My friend Brett, a political operative in DC who will soon start to write here more regularly, sent me his evaluation of the 2006 midterms and general state of the Democratic Party today. I agree with pretty much everything he has to say (even though I am personally a gun control proponent, I understand the necessities of building a majority out West). In any case, see what you think, and do let us know.
As the mainstream media starts their annual election post-mortem, the cliche du jour (I apologize for all the French in advance), is that both parties need to race towards the center to maintain power. As hard as this is to believe, this shallow analysis is both wrong and misdirected. The Democrats ought to ignore the media platitudes about moving to the middle. Instead, they should listen to Horace Greeley, and "Go West."
Specifically, the Democrats ought to look at the results out West, in places like Colorado, Montana, Arizona and even Wyoming. For years, the Democratic Party was moribund in these areas. That was partly due to a lack of quality candidates, but also due to the fact that Democrats kept telling these people that we knew what was good for them. We told them they shouldn't play with guns, and they told us to stick it where the sun don't shine, or as we say in New York, fuck off. And so it went.
But as the Republican Party became more of a Southern Party, basically the political arm of the Pat Robertson-types, something started to change in the West. Republicans started to tell these folks what they should and shouldn't do. Whether it was regulating sexual mores, deciding the right to die, or even drug regulations, the Republicans in Washington seemed intent on telling Westerners how they should live their lives. And Tuesday, the West sent back their reply.
Montana, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming all have recently elected Democratic Governors. Montana has two Democratic Senators. Two House seats in Arizona switched from Republican to Democrat and it became the first state to reject a ballot measure to ban gay marriage. Hell, the Republicans had to spend money to protect a seat in Idaho (no really, that Idaho).
The Democratic Party needs to embrace this new strain of libertarianism in order to become a permanent majority. That means embracing a more limited view of government, and keeping the government out of our personal lives. For the most part, Democrats are okay with that philosophy. We believe individuals have the right to do make decisions about their own body, be it the right to die or the right to choose. But this also means leaving thorny political issues, such as gun control, up to the states. It is that battle, more than any other, that will decide whether Democrats continue their progress in the West.
I'm not the only person who has recognized this switch. Tom Schaller, one of the smartest men on our side of the aisle, has written about this in his new book, Whistling Past Dixie. Andrew Sullivan, on his blog, has theorized about the rise of Goldwater Democrats. Markos, over at Daily Kos, has spoken of the new "Libertarian Democrat." They may be different people, but the lesson is the same, if the Democrats want to maintain their hold on power, they need to "Go West."