Friday, February 17, 2006

Yes Virginia, There is a Democratic Party

The short answer to your question, Virginia, is: Yes, there is a Democratic Party here in Connecticut.

There are at least two, possibly as many as three or four in-state Democratic Parties. The Republican Party, as you may know, is little more than a Potemkin village governed by village idiots. As both political parties shed their substance and become more moderate, they assume a ghostly shape and become mere shadows of what they once were. It was not always so. Every so often, one finds a person who possesses what used to be called an institutional memory. Nowadays we call such people “party activists,” and they are especially energetic during primaries.

But wait … I see I shall have to explain what a primary is. I think you have a rudimentary notion of what a political party is: It’s a political organization centered in a body of ideas designed to elect people to office.

Primaries were supposed to wrest from party bosses decision making powers concerning what people shall occupy political positions and confer that responsibility on rank and file party members. Primaries move decision making from smoke filled political conventions to rank and file voters. Before primaries, we had just one general election, and voters decided between nominees selected by convention delegates. Primaries inserted yet another election between conventions and the general election.

The Democrat nominee for governor this year will be determined in a primary election. The Republican nominee will be the incumbent governor. Primaries, some people believe, give an advantage to comfortably situated incumbents, because challengers must expend oodles of money and time convincing rank and file party members to select them to run against the opposing party’s nominee. In the meantime, while the two primary opponents are attacking each other -- or, more commonly, presenting their ideas to party activists in a sort of mock election, making sweet faces at each other and using the primary jointly to attack the nominee of the opposing party -- the incumbent is gathering money and laying plans to blow up the hastily constructed platform of the primary winner.

Moreover, since the primary winner is determined by activists who tend to be more extreme than run of the mill voters, the primary candidates tend to construct their messages accordingly, giving an advantage to their opponents who, in the following general election, use deconstructed primary platform planks to bludgeon the primary winner. After the primary bloodletting has abated, the primary winner drifts again to the middle in an attempt to convince voters in the general election of his poise and moderation, at the considerable risk of opening himself to charges of hypocrisy. It is this ideological arc joining together the primary and general election that convinces the majority of voters that politics is a conspiracy of dunces.

Got all that? Good. Now you are ready to vote, Virginia.

Excuse me? Oh dear, no – I would never dream of telling you who to vote for; that is positively un-American, unless, of course, I were a politician, or a pollster – whose political predilections may be deduced from the shape and thrust of my polls – or a political commentator, or the CEO of some hydra-headed political interest group. You will have to determine for yourself whether there is any significant difference between the two Democrat gubernatorial contestants this year, Mayor Dannel Malloy of Stamford and Mayor John DeStefano of New Haven, and vote accordingly.

Recently, Malloy was able to distinguish himself slightly from DeStefano by embracing a notion propounded by Rell that the estate tax, which the incumbent governor proposed to phase out, is a drag on new business development. This year, politicians of all stripes will be anxious to attract new businesses to a state that, recent reports indicate, is dead last in economic growth.

Malloy also has outlined a plan that supports government partnerships with faith based and non-profit organizations, which may sound to skittish Democrats suspiciously like a similar plan offered by President George Bush. The idea behind Bush's plan is to widen the precints of politics so as to include the many private social agencies -- even churches -- that give the poor and destitude a leg up. These proposals may alienate the sort of Democrat activists who favor a primary between Ned Lamont, an anti-war Greenwich millionaire, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, an incumbent recently put on ice by party activists for having supported many of Bush’s initiatives in the Iraq war.

Lots of luck to you.
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