Jonah Goldberg

The pressure within the Republican Party has been to promote politicians willing to take strong conservative positions, even if they turn some people off. The pressure in the Democratic Party has been to promote candidates who can be all things to all people.

Ronald Reagan, love him or hate him, was a man of strong conviction who stuck to his guns as much as politics allowed. And the current President Bush won the support of Republicans largely because he was the anti-Clinton. He talked poorly, but his meaning was clear. With Clinton - who could talk circles around the meaning of "is" - it was the other way around.

Historically, the Democratic Party rarely wins with a majority of the vote, notes the Web site RasmussenReports.com. "Thirteen of the last 14 Republican Presidential victories before 2000 were won with a majority of the popular vote" - the current president was the exception.

Meanwhile, if you take out FDR (a master at cobbling together coalitions through saying opposite things to different constituencies), only one Democrat, Lyndon Johnson, has won with a significant majority of the popular vote since 1860 (Carter got a spare 50.1 percent in 1976).

One reason is that the Democratic Party was the outsider party after the Civil War, picking up electoral scraps where it could. Another closely linked reason is that liberalism these days is by nature coalitional. Why should a blue-collar Catholic Teamster in Ohio be in the same party as a software-designing gay-rights activist in San Francisco? Because Democrats value agreement less than cooperation and loyalty.

Republicans have their coalitions, too. But the party tends to be ideational. Conservatives say, "If you agree with us on, say, seven issues out of 10, you should vote with us."

Liberals say we'll fight for your cause - abortion, affirmative action, whatever - if you fight for ours. The Democrats' problem becomes even more acute because - thanks to its successes and failures - it has no unifying ideas or goals other than holding political power. What unites Democrats today other than defenstrating Bush?

Seen this way, is it so surprising the flip-floppers rise to the top of the Democratic Party? If you need to please working-class traditionalists, single-issue feminists, angry parents and angrier teacher's unions, you have to speak out of both sides of your mouth. So, in this sense, isn't Kerry the perfect spokesman for his party?


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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