What's So Hard About Hardball?

Kevin Drum on the Democratic Party's congenital inability to play hardball politics:

Maybe a reluctance to play hardball is the issue here. But there are at least two other things involved. The first is simply that Republicans believe their own PR more than Democrats do. When Republicans get hysterical about something, it's genuine. They really believe, way down in their self-righteous little hearts, that they're speaking God's own truth, no matter how ridiculous it is. And it shows.

The bigger issue, I think, is that Republicans have an astounding level of ideological unity and a keen understanding of the political dynamics at work. Most Republicans agree on the big things -- tax cuts are always good, regulation is always bad, and the more belligerent the better -- and those that don't are still able to see the utility in being a team player; if Democrats lose, the party wins, and the potential naysayers gain (or at least, avoid losing, in the form of a primary challenge or poor committee assignment).

By contrast, Democrats don't have the luxury of ideological cohesion, at least not at the level the GOP enjoys. Any attempt to play hardball -- especially from the left -- is met with skepticism and opposition from members who are too liberal for their districts (and want to stay safe) or who have a reputation for "moderation" that they want to uphold (even if it's preening and vacuous). As hard as it is to find Democratic convergence on policy, it might be harder to find convergence on strategy, which is why Democrats scatter when confronted with GOP unity. And this is to say nothing of the odd Democratic habit of drawing their leaders from moderate to conservative areas. If Nevada were a reliable blue state, Harry Reid might have been a little more willing to go on a ledge when it came to legislative fights.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure that there's anything you can do about this. Part of what makes the Democratic Party a "natural" governing party is that it is broad-based; there is room for virtually anyone who wears the label. Liberals could try a Tea Party-style purge of moderate and conservative members, but that might have the net effect of creating a longer minority period, while placing a low limit on the size of future majorities (compare the 111th Congress to the 109th). A weak grasp on any given member is the price you pay for a big majority.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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