David Brooks Finds Democratic Party Not Controlled by Netroots

David Brooks is sure to receive a number of unfavorable blog posts over today’s column on the influence of the netroots on the Democratic Party. I’ll leave complaints over his arguments as to the impotence of the netroots to other bloggers and instead begin by noting the value of Brooks ad in countering the conservative meme that the Democratic Party is being held hostage by extremists from the left.

In the beginning of August, liberal bloggers met at the YearlyKos convention while centrist Democrats met at the Democratic Leadership Council’s National Conversation. Almost every Democratic presidential candidate attended YearlyKos, and none visited the D.L.C.

At the time, that seemed a sign that the left was gaining the upper hand in its perpetual struggle with the center over the soul of the Democratic Party. But now it’s clear that was only cosmetic.

Now it’s evident that if you want to understand the future of the Democratic Party you can learn almost nothing from the bloggers, billionaires and activists on the left who make up the “netroots.” You can learn most of what you need to know by paying attention to two different groups — high school educated women in the Midwest, and the old Clinton establishment in Washington.

In the first place, the netroots candidates are losing. In the various polls on the Daily Kos Web site, John Edwards, Barack Obama and even Al Gore crush Hillary Clinton, who limps in with 2 percent to 10 percent of the vote.

Moguls like David Geffen have fled for Obama. But the party as a whole is going the other way. Hillary Clinton has established a commanding lead.

It is notable that the polls differ so greatly from the consensus at Daily Kos. Clinton does appear to be a strong front runner at this point, but it is risky to base an argument based upon early predictions of the results of a nomination battle. Just ask Howard Dean and Ed Muskie who also appeared to be on their way to winning before the early primaries.

As Brooks continues, he does make another point worth noting:

Second, Clinton is drawing her support from the other demographic end of the party. As the journalist Ron Brownstein and others have noted, Democratic primary contests follow a general pattern. There are a few candidates who represent the affluent, educated intelligentsia (Eugene McCarthy, Bill Bradley) and they usually end up getting beaten by the candidate of the less educated, lower middle class.

That’s what’s happening again. Obama and Edwards get most of their support from the educated, affluent liberals. According to Gallup polls, Obama garners 33 percent support from Democratic college graduates, 28 percent from those with some college and only 19 percent with a high school degree or less. Hillary Clinton’s core support, on the other hand, comes from those with less education and less income — more Harry Truman than Howard Dean.

Again, it is premature to declare Clinton the nominee, but it is notable that Clinton’s chances of retaining her lead in the early polls are better than Dean’s in 2004 in light of this historical pattern. This assumes a static Democratic Party, which might not necessarily be the case.
My major disagreement with Brooks comes from his conclusion:

The fact is, many Democratic politicians privately detest the netroots’ self-righteousness and bullying. They also know their party has a historic opportunity to pick up disaffected Republicans and moderates, so long as they don’t blow it by drifting into cuckoo land. They also know that a Democratic president is going to face challenges from Iran and elsewhere that are going to require hard-line, hawkish responses.

Finally, these Democrats understand their victory formula is not brain surgery. You have to be moderate on social issues, activist but not statist on domestic issues and hawkish on foreign policy. This time they’re not going to self-destructively deviate from that.

Brooks is partially correct that simply following the consensus of the netroots is not always the correct path, but he is in error in both considering many of the views of the netroots to be extremist and in his victory formula. Leaving Iraq has become the middle of the road consensus opinion. It is also what is needed to improve our ability to respond to challenges such as those from al Qaeda, Iran and elsewhere. Brooks’ idea of a hard-line hawkish policy is not the best policy for defending the country.
Brooks’ formula represents his own personal view as opposed to the view of many voters. As I’ve noted in previous posts, there is a trend towards increased liberal views on social issues, especially among younger voters, and opposition to the war.

This is why  Obama’s campaign is seen largely as a generational battle. In the past it would have been more certain that Brooks’ arguments for a Clinton victory would hold. Clinton represents the past while Obama may very well represent the future of the Democratic Party. The question is how many primary voters will come from the old party establishment and how many younger voters will join the “educated, affluent liberals” in supporting Obama and other candidates. The old establishment will not hold forever, but Clinton might be able to hold it together this year.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    daveinboca says:

    Brooks will get double the traffic the two airheads Krugboy & Herbie put together.

    Jeffrey Goldberg wrote Brooks’ column two years ago in a splendid New Yorker piece on Midwestern Dems & how out of touch the twin Left Coasts are with mainstream Dems in the “flyover” states.

    The demented rants of freepers and Kossacks & Huff/Puffs belie the silent mega-majority in the middle. As Goldberg said in his NYer article, a Pew survey then said 21% of Americans classify themselves as liberals, 34% conservatives, and the rest are the 45% who actually make the decision, in the end, who gets into the WH.

    Hillary dances with the left or at least flirts, but bedtime is with the Midwest where she hails from—the territory that swings.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Such a simplistic explanation doesn’t hold up very well. For example, Obama has greater strength in the Midwest. Edwards’ greatest strength is in Iowa but (unless an Iowa bounce helps him) is not doing well in New Hampshire.

    Looking at the Senate, the Democrat I criticized for too conservative a voting record was Diane Feinstein from California. In contrast there is Russ Feingold from the Midwest.

    Those polls are also misleading. Conservatives have demonized the word “liberal” reducing the number who identify themselves as liberals. However, when people are polled on positions as opposed to labels they come out far more liberal.

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