I'm not sure whither, but for me it all comes down to understanding where the power is now, and where it might be hence. We're in a temporary power lull at the moment, and it's not clear what direction things will go. There is a power struggle in this country that transcends party politics, but there are also internecine factional power struggles within each party, and the party that resolves those conflicts most effectively and quickly is the one more likely to be able to seize the initiative, for good or for ill. The Republicans have proved they are capable of getting organized and seizing the initiative; the Democrats have yet to prove that they can. Anybody who thinks that the Dems have the upper hand simply because polls show that more Americans support Dem programs than support GOP programs is mistaken. It should give them an advantage, but it's not one they have yet to figure out how to work with.
A basic principle of analysis for me is that power lies with the group that is most organized, focused, and motivated to achieve basic goals. It doesn't matter so much whether a group has broad support so long as there is no organized, focused, and motivated opposition to the group's objectives. Well-organized minorities can accomplish what unfocussed and
unorganized majorities cannot. It's not a question of whether what they
accomplish is good or bad; it's just the way power works.
This power dynamic explains the minority successes of the civil rights movement in the sixties and the feminist movement in the seventies. And it also explains the successes of the succes of minority factions within the GOP over the last fifteen years or so to implement an agenda that did not have widespread popular support. The Dems continuously point out that the polling shows most Americans support Dem programs, but that doesn't seem to help the Dems get anything done. And it explains why GOP strategists don't really care about polls--they understand how power works. They only need to keep the general electorate confused and disorganized. People can disagree all they want, so long as they don't do anything about it. It doesn't matter what they think, so long as they don't get organized into a motivated opposition focused on pushing back. The only real pushback the Dems mounted was against the GOP assault on Social Security. It just shows what the Dems could do, even as a legislative minority, if they had the will to do so.
And it also explains why the strategists behind the GOP for the last six years were largely successful in getting support for their absurd policies that should have been exposed for the nonsense that they were had there been a well-organized and motivated opposition. Compare the Republican ramming through the Medicare Prescription bill that nobody wanted (except the in the pharmaceutical and insurance industries) to Hillary's and the Democrats' attempt to reform health care, something most Americans want, over a decade ago. The difference lay in a cadre within the GOP that organized, focused, and motivated even those small-government Republicans who were against the program to get on the bus. The Democrats rarely show that they have any ability to do that kind of thing.
And this principle also explains what is going on among the Iraqis. Early on most Iraqis welcomed the US's toppling of Saddam, and looked forward to a reorganization of their society that would bring peace and prosperity. But organized, motivated, and highly focused minorities, otherwise known as insurgents, easily overruled the will or the majority. The insurgent minority had the power, seized the initiative, kept everyone off balance, thwarted a much more powerful military force, and there was nothing the Iraqi majority could do about it. At a certain point the Iraqis saw that the Americans could no longer offer them a better future, that the real power lay elsewhere, and so they made the necessary adjustments. And as soon as they did, Iraq was irretrievably lost to the American cause.
Somewhere over the weekend I read someone describe the braintrust that has hijacked the GOP as the "chess club on steroids." Think Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist, Bill Kristol, Karl Rove, and Paul Wolfowitz: very smart, geeky guys with second and third rate souls holding weird, strongly held, sometimes extremist, nerdish, borderline crazy ideas about how the world should be run. They are so many Bobby Fishers supported by cadres of guys like Dwight from "The Office" who have risen to take over the Republican party establishment. This is hyperbole, but it points to something fundamentally true.
These guys are smart enough to recognize that they hardly represent the interests of most Americans and that their geekiness is not something most Americans could easily identify with. They craftily devised ways to deflect attention away from themselves by branding the Democrats as the party of "liberal elites," and found an affable, down-home, empty suit with a political pedigree to be their front man. It was so much smoke and mirrors, but Americans preoccupied with their own personal lives and so not paying too much attention went along with it and trusted that these guys knew what they were doing and had the best interests of the country in mind--lowering our taxes and keeping us safe and all. And Americans would have kept going along with it if it hadn't all gone so colossally wrong. That's what you get when you put too many Dwights in charge of the various governmental agencies.
But the lesson to be learned is this: power does not lie in unorganized majorities. The Republicans lost this month not because the American electorate was motivated to follow Democratic leadership, but because they were nauseated by Republican incompetence and corruption. Nausea motivated the majority to kick the bums out, but there is no mandate for the Democrats. Surely there is an opportunity for the Dems now, but it remains to be seen whether they can are motivated enough to get their act together to focus on solving problems that the majority wants solved. And the GOP can take solace in the fact that while the American electorate was motivated to remove their legislative majorities, it has a short memory and still remains confused, unorganized, and unfocused. It is ripe for the taking by whichever faction gets it together first to do the taking.
So once again: majorities accomplish little if they are not organized, focused, and motivated; the minorities that are well organized, focused, and motivated get the job done. I don't see the Democrats as having it together to get much done yet. And while it has been set back, the geeky leadership minority in the GOP has not disbanded. It has created a mess domestically and abroad that we'll be cleaning up for years, but this faction doesn't look at it that way. And you can be sure that as you sit there reading this it is reorganizing and focusing on new strategies to retake control in '08. And it will succeed unless the Dems get organized and focussed enough to resist their assault. Does anyone really believe that Hillary is the one to lead the Dems in this critical period? The jury's still out on Pelosi, but early signs are not that encouraging.
Along these lines it's interesting to read this evaluation of the Democrats prospects by Thomas Edsall and a critique of it by Jonathan Weller. Edsall's piece supports the points I made the other day about the weakness of the Democrats lying in the fragmentation of their base and the lack of focus of the people who self identify as Democrats. He sees the Pelosi/Murtha affair as a bigger deal than I tended to see it, so we'll see. But Weller, it seems to me, misses the point. The Republicans might have their own issues with fractious factions splitting the party, but they have proved that they can overcome them, and the current Dems have not yet proved they can. The Democrats might have policies that most Americans support when asked by the pollsters, but the Dems have not shown that they are organized, focused, and motivated enough to get those policies implemented. But these are complex and interesting issues that deserve more attention another time.