The Other Split

26Aug08

We’re all well aware of the Hillary / Obama split in the Democratic Party. But there’s another split, perhaps bigger, and perhaps hidden behind the television appeal of the tension between the victor and the vanquished.

Walk into almost any hotel here this week and you can find an odd sight: Liberal Democrats starting their day by lobbying moderate and conservative Democrats.

That split is ideological.

The lobbyists are members of the Progressive Democrats of America, an activist group working to keep the party true to liberal priorities, and they have been assigned to every hotel housing Democratic convention delegates.

Barack won the nomination as a liberal. In the weeks since he secured the nomination, he has aggressively moved away from the underlying principles that defined his candidacy.

“At breakfast, where they go to get their talking points [from the national party], we will be there,” says Tim Carpenter, a veteran of Democratic campaigns and national director of the PDA.

As powerful as devotion to Hillary may be for some Democrats, the feeling of having been betrayed by Barack must be, at least, equally upsetting.

The fact that Mr. Carpenter and his cohorts feel compelled to buttonhole other Democrats to push a liberal agenda is a sign of a quiet tension lurking within the Democratic Party. That tension is a potential complication for Sen. Barack Obama now, and it is certain to be one for him and his party if he is elected president.

The permission to consider disrupting the convention, or losing interest in Barack, was given by Barack when he abandoned his principles on issues like Iraq, FISA, or public financing.

Progressives — the term of art for the party’s liberal wing — contend, with some justification, that they have provided much of the fuel that could propel the party to win control of the White House and both houses of Congress for the first time in 16 years. They have contributed and raised large amounts of money, fired up their troops on the Internet, and generally are thrilled at the prospect of a Democratic sweep.

We can expect that Democrats will, for the most part, unite around Barack. But his potential for victory is driven by the ability to bring new voters into the fold – to get record numbers of young people, minorities, illegal aliens, etc, to appear at the polls when they otherwise wouldn’t. What is the motivation for their engagement if the guy who got them excited turns out to be just another lying politician?

Yet they aren’t sure the party they think they are leading to victory is really following them. Sen. Obama has been essentially nonideological in his campaign, has made much of his desire to reach across the ideological spectrum to Republicans, and spent several weeks this summer moving away from the left and toward the center on issues ranging from warrantless wiretaps to abortion to gun control.

Liberals have a right to be mad, and to feel abandoned.

More than that, liberals realize that if the party expands its control of the House and Senate, it may do so by electing moderate and conservative Democrats who vanquish sitting Republicans. Thus, while Democratic control in Congress could expand, liberal influence may not.

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