New Guard Politics.

June 8, 2008

New Guard Politics.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Every Sunday CUIP’s president Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, June 1, 2008 after watching “The Chris Matthews Show” and “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

Salit: This is the week that Barack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination and Hillary Clinton conceded, throwing her support, as expected, behind him. The talk shows today focused on different constituencies and sub-constituencies and how you get this one and how you get that one and so on. But there was surprisingly little discussion about the changes that the Democratic Party itself is going through.

Newman: You’re surprised about how little talk there was about that?

Salit: Yes.

Newman: They don’t see it that way.

Salit: OK. Do you see it that way? That the Democratic Party is going through a change?

Newman: Yes. It is.

Salit: What is the change, do you think? In the broadest terms, what’s going on?

Newman: In the broadest terms, the old guard got older and they’re being replaced, gradually, by a new guard. And the new guard won this campaign. The two were close to having parity. Clinton had, if not the quantitative advantage, at least a heavy duty establishment advantage. But that wasn’t enough to hold back the new guard. At a basic level, that’s the story. Hillary represented the old guard, Barack represented the new guard.

Salit: What are the politics of the new guard? What makes them the new guard other than generational differences?

Newman: That’s really the primary difference. I don’t think there are big differences on issues. In some ironic sense, there couldn’t be because the old guard’s biggest problem, and the reason there’s an opening for a new guard, is that the old guard failed to enact the basic Democratic principles and positions.

Salit: Like healthcare, jobs, a new foreign policy.

Newman: Yes. So the new guard has that to hang on to. Originally stimulated by Iraq, and now by the economic downturn, it’s a moment of opportunity for the Democrats and they wind up with a solid candidate, indeed someone much better than anybody expected.

Salit: Is it in Obama’s interest to put Hillary on the ticket?

Newman: I don’t think so. If your primary victory is largely generational, why would you blow that in the general election?

Salit: Yes, you’ve got to reinforce your core message, not undercut it. Do you see any real problem over the long term in being able to unify the Democratic Party behind an Obama ticket?

Newman: No. There is no issue there.

Salit: The debate now turns to Obama vs. McCain and the general election campaign. McCain’s play is to distance himself from Bush. McCain says the only thing I have in common with George Bush is that I support the tax cuts and I’ll keep the tax cuts going. But I’ve gone up against my party. I’ve gone up against them on immigration, on torture, on energy independence, etc. So, says the McCain campaign, name me one example of Obama going up against the orthodoxy of his own party.

Newman: He got the nomination.

Salit: Good answer.

Newman: If you’re running a generational change campaign, that’s the only credential that you can have. And it’s the only one that you need. You haven’t been in power, so how do you have a resume of bucking your party? No, Obama took on his own party establishment and won.

Salit: On Tuesday night when Obama claimed the Democratic nomination, he devoted a section of his speech to talking about McCain’s reputation as an independent. He says we haven’t seen any evidence of that independence for the last X number of years. If you examine the polling that shows independents currently split between Obama and McCain, you derive a simple truth: if McCain can’t hold and grow his popularity with independents, he’s dead. He’s simply not viable. The Republican Party brand is so corrupted and so tarnished that it can’t carry him to victory. So, he’s going to run hard for the independents. Obama has gotten broad support from independents and he intends to fight for that vote in the general election. What you have now is a situation where the leading Republican in the country and the leading Democrat in the country are both going to be getting a lot of air time defining what it is to be independent; what it is for a politician to be independent, what it is for an American to be independent, what it is for a voter to be independent, and so forth. At the same time, we’ve been working very hard to define ourselves and to define the things that we believe in: political reform, change in the political process, a new culture of conversation and coalition, a black voter and independent voter alliance. The independent movement has moved in a more progressive direction and we’ve been very actively defining ourselves as a political force. Now we’re going to be up against hundreds of millions of dollars and very, very powerful institutions, all of which are going to be devoting their energy to defining us, for their purposes. How do we begin to think about this?

Newman: It comes down to what we mean by being an independent. McCain is projecting that he’s independent of the Bush-allied Republican Party. Obama is projecting that he’s independent of the old guard Democratic Party. The independents need to be projecting that we’re independent of both parties, because we are. Then the question that’s raised is: given that we’re independent of both, who advances our cause better, McCain or Obama? Then it’s about making political demands, particularly on Obama because independents have been more inclined to him. That’s strategically what our campaign has to look like. And we’ll see how successful we are and, by virtue of that, we’ll see how successful Obama’s going to be in November.

Salit: Thanks, Fred.