The Internal Democratic Struggle

Why won’t Democrats stand for those civil liberties they believe in, like gay marriage and free speech? Because they are weak. The GOP has so utterly dominated the political discourse, via their partisan media machine, their think tanks, their leadership and training institutes, and their dominance of the federal and many state governments, that it’s been tough going for Democrats to stand for anything, much less things they might perceive as being “unpopular”.

That’s one reason I say that this is an internal Democratic fight at this point. How can I and others properly sell the Democratic Party to anyone if our party looks like a bunch of beaten-down abused dogs, afraid of their own shadow? Nick thinks that Dems shy from socially libertarian issues because they don’t believe in them. The truth is they’re simply afraid. And yes, there’s no less appealing trait in a politician than fear. It’s been tough going for us rank and file Democrats for some time.

It’s pathetic that only one Democrat voted against the Patriot Act — a document almost none of them actually read before endorsing. It’s pathetic that they are afraid to stand up for gay marriage. Or to point out the ridiculousness and failures of the drug war. Trust me — Democrats of ALL stripes are furious at our own party.

That’s one reason we are so excited about the Schweitzers and Testers and Webbs of the party. These aren’t Democrats afraid of Republicans or afraid of what they believe in. They’re ready and willing to take that battle to the GOP. And as we grow our own Vast Left Wing Conspiracy, we’ll be better equipped to fight the battles of ideas on even footing.

That’s why I’m not ready to make a hard sell to liberals on the Democratic Party. It’s too easy for you guys to counter by pointing to the sorry bunch that dominate our party. But we’re working on it, internally, and I suspect that in 10 years, the Democratic Party will look much different.

At that point, we hopefully won’t need to pander. At that point, hopefully our results will speak for themselves.

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • Kicking off this month’s discussion, “Should Libertarians Vote Democrat?”, Markos “Kos” Moulitsas, proprietor of, argues that the libertarian Democrat’s time has come. Moulitsas says that GOP dominance has been a disaster for limited government and civil liberties, and that growing corporate power poses a grave threat to individual liberty and necessitates government action. “[W]e’ve seen that [the Republican Party] is now committed to subverting individual freedoms,” writes Moulitsas, “while the [Democratic Party] is growing increasingly comfortable with moving in a new direction, one in which restrained government, fiscal responsibility and–most important of all–individual freedoms are paramount.”

Response Essays

  • In his reply to Moulitsas, Bruce Reed, president of the Democratic Leadership Council, does not try to claim the libertarian mantle: “[I]f you’re looking for government to close up shop, don’t vote Democratic,” Reed recommends. But, Reed argues, there are reasons for more moderate libertarians to support Democrats. “Which party can provide smaller, more efficient government?” Reed asks. “Which party takes the responsibilities of government and limited government seriously enough to actually deliver it? Which party believes in competition enough to wean the country from its dangerous addiction to corporate welfare and make free enterprise work?” Reed’s answer: The Democratic Party.

  • Washington Post columnist and The American Prospect editor-at-large Harold Meyerson argues that Democratic overlap with libertarianism in matters of civil liberties cannot extend to the economic domain. “The central insight of 20th century liberalism,” Meyerson writes, “was that freedoms conflict, that a company’s freedom to dominate the marketplace was often in conflict with a consumer’s freedom to find a product at a fair price, or a workers’ freedom to find a decent job or form a union, or a citizen’s freedom to have an equal voice in the legislative process.” Today, Meyerson argues an increase in economic insecurity demands an increased role for the state. “Ultimately, the Democrats aren’t going to proceed very far down the libertarian road, for one simple reason that’s far more pragmatic than philosophic: It doesn’t lead anywhere.”

  • Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Reason, likes the idea of libertarian Democrats, and notes that there are a few, but “when it comes to their own party, they feel sort of like Trotsky during his Mexico City days.” Commenting on the previous essays, Gillespie writes that “even as Moulitsas is ostensibly trying to woo libertarians to vote for Democrats, he spends a good chunk of his essay lecturing his audience like a Hyde Park autodidact about the need for publicly financed roads and education, and railing against that great abstraction of ‘unaccountable corporations’ that lead us into war, make us breathe dirty air, and steal our retirement savings.” Gillespie finds Reed “even less engaging,” while Meyerson’s “uncomplicated nostalgia for the New Deal suggests he thinks he’s living in 1936 rather than 2006.”