In a blog post yesterday one of my favorite columnists, Charlie Pierce (he’s not just a liberal, but a hell of a sports columnist, too), posed a question that I have asked for many years. In fact, it’s a question that many progressives are getting sick of me asking, because they hate the answer:
Somebody is going to have to explain to me why the Democratic “base,” which is presumably younger and more spry than the older and whiter Republican “base,” is nonetheless less likely to turn out for midterm elections than the That Sean Hannity Reminds Me Of My Grandson crowd. It is taken as a given, and past performance indicates clearly that it’s usually the case, but I’m not sure why it has to be. So, in the interest to changing this curious dynamic, let me take this red-hot poker and shove it up the base’s ass.
I left the link in the “red-hot poker” portion of the comment in there, because it shows what we’re actually up against this year. It’s not pretty, and the equivocating has to stop. There is no similarity between Democrats and Republicans these days, anymore than you can claim a rational comparison between a cold sore and cancer.
But let’s explain this to Charlie, since he asked:
The easy answer, Charlie, is that many, if not most, of the people who proclaim themselves the Democratic “base” are actually anything but. Among these are a bunch of self-proclaimed (mostly white and not poor) progressives who complain about Democrats more than they complain about the current incarnation of the Republican Party. They seem to imagine themselves political experts, even though their actions show a profound ignorance of the real process. Many of them aren’t even registered Democratic, nor would they deign to set foot in a Democratic caucus of any kind. They’re not the “base,” by any stretch.
About 40 years ago, a large group of progressives took themselves out of the system and headed out on their own, because they claimed the Democratic Party wasn’t sufficiently valuing the progressive movement. This was in the wake of a supermajority in Congress passing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, as well as OSHA, Medicare, Medicaid and lots of environmental legislation for the first time. But because few could get excited over George McGovern’s candidacy, it was the Democrats’ fault. These progressives started calling themselves the “Democratic base” and started shouting demands at the Party, but they still largely refuse to take part in the real process.
Worse, they are not only negative themselves, but their rhetoric also serves to help the Republicans in their strategy to depress turnout, by trashing Democrats with far more force than they trash the country’s real problem which, again, is the GOP. This is because they value their own ideological purity more highly than real progressive politics, where the country moves forward and makes thing better for everyone. As such, they would rather vote for a third-party candidate who says all the right things, but who has zero chance of winning, than to vote for a viable candidate who “only” agrees with them 80 percent of the time. And they don’t seem to notice that voting for third parties makes it more likely that a Republican will win, in part because they’ll never vote for a third-party. If Saint Reagan came back from the dead and ran as a member of the Zombie Party, the GOP base would still vote for the Republican.
That’s it in a nutshell. While the GOP base is older, more racist and more bigoted, they can be counted upon to show up at the polls, en masse, to vote for their Party. Meanwhile, a significant part of the Democratic “base” doesn’t show up at all, because they’re waiting for a massive wave of ideologically pure candidates to magically pop up, en masse. What’s worse is, they also undermine the viable political party that is closest to them ideologically, and barely talks about the other one.
And that’s the problem, Charlie. Much of the Democratic “base” simply isn’t their “base.”