Washington corporate front group circuit that purported to show that
Democrats must move sharply to the right in order to win elections.
The purported proof of such an assertion by Democratic Leadership
Council mouthpieces Elaine Kamarck and Bill Galston was this finding:
"In 2004, only 21 percent of voters called themselves liberal,
while 34 percent said they were conservative. The rest, 45 percent,
characterized themselves as moderate."
The Washington media joined with Kamarck and Galston in billing this
as an extraordinary finding that proved once and for all that
Democrats must become more "moderate" or "conservative" because so few
voters labeled themselves "liberal." Few, if any, in the Beltway
seemed to remember the concept of "specious" or "spurious" from high
school chemistry class - that is, the idea that X may seem to prove Y,
but it doesn't because there's actually other factors at play. (And no
one seemed to see the idiocy of the poll question itself. By putting
in an utterly definition-less term like "moderate" the entire poll is
meaningless - It's like conducting a poll asking people whether they
are a Philadelphia 76ers fan, a New York Knicks fan, or a basketball
fan. The Sixers might have fewer fans than the Knicks for a variety of
reasons, but most people facing that question probably identify
themselves as merely fans of the sport, meaning the data doesn't tell
you much of anything).
As the Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum notes, conservative pundit
James Joyner shows exactly what I'm talking about. Responding to a new
Gallup poll showing more Americans label themselves conservative
rather than liberal, Joyner admits:
"This is especially interesting considering that the public seems
to continue to demand liberal policies, opposing even nominal
market-based reform of Social Security, continuing to push for the
socialization of health care, expecting instant bail-outs for poor
financial decisions, and generally wanting more federal spending on a
variety of social programs."
Put another way, all that corporate front groups inside the Democratic
Party really prove when they cite polls on "liberal" vs. "moderate"
vs. "conservative" labeling is how well the right has vilified the
term "liberal" and how nebulously appealing and Apple Pie-ish a term
like "moderate" is - but they prove nothing about where the public
actually is on issues. That the Washington media goes out of its way
to ignore this by, for instance, continuing to label as "fringe"
antiwar Democrats representing the antiwar position of most Americans
is a testament to how powerful the Beltway status-quo-defending
propaganda system really is.
I spelled this out in a Washington Post op-ed last year and a Nation
article in 2005, showing that on most major economic and national
security issues, the public is fairly progressive. Democrats major
problem in recent years has been their willingness to listen to the
tired - and inaccurate - rhetoric of people like Kamarck and Galston
who have continued to push the party away from America's true center.