Here's a new term for your consideration -- one that may prove critical to the Democratic Party's 2008 chances:
1. A chronic aversion to professional politicians and their handlers, based on the belief that they are all cynical and unprincipled. 2. An unwillingness to identify with either major political party based on said beliefs.
Polls have proved that voters, especially independent voters, supported the Democrats in 2006 because they believed that they would move to end the war in Iraq. More recent polling shows that independents have become increasingly disenchanted with the party as they've seen it waver on this core issue. Yet pundits and Democratic strategists can't seem to let go of the irrational notion that independent voters can best be won by an equivocal compromise between centrist Democratic and hard-right Republican positions. No amount of hard evidence seems to sway them from this belief.
Acting to end the war is still treated as a dangerous political maneuver, despite the fact that 70% of Americans want politicians to do just that. Punditland -- and Professional Demland -- are the only two places in America where people believe that it's politically courageous and risky to do the popular thing.
The mind reels.
That's why some people misunderstand why there's room for a possible Michael Bloomberg candidacy. If Bloomberg's campaign gains traction, it won't be because people are looking for someone who will split the difference between Democratic and Republican positions. It will be because he takes clear stands on issues. Right to choose? He's for it. Gun control? He's for it. Fiscal responsibility? He's for it. It's true that he's a blank slate right now on foreign policy issues, but Bloomberg could appeal to "antipartisan" swing voters -- not because he parses his words, but because he says what's on his mind.
The "Unity '08" crowd thinks that people love both major political parties so much that they only wish they could have the best of both in one package. They're thrilled at the prospect of a Bloomberg run and are already positioning themselves to be his party. Adman-turned-consultant Gerald Rafshoon has already been quoted on the subject, saying things like "He's certainly speaking our language."
Here's the problem: A lot of independents don't want "bipartisanship." They're antipartisan. They don't want to see the same old Washington crowd of Republican and Democratic insiders recycled under a new banner (Rafshoon's only major victory was over thirty years ago.) They don't know who these guys are by name, but they don't like political insiders. And they certainly don't appreciate it when candidates for President hedge their bets or obfuscate their positions. (Sen. Clinton and Gov. Romney: Are you listening?)
Antipartisans say "a plague on both your houses." They're not looking to live with the Democrats in the winter and the Republicans in the summer. Some are moderate, some are conservative, and some are progressive. But they're all fed up with the two-party system.
Which brings us to Ralph Nader. If you want to build a viable third-party progressive alternative, you would be hard put to find a less attractive and effective candidate than Nader. His ego prevented him from building coalitions, much less a third-party movement, in his past runs. That reduced his 2004 candidacy to nothing more than a nihilistic exercise of ego. That doesn't mean that he or another progressive couldn't do it differently in 2008. Many progressives who form the Democratic base would find a genuine alternative compelling, especially if Hillary Clinton is the candidate.
Democrats have to stop treating third party candidacies like Nader's as an accident of fate, an unpredictable event to which they are only innocent victims. The GOP takes care of its base. That's why there hasn't been a "Nader candidacy" on the Right from Gary Bauer or someone like that. And they manage to communicate sincerity, even fake sincerity, better than Dems do. I have many problems with Nader, but he's around because he represents an unrepresented constituency - the left leaning "antipartisans" who see both parties as representing a corporate constituency.
Paradoxically, even moderate "antipartisans" are more likely to be drawn to a Democratic party that actually stands for something. Without the appearance of a spine, the Democrats will lose both the centrist and progressive independents -- either to one or more third party candidacies, or to stay-at-home apathy.
Democratic strategists better get to know and understand the Antipartisans a lot better than they do right now. And the party's primary voters need to ask themselves: Which candidate will best appeal to these independents -- the one who says what's on his or her mind, or the one who sounds like an amalgam of Republican and Democratic politicalspeak?
As Harry Truman said: "In a race between a Republican and a Republican, the Republican wins every time."