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Thursday, April 05, 2007

The myth of the centrist voter
Posted by Jill | 7:11 AM
Buried in Sidney Blumenthal's article in Salon about Matthew Dowd's defection from the ranks of the Bushista is the little tidbit highlighted in bold type below:

Dowd has given a couple of accounts of this painless conversion, attributing it variously to the shining impression made by Bush and the persuasive skills of Rove, whom he came to know well in the hothouse atmosphere of Austin. McKinnon told his friends he wasn't a Republican, but a "Bush guy," while Dowd, for his part, simply left it at that he had become a "Bush Republican." Had they not jumped at the main chance that materialized, they would have been mired as provincial losers. Instead, they chose fame and fortune. Observers viewed their leap as symbolic of Bush's unusual capacity for bipartisanship.

Bush's loss of the popular majority by 543,895 votes in the 2000 election was a shock to his political advisors and prompted an internal rethinking of his strategy. During the Florida contest and before the Supreme Court delivered the presidency to Bush, Dowd wrote a confidential memo to Rove that analyzed data from the recent vote and argued that there was no significant center in the electorate. "Dowd's analysis destroyed the rationale for Bush to govern as 'a uniter, not a divider,'" wrote Thomas Edsall in his book "Building Red America." Bush's confected campaign persona as a "compassionate conservative" was suddenly discarded. The "architect," as Bush called Rove, had an architect. Bush's brain had an outsourced brain. Rove's and Bush's radical imperatives derived from Dowd's conclusions.

With Bush as president, Dowd was put on the Republican National Committee payroll and became an intimate participant in White House strategy sessions. Bush and the Republicans now exploited divisive wedge issues and tactics with a vengeance. After Sept. 11, 2001, fear was bundled with loathing, the terrorist threat from abroad conflated with the gay menace within. By 2004, relying on Dowd's numbers, Republicans made gay marriage the most salient social issue, exceeding abortion and gun control in its inflammatory potential to mobilize conservatives. Dowd prescribed the strategy for targeting of Republican base voters' "anger points," as GOP consultants called them, for maximum turnout.

The myth of the centrist voter that must be courted is a recurring theme in mainstream media discussions of the 2008 race, specifically, the DEMOCRATIC 2008 race. Night after night, Joe Scarborough hammers the point that the Democratic nominee is going to have to appeal to "centrist voters"; the myth that elections are decided "in the middle." If Dowd was correct in 2000, then that center is a myth, and George W. Bush ran the early months of his administration just for the people who voted for him -- and no one else.

It's interesting that as we see all the major Republican candidates racing to see how far to the right they can run, the talking heads of the media are all repeating the meme that Democrats must run to the center in order to win. The Republicans are falling all over each other to see which one can be the most supportive of gun rights, the most anti-abortion, the most disgusted by gay marriage. Republicans embrace their base, and Democrats are told to run away from theirs as hard as they can.

Contrary to what conservatives believe, the Democratic base is NOT the A.N.S.W.E.R. left. It's not about identity politics and freeing Mumia. The Democratic base isn't just the netroots, though the netroots isn't nearly as far left as conservatives and the talking heads in the media think we are. The Democratic base is about a strong defense that's used wisely and not for pre-emptive war based on ginned-up intelligence to serve corporate interests. The Democratic base is about the ability to earn a decent living in this country. It's about workers being treated like human beings by employers. It's about being able to get health care when you need it and not having to lie awake at night because you don't have insurance. It's about being able to keep a roof over your head and food on your table and send your kids to college. Howard Dean said in 2004 that Democratic values are American values, and that's true. Republican values are about eviscerating the middle class, shoveling more money into the pockets of the wealthy, looking the other way at corporate crime and snooping into people's bedrooms.

The Democratic candidate that plays to the Democratic base is the one that will win the election. Ever since Ronald Reagan, Democrats have allowed Republicans to define what they stand for -- and define it inaccurately. This really isn't rocket science. Those middle-class, so-called "centrist" voters have the same concerns now that their lower-income and working class fellow citizens have, and it's not gay marriage. It's time for Democrats to stop playing to this insignificant center and start embracing what the party is supposed to stand for.

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