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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Rush To the Left?

The appearances by Democratic presidential candidates at the YearlyKos conference (which begins tomorrow) will undoubtedly intensify the “Dems rush to the left” story-line beloved of MSM pundits and conservative bloggers.
At this point, It’s worth following Kevin Drum’s example by asking if the presidentials really reflect, on a substantive level, an abandonment of Clintonian “centrism.” Here’s Kevin’s take:

if YearlyKos were genuinely more substantively powerful than the DLC, you’d see the big three candidates taking public positions considerably to the left of the party’s positions ten years ago. If that’s the case, though, I’ve missed it. No one’s talking about rolling back welfare reform. No one’s proposed a healthcare initiative even half as comprehensive as the 1994 Clinton plan. All three candidates continue to claim they’re personally opposed to gay marriage. Their rhetoric on guns and abortion is much more muted than in the past. They mostly agree that some of the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire, but not much more. They want to get out of Iraq, but that’s a thoroughly mainstream position, and none of them are willing to commit to a complete withdrawal in any case.

I’d add a few flourishes here. A year and a half ago, when the editors of The New Republic followed Al Gore in endorsing a single-payer health care system, I’d have bet serious money that at least one if not more of the major Democratic candidates for president in 2008 would support the same idea. But they didn’t.
The same trend, or lack thereof, is visible on an issue that matched welfare reform in signifying the “centrist” credentials of Democrats in the Clinton years: fiscal discipline. Despite quibbles over exactly how high this candidate or that ranks deficit reduction in his or her hierarchy of priorities, the fact remains that most Democrats are more committed to fiscal discipline–and can prove it–than most Republicans. That would not be true in a party “rushing to the left.”
More immediately, where are the candidates on the intra-party disputes that are most animating the progressive blogosphere at present? One is definitely the “residual troop commitment” issue with respect to Iraq; yet the two leading Democratic candidates persist in supporting residuals, despite netroots arguments that this represent a desire to continue the war indefinitely. And another is impeachment. If any of the major Democratic candidates is going to go to Chicago for YearlyKos and thrill the audience with support for impeachment, it’s a closely held secret.
Kevin doesn’t mention trade policy or education policy, where the case for an abandonment of Clintonism is strongest. But both issues are hard to pigeon-hole ideologically; globaphobia comes from the Right and Center as much as from the Left, and the same is true of deep hostility to No Child Left Behind.
The whole effort to use the DLC and YearlyKos conferences, and who attends one or the other, to show a vast ideological shift in the Democratic Party is misbegotten on several levels. The “Left” nature of the Kos-centered netroots has been grossly exaggerated; and the DLC’s reputation for willingness to support Bush policies has never been well-earned. We’re in a political context right now where Bush’s extremism has simultaneously made virtually all Democrats much more partisan and combative, while opening up the political “‘center” in ways that tend to unite rather than divide progressives on most policy issues. Let’s don’t get too distracted by the “rush to the left” argument.

2 comments on “Rush To the Left?

  1. PhD9 on

    A lot of confusion in this discussion has to do with the difference between what policies are being advocated vs what approach is being advocated to acheive those results.
    I don’t think the Kos crowd is any where near as “left” as they’re depicted to be. What they are however is real tired of people who pretend that centrism should be an opportunity to find accomodation with Republicans. We’ve been screwed too thoroughly for too long to make that mistake.

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  2. Albert Whited on

    The “rush to the left” observation seems really to be from the perspective of the already-right-leaning Sunday morning pundit pulpits. As Ed points out, the rush may be from right-of-center to the center. But if Obama’s declaration today is any indication, his only rush would be to the left of India (into Pakistan). Disturbing.
    Frankly, it’s disappointing to hear none of Dem candidates repudiate the notion of a “war on terror” (as if an ideology could take up arms against anything).
    Somebody or group of sombodies that commits a violent act–no matter how heinous–is a criminal, and should be pursued by law enforcement agencies and forces. If those somebodies take haven on foreign shores, then an international law enforcement effort is begged. An invading American force is seen just as that: an invading American force, which fosters fury and resistance where ere it rolls. But, an international policing force under UN or other multi-national aegis, calls to question a population’s allegience, whether with law and order, or with outlaw and disorder.
    The first Bush II fiasco in Afghanistan was fatally flawed from the outset for just this reason. The U.S. (and what “allies” it could coerce) invaded with the intention of toppling the government of that nation. Like or dislike the Taliban, it was a sovreign government, ostensibly operating with the will of its subjects. Calls for the Taliban to support a multinational policing effort to apprehend al Quaeda leaders, the putative planners of 9/11, probably would have met with cooperation, perhaps with success–especially if they had been engaged diplomatically, as partners.
    Maybe the political motivation for fiasco #2 would never have materialized (viz embarassing failure at not being able to capture bin Laden, and seeking political cover in a “popular” war against Saddam’s Iraq) had the twin tacks of justice and diplomacy been taken from the get-go.
    Now, here is Obama stepping into the same morass. He’d send a U.S. army into Pakistan to tramp around the Eastern side of the same mountains it has as yet had no success in on the Afghani side. A true politics of hope would renounce the semantics of war and embrace the diplomatically supportable semantics of justice.
    While we’re at it (examing rhetoric), it’s time also to abandon the noms de guerre: war on poverty (vs. the impoverished), the war on drugs (vs. the tragically addicted), and the war on crime (vs. both the aformentioned as well as racial minorities).
    A real “rush to the left” would start by expunging the language of the “right” (e.g., “partial-birth” abortion, etc.) from Democratic rhetoric. Already for Labour’s part, the dour Gordon Brown has signalled such a change in Downing Street language (no more “war on terror”). It’s high time Dem candidates did the same.

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