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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Dan Gerstein

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Dan Gerstein

Last Build Date: Thu, 01 Feb 2007 00:14:51 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Problem-Solving Trumps Polarization

Thu, 01 Feb 2007 00:14:51 -0600

This assessment, while technically accurate as far as it goes, is wholly incomplete and fundamentally flawed. It glosses over the real reason the veteran senator was able to defy the odds and the oddities of this most unusual race. Moreover, by missing the larger point, our party may be missing a critical opportunity to learn from this bruising, yet illuminating, experience. If applied properly, the lessons from this race could help the Democrats become a long-term majority party again. From my perspective, what purportedly started as a revolution -- the blog-driven Lamont uprising -- turned out to be a revelation about the rival forces vying to shape the party's direction in the post-Clinton, post-Bush era. This clash, which has been brewing for the past six years, as Democrats have been stewing over two straight presidential losses, is not ideological so much as tonal and, in some respects, temperamental. It is, in essence, a fight over how we fight politically, a struggle between two starkly different approaches to campaigning and governing. On the one side stands what might be called the school of polarization. The Democrats in this camp have been radicalized by their anger at President Bush's policies and leadership, which they tend to view as venal and illegitimate. They believe that the Democratic leadership in Washington has been far too accommodating -- some would say feeble -- in its opposition, and that the only way to win electorally and legislatively is to fight ire with ire. These polarized Democrats, who fueled the rise of Lamont's candidacy, have gone past disagreeing with the Republicans, to despising them. They no longer see Republicans as the opposition, but as the enemy. And they believe that the end of defeating this enemy justifies just about any means. On the other side stands the school of problem-solving. The Democrats in this camp are also deeply troubled by the direction of the country under Bush and strongly disagree with most of his policies. But they don't believe the way to move the country forward -- or to earn the voters' trust -- is simply to repackage the hard partisanship and divisiveness of the Bush years in blue wrapping. Instead, these problem-solving Democrats, who rallied to Lieberman's side in the general election, subscribe to the politics of results. They believe that, in a closely divided and increasingly independent-minded electorate, the best strategy for winning elections is to offer winning ideas. That means showing the American people that we not only relate to the challenges they face, but we have effective plans for meeting them. That is ultimately what made Round Two of the Lieberman-Lamont face-off so significant -- it provided the party with a nearly pure real-world test of these two competing approaches. Two Democrats, who, outside of Iraq, were actually pretty close to each other on most issues, ran in a state that reliably votes Democratic in national elections but where independents are the biggest voting bloc. They, in turn, were competing against a non-viable Republican candidate. Of course, the Lamont partisans and the bloggers who wanted to purge Lieberman from the party will dispute that characterization. But once you cut through all the hyperbole and misinformation, it is clear that Lieberman was being targeted for expulsion not as a matter of policy, but of purity. He did not share the polarized Democrats' hatred and contempt for Bush and the Republican leadership, and he committed the unpardonable sin of actually working with the other side on occasion. A perfect example is Social Security. It did not matter that Lieberman has consistently opposed Social Security privatization during the Bush era. He was branded a sellout by the polarizers, because, 10 years earlier, he initially expressed some intellectual openness to the idea before rejecting it, because he would not brand Bush as evil incarnate for proposing privatization, and because he dared to acknowledge that the Social Security program was unsustainable over the long term without serious r[...]