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To the editor ...

Presidential primaries are usually presented in the press as being about the presidency. And so they are.

But that is not all that they are about. They are also about control of political parties. This primary season is certainly no different, particularly in the Democratic Party. We should see primaries also as a power struggle within a party.

Someone (more precisely, some group) controls the Democratic Party now. Someone (again, more precisely, some group) will control it after the election in November. It may be the same someone or it may be a different someone. In either case, the outcome of the primaries and the election both enter into the considerations of those who are interested in that control. It is not in the interest of everyone in a given political party that the party win elections. And this is necessarily so. (See Nicholas Strakon's review-essay on Walter Karp's Indispensable Enemies, especially this passage.)

It is a fundamental error to look at elections as if their sole purpose were to win political power at the highest levels. There is lots of power to be grabbed and at lots of levels. Sometimes those levels are in agreement; sometimes they are not. But all party politics is about power: who has it; who wants it; how it is to be gotten or kept.

An analysis of the Dean derailment that omits this aspect of partisan politics may arrive at conclusions that events eventually bear out. But it is incomplete, and so not fully explanatory.

Ronald N. Neff
Senior editor, TLD
February 6, 2004

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