If you can't please the base, you can still scare them. Since Mitt Romney and Barack Obama aren't all that far apart on the most important issues of the day, from America's empire abroad to its corporate state at home, the candidates' boosters are pushing people to the polls by raising the alarm that the other team is in the hands of dangerous extremists. If you had no sources of news but the anxious emails that activists blast into the Net, you'd think Romney reclines at home in a tricorne hat while Obama secretly stalks the White House halls in a keffiyeh.
The messaging is easier when you're talking about the downticket races, where some actual ideologues have won some nominations. But even then you sometimes see weird contortions, as in Sahil Kapur's report for the liberal website Talking Points Memo this morning, headlined "The New Christine O’Donnells? Hard-Right Nominees Endanger GOP Senate Hopes":
The latest is Tuesday’s Missouri primary victor, the six-term conservative Rep. Todd Akin, who defeated two more moderate Republicans better positioned to unseat the highly vulnerable Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO).
Akin's past includes praising a militia group linked to anti-abortion extremism in the 1990s and voting against creating a sex-offender registry in 2005. Back in 1991—
WAIT. Stop. Back up. Since when is it "hard-right" to oppose a sex-offender registry?
"We are not auditioning for fearless leader," Grover Norquist told conservatives at the CPAC convention in February. "We don't need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget....We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don't need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate."...
By contrast, the Democratic platform in 2008 was not forced on then-candidate Obama by a liberal base. Single payer advocates were forced to settle for a far less radical universal health care plan, and the candidates adopted similar plans in competition with each other.
"The [Democratic] presidential nominee has an enormous amount of sway over the platform," says Howard Dean, who was DNC chairman at the time. "There is some push and pull, but the nominee gets his way most of the time."...
"[I]n some ways we're a more democratic party," he said.
I think it's true that the conservative grassroots, while evidently unable to prevent a guy like Romney from getting the nomination, do have more influence in their party than their counterparts on the left. At the very least they're more vocal. But the doublethink here is astounding. On one hand, we're told that the Democratic rank and file don't have as much sway over their candidate's positions as the Republican rank and file have over theirs. At the same time we're informed that the Democrats are "more democratic."
The sad joke here is that this is coming from Dean, the guy who eight years ago was the frontman of an insurgency on behalf of "the Democratic wing of the Democratic party." Speaking as someone who supports most of that wing's purported positions on war, civil liberties, and corporate welfare, I wish those activists would stop fretting about the power of the GOP's ideologues and start emulating them instead. There was a time when they were willing to try it, but now they've been scared straight.