Matt Taibbi totally nailed the danger of Donald Trump last week, In the Age of Trump, Will Democrats Sell Out More, Or Less? There are a lot of liberals who like the idea of the Republican Party getting so insane that they are unelectable. I’ve never been one. It is still going to depend upon the voters. And if they are not careful, the Democratic Party will do what seems to come naturally: move to the right. As Taibbi put it, “History shows that if the Republican Party pushes further in the direction of brainless nativism and economic reaction, the Democrats will probably follow right behind them.”
This is what the New Democrats were all about. If you believe that the country really did move rapidly to the right in the 1970s and 1980s, then the idea of moving the Democrats to the right was a good idea. But that is a misreading of history. What’s more, the New Democrats embraced social liberalism — the only kind of liberalism that a case could be made against. Now there are reasons for this; the New Democrats were funded by a bunch of economic conservatives. And there will always be a lot more money to be made pushing economic conservatism.
The primary target of Taibbi’s article is the recent Politico article by Barney Frank, Why Progressives Shouldn’t Support Bernie. It was an unfortunate display. Frank claimed that Bernie Sanders couldn’t win the general election. There is exactly zero evidence of that. As I talk about all the time, if the economy collapsed next year, Donald Trump would have little difficulty winning the general election. And conversely, if the economy continues to grow through 2016, and Bernie Sanders is the Democratic presidential candidate, he will win. I still don’t really understand why it is that everyone thinks presidential politics is so very personal. It isn’t.
The core of Frank’s argument is that the Democrats are going to need lots of money to beat the Republicans. Again: this just isn’t true. I’m with Bruce Bartlett on this issue. Clearly: candidates need a critical mass of funding. But the vast majority of the money spent in these high profile elections is just wasted. A good example of this is 2010 race for California governor. Meg Whitman had vastly more money than Jerry Brown, yet she lost by 13 percentage points. And it certainly seems that under most circumstances, the winning candidate gets more money because the funders see that the candidate is going to win. Regardless, we shouldn’t encourage this kind of corruption. And thinking that Sanders can’t win because he isn’t going to be able to raise a billion dollars just feeds into that.
Taibbi pointed out that this “move to the right” and “choose the electable lesser evil” nonsense has a long history with very predictable arguments. And the biggest part of that argument is that people like Hillary Clinton are actually true liberals inside. The argument goes that she is just “pragmatic.” Well, I believe that to some extent. The problem is that being “pragmatic” tends to become a habit. Clinton has now publicly supported a $12 minimum wage. But if she had gotten through the whole campaign without endorsing that, it would likely have stayed buried deep in her liberal heart where she keeps all the other things that “sure would be nice in a perfect world…”
Ultimately, I no longer look at elections as events. Certainly I think it will be terrible for the nation if a Republican becomes president in 2016. But the big issue over the last 40 years has been that the entire playing field of politics has moved to the right. Now on trade agreements, the only thing the parties disagree about are the exact details of the deals. Obama isn’t against these deals — he just wants to make them a little less worse for the American worker. On the minimum wage, now we have to listen to large numbers of people in the Republican Party claiming that we should have no minimum wage at all. And both parties are obsessed with job killing policies like low inflation and strong dollar.
Our only hope — and it is not much of one — is that the people pay attention and force our leaders to do what is right. Bernie Sanders is a good choice for us. But I even think that Hillary Clinton could be good if we force her to be. But if we can’t even manage to vote for the candidate we really agree with, how are we going to hold candidates accountable afterward?