I would think a good start would involve actually being liberal and representing the people instead of the corporate interests. It might also help to actually campaign in places outside of the enclaves where Democratic support is pretty much a given. Here in Texas Beto O’Rourke is actually giving the humanoid lizard Ted Cruz a serious challenge.
I’m taking a pause from journalism – while I’m gone, can someone please tell the Democrats that they need to stop betraying the movements that support them
Fri 27 Jul 2018
The other day I noticed, with something of a shock, that Brett Kavanaugh, the supreme court nominee, is almost exactly the same age as me. I have always scoffed at those of my generation who cynically hitched their star to the conservative movement but now, as I take my leave from this space, it occurs to me that maybe they played the game right after all.
I started out in journalism in the orange-fingered sunset of the Reagan era. The rise of the right, I felt back then, was the most consequential development of my lifetime, and understanding it was where I came to focus my energies.
What came to fascinate me was the paradox of the thing. Republicans had successfully inverted their historical brand-image as the party of the highborn, remaking themselves as plain-talking pals of the forgotten people who had so spurned them during the Great Depression. Republicanism’s payload, however, was the same as it had been in 1932. And just look at what conservatism proceeded to do to those average people once they welcomed it into their lives.
But understanding the perversity of rightwing populism only brought me to another mystery: the continuing failure of liberals to defeat this thing, even as its freakishness and destructiveness became apparent to everyone. My brain twirls to think that rightwing populism is still running strong in 2018 – that it’s even worse now than it was in 1988 – that the invective and the journalism and the TV shows and all the mournful books about the decline of the middle class have amounted, basically, to nothing.
We had the perfect opportunity to reverse course in 2008, after a deregulatory catastrophe sent the billionaires shrieking for handouts and ruined middle America as collateral damage. That was the perfect moment for liberals to reclaim their Rooseveltian heritage by governing forcefully on behalf of ordinary people, by warring against over-powerful corporations, by demonstrating the power of the state to build a just and humane society. But they didn’t do it.
I know the excuses: those Republicans were so clever, they wouldn’t vote for Obama’s proposals, etc. But from the long-term perspective, what really mattered was the absence of Democratic will. Instead of doing what the moment required, Democrats chose to help the banks get back on their feet and to stand by as inequality soared; they scolded their base for wanting too much and they extended their hand instead to Silicon Valley and big pharma. The task of capturing public anger was one they regarded with distaste; they left that to Tea Party demagogues and to Donald Trump.
We are going to pay for that failure for a long time. The GOP should have been ruined by the financial crisis; instead the culture wars are raging all over again, with dog whistles and fights over the flag and the persecution mania of the populist right blaring from the TV screen. We’re right back where we started. The crisis went completely to waste.
For all their cunning, Republicans are a known quantity. Their motives are simple: they will do anything, say anything, profess faith in anything to get tax cuts, deregulation and a little help keeping workers in line. Nothing else is sacred to them. Rules, norms, traditions, deficits, the Bible, the constitution, whatever. They don’t care, and in this they have proven utterly predictable.
The Democrats, however, remain a mystery. We watch them hesitate at crucial moments, betray the movements that support them, and even try to suppress the leaders and ideas that generate any kind of populist electricity. Not only do they seem uninterested in doing their duty toward the middle class, but sometimes we suspect they don’t even want to win.
(This is more than just a suspicion, by the way. As none other than Tony Blair has said, “I wouldn’t want to win on an old-fashioned leftist platform. Even if I thought it was the route to victory, I wouldn’t take it.”)