Political Physics, 2006: A Tale of Three Parties
DC/K Street Elites: As the name implies, these are the people whose constituencies are the big money lobbies in DC. Those lobbies are mostly big corporations, which include GE and Time Warner. Their media machine includes establishment media outlets like the major networks, all the cable news stations, the major newspapers including the Washington Post, the AP and the New York Times, Clear Channel radio, defense contractors like Haliburton, Northrup Grumman and CACI, and the anti-net neutrality telecoms like Verizon and Comcast.
This party has been in control of US politics for pretty much my entire life. It made common cause with Barry Goldwater's right wing movement, and made a strategic shift to accommodate the Theocratic Grassroots movement described below. However, it also does business with "third way" Democrats like the Clintons and their establishment DC allies operating under the label of the Democratic Party. Rahm Emanuel belongs to this machine, as do Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, Heath Shuler and most of the rest of the DC Democrats, especially, but not exclusively, in the Senate. This party brought you Viet Nam and Iraq, because both were good for business and provided lots of room for war profiteering.
This party believes government is the tool of its elite constituents. It seeks an equilibrium nationally with itself in power, and once this is achieved, it promotes "bipartisan" collegiality to sustain the status quo. It equally favors John McCain, one of its members, and Joe Lieberman, another of its members. It includes as well the so-called "Bloomberg Democrats" who favor big business, war and bipartisan comity, indifferent to party affiliation. Its establishment media arm simultaneously favors its outsourced, right wing theocratic vote getting arm while presenting "objective" news under the guise of he-said, she-said "fairness" between establishment Republicans and Democrats.
Grassroots Theocrats: The Goldwater business Republicans did not really gain national control until they made common cause with the Jerry Falwell theocrats and their contemporary power brokers on the right, like James Dobson and crystal meth closet case Ted Haggard. Their constituents are Christian religious fundamentalists, primarily but not exclusively evangelicals, who believe in a religious government opposed to the traditional interpretation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Grassroots Theocrats vehemently oppose pluralism of any kind, and they maintain their own media arm through Christian right wing radio, televangelists and a huge publishing and Christian music industry. These people are authoritarians largely suffused with racial supremacists, as their movement took wing in the wake of and in reaction to the civil rights movement. Geographically, the base of this party is in the old Confederate South, but it has adherents spread throughout the country.
This party has been allied with the DC/K Street Elitists at least since the Reagan Revolution, but really, it was there with the Goldwaterites from the beginning. This is the get out the vote, populist arm of our current governing coalition. The DC/K Street Elitist media machine amplifies the Theocrats' messages through outlets like
Fix Fox News, Clear Channel Radio and through friendly, mainstream labeling: establishment media outlets call them "values voters," which is really code for supporters of the theocratic, authoritarian, anti-privacy agenda.
Members of this group believe the purpose of government is to enforce and propel their interpretation of Christian cosmology and conduct, and they are quite sophisticated using the levers and tools afforded to them under the Constitution to subvert the Constitution and redefine its principles on their own terms. Since they are authoritarians, they have no concern for the evisceration of habeas corpus or the establishment of a government right to torture and detain at will. Like the Catholic Church of Torquemada in Spain or the Taliban in Afghanistan, they'd find such power quite useful to their agenda.
This party faces real challenges on Tuesday. For example, Colorado's Republican Marilyn Musgrave is one of the Grassroots Theocrats' standard bearers, and yet she may lose to Grassroots Progressive outsider Angie Paccione. The NRCC (a DC/K Street Elitist Party arm) is dumping money into this district to protect a Grassroots Theocratic ally, and as a result, Musgrave is outspending Paccione ten to one. Paccione, a Blue America candidate, is getting no money from the DC/K Street Elites in the DCCC, but she may end up winning anyway.
Why are the Grassroots Theocrats facing the possibility of massive defeats? The Terry Schiavo overreach is part of it, as is their opposition to stem cell research; the Theocrats' agenda is not popular. Like the DC/K Street Elitist Party, this party has to lie creatively to gather support. But the big reason for the coming electoral rejection of the ruling coalition of DC/K Street Elitists and Grassroots Theocrats can be captured in one word: Iraq.
The Theocratic Grassroots unwaveringly supported their faith-based authoritarian hero George Bush, packaged and jointly marketed by it and the DC/K Street Elitists since 2000 as a kind of contemporary political messiah. 9-11 and the "War on Terror" provided the perfect vehicle for the Theocrats and K Street Elitists to exploit a surprised and shocked nation into action for their ambitious joint agenda: war in Iraq. Theocrats loved the idea of a new crusade against Saracen infidels to go with their domestic war against queers, people of color and feminists, and K Street saw lots of defense, reconstruction and oil money in the offing. But Iraq has been a colossal failure of such proportions that both machines now face the wrath of voters, not in the media arms they control, but among regular people, the majority of the country. This midterm election therefore constitutes a referendum on their performance, and possibly even the legitimacy of their governing alliance.
Grassroots Progressives: This new, emerging power center in American politics is making its bid for ascendancy as an alternative to the ruling coalition of the previously described two parties. It seeks to forge an alliance of secularists, pro-pluralist religionists, information elites on the Internet, working people and anyone not among the super-rich (including poor and middle class urbanites, suburbanites and small farmers). It also seeks to include privacy advocates and members of the creative class, including creators of music, software and films. It has created its own media arm on the Internet, of which this blog is a part, and it also gets its message out virally through independent films like Iraq for Sale. It supports the traditional, pro-pluralist understanding of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and therefore supports things like civil rights and due process. Members of this emerging coalition believe government should be a servant of the needs of innovative businesses and common people neglected or largely disenfranchised by the DC/K Street Elitists and the Theocrats.
