Dems: Back to the Future

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American History, Democratic Party

I know you want to read this op ed by Robert Kuttner in today’s Boston Globe:

THREE TIMES in my political adulthood, we have seen the exhaustion of a conservative ideology and presidency. Under Presidents Nixon and Bush II, the ingredients were corruption, corporate excess, and overreach of presidential power. During the 12 years of Reagan and Bush I, the hallmark was the failure of conservative economics.

And twice, the electorate ousted Republicans only to get centrist Democrats, who ran more competent administrations but did little to redress the structure of financial inequality in America.

Now, the third era of conservative Republican rule is collapsing — with the most spectacular mélange of overreach, incompetence, economic distress, and sheer corruption of all. But who, and what, will succeed Bush? The forces of privilege and inequality are now so deeply entrenched in America that it will take a Democratic successor at least as bold as FDR or LBJ to change course.

As much as the wingnuts like to denigrate presidents Clinton and Carter for their alleged liberalism, the fact is they were the two most conservative Democratic presidents of the 20th century. And that by a pretty wide margin. Kuttner calls Carter “the most conservative Democrat since Grover Cleveland.” As president, his policies favored deregulation (of, for example, air traffic and trucking), and he made no attempt to stand in the way of business’s all-out assault on labor. President Clinton accelerated financial deregulation and gave us trade policies like NAFTA. Economic inequality and insecurity widened under both presidents, although not nearly as much as during Republican administrations.

Now, the third era of conservative Republican rule is collapsing — with the most spectacular mélange of overreach, incompetence, economic distress, and sheer corruption of all. But who, and what, will succeed Bush? The forces of privilege and inequality are now so deeply entrenched in America that it will take a Democratic successor at least as bold as FDR or LBJ to change course.

I don’t advocate a wholesale return to the policies of either FDR or LBJ, and I don’t believe Kuttner does, either. The point is that we need someone who’s got the cojones to steer the ship of state in an entirely new direction, and bleep the special interests, corporations, and the Right Wing echo chamber.

To change course, America would need to change the terms of global trade and to re-regulate Wall Street, so that deals would no longer be done mainly to enrich financial insiders and squeeze ordinary workers. We would restore taxation based on ability to pay and use the proceeds to create a more secure America of broad opportunity. Labor law would be reformed so that the more than 50 percent of American workers who’d like to join unions could do so without fear of being fired.

Amen to that.

Of the Democratic presidential front runners, Kuttner says that Sen. Hillary Clinton would run a competent administration, but she would put budget balancing ahead of social spending (Kuttner explains in more detail why he thinks that’s bad), and she is “raising distressingly large sums from Wall Street.” In other words, she is likely to pursue fairly conservative policies; the big difference between her and just about any Republican is that she would govern with greater competence. As president she’d give us much of the same ol’ thing, but with improved “metrics.”

Sen. Barack Obama shows enormous promise, but I agree with Kuttner that he’s developed a touch of “front-runner disease — being distressingly vague about what he’d actually do.” John Edwards is most likely of the three to govern as a true economic progressive, Kuttner says. I worry that his lack of foreign policy credentials could hurt him.

But, Kuttner closes, “How many times does conservatism have to fail before we get a successor who reclaims American liberalism?”

That’s a good question. The last time conservatism failed utterly and spectacularly was at the end of the 1920s. Franklin Roosevelt won four presidential elections not only because conservative domestic policy enabled the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, but because right wingers of the 1920s and 1930s for the most part were isolationists who thought Hitler and Mussolini were reasonable guys we could do business with. The Great Depression and World War II provided overwhelming empirical evidence to the American people that the Right had been wrong.

Although moderate Republicans (e.g., Dwight Eisenhower) emerged from the FDR years with some appreciation for what he had accomplished, the more extreme Right nursed a seething, resentful rage against all things New Dealish. The Cold War gave them a means to rehabilitate themselves. By a campaign of “hysterical charges and bald-faced lies” the Right persuaded much of the country that Democrats were soft on communism and lax on national security. And in the 1960s through the 1980s the Dems’ association with civil rights, equal opportunity, and antipoverty programs caused a flood of white middle class Americans to switch their votes from Democratic to Republican.

