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December 10, 2004

The New Federalists

Is the Democratic Party worth fighting for? Suppose that, over the next few years, the moderates within the party take up the Beinart banner and manage to beat off the anti-war left's attempts to control the party. Given MoveOn's "We bought it, we own it." attitude, there's a non-trivial chance that the first result of a moderate victory in the struggle for control would result in an announcement from Eli & his fellow travelers that they are departing, and taking their toys with them.

Regardless of the fact the MoveOn's actual influence on election results is almost nil, that's an unacceptable outcome from an electoral standpoint, as their ability to raise money will keep MoveOn around for at least the next few election cycles, and the organization could be very valuable to the Democrats if they could just convince them to shut up.

Ideally in 2006 and 2008, MoveOn can be convinced to quietly stand inside the Democratic tent and piss out, much as the Republican lunatic fringe was persuaded to do in 2000 and 2004. Sadly for Democratic chances in those elections, MoveOn's new-found and totally mystifying hubris means that the group will likely spend the weeks and months ahead either standing outside the Democratic tent pissing in, or repeat their 2004 performance by standing in the tent and micturating on everyone around them. Either way the Democratic Party isn't going to come out of a struggle with MoveOn smelling like a rose.

Unless the remaining Democratic rump is content to suffer a large loss in short term power in order to lay a framework for future success--an extremely unlikely event--MoveOn, Michael Moore and other similarly divisive and vote-losing figures will remain an all-too-visible part of the party.

Which leaves a lot of historically Democratic voters in the same distasteful position they found themselves in this election--having to vote for the party of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, the party of Anita Bryant, Tom Delay, and Roy Moore a party that seems increasingly bent on abandoning its once-upon-a-time core principles of federalism and smaller government. In a logical world those on the Left would ask themselves "How exactly did we come to be the greater of two evils when compared to Jerry friggin' Falwell?" They have instead decided to comfort themselves with the idea that a majority of Americans are no more than easily swayed morons.

So, faced with a Democratic Party dominated by neo-isolationists and a Republican party seemingly intent on abandoning the few attractive principles it had in the first place, what's a disaffected moderate to do? One could always join one of the third parties, but they suffer from a number of disadvantages. One, most of them inhabit the political fringe, and as such will always remain disaffected and small. Others, initially appealing, seem to be dominated by crazy people.

Sane moderates don't go about forming political third parties, it appears. Given the state of the political process, who can blame them? Most sane moderates don't have the time to run for office to begin with, and most of those who do have the time don't have the money. Those that have the time and the money are usually turned off by the entire process in the first place. What's the point of standing for office when the only guaranteed result of such a decision is that every personal blemish in one's past will be rooted up by the media for inspection and discussion? When it comes to a political future, most people prefer an irresponsible youth, thank you very much, and so cede the battlefield to Student Council geeks and the oh-so conveniently born-again. It's "I didn't inhale." versus "I inhaled until I found Jesus." There's no room for "I inhaled until I grew out of it, but the missus and I wouldn't mind visiting Vancouver one of these days."

There's one answer to the twin questions of "What to do about the Democrats and Republicans?" and "How to get more Americans to participate politically?"

It's to bring back the Federalists; especially now that federalism itself is getting re-examined by many on the Left.

Imagine you’ve got 10 dorms on a campus and a student population divided up into the usual coalitions: stoners, partiers, jocks, and so forth on one side, and study geeks, exchange students and — no offense — nerdy Mennonites on the other. A purely democratic system where all students get to decide dorm policy could result in the tyranny of 51 percent of the students over 49 percent of the students. The party-hardy crowd could pass a policy permitting loud music and keg parties at all hours of the night. Or if the more academically rigorous coalition won, they could ban “fun” of any kind, ever.

Similarly, if the administration imposed its own policy from above, you could have a system that makes no one happy.

But, if you allowed each individual dorm to vote for its own policies, you could have a system where some dorms operate like scholarly monasteries and other dorms are more fun than a pool party. Theoretically, 100 percent of the students could live the way they want. Maximized human happiness! The virtue of a federalist, republican form of government is that the more you push these decisions down to the level where people actually have to live with their consequences, the more likely it is they will be a) involved and interested in the decision-making process, and b) happy with the result. Federalism is also morally superior because it requires the consent of the governed at the most basic level. Sure, your side can lose an argument, but it’s easier to change things locally than nationally. And, at the end of the day, if you don’t get your way, there’s always the highway. It’s easier to move to the next state than it is to move to Canada.

