Change Politicians Minds By Winning Electons

I’m perennially puzzled by the various forms of thumbsucking over the idea that an American political party is taking this or that segment of its base “for granted” and that one ought therefore to abstain from voting or go for a third party. Adam Serwer’s largely right on why this is not a sound option for civil libertarians, but I think he’s missing the fact that there’s a much better mechanism at hand for people to grind intra-party axes—primary elections.

Even failed primary campaign can have pretty large consequences. Bill Halter’s run against Blanche Lincoln seems to have completely transformed the legislative debate over derivatives regulation. But what you need is:

a) An incumbent politician up for re-election.
b) A credible candidate to run against that politician.
c) A substantial group of politically organized people mad at the incumbent.

Politicians respond very aggressively to specific, concrete political pressure. And they respond not at all to whining on the internet. The ACLU has a very impressive track record of litigation, and so “we might get sued by the ACLU” is a real concern for people. But it doesn’t seem to me that civil libertarians have much of any track record of winning elections. So politicians don’t worry about making civil libertarians upset. It’s not very complicated.