Comments: Politics

"Just let them get some real leadership with a liberal platform and some candidates we believe in, and we'll see whether or not that's true."

It's reasonable to ask why this hasn't happened yet. Who was the last Democrat to run as an avowed liberal? It's been 30 years or more. You and I can surmise some of the historical forces that made such a thing impossible for so long. Above all, there was the exit of the South from the Democratic party, and the ever more desparate attempts of the Democratic leadership to retain some of the South for the Democrats. But I would guess that particular historical trend was played out by 1994. The victory of Newt Gingrich was the final death of the once Solid South for the Democrats. Since 1994 the Democratic party has been free to become something else, something not tied to the South. Why hasn't it? Clearly, a large gap has opened up between what progressives like you and I think, and what the leadership of the Democratic party thinks. Why is this? It's curious, yes?

"If you take the dreaded "liberal" label off the policies, the things Democrats are supposed to stand for and care about are of high importance to 75%* or more of the country. "

Clearly, but then, the Republicans, for that reason, often push through liberal programs. The perscription drug benefit package would be a good example. Tarrifs on China. Tarrifs on steel. The liberal sounding No Child Left Behind act (which may be underfunded, but was clearly done to let Bush score liberal points with those in the public who are moderate.)

Personally, on the spending side, I think Bush has been quite the social reforming liberal. His reactionary streaks have shown up two ways: his tax cuts, and his disrespect for human rights. The disrespect for human rights has shown in a number places, both at home and overseas. And to the answer that, I don't think we should run from the label "liberal" but rather we should embrace it, and go back to the historical roots of liberalism, and give the public a history lesson.

Posted by Lawrence Krubner at October 7, 2005 09:11 PM

Clearly, a large gap has opened up between what progressives like you and I think, and what the leadership of the Democratic party thinks. Why is this? It's curious, yes?

Okay, short version:

There was a lack of vision after the Watergate years* and what passes for leadership among the Democrats been playing catch-up ever since. Unable to believe in or trust the liberal roots of their own successes, they've adopted, instead, a stance of being a kinder, gentler Republican Party.

Liberal voters, disillusioned by the same scandal and worn out by the work behind the legislative successes they had achieved, took a few years off to rest and tend to business at home. Distracted by personal concerns, they failed to identify the lack of vision at the top.

In the meantime, the Republican Bull raged in, full of fury over the unmasking of criminals at its highest levels, and pounded the landscape with a carpet bomb of old fears (the Cold War), old prejudices (coded references to minorities, gays, and women who threatened to turn the entire country into a mongrelized Sodom), and new money (the increasingly euphoric industrial-defense industry, later joined by the increasingly ecstatic oil and gas industries and Big Pharma).

After Watergate, the Democratic leadership simply wasn't prepared. Many of the Party's major goals had been, or seemed to be, won, from a legislative perspective. Economically the country was in trouble. Fallout from the Vietnam War was still raining down around our collective ears. Socially, the new reforms were still butting head-to-head with the entrenched systems.

Sometimes, in politics, you need a visionary. Sometimes you need a workhorse who just buckles down and gets things done. The Democrats were in need of a workhorse, someone to solidify the social progress and take on the sweat and labor of getting the economy running again. I think they just couldn't identify that someone.

Anyhow, the disorganized Democratic leadership, having lost sight of their real function, which was to represent The Peepul, because they lacked a platform for consolidating their gains and lacked the vision to know what should come next, began to salivate at the sound of corporate money clanging into Republican coffers. They told themselves that they couldn't do their jobs if they weren't in office.

And, like so many, they let themselves believe that the ends justified the means. They could take money from defense contracts but still be anti-war. They could take money from Big Oil but still advocate Green energy policies. They could take money from Big Pharma but still support affordable health care for everyone. (While they were taking corporate money and pretending it helped them to protect the little guy, the Right snuck in and grabbed for itself the label of "individual rights" but that's a different rant.)

And it was all so stupid. If Democrats wanted the South, they could have had it. It was there for the taking and still is.

Today's Democrats aren't "losing" the South. They're just refusing to win it.


* We've had dirty politicians in this country since we've had politicians and we've had White House scandals of varying proportions. The problem, of course, is that we don't know that.

I mean, WeThePublic are not, as a rule, aware of these facts. Among other factors, I point to the disastrous state of education in this country.