Live and let live is among the most basic of moderate policies, if only because in principle it has been violated time and again by the political partisans of both the Left and Right in various misguided attempts to decree how Americans should live. Prohibition, anyone?

Ideally, a new Federalist party would embrace the low federalism of John Adams over the high federalism of Hamilton, but either philosophy would do in comparison to today's bloated bureaucracy. As for potential Federalist party candidates, Adams offers an excellent example of how to stand for office without actually having to run for office in that during every campaign in which he was a candidate, he stayed at home and shunned the limelight, as did most office seekers in that blessed time.

Adams, Jefferson, and Pinckney never left home. While their parties took stands on the major issues of the day, these men embraced the classical model of politics, refusing to campaign. They believed that a man should not pursue an office; rather, the office should seek out the man. They agreed that the most talented men--what some called an aristocracy of merit--should govern, but also that ultimate power rested with the people. The qualified voters, or the elected representatives of the people, were capable of selecting the best men from among the candidates on the basis of what Adams called the "pure Principles of Merit, Virtue, and public Spirit."

Even if it occupies the moderate middle, there's no point in a new Federalist party if it apes the Democrats and Republicans when it comes to campaigning. Typical modern campaigns cost millions of dollars to run, and the ever-present need for more money to run those campaigns is what has brought the Democratic and Republican parties to the states they occupy today--beholden to those who can cough up the cash. Federalist candidates should do the minimum necessary to get their names on the ballot, state that if elected they will govern/vote according to the principles of the Federalist party, and point voters towards the Federalist party website--which can steal a page from MoveOn and use the organizational powers of the Internet to spread its message. MoveOn is after all excellent in spreading its message--that's why everyone and his brother knows about the group to begin with. Where MoveOn failed is in picking the message to begin with.

As to what the principles of the New Federalists should be, I'll leave that for another post. This one is plenty long enough, and I need to go to the beer store before traffic gets bad.

Posted by Bigwig at December 10, 2004 12:23 PM | TrackBack
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Okay Bigwig, you've flat out flipped and gone completely conservative on us. What the f is up with that?

Posted by: Blackavar at December 11, 2004 12:07 AM

Hi Bigwig:

If wishes were horses all men would ride. A sane third party would be great, but our system of government produces two parties over the long run - usually cut roughly down the middle with your choice of wingnuts. We just form factions within our parties instead having each faction be a party, as is often the case in parlimentary governments.

As a "Cato Institute" libertarian I have to look at the two parties and decide which will do the most for my interests. This has typically been the Republicans, although not if their last name is Bush.

I would have loved to punish the Rs for getting out of control by electing a Miller or Lieberman - but that wasn't the option they gave me. When the D's run their candidate furthest from the middle, they can't expect to win.

Posted by: Kevin M at December 11, 2004 12:26 AM

I think MoveOn's name needs to be changed. Wasn't it hatched to combat the "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy" that was making false accusations about inappropriate behavior in the oval office?

Upon the discovery of a smoking blue dress, MoveOn should have folded its tent and searched for a worthy cause. Instead, they changed message more often than Oprah changes dress sizes.

MoveOn is a failure and unable to move-on. This 527 has the appeal & characteristics of a cold sore. (Something they might have picked up from Bill)

The Swift Boat Vets for Truth are a mirror image of MoveOn. The validity of their charges cannot be verified unless Kerry releases all his military records, but they stayed on message & hurt Kerry while giving Bush plausible deniability in coordination with their 527.

If the Swift Boat Vets pop up four years from now to oppose someone other than Kerry, why would anyone care. They would loose their relevance, and rightly so.

Posted by: Sully at December 11, 2004 08:43 AM

Another reason MoveOn ain't going away soon: The "myth" (not in the sense that it's untrue but in the sense that people function as if they believe it to be true and don't care if it really is or not) is that MoveOn and Michael Moore actually represented the voice of about 80% of the Dems and that the DLC is what's really out of touch. Not being a Democrat, I take no position on the validity of the belief; I just observe that it seems to have a lot of intra-party power right now.

Posted by: Lex at December 13, 2004 10:47 AM
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