Two Flavors of Introspection

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Donkey's Progress

As I've mentioned from time to time, some of my more interesting reading comes from liberals I correspond with. Such correspondence has been especially useful in helping me understand how the post-election reassessment by the Democratic Party is going.

So last week, one of my liberal friends sent me a couple of links, one of which I blogged. (I also sent him an email covering just the article. I figured he'd either be able to handle it, knowing me and my views in advance, or he'd leave politics out of our future conversations. He wrote back, wondering whether I'd read the other piece yet, so I at least haven't lost the contact!)

But our conversation and a recent column I encountered in this Sunday's Houston Chronicle have allowed me to understand a bit more of what's going on over in Donkey-Land. (Note to the Chron: You charge for links and I link to other broadsheets.)

The Houston Chronicle piece was on why the Dems lost Ohio. It was distinctive in that it was one of the few times I have seen someone on the left coldly examine the facts behind the myth of the role of the religious right and admit that they did not put the GOP over the top there.

The first myth: Many more churchgoing voters flocked to the polls this year, driven by the Bush "moral values" and the gay marriage referendum.

Reality: The 2004 election brought no increase whatsoever in the portion of the voting electorate who attend church on a weekly basis or more often than that, according to exit polls. In Ohio, the share of the electorate represented by frequent churchgoers actually declined from 45 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2004. Nationwide, Bush improved his vote among weekly churchgoers by just one point over 2000, while increasing his support among those who don't go to church by four points.

So how could religious voters have been the basis of Bush's victory, at least in Ohio? Answer: They weren't.

[Thank you! Now maybe there's hope that at least one party won't pander to the religious right!]

Second myth: The Bush campaign won by mobilizing GOP strongholds and suppressing turnout in Democratic areas.

Reality: Turnout in Democratic-leaning counties in Ohio was up 8.7 percent while turnout in Republican-leaning counties was up slightly less, at 6.3 percent. John Kerry bested Bush in Cuyahoga County (home of Cleveland) by 218,000 votes -- an increase of 42,497 over Gore's 2000 effort. In Stark County (Canton) -- a bellwether lost by Gore -- Kerry won by 4,354.

Third myth: A wave of newly registered Republican voters in fast-growing rural and exurban areas carried Bush to victory.

Reality: Among Ohio's rural and exurban voters, Bush beat Kerry by just five points among newly registered voters and by a mere two points among infrequent voters (those who did not vote in 2000).

Fourth myth: Republicans ran a superior, volunteer-driven mobilization effort.

Reality: When we asked new voters in rural and exurban areas who contacted them during this campaign, we learned that they were just as likely to hear from the Kerry campaign and its allies as from the Bush side. (In contrast, regular voters reported more contact from the GOP.)

So far, so good. Before I go on, let me mention something I have noticed.

One thing has finally come into focus for me on the whole "why did we lose" debate on the left: the question can be considered from the purely "pragmatic" or political angle of voter turnout, which groups voted how, etc. or from the angle of "of what value are we to the voters if they put us in power?" These questions do not have to (and should not) be considered as if they are mutually exclusive, but I think that so far, the main thrust of whatever soul-searching I've seen has been on the former. In the long run, though, if the second angle is not considered, no amount of political strategy is going to save the Democrats. This is why I am so insistent on the Democrats questioning socialism (which I think will cause them to reject it) while proudly returning to their secular roots. Consider how these two veins of thought would affect an interpretation of strong religious turnout: a short-range, "pragmatic" view will cause the Dems to lunge for religious conservatives as a new pet constituency. A longer range view would cause them to embrace secularism and perhaps offer an alternative for voters who, like myself, fear the consequences of a mixture of church and state. In the longer range view, the Democrats would ask, "Which is really better for our country?" We could really use that sort of questioning, and not just on that one issue, on the part of the Democrats.

So where does Steve Rosenthal go from here? He sums it up very well in his last paragraph:

The GOP put on a strong mobilization effort, but that's not what tipped the Ohio election. They did not turn Gore voters into Bush voters by offering a ride to the polls. Instead, it was skillful exploitation of public concern over terrorism by the Bush team -- coupled with Democrats' inability to draw clear, powerful contrasts on the economy and health care -- that pushed Bush over the finish line.

He at least grasps that the war might have had something to do with it. But he's still failing to tell me what value he can offer to me as a voter. Do the Dems prosecute the war or turn away from fighting? There can be two very different answers to this question, and only one will get my vote. (And that answer had better be backed up by appropriate action if it does.) And what "contrasts" on the "economy" and "health care?" Given the Democratic penchant for assuming that only the mean, nasty, baby-killing Republicans would disagree with the usual big government solutions to these problems, I see absolutely no evidence of the second, substantive, kind of soul-searching here.

Yes. Getting out the message is certainly part of a successful political campaign, but what that message is, is important, regardless of what one might think the meaning of the word "is," is. An intransigent statement of opposition to the war or a bold and unmistakable call for socialized medicine will lose a Presidential election. So Rosenthal, after seeing his party having already tried to smuggle in this bill of goods, advocates trying to sell it openly. To put this cynically, the Democrats need to look for something else to sell and they need to be honest in their advertisements.

And this strikes at the heart of the Democrats' problem. Their agenda is, at its root, socialism. The post-election inventory they have taken so far, though, has ranged only from denial, through to the manufacture of a myth that the election was stolen, through to Lakking off, to this. There is here no proposal to change anything substantive about the party platform. It is almost as if the Democrats are completely incapable of considering anything other than their own views when thinking about the direction America ought to take.

Are the Democrats really this intellectually bankrupt? To expand upon Bernard Goldberg's point, might the Democrats, as a whole, be like Dan Rather? That is, has their cocooning so divorced them from testing their beliefs against reality that they are no longer aware of their beliefs as such? If so, they are hopelessly self-brainwashed, as it were. If they are, their collapse as a viable political party will only accelerate.

One Flew _?_ the Cuckoo's Nest

So much for Flew's Wager! Flew apparently feels the need to "correct " the premature reports of his intellectual demise. Unfortunately, he seems difficult to pin down on the issue in question.

In short, I recognize that developments in physics coming on the last twenty or thirty years can reasonably be seen as in some degree confirmatory of a previously faith-based belief in god, even though they still provide no sufficient reason for unbelievers to change their minds. They certainly have not persuaded me.

What a bunch of malarkey! First off, the question of whether faith is a valid method of obtaining knowledge is epistemological. Second, the most commonly-accepted "definition" of God contradicts his very existence and is as such not even in need of being disproved. Third, since when does faith care one whit about evidence? What does Flew even mean by "god?" He should be able to dispose of the Christian God easily enough. But if he's talking about some being for which there could be evidence, why all the hubbub about whether he's an atheist or not? I don't make a similar fuss over whether I believe some wishy-washy gadfly philosopher named Antony Flew exists in England.

This brings a quote from David Horowitz's Radical Son to mind. He sums up the life-long political aspirations of his Marxist father in two words: "Notice me." I think this can serve the same purpose with regards to Antony Flew's silly speculations on the question of whether or not there is a God. This question, regardless of its answer, deserves to be treated much more seriously than this.

I've had enough of this twit! I only regret that my title hadn't been the more witty "Ancient Philosopher Falls for Logical Fallacy"!

-- CAV

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