washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Y2K Decade

I’m surely not alone in thinking today about New Year’s Eve, 1999, when everyone had at least a small nagging fear, and many people were in abject terror, about the possibility of a technological or even economic meltdown associated with the advent of the third millenium.
In a very real way, the Y2K experience was emblematic of the decade that ensued in the United States, characterized by fear, mistrust, disinformation and a growing awareness of the downside of technology-driven globalization. The word “catastrophe” reintered the vocabulary in a big way, whether the subject was the threat of a “dirty bomb,” climate change, or global economic collapse. The upbeat, almost-triumphalist spirit that sometimes accompanied public life in the late 1990s died a slow, noisy death, and pre-existing discontents with the entire Clintonian “New Democrat” mindset on the progressive Left solidified into demands for a very different party structure and message.
Among progressives, at least, the upbeat spirit re-emerged temporarily in 2008, with momentary hopes that a new and enduring political coalition was finally arriving on the scene. While the demographic trends that nourished these hopes were very real, and aren’t going away, the short-term political landscape is obviously more difficult than many expected.
Conservatives, meanwhile, had a very strange and psychologically volatile, decade in almost every respect. They began it with the failed and folly-filled effort to impeach Bill Clinton and got deviously lucky with the sort-of election of George W. Bush. What ensued was a sustained effort to turn back the clock to the economic and social policies of the 1980s (or earlier), accompanied, of course, by a new Cold War frenzy aimed at a new global enemy. The reigning political strategy of the Republican Party in the ‘aughts was Karl Rove’s base-plus gambit that used aggressive polarization to keep his party’s conservative base happy and energized, along with highly targeted swing voter appeals to married white women, Hispanics and seniors. When this strategy failed decisively prior to the 2006 elections, the GOP took a counter-intuitive but very powerful turn to the right, which accelerated notably during and after the 2009 elections, partly as an effort to disassociate conservatism from the record of the Bush administration.
So here we all are, ten years after the night of Y2K, still in fear and uncertainty about the future and even about the facts of our present existence, and still maintaining a deeply ambivalent attitude towards technology and globalization in their many forms. I sincerely hope it’s the end, not a continuation, of an era.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.