The problem of not having a rational alternative party to the Democrats became obvious in the New Jersey gubernatorial race. In July, the FBI, in a widespread money laundering and corruption investigation, arrested dozens of people in New Jersey, including (mostly) Democratic politicians. The incumbent Democratic governor, Jon Corzine, was already unpopular, but this called for some serious repudiation of his party by the voters. The problem? His opponent was one of Karl Rove’s corrupt U.S. Attorneys. What kind of choice is that?

How do you tell the Democrats in the Garden State to clean up their act by electing a guy who subverted the integrity of the Department of Justice? We’d all like to vote on the issues, but sometimes you just have throw the bums out, even when they’re on your side of the issues. You can’t do that, though, when the alternative is plum-crazy. And that is basically what Paul Krugman is saying in his column today. Looking at the mainstreaming of the teabagging movement by the Republican establishment, Krugman notes, “What all this shows is that the G.O.P. has been taken over by the people it used to exploit.”

The GOP used to be run by sober people like James Baker. Today, it doesn’t appear to be run by anyone. Baker was bad enough, but you knew that he wasn’t going to start enacting Pat Robertson’s pet agenda, or amplify the party base’s paranoid conspiracy theories. Candidate recruitment for the GOP is in the hands of two utterly nutty Texans (Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Kevin McCarthy Rep. Pete Sessions).

Update [2009-11-9 12:51:39 by BooMan]: Brain fart alert. McCarthy is doing candidate recruitment for Sessions, but he’s a Californian.

But they are coming under relentless criticism from their right for attempting to attract candidates that suit their states and districts. It may prove impossible for Cornyn and McCarthy to clear the field for their recruits. Many of them may lose contested primaries because the party’s base is now whittled down to a lunatic fringe. But far from discouraging this insurrection in their ranks, the Republicans are trying to benefit from its energy and financial power. That’s why they held a teabagging event on the Capitol Steps last week, and that is why they now have to explain their decision to consort with people who think health care reform is akin to National Socialism.

The Democrats are toying with some of the same problems, but for a different reason. Read this bit from Krugman, but replace ‘right-wing’ with ‘left-wing.’

When Hofstadter wrote, the right wing felt dispossessed because it was rejected by both major parties. That changed with the rise of Ronald Reagan: Republican politicians began to win elections in part by catering to the passions of the angry right.

Until recently, however, that catering mostly took the form of empty symbolism. Once elections were won, the issues that fired up the base almost always took a back seat to the economic concerns of the elite.

There is an angry, fringe-left in this country, but the progressive base of the Democratic Party is not fringe. At least, we’re not fringe if you poll the American people on what they want to see in domestic and foreign policy. But, we are feeling a bit dispossessed at the moment because we’re seeing policy get crafted to appeal to the most conservative elements of the Democratic Party. Part of this is just a concession to the make-up and rules of the Senate, which make the Senate more conservative than the nation as a whole, and allow any Democrat to exercise veto power over policy. But, most progressives don’t concern themselves with such details. All they know is that they’re getting treated the same way the right-wing base has been treated by the economic elites for decades.

We don’t have anywhere to go. We’re certainly not interested in seeing a bunch of teabaggers get elected. But a captive vote is not an energized vote. The Republicans have sold their base an incoherent set of ideas about the evils of the federal government. Once they controlled the federal government, they broke every promise because they weren’t willing to devolve all federal authority to the states. They’d do the same thing again, if they retook power in Washington. The Democrats, on the other hand, have sold their base a bunch of promises about checking excessive executive power, rolling back our foreign military commitments, protecting a woman’s right to chooise, and creating a universal health care system with a public option. A failure to produce on those promises threatens to make the Democratic Base lose faith.

It doesn’t look to me like the center will hold. Either the Democrats snap out of their funk and lead this country to the left, or the anti-incumbent mood will bring teabaggers to power and we’ll have real problems like we haven’t seen since the Civil War rent this country in two. I know it is self-serving and convenient for a progressive to argue for more progressive policies, but we’re in real jeopardy here if the Democrats can’t overcome this gridlock, and if they don’t get serious about keeping their promises. I’m not talking about some lurch to the far left here. I’m talking about doing what you campaigned on.

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