"[In online political conversation] I don't see a lot of useful dialogue on how to get winning coalitions together that can win more than 50% in closely contested elections... ['Huffing and puffing that will get you exactly 38% of the electorate' is] why we have lots of feel-good rants on the web and not enough dialogue about how to win close elections... [S]ome newcomers in politics will need to get knocked around and lose a few before they understand that winning politics is not as easy as they think." -Mike McCurry, 5/1/06
Some folks around here are piling on Democratic wise man Mike McCurry for his surprisingly silly "Net Neutrality" spin, but missing that in the same set of posts he's pulling a finger-wagging Bill Cosby on us whippersnapper, idealistic, feel-good (?!) bloggers. His gripe seems to be that by being pissed off and refusing to stay silent like good little precinct captains, we're making politics something other than the hand-holding blue-sky strategy session it would be in a perfect world. And if we don't start think-tanking about coalition-building, we're doomed to minority status until the cows come home. Or something.
Quick! Everybody hide and don't make any noise! That'll win the elections! You may remember how Anne Frank was elected Chancellor of Germany with that strategy. (I know. I know. Save it.)
I think McCurry may have a point, if not a correct diagnosis. His point: people aren't choosing Dems frequently enough at the polling place, therefore something's wrong. His diagnosis, and that of the DLC ("Damned Little Cojones"): we on the Left are just too ballsy! I admit I'm only a citizen, therefore unqualified to judge anything more significant than a chili cook-off, but I can't buy Mike's white bread prescription.
If you want to see how respect and hand-holding wins elections, just look to the Right. All those repellent reptiles in Congress and the White House, howling about imagined threats like gay marriage and an utterly castrated Saddam sneaking a mushroom cloud into America, won their elections. If not mathematically, in some prominent cases, then at least "legally," as defined by themselves.
But were they aided by a coarsened blogosphere? Um... yeah-uh. Plus a coarsened radio hate-o-sphere, a coarsened political strategery-o-sphere (Think "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth." Think "John McCain has an illegitimate black child."), and a cowed media that reports assertions as if they were facts. Responding to their crap doesn't make us a losers; it makes us fighters. (And, incidentally, honest, as opposed to the "it's all a game; let's play nice" approach.) Lots of people vote on issues; lots of other people vote on the fight. If you don't show up for the fight, that second group is happy enough to vote for your opponent.
McCurry, I'm sure, wants Democrats to win elections. And anger in the political arena, conventional wisdom tells us, drives down voter turnout, which helps Republicans. (I'm not sure that's more than a justification, but it's the standard calculus we hear about.) You know what else drives down voter turnout, though, aside from (racist) insufficient polling stations and (racist) rampant Secretaries-of-State corruption? Not standing for anything. Perhaps puzzlingly to those with the inside track on losing elections, voters choose candidates whose views align with theirs. If you have no views, or are too pissing-pants trembling to share any views you've accidentally absorbed, there's nobody left (ahem) with whom voters can identify.
Ignoring partisans, left and right, what about the "middle" that pols claim to be fighting over, and to whom McCurry seems to be drawing our attention? The folks who don't read The Huffington Post or the bazillion commentary sites on the Right (but are, mysteriously, affected by what people write and read on those sites)? People who are, through apathy or living real lives, just not tuned in? What makes them vote? (And, really, if you're in the few percent that makes up your mind the day of the election, just stay home. You're not doing your patriotic duty, honestly, no matter how many stickers they give you.) I'm going out on a limb here, but I'll posit that what makes independent voters pull your lever or pop your chad is NOT hiding in the corner hoping nobody asks you to dance.
Scary as it sounds, standing for something -- which sometimes involves having other people disagree with you, and sometimes those people are mean -- is more attractive to a lot of voters than being easily shouted down. Folks may not admit it to pollsters, but it sure shows in "the only poll that counts."