In part through skillful manipulation of mass media the Right has been able to dominate our national political discourse since the late 1970s. In spite of the Right’s incessant whining about “liberal media,” Americans have had the right-wing perspective of just about everything pounded into their heads lo these many years, whereas real liberals and progressives (as opposed to moderate-to-conservative political hacks who play “liberals” on television) were all but banished from public view. Were this not the case, I think liberalism would have been reclaimed years ago. And if Republicans had enjoyed the same advantage in 1936, FDR might have been a one-term president.

However, there are other differences between today and earlier times. Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, the two presidents who preceded FDR, certainly ran flawed administrations. Hoover in particular was blamed for many bad things, not all of which were actually his fault. But IMO neither president was as spectacularly ridiculous at the job as is the current Creature in the Oval Office. And unlike the hapless Hoover, who inherited a disastrous economic situation, Bush was handed a nation in pretty good shape, economically and otherwise, and thoroughly trashed it. Although I don’t think Bush was the mastermind behind 9/11 any more than he was the mastermind behind Hurricane Katrina — face it, truthers, Bush isn’t competent enough to have pulled it off — after Katrina the American people saw for themselves that Bush has no clue what he’s doing. And I think by now most of ’em have realized his allegedly great leadership after 9/11 was mostly hype.

Further, most of today’s self-described conservatives are really pseudo-conservatives. Conservatives used to be mostly temperate and cautious people who were not utterly opposed to progress as long as it didn’t happen too fast. Today’s “conservatives” are radical absolutists who are aggressive and uncompromising. They can neither govern nor work with anyone else to facilitate governing. They have utterly bleeped up the nation, and the nation will remain bleeped up as long as they are in charge. And I think many Americans are, finally, catching on to this.

The True Believers on the Right will never, ever admit to their mistakes, nor do I expect their media infrastructure to be dismantled anytime soon. But I have one hope — that most of the American people are getting heartily sick of these clowns.

And if the next President is truly great, maybe the creatures will be driven so far underground they won’t make a comeback in my lifetime, anyway.

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. moonbat  •  Apr 14, 2007 @4:43 pm

    I expect a Democratic landslide victory in 2008. It’s as obvious to me that none of the current Republicans can win the presidency in 2008, just as it was clear to me that Bob Dole was not going to beat Bill Clinton in 1996. I’m so hopeful about this, that I believe we could just about run Porky Pig against whoever the Republican is going to be, and win. Of course, I’m not going to just sit on my butt waiting for this to happen…

    I fully expect that while there will be elation over this from most quarters in the country – TGBG, or Thank God Bush is Gone – in reality nothing much is going to change, domestically. “More of the same, with better metrics” indeed. There are the subtle differences among candidates that you mention, but nothing big. The radical right will take a breather, and then regroup for the next assault, a few years later. In the meantime we’ll all be whooped up over how great it is that Bush is gone.

    The right has so screwed up the country that even the most radical of leftish presidents will find themselves severly constrained and undermined by the damage these clowns have done, to say nothing of the large amount of right wing media infrastructure that they’ll have to contend with.

    My fear is that it’s going to take some big disaster, a truly major, undeniable shipwreck of this country, where we finally hit bottom and begin to wake up from all the “conservative” garbage that has been rammed down our throast, and that will be rammed down our throats for the foreseeable future, whether a Democrat wins in 2008 or not. My fear is that only when we’re at the bottom – as we were in 1932 – will the country be ready to get past cosmetic tinkering and get serious about root problems.

    An even greater fear, is that by the time this happens, our economic and political star will have faded from the sky, and it will be too late. Grover Norquist’s dream of drowning the beast will have been realized. I believe that the right learned its lessons from the last Great Depression, and is attempting to get it right this time. Our country could well get fascism over a revived form of FDR’s socialism this time.

