Ron Brownstein offers an interesting, if slightly oversimplified, take on the filibuster compromise:
What gives? One explanation may be that the deal challenges the dominant political strategy among Republicans, while upholding both of the approaches contending for dominance among Democrats.
Especially since Bush's reelection, Democrats have been divided on electoral strategy. One camp believes the key to revival is courting centrist swing voters (a la Bill Clinton's "third way"). The second says the party must emulate Bush and focus on mobilizing its base by stressing unity.
In different ways, the judicial deal is at least tolerable to both camps. Third-way types applaud it for promoting bipartisan compromise. The party-unity group likes it because it kept Senate Democrats unified against the filibuster ban.
By contrast, the deal threatens the ruling political paradigm among Republicans. Since 2001, energizing the conservative base, even at the price of straining relations with more centrist voters, has been the core of Bush's legislative and political strategy.
That approach has generated undeniable benefits for him. The massive turnout from the GOP base was the largest factor in Bush's reelection. His strength in culturally conservative areas has helped Republicans solidify their dominance of congressional seats in GOP-leaning "red" states.
But last week's deal reflected a fear among some of its GOP participants that the White House had pushed that polarizing approach to the point of dangerously alienating moderate voters.
Brownstein's take on the competing stategies of the Dems is a little simple-minded, but he's right about his basic point: the nucular compromise does offer something to more than one school of thought among Dem strategists. But let's try to be more clear about this:
When Brownstein says that "[o]ne camp believes the key to revival is courting centrist swing voters," I don't really know what he's talking about. Which camp? Is there anyone in the Democratic party who doesn't think this? It seems like the only obvious solution to the current political climate, in which the Bush admin has increasingly alienated moderates and even principled conservatives.
Similarly, Brownstein's statement that "[t]he second [camp] says the party must emulate Bush and focus on mobilizing its base by stressing unity" strikes me as noticeably incomplete. Unless there's something up some sleeves that none of us know about, Dems have been made stronger by their recent show of unity on Social Security. Despite some initial wavering by Josh Marshall's faint-hearted faction, party unity in protecting Social Security has served Dems well, including compromisers Mark Pryor, Mary Landieu, and Ben Nelson.
I would rephrase Brownstein's argument to say that the compromise shows, if anything, that two differing strategic goals of Democratic thinkers aren't mutually exclusive, and have recently worked together well: given that the republicans control the agenda so forceful and so unapologetically, it's easy for Dems to both present a unified front and appeal to these mythical centrists at the same time. Not there aren't problems within the Dem caucus, but before we deal with those, let's make sure we keep the larger tactical framework in mind. This is gift that a second Bush term has given us: when republicans really think they're allowed to get whatever they want, it's much easier for Dems to look reasonable without really trying.