I am writing this piece in response to Thomas Edsall's column from yesterday, The Democratic Party Is Actually Three Parties. The upshot from that piece is that because each of these sub parties has a different ideal point with regard to the policies that they'd like to see pursued, Edsall claims it will be difficult for the Democratic Party to find a winning platform that energizes all of these voters. With all due respect to Anthony Downs, I believe the political scientists whom Edsall cites are trapped in a left-right (one-dimensional) universe, which while giving the lovely theoretical result about the median voter does make politics seem very much like a zero-sum game; if I win then you lose and vice versa. In that universe, of course, that's the rational way to behave. Then the entire debate becomes not about the policies themselves, but rather about the underlying distribution of voters along the left-right spectrum. People justify pursuing their own preferred policy menu by arguing that is where there is a concentration of voters.
An alternative would be to envision a bargain between the various coalitions. The thing is, for a bargain to take place there must be two or more dimensions; you get something but give up something else in return. The dimensionality enables the bargaining. Adding a second dimension, then, is needed. Of course, there can be three or more dimensions, so we can have in and out along with up and down and left and right. Sticking to two dimensions keeps it simple to explicate. I teach this stuff in my economics class. But in higher dimensions it is easier to find gains from trade.
Now a couple of more points and then I'll close. I've written a post about a year ago that envisions just such a bargain. The description of that starts in about the middle of the post. We need language to talk about the thing you give up in the bargain and we need politicians who can speak to multiple constituencies with a straight face, who can describe the full bargain, not just the gains part. In my way of thinking about this, the preferred language is to talk about responsibility and invoke JFK, ask what you can do for your country. The part you give up in the bargain you then do for the good of the order. I don't hear rhetoric of that sort now. I believe we need it, quite badly.
The other point, and it is related, is that the pollsters have made the game about appealing to voters who have fixed preferences. I think in many cases that's wrong. Voters need some education about what they want. Regarding immigration, for example, the situation at the border is horrible and, of course, everyone wants that to end. But beyond that what is the right solution - I don't really know and I'm guessing most voters also don't know. The proposal to end ICE, whether it is ultimately a good or bad idea, is based, I believe, on that those who become border agents now have a belligerence about them that is really undesirable. These border agents take delight in treating brown-skin migrants with cruelty. This is a real problem. Our politics, unfortunately in my view, goes to solutions too quickly, and doesn't spend enough time talking about the problems themselves. Perhaps there is fear that the problem won't be addressed at all if the current proposed solution doesn't win out. I can understand that fear, but there might very well be alternative ways to address the problem that can work and are better overall. The little I know about immigration issues comes mostly from the news, and then occasionally from some situation on campus, but I surely don't live and die with that issue. If the pollsters don't measure the intensity of the preference, along with the preference itself, they really don't have enough information to shape the bargain. The politicians themselves should do some of this shaping, by educating the voters in the process.
Let me close with this snippet from Paul Begala, which is in the Edsall piece. I thought it was pretty funny, also quite revelatory.
Democratic Twitter is dominated by overeducated, over-caffeinated, over-opinionated pain-in-the-ass white liberals. Every candidate, and every staffer, checks Twitter and other social media scores of times a day.
Whatever virtues Twitter has, it is not a good medium for education. That requires something slower, and more thoughtful. One might not get the readership that way, but it's the place to start. If the party is to come together, that will require some serious thinking, and quite a bit of negotiation.