    And so despite my hopeful vision of victory in 2008, I’m not at all optimistic that our country can be rescued.

  2. khughes1963  •  Apr 14, 2007 @6:54 pm

    Some thoughts on this. The diaries and comment both provide excellent observations, and I too read Kuttner’s column today. What’s interesting is that the wingnuts will castigate Hillary Clinton as being too “liberal,” and if Hillary is elected President they may try to bring up the same type of circus the public endured during Bill Clinton’s administration. I agree with Moonbat in that I too fear a major economic shipwreck of our economy, and the possibility that a form of American fascism could prove to be appealing to a majority of the public if our economy does implode. In his book “American Fascists,” Chris Hedges notes that he could see the Religious Right becoming a revolutionary movement a la the Nazi Party or the Italian Fascists if the economy collapses or if we have another 9/11 style attack.

    My specific concern is that the debt mountain upon which the current American economy rests will implode, and the current rash of sub-prime mortgage foreclosures merely represents the first warning sign of what might happen.

    Maha-I agree with you that the current crop of “conservatives” are really pseudo-conservatives. Alan Pell Crawford published a book back in 1980 called “Thunder on the Right” in which he made much the same argument. Crawford considers himself a classic conservative, and he thought the Birchers and the hangers-on that came to power with Reagan were anything but classic conservatives.

  3. erinyes  •  Apr 14, 2007 @7:23 pm

    Good’un Maha, and great comments from Moonbat and Khughes1963.
    We need to stop referring to the criminals as “clowns” , they need to be prosecuted, jailed, and beyond if necessary.
    In the words of the Incredible Hulk, “it’s clobbering time!”
    Watch Ron Paul. That dude will rise like nothing ever seen before.

  4. Zappatero  •  Apr 14, 2007 @8:30 pm

    My biggest concern with Bush from almost day 1 was his economic policies. The combination of tax inequity and global pressures could easily send us into a depression. Of course, if we’re all dead our tax rates won’t matter too much.

    I believe that the right learned its lessons from the last Great Depression.

    This I completely disagree with. Grover somehow managed to escape the whole Abramoff/Cash funneling/K Street corruption and his evil minions are still on the move.

    Though TABOR type tax perversions were finally seen to have failed here in CO, our local atavist congressman Doug Lamborn has not learned the lessons of his own state wrt TABOR. He’s defended it and wants to nationalize it.

    That would surely bring on a depression, which I don’t think would bother any of those guys one bit.

  5. jen  •  Apr 14, 2007 @8:32 pm

    I don’t advocate a wholesale return to the policies of either FDR or LBJ, and I don’t believe Kuttner does, either. The point is that we need someone who’s got the cojones to steer the ship of state in an entirely new direction, and bleep the special interests, corporations, and the Right Wing echo chamber.

    Once Wes Clark gets in the race, it will be a whole new ballgame. He is the perfect person for these times and I think with lessons learned from his last run, and the shape our country is in, he’s going to blow the media-declared “frontrunners” out of the water.

    The beauty of a Clark candidacy is that many assume he’s a moderate because of his military credentials, but those who know him know he’s more liberal than any of the current candidates with the possible exception of Kucinich. He is unmatched in his FP, diplomatic and executive expertise, and is already respected by leaders around the world.

    We can not at this time in history accept a business as usual candidate and expect this country to survive. Although the current candidates speak a good game, their past actions show they are for the most part more of the same.

  6. joanr16  •  Apr 14, 2007 @9:39 pm

    [W]e need someone who’s got the cojones to steer the ship of state in an entirely new direction, and bleep the special interests, corporations, and the Right Wing echo chamber.

    If that ever came to pass, what a wonderful world it would be. Unfortunately, I share moonbat’s assessment that, once the last confetti has fallen from those TGBIG parties, it’ll be back to bidness as usual, since the special interests and corporations get all presidents elected, and so many of those groups resonate to the RW echo chamber.

