Beth Reinhard has written quite an amazing article. It is a thing to behold—but not in a good way. The basic argument is that it isn’t just Republicans who are getting extreme, it’s Democrats as well. This is Villager Think at its most basic. As I’ve long argued, politicians should do what their constituencies want. The idea that some Representative should care what’s happening in national elections is madness. But for the Villagers, the right non-ideological position is the one in the “middle.” Of course, the “middle” is defined as halfway between the Republicans and Democrats, so it isn’t like either side can ever really win this game.
The article focuses on state governments. It begins by characterizing the Republican moves in the most charitable light: they have passed laws to “restrict abortion, rein in labor unions, and slash state spending.” I would not characterize laws designed to shut down all abortion clinics in a state with “restricting” abortion. Nor would I laws designed to destroy labor unions as “reining” them in. And “slashing spending” has a special meaning when those very Republicans are also cutting taxes on the rich. But the article doesn’t even mention what is the most remarkable move from Republicans: voter suppression laws.
Even given this limited view of what the Republicans are doing, the contrast with Democrats is astounding. Democrats are pushing “stronger gun safety legislation and gay marriage.” By gun safety we are primarily talking about background checks. Regardless, gay rights are popular most places in the country. It isn’t like Mississippi Democrats are pushing for same sex marriage. The gun issue is even stronger. The article notes that while gun purchase background checks are hugely popular, not everyone is please—especially in Colorado. “In northern Colorado, several rural counties are threatening to secede over the new gun restrictions, driving privileges for illegal immigrants, and a renewable-energy mandate.” I see: some people in conservative rural communities are upset and that means that the Colorado governor is moving far to the left. It apparently doesn’t matter that Colorado voted for Obama over Romney by over 5 percentage points.
There is one conservative issue that most Democrats like: capital punishment. And that’s an issue where John Hickenlooper is pushing against public opinion. So Reinhard is arguing that all of the Republican radicalism, which has pushed the party far to the right of anything we’ve seen before in this country, is equivalent to John Hickenlooper standing up against the majority of his state on a death penalty case. After you cut through all of hedging and analysis from moderate observers, that’s what you get: the Democrats are on the verge of being seen to be as radical as the Republicans. Or at least that’s what Reinhard thinks.
What is most troubling about this kind of reporting is its not too subtle advice to Democrats: don’t move to the left, even if that is where your constituencies are moving. Of course, these same people are calling for Democrats to “hold the line” are also calling for them to “lead.” Apparently, the Democratic Party is supposed to lead the people nowhere, because where we are is just perfect. I think that the Democratic Party has not moved nearly far enough left. I found this quote from Bill Galston quite amusing, “Especially on social issues, the center of gravity in the Democratic Party has moved in the more liberal direction.” Really?! Especially on social issues? How about only on social issues. In fact, one of the radically liberal governors that Reinhard mentions is Andrew Cuomo, an economic conservative. On economic issues, the party has not moved to the left at all. Meanwhile, conservatives have moved into feudal territory on the economy. But I doubt we’ll be seeing any articles about that from Reinhard.
H/T: Ed Kilgore