Why Should the Democrats Care if they Lose?

There’s often an assumption that elites in different political parties are thoroughly interested in maintaining or gaining power relative to the "opposition," and that they’re in fact as adversarial in reality as they play on TV. In that vein, it is often asserted that "we" need to send Democrats a message that if they ignore their base, they’ll get booted out of office in 2010 and beyond, and that if internalized they’d do something to radically alter that course.

This is typified in a comment by FDL commenter "topcat" in this post by FDL’s John Walker: Democrats Need to Mind the Enthusiasm Gap

tophat’s comment starts out with this:

As far as I’m concerned, these midterm elections are an excellent time to send a strong message to ObamaRahmbo – screw your base and you lose power.

The argument that losing seats in Congress will just allow ObamaRahmbo to move further right on policy misses the point – no matter how far to the right Obama moves, the GOP will simply move even further right. So Obama has little to gain and much to lose by attempting to capture the middle while losing his base ahead of the 2012 elections. By staying home and allowing conservaDems and Blue Dogs to lose their seats, progressives will be sending a very strong message – you have lost your base by pandering to corporate interests, Mr. President; and if you don’t straighten up and fly right, the base will abandon you again in 2012.

It’s easy to see the assumption here, while true that if you disenfranchise your base you often get the boot, there’s an implicit assumption that the leadership fundamentally cares about avoiding this outcome.

The question is, do they, and why should they?

Consider what we know as a few practical realities:

  • There’s a revolving door between high-level positions in the private-sector and in public-service.
  • There are rich rewards for public-speaking appearances, and book-deals, in life-after-office.
  • No matter who is in power the trend is to continue to push upper-class advantage to the peril of the other-class.

Huge numbers of our top political leaders and operatives are firmly entrenched in the upper-class, and as such it doesn’t really matter whether or not they’re in the majority. Inevitably whatever advantage is procured will ultimately benefit them. The difference is simply a marginal degree of direct benefit.

Perhaps Sen. Captured Banker (D-NY) would be better off with the Democrats in power, because they’re more inclined to give specific gifts that help him directly, but even with the Republicans in power he’s going to have plenty of largesse and insider access to use to his advantage. The same is true for Rep. Cold Warrior (R-KS). While he may ferret out slightly better terms for himself when the Republicans hold office, his interests are certainly under no legitimate assault when his "sworn enemies" from across the aisle are running the show.

One then begins to wonder what possible reason most of these political leaders could have for duly, and starkly, changing course when their position is threatened. Even with significant numbers of incumbent challengers the scenery doesn’t change much. It’s very, very expensive to run for high political office, and very typically these challengers are more similar to the person they’re challenging than they are to the people who will inevitably vote for them.

This is a broad problem. Political elites run in the same club, no matter what letter they have designating their Party affiliation, and are almost all comparative clones of one another when put up against the socio-economic profile of their average constituent. Often even the incumbent challengers fit the mold as well (I’m looking at you Halter).

Until out-of-work machinists, bankrupt farmers, or programmers who’ve been the victim of offshoring are lined up to take over Congressional seats, or occupy the White House the current balance-of-power and advantage is under no real threat. The political elite have to be fully aware of and internalized this reality, or they’re the dumbest bags of rocks on Earth for having not.

Understanding the real terms of our social stratification, and how it relates to our politics, I’d like to pose the question in the title of this diary. Why should the democrats care if they lose?

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