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Howard Dean speaking at Netroots Nation 2007
Howard Dean at Yearly Kos (now Netroots Nation) 2007, as we worked on dragging our party to the future.
We might be laughing at the the Republican National Committee's autopsy, but it has sparked outright hostility on the Right. On one side are the establishment Republicans, desperate for a party that can compete and win elections, on the other side are the Teabaggers, convinced that only further purity will lead to glory.

I've been transfixed by this battle, watching it play out, trying to gauge whether it's a temporary flare-up or whether it presages a deeper split in the conservative movement. (The jury is still out.) But it has reminded me of something else—the battles that first sparked the Netroots into existence.

Our current Democratic Party has got plenty of problems, but you only need to see things like this to realize how far we've come:

You’ve often heard Republicans talk about organizing campaigns around the vaunted “guns, God, and gays” formulation long beloved by GOP strategists. Now progressives and Democrats are increasingly organizing around a cultural and economic issue triumvirate of their own: Guns, gays, and the minimum wage.
Ten years ago, when the Netroots was just a wee baby, establishment Democrats convinced themselves that survival depended on holding the line against gay rights (Howard Dean was unelectable because of civil unions!), against gun control and against anything smacking of a tax increase. An entire cottage industry arose around trying to get Democrats to better appeal to religious voters. And it didn't matter how unnecessary a war was, it was verboten to oppose one.

There was a clear battle between those DLC-corporatist-style Democrats and the reformer Netroots, leading to the 2005 election of Howard Dean to run our party, and culminating with the 2006 ouster of Joe Lieberman from the Democratic Party. Following that seminal moment, the intra-party hostilities ratcheted down—the party adopted our anti-war stance, and over time has moved left on pretty much every issue of concern except for civil liberties and drones. So much so, in fact, that the DCCC has explicitly said that it will campaign in 2014 on the issues of minimum wage and gun control.

So perhaps that bodes well for conservatives in their intra-party battle royale. Well, except there's one major difference between our own fight and theirs: The policies and positions we were pushing were popular with the American public. Nothing we promoted, save for marriage equality in those early days, was unpopular with voters. We used polling and other data to buttress our arguments, making sure we remained in the reality-based community.

Neither establishment Republicans nor the Teabaggers can claim the same. Everything they believe in is unpopular. So while we dragged the Democratic Party kicking and screaming into the future, we did so in a way that made it easier for them to win elections. Republicans are stuck between an unpopular establishment party that can't win outside of gerrymandered districts and the Deep South, and even more unpopular "reformers" that can't win even in solidly Red states like Indiana and Missouri.

Thus, for an internal civil war, the stakes couldn't be lower. Losing is losing. On the other hand, it's super entertaining for us on the outside, because there's nothing more fun than conservative vs conservative (rhetorical) violence.

Originally posted to kos on Thu Mar 21, 2013 at 01:27 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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