October 31, 2007


Democrats Must Turn Right to Win: Both John Edwards and Barack Obama want to move the Democrats to the left. But that's a sure way to lose the election. Many voters may live their lives on the left, but their hopes and dreams are well to the right. (Gabor Steingart, 10/31/07, Der Spiegel)

Voters happen to be harder to reach than most people think, and that's because they all live in two different places at the same time.

Their first place of residence is real life. There are no mysteries here: the unemployed person is unemployed, a student is a student, the blue-collar worker wears a blue collar, and the businessman is a businessman. This is the realm where the politician knows exactly how much his potential voters make and how much they spend. For the politician, the lives of voters in this first world are like an open book.

Behind the door of the second place of residence, on the other hand, is an inaccessible place built of hopes and dreams. This is where we enter the realm of the possible, and this is where everyone is what he wants to be. In this second world, people dream of a better education and of climbing the social ladder, of more money and greater happiness. It's a place where opportunities outnumber duties.

This second world is the perfect place for a politician to meet up with his voters. It's the only place where he can deliver his most important commodity -- the promise of a better life -- to the men and women of the electorate. It is here that people are actually waiting for someone to finally show up with a slice of a better future.

But, as it happens, we know a lot less about this second world where voters live. One thing, though, is clear: This second world may not be terribly far from the first but, in political terms, it can be found to the right of it. The unemployed person wants to be a worker again; the worker dreams of being promoted to foreman; the foreman wants a better-paying office job; and the white-collar workers wonders whether he wouldn't be happier as an executive.

This is why voters aren't just interested in their own tax bracket but also in the tax brackets of those richer than them. This is why higher estate taxes are so unpopular not because they actually affect the voter, but because they could affect the voter. The voter doesn't want to see the person he aspires to be punished or treated poorly. What it comes down to is that most voters live their lives on the left side of the political spectrum, while their dreams lie to the right of their reality.

In short, elections are not won at the center, as is so often claimed, but slightly to the right of center. In Germany, the conservatives have won 10 of the 16 parliamentary elections in the country's postwar history. In the United States, the Republicans have won seven of the last 10 presidential elections. In the US, the Republicans are simply better at promising a brighter future, as former President Ronald Reagan showed with his simplest of pledges: "It's morning in America."

What the Democrats and their presidential candidates are saying about their country these days has little to do with optimism and visions of the future. Some of their favorite words are: poverty, inequality, health insurance and tax increases. The old battle within the left is back, and it's being fought on three issues: Who does more for the military? John Edwards says: Edwards. Who has the better concept for expanding social welfare? Barack Obama says: Obama. Who has the guts to more heavily tax the rich and the super-rich? Both of them say: I do.

Once you grasp this eternal tension between freedom and security and --here's where it gets difficult for ideologues -- acknowledge the legitimacy of both impulses, not just the one you personally feel more strongly, the genius of the Third Way becomes apparent. All it seeks to do (in practice) is to provide the social security that post-Depression democracy requires but to do so by means that maximize individual control. It uses coercive means to achieve liberating ends.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 31, 2007 8:45 AM
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