Short of taking graduate-level courses in American History (or even USofA politics), we're simply not taught the truth about our own country at any level during our education. A simplified, whitewashed version of a rosy American Dream is all that's presented to the average student. No dictatorial regime or totalitarian state does a more thorough job of painting out the naughty bits of its country's history than we do and, if the Southern Revisionists have their way, a day will come soon when the issue of slavery as an evil becomes open to serious debate, much the way the religious nuts are currently trying to force creationism into our school science curriculums. (We're becoming an embarrassment to the civilized word with this kind of throw-back behavior. But, again, that's a whole 'nother rant.)

Anyhow. Sorry for the hobby-horse.

Added to that, if you consider the poor job the national media does of presenting the actual truth about what's happening in this country (and abroad), and a picture starts to form. Events spring up on the evening news, with no context. They disappear and reappear a year later in different form, again with no context. Today's ally is in our crosshairs tomorrow and (pre-internet) it's nearly impossible to figure out what happened. It's very easy to understand why Joe Average Citizen thinks politics is too confusing and too complicated for him to keep up with.

Today's newest crop of voters doesn't even know what liberalism is. They were born into the scandal-ridden Reagan years and grew up listening to the Republican Congress's witchhunt against Clinton, years when the existence or otherwise of a Little Black Dress and the did-they/didn't they of a blow job obsessed the media and, from their coverage, our federal political system, to the exclusion of almost everything else.

And yet, during these years when the rightwing was trumpeting doom and disaster from every street corner, based on the turpitude of a president who had casual sex, the economy was booming, salaries were skyrocketing, and jobs were plentiful.

Can you blame these kids if they think politics is stupid and they don't have a clue what government is supposed to be like or how it's connected with the Real World around them?


Clearly, but then, the Republicans, for that reason, often push through liberal programs. The perscription drug benefit package would be a good example. Tarrifs on China. Tarrifs on steel. The liberal sounding No Child Left Behind act (which may be underfunded, but was clearly done to let Bush score liberal points with those in the public who are moderate.)

Okay, that's an illustration of what I meant by media failures. Had the truth about the Prescription Drug Benefit been laid out clearly when the legislation came before Congress, it would not have enjoyed popular support. It was a giveaway to Big Pharma and the benefit to those seniors who were able to fight their way through the chaos of regulations is not necessarily substantial. (Also? Benefits? Still theoretical and now Congress is talking about delaying implementation of the program because the government can't afford to pay for it. Poorly conceived, very poorly constructed, and a waste of everyone's time and energy so far.)

Ditto the NCLB Act. Only the name is liberal, nothing about the policy itself is liberal. Slapping a friendly name on a piece of stupid legislation is not, in Anne's World, a substitute for intelligent reform.

Bottom line: Not one major policy of this Administration's has been acceptable from a "liberal" (or frequently even a "humanitarian") point of view. No matter what the Administration's rhetoric, all of their legislation benefits corporations to the detriment (sometimes seriously) of the individual.

The party of "Small Government" and "Individual Rights" and "Fiscal Responsibility" is presiding over a bloated government that's spending us into bankruptcy while it constructs an ever-less acceptable structure of protections for, not individual but corporate "rights".

Personally, on the spending side, I think Bush has been quite the social reforming liberal.

And I wonder, in the nicest possibly way, why the USofA you're living in looks so different from the one I'm living in?

Okay...that was rude. Instead, let me ask you to point out and discuss one piece of major legislation that's had a positive effect on our society or our economy from a Progressive perspective.

And to the answer that, I don't think we should run from the label "liberal" but rather we should embrace it, and go back to the historical roots of liberalism, and give the public a history lesson.

And I completely agree.

Whew. I always like your comments :) but that's a lot of thinking for me, early on a Saturday morning!

Posted by Anne at October 8, 2005 11:39 AM

And that was the short version? The long version must be really awesome.

My remark about Bush's spending was in regards to Keynes. It's an interesting point my conservative friends keep bringing up to me: "I thought you liberals were in favor of Keynesian deficit spending to keep the economy strong. Why, then, do you complain about Bush's deficit spending?"

The first paragraph of your comment causes me to wonder why the Democratic leadership lacked vision after Watergate. Is it because too many conservative Southerners were still in the Democratic party? Wasn't Phil Grahm a Democrat at that time, and didn't he then become a quite reactionary Republican?

I can understand why the Democrats were paralyzed in the 70s and 80s - the loss of the South was disorienting. What I'm puzzled about is the confusion since 1994. The victory of Newt Gingrich sealed off one epoch. After 1994 there wasn't any doubt about that the Democrats had lost the South. Therefore the Democrats were free to become something else. Something new. Something they've never been before. A truly liberal party. And so far that hasn't happened. And I'm wondering why.

I'll link to your post and your comment from my own site. They're both quite good.

