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M. R. Democrats?


Sunday’s New York Times magazine showcased efforts to restructure – reform is too broad a word – the Democrat Party; the work of that group I call “Progressive Libertarians.” But it also featured a big story about what’s important to tech folks: stock.
Writer Matt Bai focuses on fundraising efforts by folks like Silicon Valley venture capitalist Andy Rappaport, New Democratic Network and its cadre of eerily aggressive fund-raisers, financier George Soros and insurance billionaire Peter Lewis. It’s a follow-the-money story, talking about efforts to rebuild the Democratic Party that only really touches on where the party might be heading. Over on the front page of the business section, Gary Rivlin takes a little nibble on that same territory, talking about TechNet’s efforts in Congress over stock options.

For the most part, Bai’s story attributes the “new” Democrats’ political interest to disgust with the Republican Party. But that focus is too limited to really see where the tech-savvy are headed, it’s a good idea to read both stories in concert. Self-interest, not party affiliation, is strong with this crowd as it is with any group that is motivated by business and finance. That doesn’t make their ideas any less valid but the old Democratic ideals – wrapping yourself in the nostalgia of the good, so-called Progressive fight – don’t fit quite so nicely when you’re talking about equity positions and tax deductible business expenses, not aid for the poor, jobs, or health insurance.
Bai doesn’t talk about the candidates and ideas that are floating around within the party. But proposals that mix social liberalism and fiscal responsibility or business-like conducting and bottom-line thinking with government practices and political reality are easy to find. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, California Controller Steve Westly (both of whom have NDN’s support) as well as moderate Republicans Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are going to be more important, in the long run than the money men who got Bai’s attention.
What do they have in common? Well, they’re all rich and they’re young: not one is over 60. And they are all trying to implement or – at a minimum talk about implementing – a less partisan, more entrepreneurial thinking about politics. Progressive Libertarians aren’t just changing the Democratic Party and it’s a big mistake to assume they will continue to have the advantage of Progressive nostalgia on their side.
If the Democrats win in November, the fight for this new moderate middle ground will move to the right where moderate Republicans are already spoiling for a fight. That’s going to be as much a problem for the Democrats as losing the election in November: it could pull from their new supporters who like guys like Bloomberg and Schwarzenegger. The contemplation Democrats need to do to keep the new, young rich – who want to be Democrats because they believe being Liberal is by definition the same as being virtuous – it the party is long overdue. If Progressive Libertairans don’t see the party move with them – and it’s just barely shifting right now – they are going to bolt. Right now, the fastest growing political party in Northern California – in San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Francisco counties – is “independent.” I haven’t seen the numbers in other tech-rich, Internet-savvy, urban and upper-middle class communities where the Democrats held sway but I’ll bet the trend is at work there, too.
That’s why it’s worth underscoring — again — the partisan reluctance that lies beneath many of the comments Bai collects from Soros:
Strangely, for someone who is supposedly staging a hostile takeover of an entire party, Soros said he is only nominally a Democrat, and he evidenced an obvious distaste for the business of politics. ”I hate this kind of political advertising,” he said at one point, complaining about the anti-Bush attack ads he had paid for. ”I always hated it, but now that I’ve sort of been involved in it, I hate it more.” Soros said his only goal is to get rid of Bush, whom he believes is endangering American democracy. After that, he said, he didn’t expect to continue meddling in politics at all, and in fact, he seemed eager to be rid of it.
It is Soros, more than anyone who is responsible for the valley’s ROI – return on investment – attitude today philanthropy that has come to characterize Silicon Valley’s attitude toward giving. He is exercising a similar influence in politics and his thinking is at the heart of Progressive Libertarian reasoning. It’s the main reason it is such a mistake to think of this new group – wired Democrats, Progressive Libertarian, the new new politicians – loyal to any party that doesn’t serve their interests.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 7:31 PM | Permalink

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