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Friday, February 14, 2014

 
Always too liberal, no matter what

by digby

So Rick Perlstein reviewed former DLC chairman Al From's memoir. And it's a doozy. I'll just highlight this one extremely important insight:
...in just the way conservatives define the words “conservative” and “liberal” as operational synonyms for “good” and “bad,” Carter cannot be a New Democrat avant la lettre for the simple reason that Jimmy Carter lost.
[...]
Somehow, it always goes down the same way: Democrats move to the right and lose an election—and then pundits claim they lost it by running to the left. His platform, Walter Mondale boasted in his acceptance speech at the convention, included “no defense cuts that weaken our security; no business taxes that weaken our economy; no laundry lists that raid our Treasury.” He insisted that “government must be as well-managed as it is well-meaning” and that “a healthy, growing private economy is the key to the future.” Then he announced the supreme goal of a Mondale administration: deficit reduction. But he lost forty-nine states to Reagan. Therefore, he cannot be a “New Democrat.”
[...]
Dukakis’s politics of lowered expectations, his career of slashing budgets and tax cuts, made him seem a new kind of Democrat, a man of his time.” But he lost. Therefore, he cannot be a New Democrat: “Dukakis was clearly to the left of the DLC,” From writes.
This is a fine tradition in American politics, isn't it? No matter what the actual policy proposals of candidates from either Party, if they lose, it's because they were too liberal. So as each one lost in succession,  the next sought to be even more conservative in response. And then lost. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Clinton, of course, was the apotheosis of DLC wonderfulness:
Clinton spent the eighteen months leading up to his fall 1991 presidential candidacy announcement as the DLC’s chair. But it would be wrong to say that his presidential campaign followed a DLC script. It was a mélange. Clinton promised to realize a 3 percent across-the-board savings in every federal agency and, yes, to “end welfare as we know it.” But he also pledged $50 billion more for education per year, $20 billion per year for infrastructure spending and “healthcare that’s always there.” That’s another story you won’t learn from From. Nor that Clinton promised to end corporate deductions for salaries over $1 million, telling a gathering of business leaders, “I want the jet-setters and feather-bedders to know that if you sell your companies and your workers and your country down the river—you will be called on the carpet.”

Once in office, though, Clinton largely let economic populism fall by the wayside. From doesn’t acknowledge one of the main reasons why: Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan told the new president that if he kept his populist promises, interest rates would rise and he would lose the confidence of investors. (“You mean to tell me that the success of the program and my re-election hinges on the Federal Reserve and a bunch of fucking bond traders?” was Clinton’s famously incredulous response.) There is no acknowledgment, either, that the Clinton era’s prosperity was owed to an unrepeatable asset bubble in the tech industry, or of the roles played by a new class of huckster fundraisers—Tony Coelho, Terry McAuliffe, Rahm Emanuel—who made the Democratic Party safe for billionaires. No, for From it’s all “ideas”—his ideas.
(And hey, even he turned out to be not transformative enough, like Reagan. )

Anyway, be sure to read Perlstein's full treatment of From's memoir, particularly the part about his fear and disdain for the influence of Jesse Jackson. It's very educational. I hadn't realized how early the Democratic establishment started running from the hippies and worrying about the blacks. It probably started on the same night that Nixon and the boys fashioned the Southern Strategy.

If you do nothing else, contemplate the following challenge to the conventional wisdom for a moment and ask yourself whether or not pragmatic political "accommodation" to the retrograde attitudes of our fellow Americans --- something I'm seeing argued even today on a number of issues that are tied to what we normally think of as fundamental liberal values --- isn't just progressives being played for suckers by ambitious politicians who convince us that they have no choice but to sell us down the river:
[W]elfare reform has been a political and policy disaster. Rather than opening a political space for regaining the public’s trust to help the less fortunate, as New Democrats claimed it would do, the 1996 welfare reform law is now deployed by Republicans in order to argue against the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. And the “reduction in welfare rolls” hailed as heroic in boom economic times has turned catastrophic now that the economy has gone south. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, in 1995, Aid to Families With Dependent Children—the program that Clinton replaced—lifted 62 percent of the nation’s poorest children out of “deep poverty”; in 2005, under Temporary Aid to Needy Families, the same thing could be said for only 21 percent, raising the number of children living at half the poverty line or less from 1.4 million to 2.4 million. Meanwhile, between December 2007 and December 2009, the number of unemployed doubled—while the number of people receiving assistance from TANF increased by only 13 percent.
Yeah.  There's no need to hold them to any sort of principles.  They have to be "pragmatic." For our own good. It's been working out very well for decades now.


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