Bruce Bartlett

From what I read on the blogs these days, most Democrats believe that their party's single biggest problem is that it is not tough enough. Their solution is to be ever more shrill and hysterical in attacking Republicans. As a Republican, I think this is wonderful. It just makes Democrats look like kooks, and forces moderates to vote Republican.

Actually, I think the Democrats' biggest problem is simple ineptness -- they just aren't very good at coming up with politically attractive ideas and marketing them effectively. I even have a theory about why this is the case.

The fact is that a lot of people who get into politics don't really have any ideology. They could just as easily be Democrats or Republicans, because they don't have anything in particular they want to accomplish in terms of policy. They just like the spotlight, or the thrill of running for office or want a nice line on their resume.

When such people first decide what party to join, they are not concerned about where they would feel most at home philosophically. Rather, their only concern is which party will give them the best chance of winning. Secondarily, they are concerned about which party offers them the best opportunities for advancement once elected.

During the long period from 1932 to 1994, when Democrats controlled Congress almost continuously, these sorts of non-ideological people primarily became Democrats. That's where the action was.

This helped the Democratic Party enormously because those whose only interest is winning tend to be better at it than ideologues. Ideologues generally put principles first, and are often unattractive candidates because they are obsessed with fine points of policy that the vast bulk of voters find boring and off-putting. By contrast, those without any ideological baggage will simply tell voters whatever they want to hear and strive to do so in the most engaging way possible.

Ideologues find these people revolting. They are viewed as nothing but prostitutes -- selling their votes to the highest bidder -- who don't believe in anything except winning. Ideologues believe they are better than them -- more pure, more principled, closer to God.

Maybe so. But the political prostitutes also play an extremely valuable role in party politics precisely because they are what they are. They show the ideologues how to win by being more sensitive to what the electorate wants. And when forced to defend their party's leaders or policies, they are usually much better than the ideologues at coming up with ways to explain, defend and rationalize them in ways that voters find convincing.

Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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