Posted by Lawrence Krubner at October 8, 2005 08:48 PM

Sigh. Okay, I get the reference, now that you reminded me of Keynes. I guess my answer to that is...there's deficit spending and there's deficit spending. And then there's what the Bush Administration is doing, which seems to cry out for an entirely new description.

Bottom line: Not all deficits are created equally. A deficit of a billion dollars when the money is circulated in the USofA economy stimulates the economy. It passes through hands, gets spent on goods and services, and generally is the fuel our society runs on. A deficit of a billion dollars when the money leaves our economy entirely (and permanently) is just a debt.

So, you know, with all due respect, your conservative friends are either just yanking your chain or they haven't really thought about what they're saying.

As for your next point...I've tried four times to answer it and I keep winding up offering a mini-review of the history of the country at the time...something I'm not really qualified to write about and something I know you don't need anyhow.

So, again, you're getting the (so-called) "short version".

I think it's easy to look back and see the "Democratic Party" of the 70s and think it was a homogenous group of anti-war activists and social reformers. This is very far from the truth.

Growing anti-war feelings among the population, fueled by the serving up of thousands of body bags with the nation's dinner and the revelation of Mai Lai, not to mention other atrocities forced the Democratic leadership into an anti-war stance but I've no idea how the leaders of the Party at that time actually felt about the war. Remember, this was an era when the over-40 crowd were the people who had grown up with the Cold War and the very real fear of a nuclear attack on our soil. Fighting in Vietnam was presented as (and believed by many to actually be) a hammer-blow against the spread of the dreaded Communist Threat.

As for social reforms...Johnson signed Civil Rights legislation into law. Did the Democratic leadership of the time support that legislation, support the growing women's rights' movement, and support, even just tacitly, a movement towards gay rights because they believed in those things or because Republicans were against them?

If you assume that the leadership took some of their positions because of public pressure, and some of their positions because of political opportunism...then the post-Watergate floundering makes more sense, don't you think. They lacked vision because these "issues" they had been supporting weren't really their own. They lacked both the passion and the commitment to look ahead for the next steps.

(But I'm just guessing. I haven't made a study of the politics of the time. Perhaps one of my Historically Knowledgeable Readers can offer a better suggestion.)

Anyhow...that brings us quite neatly to 1994. In the '80s and early 90s, the Democrats were still making a career out of being against the Republicans.

Clinton and his crowd stepped into the Presidency over the hysterical shrieks of the "Democratic Leadership" (hereinafter "DL" because I'm tired of typing it) of the time for one good reason...Clinton & Co. had a vision and they bypassed the DL and took it to the voting public. Eventually it was clear that Clinton had a good shot at the White House, better than any other Dem candidate. So the DL bowed to the inevitable...but they didn't have to like it.

Maybe the DL wasn't prepared to take advantage of Gingrich's meltdown because their noses were still out of joint over being out-maneuvered by Clinton & Co.?

You think 1994 is the crucial year and you're right as far as a moment for the DL to step up to the plate, but the critical fact is that the DL had had 14 years to pull itself together, get a vision (or at least a clue) and start creating a new platform to attract voters.

Why the heck didn't they?

That's my question and that's where I think we need to be looking. They didn't take action in 1994 because they weren't prepared to...but we have to look at the decade-and-a-half before that and find out what they were doing, no not doing, that left them so unprepared. What, precisely, was happening at the top levels of the Democratic Part during that 15 years? You say you understand tell me.

Let me repeat...I'm just speculating here, okay? I'm not an expert on the era or on USofA politics. All just my opinion and stuff.

As for your last point, I repeat: Democrats didn't "lose" the South. They just haven't chosen to win it.

"The South" doesn't want anything unsavory. They want decent jobs that afford them decent homes. They want health care, good education, workplace protections, and streets safe to walk on.

Supposedly, the Left wants all of those things for everyone, but the gut-wrenching poverty experienced by so many Southerners should suggest that we start there. Why doesn’t the Democratic Party have any kind of plan for that?

Absent any actual action from the Left, is it any wonder that the disenchanted South leans Right, taking comfort in coded speeches that suggest that immigrants and godless Yankees are responsible for their plight?

If the Right isn't giving the South any actual help, well, at least they're never pretended they would. They tell these people that they're "rugged individualists" and that all they need is less government and everything will be peachy-keen. It won't work, but it sounds like a plan and no one else is offering them anything.

The Right is, at least, giving Southern voters someone to blame...and in the absence of any concrete solution to their problems, that's what most people look for. When that doesn’t work, they tell them to have enough Faith and God will solve their problems.

