Friday, April 27, 2012

The Democrats' always-duck-your-head-and-apologize-for-existing approach to partisan politics

Charlie Pierce has a good summary of the neoliberal evolution of the Democratic Party, though the post tile is a bit sensationalist, The Great Surrendering: How Cabal Became Our Politics Esquire Politics Blog 04/26/2012.

Referring to Obama's recent Esquire interview in which the President includes yet another statement of hope that some Republicans will see that he represents sweet reason, Pierce comments, "Because they can't look honestly at what they've done to themselves, the Democrats generally engage in semi-annual unicorn hunts in which they go off in search of reasonable Republicans with whom they can deal." I'm surprised he didn't expand on the unicorn metaphor with a twist on unicorns and virgins, because there must be a good way to work that in.

What Pierce means by what the Democrats have done to themselves is this:

I think I can — and recently have — offered at least a partial answer. It, of course, began to happen in the 1960's, when the Democrats allied themselves with the civil-rights movement and lost the South and those parts of the North where people thought the South had a point. But it really accelerated in the 1970's, when the Democratic party overreacted to what happened to George McGovern and began whoring after corporate money, an effort that required them to abandon at least partly their traditional allies in the civil-rights and labor movements, and to soften their positions on a number of important issues, and basically inculcated into the party a permanent instinct for accommodation and surrender that was only strengthened after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. The rise of the Democratic Leadership Council was, in its own way, one of the largest white flags in the history of American politics. In fact, one of the most dismal weekends of my life came at the 1982 Democratic "Mid-Term" Convention, where it became plain that great progressives like the late Billie Carr of Texas were no longer welcomed by the party's serious people.

At that point, the Republican fringe was empowered by the simple fact that there now was no political entity pushing back at them with a force equal to theirs in the opposite direction. At the very least, the Democrats could be counted upon to give them some of what they wanted, at which point they would scream and holler and nobody noticed that the "Center" was drifting in their direction. And when they overreached — the Clinton Impeachment, Schiavo, the entire Bush presidency — they didn't have to regroup. I've often used Stalin's order to the Red Army to describe this — Ni shagu nazad: Not one step backwards — and it's true. They fight like they do not care what happens to the country either way. They fight as though they don't care if they burn their party down. The Democrats fight like they care about both things. The Democrats stopped taking risks 30 years ago. Faced with nihilism, they reach for the olive branch, which is generally sent back to them in ashes.
David Atkins at Hullabaloo quotes Thomas Franks' book Pity the Millionaire on the attitude of the neoliberal Democrats (The problem in a nutshell 04/27/2012):

Oh, but a country where everyone listens to specialists and gets along – that's a utopia these new Dems regard with prayerful reverence. They dream of bipartisanship and states that-are-neither-red-nor-blue and some reasonably-arrived-at consensus future where the culture wars cease and everyone improves their SAT scores forevermore under the smiling, beneficent sun of free trade and the knowledge industries.
Neither of their comments directly addresses the other big problem in this process: the Cold War that thrived on threat inflation that was replaced by a bipartisan consensus of American triumphalism and a world-dominance foreign policy strategy (no "peer competitors") that has been enhanced for the last ten years by the War on Terror and the even more absurd threat inflation that goes with it.

But Pierce and Franks both give good summaries there of the Democratic Party's current situation on domestic and economic issues.

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