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Hullabaloo


Thursday, October 15, 2015

 
The return of the "L" word

by digby

I wrote about the shocking liberalism of the Democratic debate for Salon this morning:
The demonizing of the word “liberal” was one of the most successful campaigns in conservative movement history. It has many fathers, not the least of whom is Newt Gingrich, but the political strategist who gets the most credit for turning the word “liberal” into an epithet is a man named Arthur Finkelstein. In the wake of the legal earthquake known as Buckley vs Valeo, the Supreme Court case which first unleashed a flood of money into the political system back in 1976, Finkelstein created the first Independent Expenditure PAC, which he recognized could work outside the norms of partisan politics. His strategy was simple: associate Democrats with the word “liberal” and associate the word “liberal” with something deviant and un-American. It worked beautifully. By the 1990s, his PAC had been instrumental in deposing a number of Democratic office holders and replacing them with much more conservative Republicans. This had helped to drive what had been the political center inexorably to the right; the Democrats, determined to stay with the center, followed.

And it just kept going, with each election cycle seeing Democrats running from the “L” word and every association with it, and the party capitulating on one issue after another. The ostensible rationale they gave to the voters was that if only they could “get the issue off the table”, whether welfare reform or capital punishment or abortion rights or guns, then maybe they could finally escape the curse of the “L” word and there would be political space to start talking about… something else. This has been so much a feature of Democratic politics of the past three decades that mainstream Democrats running as much against the left as running against the Republicans was considered so natural that even liberals barely questioned it. They were basically considered irrelevant, a faction of the party often represented on a presidential debate stage by figures like Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich, stalwart liberals whom everyone agreed had as much chance of winning the race as some rich reality show gadfly. (Ahem.)

What a difference a decade makes. On Tuesday night, the Democratic presidential candidates not only openly identified themselves as progressives, they embraced gun control, support for Planned Parenthood, criminal justice reform, LGBT and immigrant rights, and a long, impressive list of progressive economic reforms. The moderators even asked if the candidates even considered themselves to be capitalists, a question so startling it would have drawn gasps from the audience in the not too distant past. Instead of rushing to defend their all-American capitalist bona fides as they once would have done, Bernie Sanders matter of factly said he didn’t consider himself a “casino capitalist,” and Hillary Clinton said she hope to save capitalism from itself. These comments from front-running Democratic candidates would have once been the headlines in the morning papers. Instead, it pretty much passed unnoticed. Indeed, it appears that even the word “socialism” is once again respectable, a development which would have caused the political establishment to collectively call for the fainting couch just a few years ago.

Read on. I go on to discuss the fact that the argument is now about how to synthesize the various strands of progressivism rather than how to run from all of them.

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