Monday, November 15, 2004

Peter Deutsch

I heard Peter Deutsch speak (D-Fla.) speak. He's served in the House for 12 years but lost the primary for Senate so will leave office January 2. His self-presentation was sort of funny: a nice-Jewish boy from the Bronx kind of thing. And not the brilliant one, as his resume (Horace Mann, Swarthmore, Yale Law) would seem to imply, but rather the dumb, well-intentioned one. Apparently that persona went over well with the South Florida voters. He said four interesting substantive things:

1) His personality view of politics. You are campaigning to be hired, so if you don't connect with people, they won't hire you. He argued that Kerry lost simply because he didn't connect with voters -- he wasn't well-defined. He said, tell me who John Kerry is? You can't. But you can tell me who George Bush is. You may disagree with what he stands for and etc., but at least you know who he is. But you don't know that about John Kerry. He also pointed out that on the five main issues that decided the election -- economy, security, health care, and two others (no, not values) -- people agreed with Kerry. And that thirteen weeks ago people seemed not to like George Bush. It's just that they never "bought" Kerry.

2) He argued that Clinton saw himself as a Roosevelt-like figure. In that Roosevelt was able to come up with a combination of people -- a coalition -- that included more than half of America. And that this coalition sustained itself for 50 years: the Democrats finally lost Congress in 1994, after more than 50 years of continuous rule. Deutsch thinks that Clinton didn't win because of personality, but because he was able to piece together an agenda that appealed to a majority of Americans. Third-way, centrist, politics can garner a majority in this country. And that it was Clinton's personal failings that prevented this coalition from sustaining itself. This leaves the country in flux: no coalition clearly dominates American politics -- and so the next five to ten years will probably see the creation of a coalition that could be sustainable. It is not clear that Clintonite politicies are the only possibility.

3) His take on the values issue: while he disagrees that it played a major role in the election, he did think that in general religion matters. He claimed that about half of Americans claim to be born-again, which obviously influences their world view. People vote based on world view -- an understanding, perhaps half-formed, of how the world works. Being born-again means, in part, that you don't think that everything has a rationale, which runs counter to what, he claims, the Enlightenment teaches us (and, being my father's son, I might disagree with his factual claim. At any rate...). That everything in the world happens for a reason. That people are rational and etc. So if someone's world view is that Enlightenment describes how the world is, that this conflicts with a born-again person's view that the Enlightenment is simply an explanation for how the world works. This may seem trivial, but it makes it difficult to connect with people. It implies that Enlightenment rationality and values, valuing competence and expertise and wonkishness, may not connect with everybody. Competence is a cultural value. Being "reality-based" may not be effective politically.

4) He said that the effects of this election will be felt for 40 years because Bush will appoint three or four Supreme Court Justices and that they will be youngish people (in their 40s) who will serve for a long time. Despite this, he layed an air of optimism over his presentation -- saying that the Republic will survive and etc. More interestingly, he said that as minority member in the House, he had zero power, so the Democrats will be able to do little. As an example: he was Minority Chairman of the committee in charge of health care issues and the like, yet had zero input on the prescription drug bill. Absolutely none. It was not clear if this is unique to the current Congress or something institutional. Although this Boston Globe series (part 1, part 2, part3) would seem to indicate that it is uniquely strong under the current congress.

Perhaps later on I'll post my thoughts on all this...


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