced by the fact that
Democrats outnumber Republicans in both the arts and in the soft sciences (thus explaining liberal hegemony in the media and in academe.) Accordingly, Democrats are more emotionally labile, which explains why Democratic leaders must spend considerable time "energizing the base." (It would make sense that liberals are perpetually in need of emotional lift, as their outlook on everything seems absolutely tragic.)

In contrast, Republicans are stereotypically more stoic, stable and focused on the task at hand. We benefit little from attempts to energize us - we certainly aren't enthused by spending our time at rallies - as we are sufficiently energized by our work. Simply put, we don't need more energy; what we need is more time, time to go to church with our families, build our communities (real communities as opposed to those online), grow our businesses and meaningfully contribute to society. And while this stable of GOP candidates may do little currently to give us cause to part with our earnings, it is doubtless true that the fundraising potential that allowed President Bush to shatter a few records of his own is still available for the right contender. (In any event, it's important to note that - unlike Democrats - Republicans aren't looking for a perfect vessel in which to contain their political aspirations.)

As I write this, there are some 478 days, seven hours, 10 minutes and 14 seconds left until the 2008 elections, and much will transpire between now and then. Fundraising gaps notwithstanding, as discussed elsewhere, my expectation is that the elections will yield a slight but sufficient victory for the good guys.

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