The Iron Law of Institutions
The Iron Law of Institutions is: the people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution "fail" while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to "succeed" if that requires them to lose power within the institution.
This is true for all human institutions, from elementary schools up to the United States of America. If history shows anything, it's that this cannot be changed. What can be done, sometimes, is to force the people running institutions to align their own interests with those of the institution itself and its members.
This is a pretty cool thought and it explains a lot of seemingly counter-intuitive behavior. Schwarz again:
...first it's useful to look at how the Iron Law plays out in other cases. At the country level, Saddam Hussein is an extreme example: during his thirty years in power, he made choices that led to the obliteration of Iraq—not because there was nothing else he could have done, but because choices that would have strengthened Iraq would have made him less individually powerful within Iraq. And this is a constant occurrence in the history of dictators. When Stalin purged many of the Red Army's most competent officers in the late thirties it made the Soviet Union itself far weaker—in particular, more vulnerable to a Nazi invasion—but what mattered to Stalin was eliminating internal rivals to his power. The same dynamic is displayed in less virulent form with Bush and Cheney: whenever they've had to choose between sharing power with others within a stronger America, and holding more power within a weaker America, they've chosen the latter.This Iron Law of Institutions may help bewildered Democrats understand why elected Democrats have done such a poor job opposing Bush, even when the public overwhelmingly wants them to. For Democrats to take a strong confrontational stand would empower certain groups within the Democratic party (e.g. the netroots activists) and dis-empower others (e.g. the Blue Dogs and political consultants pushing the Republican-lite line). So even if a "confront Bush" stance would make Democrats enormously popular, we shouldn't be surprised when Democrats don't take this stance. The "cave in to Republicans" faction currently holds the institutional power within the Democratic party. They won't give it up just because it would make the Democratic party incredibly popular, because that would mean a personal loss of power for them within the Democratic party.
This is why reform of the Democratic party a la Crashing the Gate is so important. Until the interests of the people controlling the Democratic party and the interests of the Democratic party as a whole are aligned, we can't expect Democrats to be as effective as we should be. There may come a time when the "confront the Republicans" faction is entrenched, and acts in defiance of what the majority of Democrats wants, but now is not that time, if polling on this issue is to be believed.