Reblogged: Dimwits and losing America
Revisionist Political History
I have often concluded domestic political analysis with "The Democrats still don't get it."
Well, have heart. For those with latent progressive tendencies (aka Reagan Democrats), there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Peter Beinart, editor-at-large at The New Republic, offers this defense of President Bill Clinton's legacy,
The moral and intellectual critique [of Clinton's legacy by liberal activists, and by Republicans] starts with the assertion that Clinton stood for little other than his own political survival. By draining the party of its core convictions, the critics allege, he left Democrats in the intellectual wasteland in which they find themselves today.
The charge ignores two small things: the 1970s and the 1980s. In reality, the Democratic Party didn't lose the confidence of its convictions when Clinton became president; it lost them when he was in graduate school.
From Harry Truman through Lyndon Johnson, Democrats stood for three basic things: enlightened anti-communism, an expanding welfare state, and racial integration. Between 1968 and 1972, under pressure from Vietnam and racial conflict, two of those three collapsed. By 1972, George McGovern was urging the virtual abandonment of anticommunism and advocating racial quotas. Then, in 1976, Democrats nominated a relative economic conservative, Jimmy Carter, who showed little interest in extending Johnson's Great Society largesse. And, poof--there went principle number three.
From 1976 to 1992, each Democratic presidential nominee tried to put Humpty Dumpty back together, and each failed, until Clinton.
He became the first candidate in two decades to offer a coherent response. His adviser Bill Galston called it the "politics of reciprocal responsibility." Government would provide opportunity, but it would demand responsibility in return; it would not give something for nothing.
If Clinton convinced Americans that government action could be moral, he also convinced them that it could be responsible. By reducing the budget deficit, he helped restore the Democratic Party's reputation for economic stewardship, which had been gravely damaged under Carter. And, by using market mechanisms to achieve traditional liberal goals, he found ways to fight poverty in an environment where large new programs were politically impossible.
Except it ignores two small things: the 1980s and the 1990s. These decidedly non-liberal ideas, morality in government, fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility, free market mechanisms, were germinated and pushed for by a rejuvenated Republican Party, rejuvenated by Reagan's Democrats. Clinton, ever the politician, saw the change in political winds and tacked his sails accordingly. It has been the Democratic Party since then, controlled by liberal activists, that persists in sailing due east, when the wind is blowing directly west.
Clinton was not a visionary; he was a very intelligent pragmatist. And that is the only legacy his presidency holds for the Democratic Party.
Yes, the Democratic Party lost their way long ago. But it was the Republican Party that found it for them.
That is what they still don't get.