Battlepanda: Power, or the perception of power


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Power, or the perception of power

Ezra is right. Whether or not Lamont wins the primary is almost moot. Publius, in one of my favorite posts of all times, made the observation that: "There is one way – and only one way – to change bad political behavior. Win. Nothing else matters – politically speaking. Politicians will change their behavior when they think that behavior will cause them to get beat. And not one second before. You can’t depend on morality, you can’t depend on reason. You can depend only on the fear of political death to change things. It is the first rule of politics." The netroots have demonstrated that it is among the select groups who are capable of dealing out that political death.
With the netroots having proved they can generate an existential challenge to a safe-seeming incumbent, actually defeating Lieberman would be little beyond icing on the cake. Moving forward, a Lieberman victory would do nothing to blur the traumatic memory of his near-loss. And that gives the netroots an extraordinary amount of power, vaulting them into a rarified realm occupied by only the strongest interest groups.

So much of an incumbent’s life is predicated on avoiding trouble, dodging disaster, avoiding serious primaries and well-funded challengers. To do that, incumbents make all sorts of concessions -- a Republican officeholder needs to keep taxes low in order to placate the Club for Growth and Grover Norquist, and support social conservatism to avoid James Dobson and Jerry Falwell. A Democrat, meanwhile, has to vote with the unions (witness Illinois representative Melissa Bean’s troubles after her conservative capitulation on CAFTA), support a woman’s right to choose, and so forth. The key is averting the ire of those few groups that can actually furnish and fund a potential replacement.

Now the netroots will join that category. But, as evidenced by their choice of target -- Dianne Feinstein and Herb Kohl, while war supporters, face no primary challenges -- they will demand something altogether different. Rather than requiring submission to a certain set of policy initiatives, they’ll demand unity in certain moments of partisan showdown. What so rankled about Lieberman was his willingness to abandon ship when steady hands were most necessary -- he was always the first to compromise on judicial nominees, or flirt with Social Security privatization, or scold critics of the Iraq War. His current plight is evidence that such opportunistic betrayals will not, in the future, go unpunished. On July 7th, being the Democrat who criticizes Democrats ceased being safe.
Now that the netroots have power, or what is almost as good, the perception of power, let's hope that they use it well and wisely.