This is the political machine to watch in this election. How many of its candidates will supplant candidates who belong to either of the other two major parties described here? Our Blue America page is comprised of candidates from this coalition, candidates largely ignored, opposed or (more recently) courted for possible cooptation by the DC/K Street Elites like Rahm Emanuel of the DCCC and Chuck Schumer of the DSCC.
Ned Lamont is the most visible member of this emerging brand of candidates competing in Tuesday's election, though Lamont's race has been the one to expose the cooptation of the Democratic Party establishment by the DC/K Street Elitists most blatantly. Howard Dean's DNC belongs to this coalition, and Nancy Pelosi, possibly next term's Speaker of the House, is allied with this group.
If the Democrats take control of the House, as appears likely, it will mean the ruling majority of the House will exclude the authoritarians, racists and Grassroots Theocrats of the old Confederacy for the first time since a brief interlude in the mid 1950's. Before that, the Confederate South had not been in the minority of control of Congress since before the New Deal (h/t to Tom Schaller via email). That would represent an historic shift in national power, and would mean a newly ascendant American political power center would obviate the compromises historically necesary to appease Southern theocrats and racists. That's not something you're likely to hear from Wolf on Tuesday night.
The wave of Democratic wins expected this Tuesday would not only represent a populist rejection of the ruling coalition of the first two machines, but would also represent a beginning experiment with positive support for a new Grassroots Progressive American politics. However, Grassroots Progressives will still have to struggle against an existing national Democratic power structure DC/K Street Elitists for control of the Democratic Party.
In fact, the battle between the Grassroots Progressives and the DC/K Street Elitists in the Democratic Party has already begun. The DC/K Street Elitist party does not really want to use the Grassroots Progressives as its get out the vote machinery because it knows the Grassroots Progressives don't really want to keep the gravy train alive for the insiders. Instead, Grassroots Progressives support systemic reforms that promote clean elections, like public campaign financing, which would gut the multibillion dollar American lobbying industry.
Establishment Democrats like the Clintons, Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer don't want to overturn the established order of the DC/K Street Elites, but want rather to wrest control of the K Street cash machine from their Republican counterparts. This is why they opposed grassroots candidates who opposed the Iraq occupation: the Iraq occupation was bought, paid for and approved of by their constituents in the DC/K Street Elitist party, especially by big oil and the defense contracters. Chuck and Rahm want to do business with (read: profit from) the DC/K Street Elitist party, not overturn it.
Since many of the candidates Chuck, Rahm and the Clintons opposed will win Tuesday, they are already using the establishment media machine to claim these victories as their own "Democratic" victories. In other words, they're already preemptively lying (see the video above again for an illustration). The Democratic Party now is really two parties engaged in a pitched political war for control. The two sides will remain in opposition within the Democratic Party not only after Tuesday, but throughout and beyond the Democratic primaries leading up to 2008.
Grassroots Progressives will benefit from many protest votes supporting their candidates this election cycle, but their claim to a popular mandate will not yet be secure unless their wins are huge. The country is willing to experiment with this new political movement, but so far this may just represent a courtship. How much love will there be for Grassroots Progressives? Tuesday's results will tell us much more.
As the country possibly affirms Grassroots Progressives, there may well be an ugly breakup coming between DC/K Street Elitists and the Grassroots Theocrats. Fingerpointing is well underway behind the scenes as both sides anticipate big failures on Tuesday, but the size of the Grassroots Progressive wave will dictate how open and ugly this split may become. In the wake of the election, the future of the Republican Party's alliance of the DC/K Street Elitists and Grassroots Theocrats may be uncertain.
Looking further into the future, can the Republican Party survive massive losses and reestablish its coalition? Will fundamentalist evangelicals continue to support DC/K Street Elitists, or will they seek to propel their own more or less openly theocratic national candidates in 2008, since their agenda has always been to take over the Republican Party and have the DC/K Street Elitists answer to them? Less likely, will the Grassroots Theocrats recede and become disillusioned with politics, as they have during other periods of American history? Will a substantial portion of them disengage from the inherently secular political arena, as many among the Progressive Grassroots hope, leaving the field a bit more open for a new ruling coalition to emerge? I doubt it, but it could happen.
Conclusion: The DC/K Street media machine on cable news, print news and the major networks will frame this election in terms of Democrats and Republicans, but there are really three competing parties in play Tuesday. Everyone expects the DC/K Street Elitists and Grassroots Theocrats to suffer losses, but the real question will be, how many losses? What's more, among the remaining winners, how many will be candidates that can rightly be claimed by the Democratic wing of the DC/K Street Elitists, like Joe Lieberman and Heath Shuler, and how many will be Grassroots Progressives, like Jon Tester and Angie Paccione? How big will the wave in favor of Grassroots Progressives be, and what will this mean for the future of both the Democratic and Republican parties as we currently understand them? These are the real questions in play with this election.
At FDL, we'll be covering Tuesday's results with these questions in mind, even as the establishment media spins the results in favor of its own constituents in the DC/K Street Elitist party.