(Trust me, Lawrence. ;) I'm better when I'm severely edited. I need to be more severely edited. This should be half as long, but it's getting late and it's only the first comment I've managed to answer today!)

Posted by Anne at October 10, 2005 09:58 PM

I think these "short-version" comments are awesome. I linked to the last one and I'll link to this one too.

As to Keynes, it does seem to be that the 1990s saw a real reversal of fiscal policy, between the two parties. The Democrats became the party that wanted budget surpluses. The Republicans never officially became the party of budget deficits, but unofficially, when it comes to discussing the issue at a restaurant with conservative friends, all of them are now in favor of budget deficits.

Some of the personal transformations that I've seen among my friends make absolutely no sense to me. I had one friend who was a very active supporter of Perot in 1992 and 1996, because, in part, he thought the large budget deficits were proof of governmental corruption and mismanagement. Nowadays, he says he is extremely uncomfortable with the idea of budget surpluses, I think because he is worried that any surplus will be used to justify more government spending. He'd rather see deficits than surpluses. I think he feels only deficits can force real restraint onto the government. However, the sense of crisis that possessed him and many others in 1992 is now gone. Faced with very large, horrible deficits, he simply doesn't care about the issue the way he did 13 years ago.

As to the Democrats, I'm not sure why the party now favors fiscal balance. Partly, I think some intellectuals, like Paul Krugman, have made the case that we need to be building up assests right now so we'll have something to draw on when the Baby Boomers retire. Others, I think, on the business side, think that America needs to raise its savings rate, and one place to start is with the government accounts. There are probably other factors as well. The Democrats are, I think, the party that is the most friendly to immigrants, and a period of high immigration needs less fiscal juicing of the economy, since the immigrants themselves juice the economy somewhat with their savings and by expanding the labor supply.

Posted by Lawrence Krubner at October 12, 2005 03:00 PM

"(Trust me, Lawrence. ;) I'm better when I'm severely edited. I need to be more severely edited. This should be half as long, but it's getting late and it's only the first comment I've managed to answer today!)"

I don't know, I think that stuff you wrote above is pretty good. I posted a long excerpt to my site, with only minor editing.

(By the way, quite off topic, but what software are you using for this site?)

Posted by Lawrence Krubner at October 12, 2005 03:34 PM

Thanks for the kind words, but I'm aware of how I'm oversimplifying a lot of things. For instance, in discussing the Democrats, post-Watergate, I have given no space whatsoever to the state of international affairs, a thing that does affect voters' perceptions of candidates.

The blog is written with Moveable Type.

Posted by Anne at October 13, 2005 10:17 AM

I think the issue of budget "surplus versus deficit" and the idea that the Parties changed positions needs better consideration. Understand that a position on a budget is like one on any other issue. It changes, based upon circumstances.

All just IMO (in my opinion), of course, but I think that the Right did such a good job of selling the idea of government being too expensive that they convinced Democrats as well as just random voters.

Thus, Democrats would then be in favor of budgetary surpluses so that money would be available to spend on public service and assistance programs.

The Right, on the other hand, would come to favor budget deficits because then they could point their fingers at the debt and say we needed smaller, less expensive government. Much as the Bush Administration is doing today. They've created such a huge deficit that not even the news that they're about to cut FEMA's already inadequate budget by a further 12% (or 12.7% or something), raised more than a few eyebrows, even in the Left-hand world o'blog. And that's at a moment when FEMA funding and organization is at the front of everyone's minds.

This is, I think, where your friend's mind is when he speaks of being uncomfortable with budget surpluses. He and others have become so convinced that all of government is bloated, corrupt, and evil that they can't see the truth, or the danger in their proposals.

Or their own hypocrisy, as they vote for and support an Administration that is creating billions in elective debt through an unneeded and unwinnable war. (Given a choice, I think most rational people would say that if we must create a huge debt, let's create it doing something positive that will help this country's economy. And not just Halliburton and its ramifications.)

I do think, more objectively, that Democrats are attempting to look ahead to the retirement of the Baby Boomers.

So are some Republicans, because these are their voters. I think our Congressional representatives tend to be less out-of-touch with reality than the White House because many of them are not term-limited and thus have to remain responsive to their constituencies until the day they decide they no longer want to hold public office.

The government was in good shape to pay out promised benefits after 8 years of Clinton. Today, after six years of the Bush Administration, it's clear that the government is going to have to do some fancy tap-dancing to cover its commitments.

And every billion dollars we spend in a futile war in Iraq just multiplies the problem.

Posted by Anne at October 13, 2005 10:32 AM