Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Dude, Where's My Ideology?

I've been trying to be pragmatic about the 2008 Dem field for president. Just win, baby.

But I can't help feeling concerned when I read stuff like this in yesterday's Wash Post Style article on Mark Warner:

"It behooves Democrats, he says, to reframe the debate liberal vs. conservative to 'future vs. past.' "

We've heard this before:

"This election is not about ideology, it's about competence."

Of course, after Iraq and Katrina, I'd welcome some good old fashioned competence for a change. And I think we can reasonably conclude that there's a connection between an anti-government ideology and the actual performance of government. And maybe Warner's right: reframing the debate from "liberal" to "future" is a good way to avoid a negative label while simultaneously recasting the conservative's backward agenda in a way that would make Democrats seem appealing by comparison.

But I hope this doesn't turn into a wholesale refutation of ideology, particularly among the progressive grassroots. Starting at least with the Dukakis campaign, Democrats began a withdrawal of their own from the ideological field of combat with Republicans and not surprisingly, we've been getting our hats handed to us ever since, defensive about our beliefs, and unable to shape the public debate and policymaking process.

Ezra Klein's concerned too:

For my part, I have an article on the Brown/Hackett race (and what it says about the netroots) in the most recent American Prospect. My argument is, basically, that the netroots need to start thinking about who they are ideologically rather than simply flocking to who they prefer pugilistically.

While Democrats should be optimistic about their prospects in 2006 and 2008, it may be tempting to do and say whatever we think it takes to win, without regard for laying out a cohesive narrative about what Democrats value (and the risks inherent in defining ourselves). But since the Republicans will define us anyway, better to do on our own terms.

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