If you want to understand why Democrats often pursue a timid, fear-based strategy in their attempts to get elected, Glenn Hurowitz’ Fear and Courage in the Democratic Party is an excellent starting point. From the formation of the Democratic Leadership Council to the early months of the 2008 Democratic Presidential primary season, Hurowitz gives a detailed look at the shortcomings of the typical Democratic strategy of playing a game stacked against them, the politics of fear.
In the preface, Hurowitz explains the frustrations he encountered while working for various state and national environmental organizations. It soon became clear that the main obstacle preventing Democrats from voting their conscience was fear.
When Democrats voted against us, it was rare to hear them say they disagreed with us on the merits. Instead, theyâ€™d tell us they were afraid: afraid that their constituents wouldnâ€™t support a pro-environment position; afraid of defying President Bush and the Republican noise machine; or theyâ€™d even admit they were afraid of angering this or that corporate lobby and losing campaign contributions to the Republicans.
Hurowitz goes on to explain nearly all electoral problems faced by Democrats as symptoms of a deeper problem: a severe lack of courage.
In the chapters that follow he takes many Democratic standard-bearers to task, excoriating them for their lack of convictions. He explains how having the courage to take a principled stand against Republicans would have not only been the right thing to do, but also would have lead to greater success at the ballot box. This theme, the central idea of his book, is shown from the another perspective as well. By profiling a politician and an organization, Paul Wellstone and Move On, who did tend to display political courage, Hurowitz shows that there is hope for the Democratic party after all, if only theyâ€™d stop being so afraid.
Among those taken to task for falling into the trap of the politics of fear, few key figures in the Democratic party are left unexamined. There are sections devoted to Al Gore, Tom Daschle, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The heap of his critique, however, is aimed at Bill Clinton.
The chapter on President Clinton, which is particularly brutal, describes him as the gutless wonder. Here is an excerpt:
Even evaluated on his own terms, his accomodationist strategy was a disaster. His constant shifts and capitulations played right into the Republican caricature of him: that he would do anything to get elected. It was a portrait that damaged him inordinately on independent votersâ€™ critical judgement of whether or not he was a strong leader.
Of former Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, Hurowitz concludes, â€œHe looked craven, he looked cowardly, and in the end, he just looked ridiculous.â€
Want further evidence of the salience of Hurowitz’ argument? Look no further than the March special election in IL-14, in which Democrat Bill Foster won in a very red seat by being bold and courageous. Further evidence of the fact that Hurowitz’ point was ahead of the curve is demonstrated by the fact that Matthew Yglesias and Eric Alterman both released books after Hurowitz which touch on similar arguments about the electoral strategy Democrats often pursue.
If you haven’t yet, the time has come to read Fear and Courage in the Democratic Party. It is likely to change the way you look at both electoral politics, and the Democratic party.
You can read more about the book at the official website, http://www.dcourage.com.