Wednesday, November 30, 2016


You will be astonished to learn that Ross Douthat thinks it might be a good idea for Democrats to become more conservative:
Since Election Day the great intra-Democratic debate over What Went Wrong has been dominated by two visions of how liberalism should be organized, identity politics versus economic solidarity....

This is an interesting and fruitful debate ... but it has been mostly about a debate about two different ways of being (sometimes very) left-wing. There has been much less conversation about the ways in which the Democratic Party might consider responding to its current straits by moving to the right.
Before I got to the end of Douthat's column, I was guessing that he meant Democrats should tack right on social issues. That was an easy prediction:
For instance: Democrats could attempt to declare a culture-war truce, consolidating the gains of the Obama era while disavowing attempts to regulate institutions and communities that don’t follow the current social-liberal line. That would mean no more fines for Catholic charities and hospitals, no more transgender-bathroom directives handed down from the White House to local schools, and restraint rather than ruthlessness in future debates over funding and accreditation for conservative religious schools.
That's classic Douthat. But he also thinks Democrats should move right -- not all the way, of course! -- on the social safety net, immigration, crime, and terrorism; "both identitarian and populist liberals" should "accept that open borders and desexed bathrooms and a guaranteed income and mass refugee resettlement will remain somewhat-radical causes rather than simply and naturally becoming the Democratic Party line."

I can understand why a conservative would want Democrats to reorient themselves in this way. But why would Democrats want to?

Because, Douthat writes, moving toward the center works:
It’s what Democrats did, slowly but surely, after the trauma of Ronald Reagan’s triumphs; it’s what Bill Clinton did after his 1994 drubbing; it’s what Rahm Emanuel and Howard Dean did, to a modest degree, on their way to building a congressional majority in 2006. And it’s also what Donald Trump did on his way to stealing the Midwest from the Democrats this year -- he was a hard-right candidate on certain issues but a radical sort of centrist on trade, infrastructure and entitlements, explicitly breaking with Republican orthodoxies that many voters considered out-of-date.
But it's not what Republicans usually do. After Richard Nixon resigned, Republicans started their comeback in the late 1970s with the hard line on taxes represented by California's Proposition 13 in 1978. Two years later, the far-right Ronald Reagan won the presidency for the GOP.

Republicans lost the White House in 1992 -- and came back with two years later with Newt Gingrich's ideologically pure agenda. After the George W. Bush presidency, Republicans came back again by letting their angry-right Tea Party flag fly.

And is Trump heading to the White House because he ran as a "sort of centrist"? Yes, the populist talk had some impact, but his base was really inspired by the wall and the Muslim ban and the endless denunciations of "political correctness." He attacked Black Lives Matter and the media and Obamacare and the Clintons. He promised to torture and to "bomb the shit out of" ISIS. That was centrism?

And even if his deviations from GOP orthodoxy were what put him over the top, what explains the success of other Republicans, both in 2016 and in the last few election cycles? Douthat is right about this:
The Democratic coalition is a losing coalition in most states, most House districts, most Senate races; the party’s national bench is thin, its statehouse power shattered, its congressional leadership aged and inert. It has less political power than it did after the Reagan revolution and the Gingrich sweep.
In terms of offices held at the federal, state, and local levels, the GOP is more powerful than it's been since the 1920s. Until Trump came along, the party got there with ideological purity, not with moves to the left.

It works for the GOP because incessant GOP brand-building, especially on Fox and talk radio, turns out voters in every election. Even the intraparty squabbling of the Tea Party era brought out the vote. Democrats claim to be the party of the have-nots, but their candidates tack to the center too much, in words and in deeds. So plenty of voters just don't believe they stand for what they say they stand for. By contrast, everyone knows that Republicans stand for God, guns, and political incorrectness.

Democrats don't need to moderate. Voters already believe that they water down their message. They need to persuade the electorate that they actually stand for something.


Victor said...

Douche-hat and Bobo had a chance his election to point out how really, really horrible a t-RUMP presidency would be for average Americans - especially with a GOP Congress.
But, they dropped the ball - as always. They waffled and mumbled, and wasted their prime real estate AGAIN!!!

Frank Wilhoit said...

I wrote as long ago as 1987 that civilization has lost its fan club.

The classical Right-Left spectrum has failed. Today it can only serve as a distraction.

There are two meaningful dichotomies.

The dichotomy of Weltanschauung (not showing off; if you know of an English equivalent, please share) is between rural and urban civilizations, which have nothing in common, right down to the level of foundational moral precepts -- things at the level of the Ten Commandments. Accordingly, they cannot coexist. Soon or late, one must subordinate the other.

The practical dichotomy is between accountability and unaccountability. On the level of practical politics, every proposal of the Right has the effect of reducing the accountability of some favored actor -- business, the Church, "law" "enforcement", the Deep State, etc. The Left is left to defend the proposition that the law must bind and protect everyone. But only a handful of persons alive today have ever seen the law used as anything other than a political weapon. For every one who can tell a story of how they have benefited from the rule of law, a thousand will tell stories of how they have been harmed by it.

ladyblug said...

Gerrymandering doesn't help!

Professor Chaos said...

When Democrats lose an election, the pundits always say they should move right of they ever want to win again. When Democrats win an election, the pundits say they should move right to "reach out" to GOP voters in the spirit of "unity" or whatever. They trot out the same template after each election and just fill in the names.

Ed Baptist said...

It's not that hard to see how all those GOP efforts to increase appeal after the 2012 defeat led to their victory this year.