Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Party Divided

Back in 2003, I wrote a column titled "The Impending Democrat War" where I observed how the Democratic Party was starting to come apart at the seams because it had become a loose coalition of special interest groups jockeying for position and power. Now, we're seeing it blowing up in front of our faces with the current rifts in the Democratic ranks.

It shouldn't be such a surprise, though. Modern politics has become less about picking the best man or woman for the job and more about cults of personality. Read the message boards or listen to the chatter among politically-minded people on the left and you'll see and hear the factionalization of the party. If you're a Hillary supporter, you're full-on for Hillary. If you support Obama, he is the only one you'll consider. If you're a Mike Gravel supporter, you're some of the loneliest people on the planet.

To be fair, Republicans have the same problem, but on a smaller scale. There really aren't that many special interest groups within the Republican side, but those that are there can be just as nasty as what we're seeing on the Democratic side right now. Ask John McCain.

The factionalization of the parties is a double-edged sword. Having to appeal to a wider audience than just a few party faithful helps in the general election when you're having to try to pull votes from voters other than the party faithful. On the other hand, the more factions you have, the more people you have to try to bring into the fold...and the more people you can torque off if you don't say and do exactly what they want, or at least pretend like you will. It's a mixed bag, but it's one that both major parties have accepted as a fact of political life.

But it's that fact of political life that is destroying the Democratic Party as we know it. Put simply, neither Hillary nor Obama will be able to unite the party after one of them wins the nomination. When emotions are running as high as they have been in Election 2008, factionalization can lead to a weakened national effort.

The unintended consequences of this impacts the Congressional races this year. Republicans have to defend more seats than Democrats do, but if the emotions of the national race bleed into the Congressional races, we could see Democratic candidates who back Hillary be opposed by Democratic candidates who back Obama sparring for the nomination and then having to try to court those same voters in an attempt to win, which may not be possible. Many Republicans may win in November simply because they didn't have to put up with so much in-fighting.

Either way, the Democrats are faced with a dilemma. Either they have to force a change in their party, or it will be destroyed. To be honest, I don't see them being able to pull up out of this death dive because they're too focused on the short term goal of winning the White House to see that winning the White House but losing the party is a pyrric victory. But it may take a pyrric victory or a crushing defeat for cooler heads to prevail.

And from the way it looks right now, Democrats are in for one or the other sooner than they think.

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