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The power of persuasion

The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof is one of my favorite columnists, but this time he's talking nonsense. Arguing that the Democrats need to win more voters in the heartland, Kristof suggests something that sounds too much like surrender:

I wish that winning were just a matter of presentation. But it's not. It involves compromising on principles. Bill Clinton won his credibility in the heartland partly by going home to Little Rock during the 1992 campaign to preside over the execution of a mentally disabled convict named Ricky Ray Rector.

There was a moral ambiguity about Mr. Clinton's clambering to power over Mr. Rector's corpse. But unless Democrats compromise, they'll be proud and true and losers.

49% of America voted to get rid of an incumbent wartime President and Nicholas Kristof is suggesting that we abandon ship and start executing the retarded. If winning entails this kind of "compromise on principles," I'll remain a principled loser, thank you.

Ahem. I'm sure Kristof isn't suggesting any such thing, but his column reveals the dangers of his approach. "Jettison the base!" "Pander to the right-wing extremists!" No, Mr. Kristof, the Republicans will pander to their own base quite nicely. The Democrats need to be more attractive to the voters in the middle.

The question is, how? According to the DLC and people like Terry McAuliffe, the only way to capture voters in the middle is to move further to the right. But this approach has proven, again and again, to be a failure. Look at what the Republicans have done. By playing to their base, by unceasingly repeating the far-right mantras of people like Grover Norquist, they've managed over the past thirty years to move the whole country rightward. Their rhetoric was radical when they first started repeating it, over and over again, but now we've heard it so often that it sounds moderate. They attracted the middle by the power and energy with which they advocated their right-wing beliefs. You might even say that they persuaded some folks.

The Democrats, under the leadership of the DLC "centrists," have moved so far to the right that there's very little "center" left. They've abandoned the idea that corporations should be regulated for the public good; they've acquiesced to the idea that 45 million Americans living without health insurance is a minor glitch; they've stood by while inner-city poverty has deepened and a significant percentage of black males have been permanently incarcerated.

Bill Clinton is the exception that proves the rule. Yes, he won the Presidency by moving to the "center," but we got: failed health care reform, "don't-ask-don't-tell," and NAFTA. We got many of the welfare reforms that the right-wing was trying to get for years.

The Republicans want us to believe that the country moved to the right on its own, and found the Republicans waiting for it with open arms. But I think the reality is different: the Republicans took a firm stand, and called out to the country again and again, with courage and conviction. They believed in what they stood for. The country could see it. Forced to choose between a Democratic party who wasn't prepared to fight for anything, and a siren song of people with firm convictions, they did the reasonable thing. They moved to the right.

Can they be moved to the left again? I think so, because so much of what the left believes is appealing: dignity for all people, rich and poor. Equality for all people: gay, straight, black, white. The left could choose, as the Republicans did thirty years ago, to take a stand on these principles, and persuade the country of their goodness.

Or, they could listen to the DLC, and execute a few retarded people to pander to the heartland's worst instincts.