Ever to the Right Democrats!

Thomas FrankCarter’s vice president, Walter Mondale, ran for the presidency in 1984 on a platform that The New York Times called “bluntly conservative,” a “turn to [the] right,” because it promised spending cuts and higher taxes in order to deal with the federal deficit. Yet, after Mondale lost — in a landslide even worse than Carter’s — the verdict among pundits and Democratic strategists was well-nigh unanimous: The party had to cut its ties to what were then called “special interests” (meaning labor and African-Americans) and find its way to the center.

On and on it went. The Democratic presidential candidate in 1988, Michael Dukakis, seemed like a centrist’s dream, a post-partisan problem-solver who famously refused to call himself a liberal until the race was as good as lost. Once he had been good and properly floored by George Bush senior, however, the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, high priests of the move-to-the-right postmortem, found it convenient to make Dukakis the symbol of everything they despised.

Bill Clinton, though, won elections; therefore: Visionary! Meaningful! A champion of the “vital center”! Except for when Bill Clinton didn’t win elections (like in the mid-terms in 1994, after getting the Republicans’ beloved NAFTA passed); in which case: Hie thee to the center, lib’rul! Al Gore, a DLC centrist of impeccable credentials, lost his bid in 2000; therefore: Populism discredited for all time.

Barack Obama presented the mythmakers with a challenge. On the one hand, he is obviously a fellow worshiper at the pundits’ post-partisan shrine, and his efforts to conciliate the GOP and be nice to Wall Street have sometimes been enough to make one wince with shame. On the other hand, the right has always regarded him as a socialist and maybe even a Satanist. So, what is a pundit to make of him?

Well, duh: the same as always. When Obama succeeds, it is yet another triumph for centrism, even when Obama pulls off the win by going “populist,” as he did against Mitt Romney. When Obama’s team loses, as came to pass earlier this month, the man suddenly no longer represents the “center” at all; now he has supposedly led his party into the wilderness of the left. This is asserted even though the man didn’t do anything significant to speak of between the 2012 and 2014 elections.

—Thomas Frank
Phony Spin Even Fox News Won’t Buy

2 thoughts on “Ever to the Right Democrats!

  1. I adore Thomas Frank, and I wish I could be him like, when I was a little kid, I wished I could be Spider-Man. He’s 90% right on everything and writes it with flair.

    He’s wrong in one bit here. The 1994 elections weren’t about NAFTA. NAFTA was a hideous symptom of New Democratic policy, but it hadn’t done a lot of damage yet. The 1994 elections were about Clinton’s half-assed health-care reform.

    And a lesson should have been learned. If you’re going to propose a government makeover of something, you should just damn well do it. Let the government run things better than suicidally greedy private enterprise can. (Obviously, there are things private enterprise can do better than public institutions, such as establishing the market price for ball peen hammers or Barbie dolls.)

    Clinton backed off from a government-run health-care program. So voters didn’t get the chance to see how a government-run health-care program would have been infinitely better than what we had. Instead, voters saw “gummint is a big fat mess” (which is true, in some areas like defense spending) and those voters who cared rallied behind the Limbaugh/Gingrich mantra of “gummint bad.”

    Of course it’s bad, if you don’t use it for good. The Obama think trust made exactly the same mistake in 2010 and got slaughtered for it; they’re still getting slaughtered for it today.

    Public/private partnerships might work well for small things without a huge potential profit margin like opening city parks and such. When it comes to vastly complex, vastly crucial things like health care, there’s no way this shit should be entrusted to for-profit companies. The way to remind Americans how awful companies are at this shit is for government to take it over and be better at it; it’s not going to be hard to accomplish.

    Government making feeble rules that keep slovenly companies in charge maintains the worst of all worlds. You still spend ninety minutes on hold, and you think Big Gummint is the problem.

    Aargh, I can’t stop being angry about this. When the ACA dumped the “public option,” I knew that forevermore people would attach their shitty overpriced insurance bills to The Gummint even though government did little except slightly keep those bills down. That we would see waves and waves of Republicans running against “government” health care. I went damn door-to-door, begging people to call their representatives. I fought and fought and I said if the ACA was enacted without a “public option,” it wouldn’t be a good step in the right direction — it would be a rallying point for conservatives forever. I lost. It is what it is. (Incidentally when I typed “rallying point” the computer changed it to “real lying,” a Freudian spell-check slip.)

    Clinton didn’t lose in ’94 because of NAFTA (much as he may have deserved to.) He lost because of health care. Obama, had he embraced the “public option,” would have lost in ’10 because of health care (takes a while to set up) and won in ’14 because publicly-run health care is far less shitty than the for-profit variety. It is the singular meat-and-potatoes issue of our time and the Democrats gave it away. It is the singular reason I am not fond of this country; our for-profit health-care system has murdered people I loved. You wanna create some patriots, politicos? How about less hagiographic “John Adams” stuff on HBO and more shit that works here? As it is, I’m more patriotic about Finland than America, and it isn’t even close. (Rant!)

  2. On NAFTA, you are right, but the treaty was quite unpopular. It was another example of the New Democrats feeling they just must be right because the people who elected them hated what they were doing. I don’t hear enough about this aspect of the New Democrats: just how arrogant they are.

    The labeling of conservative (or at best moderate) politicians and policies as extreme is something that the Republicans are great at. I would have thought they would pay a price for it by now. Even if the voters never figured it out, you would think the politicians (Like Obama and Clinton!) would figure, “If they are going to call me Stalin, I might as well propose liberal ideas.” But they don’t, because the middle of the road, economic conservatism, is what these minor league millionaires really believe in.

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