By DAVID BROOKS
In the beginning of August, liberal bloggers met at the YearlyKos convention while centrist Democrats met at the Democratic Leadership Council’s National Conversation. Almost every Democratic presidential candidate attended YearlyKos, and none visited the D.L.C.
At the time, that seemed a sign that the left was gaining the upper hand in its perpetual struggle with the center over the soul of the Democratic Party. But now it’s clear that was only cosmetic.
Now it’s evident that if you want to understand the future of the Democratic Party you can learn almost nothing from the bloggers, billionaires and activists on the left who make up the “netroots.” You can learn most of what you need to know by paying attention to two different groups — high school educated women in the Midwest, and the old Clinton establishment in Washington.
In the first place, the netroots candidates are losing. In the various polls on the Daily Kos Web site, John Edwards, Barack Obama and even Al Gore crush Hillary Clinton, who limps in with 2 percent to 10 percent of the vote.
Moguls like David Geffen have fled for Obama. But the party as a whole is going the other way. Hillary Clinton has established a commanding lead.
Second, Clinton is drawing her support from the other demographic end of the party. As the journalist Ron Brownstein and others have noted, Democratic primary contests follow a general pattern. There are a few candidates who represent the affluent, educated intelligentsia (Eugene McCarthy, Bill Bradley) and they usually end up getting beaten by the candidate of the less educated, lower middle class.
That’s what’s happening again. Obama and Edwards get most of their support from the educated, affluent liberals. According to Gallup polls, Obama garners 33 percent support from Democratic college graduates, 28 percent from those with some college and only 19 percent with a high school degree or less.
Hillary Clinton’s core support, on the other hand, comes from those with less education and less income — more Harry Truman than Howard Dean.
Third, Clinton has established this lead by repudiating the netroots theory of politics. As the journalist Matt Bai makes clear in his superb book, “The Argument,” the netroots emerged in part in rebellion against Clintonian politics. They wanted bold colors and slashing attacks. They didn’t want their politicians catering to what Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of the Daily Kos calls “the mythical middle.”
But Clinton has relied on Mark Penn, the epitome of the sort of consultant the netroots reject, and Penn’s approach has been entirely vindicated by the results so far.
In a series of D.L.C. memos with titles like “The Decisive Center,” Penn has preached that while Republicans can win by appealing only to conservatives, Democrats must appeal to centrists as well as liberals. In his new book, “Microtrends,” he casts a caustic eye on the elites and mega-donors of both parties who are out of touch with average voter concerns.
Fourth, the netroots are losing the policy battles. As Matt Bai’s reporting also suggests, the netroots have not been able to turn their passion and animus into a positive policy agenda. Democratic domestic policy is now being driven by old Clinton hands like Gene Sperling and Bruce Reed.
And while Clinton may not go out of her way to offend the MoveOn types, on her TV rounds on Sunday she made it obvious that she’s not singing their tune. On “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” Clinton could have vowed to vacate Iraq. Instead, she delivered hawkish mini-speeches that few Republicans would object to. She listed a series of threats and interests in the region and made it clear that she’d be willing to keep U.S. troops there to handle them.
The fact is, many Democratic politicians privately detest the netroots’ self-righteousness and bullying. They also know their party has a historic opportunity to pick up disaffected Republicans and moderates, so long as they don’t blow it by drifting into cuckoo land. They also know that a Democratic president is going to face challenges from Iran and elsewhere that are going to require hard-line, hawkish responses.
Finally, these Democrats understand their victory formula is not brain surgery. You have to be moderate on social issues, activist but not statist on domestic issues and hawkish on foreign policy. This time they’re not going to self-destructively deviate from that.
Both liberals and Republicans have an interest in exaggerating the netroots’ influence, but in reality that influence is surprisingly marginal, even among candidates for whom you’d think it would be strong.
Several weeks ago, I asked John Edwards what the YearlyKos event was like. He couldn’t remember which event I was talking about, and looked over to an aide for help.
Το άρθρο του David Brooks δημοσιεύτηκε στην εφημερίδα New York Times στις 25 Σεπτεμβρίου 2007.