    We need to elect more Wellstones, and even Jim Webbs, to Congress. We need to shore up the sociopolitical organizations that support electoral reform, separation of church and state, renewable energy, and appropriate use of our tax dollars. (Even the triage list for cleaning up Bush II’s unholy mess will be controversial amongst the victorious Dems of 2008.)

    Still, there’s a lot more optimism in the comments above than I’ve seen in a while. If we’re energized and hopeful, we can bring that to the party… or Party, as may be.

  7. Swami  •  Apr 14, 2007 @9:55 pm

    And I think by now most of ‘em have realized his allegedly great leadership after 9/11 was mostly hype.

    Mostly?…It was all hype. A charade of the highest order.. a custom made suit of illusion aptly tailored to dress up a void of real leadership.

    POP QUIZ. Which quote is the plagiarized counterfeit ?

    1) ” We will not flag,we will not fail”

    2) ” We will not falter, we will not fail”

    hint..One of them was the great leader Winston Churchill and the other one was a low rent illusionist trying to leach off the spirit of Churchill’s leadership.

  8. moonbat  •  Apr 14, 2007 @11:11 pm

    Zapatero, I was being extremely cynical when I wrote:

    …the right learned its lessons from the last Great Depression.

    You wrote:

    …that would surely bring on a depression, which I don’t think would bother any of those guys one bit.

    I completely agree with you. What I meant was the right is not going to let FDR-style, New Deal socialism come back, if/n/when the economy collapses. This is the lesson they’ve learned. We’ll get fascism instead, which we came close to getting in the 1930s.

  9. tony sacco  •  Apr 15, 2007 @12:07 am

    All great powers have fallen–ROME-SPAIN-FRANCE-ENGLAND, and now it’s UNITED STATES’S turn, they all fought the world and lost.
    It’s all about economics, the money spent suporting their troops and interest in other lands became too much of a burden, forgetting domestic policy, they were all bullies and because of that, they were hated, and this the same pattern UNITED STATES now finds itself.
    I lived in the depression, it was bad, my parents abandoned us children, I was seperated, adopted and never saw my parents and sister again.Yes socialism was started in the 30’s, but the war stopped socialism from taken hold. At 17 I got into the Navy and received my first pair of shoes together with my uniform.
    I’m 80 now with a few years left, what will save UNITED STATES,, I don’t know.

  10. joanr16  •  Apr 15, 2007 @9:56 am

    Swami, I’m just going with my gut here, but I think #1 was Churchill, #2 was Dubya (who doesn’t know “flag” can be a verb; he thinks it’s just something people wave as a sign that they’ve been properly hypnotized).

  11. CF  •  Apr 15, 2007 @10:34 am

    Tony Sacco,

    Things in America could indeed return to the situation you lived through. Thanks for giving us youngsters the long view. Our job to keep it from happening.

  12. MNPundit  •  Apr 15, 2007 @11:26 am

    So the question is, do the American people actually support a program of unabashed progressivism (perhaps liberalism, a bit different) when push comes to shove?

    Time to find out.

  13. BPx3  •  Apr 15, 2007 @12:39 pm

    @12: “So the question is, do the American people actually support a program of unabashed progressivism (perhaps liberalism, a bit different) when push comes to shove?”

    Wrong question, in my opinion.

    This question has been asked and answered thousands of times over the past six years (every time an opinion survey is taken). In every survey I’ve seen, a solid majority of the respondents support policies that are currently called “progressive” (preservation of social security and medicare, establishment of universal health care, increase in the minimum wage, etc., etc.)

    The unanswered question is: When will Democratic elected officials begin to implement the policies that already have the support of a solid majority of the American public, but are opposed by major corporate donors for selfish and short-sighted reasons?

  14. Zappatero  •  Apr 15, 2007 @2:32 pm

    moonbat – 10-4.

  15. MNPundit  •  Apr 15, 2007 @9:40 pm

    @13

    The better question is, “Can they do so at all?”

    That will be interesting to see.



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