Former Reasoner David Weigel has an interesting article up that seeks to answer why there aren't any Club For Growth/FreedomWorks/Tea Party/Paulista-style primary-election challenges to the worst of the Democratic Party's status quo (like, say, the execrable Dianne Feinstein). This section in particular is unintentionally revealing:
Two months ago, Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis left the Democracy Alliance, a lefty donor coalition. Earlier this month, billionaire George Soros made his first 2012 political donations—$1 million each to America Votes and American Bridge 21st Century. That’s $23.5 million less than he gave to liberal groups in 2004. According to David McKay, chairman of the Democracy Alliance and board member of the Priorities USA super PAC, most big liberal money is going toward grassroots organizing. “There’s a bias towards funding infrastructure as it relates to the elections,” he told the New York Times’ Nicholas Confessore.
Why no money to change the Democratic Party itself? The big guys aren’t interested, and don’t think it’s possible. “The reason there's not a Club for Growth-like organization on the left,” says Soros spokesman Michael Vachon, “is that there is a greater diversity of views in the Democratic Party than there is in the Republican Party. There's less of a hierarchically enforced ideological structure."
For the sake of this argument, let's imagine what a "hierarchically enforced ideological structure" might look like. Start with someone high up in the Republican Party's hierarchy; say, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). Mitch McConnell enforces ideology in part the same way all powerful politicians do: by backing particular candidates in primary elections and then throwing the party's machinery behind them. For example, Trey Grayson in the race to be the junior senator in McConnell's home state of Kentucky. The Club for Growth (and the Tea Party, and the Ron Paul movement, and other groups) in this case felt strong enough about their diverse-from-McConnell ideology that they rejected GOP hierarchy and backed outsider Rand Paul instead.
By this method Republicans who truly believe in limited constitutional government, as opposed to merely mouthing vague rhetoric in that direction whenever Democrats hold power, are attempting to change their own party into something more responsive to those beliefs. Such Republicans, it should be stressed, are still a wholly outnumbered group within the party.
I don't know which of the major parties is more ideologically diverse, but it's clear that (with a few exceptions), Democrats have elected to eschew open ideological competition for the soul of the modern party, which may help explain why Democrats in power are able to perpetuate policies that many of their voters strongly dislike: drone warfare, mass deportation, targeting Americans for assassination, maintaining the Guantanamo Bay prison, raiding legal medical marijuana facilities, laughing off pot legalization, starting new and expanding old wars, reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act, and so on. If settling for this status quo is a function of diversity, then maybe it's time for a little monomania.
As I wrote about in "What the Left Can Learn From the Tea Party," the aforementioned Soros and Peter Lewis can be seen as poster children for the limits of using major parties to advance your strongly felt beliefs, particularly when you decline to influence primary contests:
Consider that three of the biggest supporters of the Democratic Party since the end of Bush’s first term have been George Soros, Peter Lewis, and John Sperling—who also happen to be three of the country's most generous supporters of drug policy reform.
Soros in particular is a case study in how giving blanket support to a political party can undermine your favorite causes. According to a 2004 New Yorker article about anti-Bush billionaires by Jane Mayer, Soros' bill of particulars against Obama's predecessor included Bush's attempts to spread democracy at gunpoint, his expansions of presidential power, and his prison camp in Guantanamo Bay. In every one of those areas, as in the drug war, Obama has not been significantly better than Bush.
Here's hoping that the Soros/Lewis retreat from funding Democratic politics as usual so far this year is actually an expression of their dissatisfaction with the way their pet issues have been treated. Because as we've seen with gay marriage (on both sides of the aisle) ideological competition among campaign donors can help focus political minds as well.