Few outside the Democrat party understand what has just happened in the historic primary season that recently ended. But in those primaries, the party made a fundamental decision that marks a dramatic turning point in American politics.
Bill Clinton swept up the Democrats in 1992 based on the new politics of the Democrat Leadership Council (DLC), which he headed. The DLC sought to remake the Democrats based on recognition of what had then just happened in the real world of American politics. Reagan’s Republicans had won three straight national elections, thrashing unreconstructed liberals like Mondale and Dukakis in landslides.
The DLC sought to accommodate what they saw as the valid components of the Reagan Revolution. The historic battle between capitalism and socialism was over, and capitalism had won. The Democrats had to modify their policies and their rhetoric to recognize that. Most importantly, they had to accommodate the essential vision that led to the political success of the Reagan Revolution — the American people overwhelmingly favored the policies of economic growth over the policies of taxation and redistribution (“It’s the economy, stupid”).
This meant that Democrats had to build on, not reject, the essentials of free markets, and the realities of globalization. Democrats didn’t have to swallow the whole libertarian agenda to succeed in this new environment. But they had to project an agenda that plausibly would advance economic growth, not ignore it and all of its possibilities and implications, or even actively undermine it. This became Bill Clinton’s awkwardly expressed “Grow the Economy” theme, which was meant to imply that it was still the government that would be producing the economic growth through its wise policies, not the decentralized free market by itself.
This meant, in turn, that the Democrats were not going back to income tax rates of 70% and even 90% as in the heyday of the Left. They could still raise tax rates somewhat on “the rich,” especially if they promised at the same time to cut taxes for the middle class, a central theme of Clinton’s 1992 campaign that was completely forgotten after the election. But it was also time to recognize and embrace the realities of free trade, and the desirability and overwhelming popularity of welfare reform based on work requirements. It was also time to recognize and extend the successes of deregulation.
The Democrats went along with it because having lost 3 straight national elections, and 5 of the last 6, they were hungry for power. President Clinton stumbled out of the gate because he didn’t initially lead with this vision that won him the election, but rather with Hillary’s old 1930s warhorse vision of socialized medicine. That produced the historic Gingrich Revolution of 1994. The insight that made Clinton’s presidency a success is that he then went along with the policies of the Gingrich congressional majorities, attacking and trimming only what could be projected as its excesses. The result was robust economic growth, and even a booming budget surplus, vindicating Clinton’s DLC vision. Thus Clinton became the only Democrat since Roosevelt to serve two consecutive terms, with only one more Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, having accomplished that since Andrew Jackson.
BUT THE DEMOCRAT IDEOLOGUES, what Howard Dean later described as the Democrat wing of the Democrat party, hated and despised what they saw as Clinton’s sellout. It was these people who, once Dean self-destructed, nominated the ultraliberal John Kerry in 2004. Right after departing service in Vietnam, Kerry had actually falsely accused his fellow American servicemen, on an international media stage, of committing war atrocities. Somehow, the Democrats to this day cannot understand why that came back to bite him.
The great showdown for the soul of the Democrats came in the 2008 primaries. Barack Obama, the most left-wing of all elected national Democrats, ultimately captured the hearts of the Democrat ideologues. Hillary never really believed in her husband’s neoliberal DLC policies. Personally, she herself was still with Eleanor Roosevelt and the Old Left of the 1930s. But recognizing the political success of her husband’s vision, and the political failures of the more left-wing candidates, she tried to project neoliberal responsibility and rhetorically hearkened back to the DLC successes of her husband’s administration. That made her the target of the Democrat ideologues, resulting in her defeat.
Elections have consequences. Obama’s left-wingers have now completely routed the DLC out of today’s Democrat party. Make no mistake about it. The New Left is now in charge of the Democrats, with Obama, Pelosi and Dean at the helm. This is not your father’s Democrat party, or Bill Clinton’s.
The political bible of this left-wing resurgence is a 2004 book What’s the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank, a left-wing writer. Frank reviews in detail the politics of his home state of Kansas to argue his thesis that Republicans have successfully used distracting social conservative issues like abortion, guns, and gay marriage to win majority support from working-class voters for conservative candidates who support free-market policies contrary to the economic interests of that same working class. This book is widely credited with inspiring the strategic vision that led to the Democrat takeover of Congress in 2006. It has also led some putatively conservative writers to argue for a new lefty version of conservative economics so Republicans and conservatives can stay in the game in competing for working-class votes.p>The social conservative movement, Frank writes, “rallies citizens who would once have been reliable partisans of the New Deal to the standard of conservatism.” But once those conservatives are elected, what do they do? br> /p>
Over the last three decades they have smashed the welfare state, reduced the tax burden on corporations and the wealthy, and generally facilitated the country’s return to a nineteenth-century pattern of wealth distribution. Thus the primary contradiction of the backlash: it is a working class movement that has done incalculable, historic harm to working class people.br> The conservative “solution to the rise of ignorance in America is to pull the rug out from under public education.” Frank continues regarding this conservative movement,
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?