On the main site, we posted an article I wrote for the October print edition about progressive activists meeting in Denver during the Democratic convention. Their aim is to make sure Obama, if elected, governs as a transformational liberal in the tradition of LBJ and FDR. I wrote:
For all their optimism, it’s worth pointing out that there are substantial differences between now and the other periods of transformational change in American political history. Both LBJ and FDR assumed office during times when the climate was far more suited for sweeping changes. Progressives can do all the talking they want about how the economy is in a state of severe crisis, but empirically, our current economic problems pale in comparison to what they were when FDR was elected in 1932. That year, the nation’s economy shrunk by more than 13 percent and the unemployment rate was 23.6; by contrast, the economy grew 3.3 percent in this year’s second quarter, while as of July the unemployment rate was 5.7. LBJ assumed office in the wake of the tragic assassination of the beloved John F. Kennedy and the outpouring of sympathy made it a lot easier for his successor to push legislation through Congress — and it didn’t hurt that at one point Democrats had 68 Senators.
A few weeks after I wrote this, the financial collapse ensued, and so now Democrats would have a crisis that can be used to justify a massive expansion of government along the lines of the Great Society and New Deal. Should Obama get elected with an effectively filibuster-proof Senate, the key question now is whether Democrats will be able to exploit the crisis to push initiatives such as universal health care, or whether the massive budgetary hole we’re in as a result of the bailout, plus declining tax revenues as the economy shrinks, will tie their hands. Remember that prior to FDR, there weren’t any major entitlements, and prior to LBJ, there was no Medicare or Medicaid, so there was room for the government to grow. That is no longer the case.
Either way, I think my conclusion still holds:
The biggest mistake progressives are making is to believe that the diminished prospects for the Republican Party this November mean that the conservative movement itself has been vanquished. But regardless of who wins this election, the network of conservative media, policy organizations, and activist groups will still be in a much stronger position to resist radical liberal reforms than their predecessors in the earlier eras of transformational progressive change.