Before I get to the substance of an excellent post by Maha, I’ll add my standard disclaimer that, were I to vote today, I would vote Warren. The other disclaimer is by Maha herself, who writes:
I don’t want this to be just about Sanders, or just about the presidential field in 2020. This is about a powerful minority faction that assumes it has the sole right to determine who is a “real Democrat” and to set the agenda of the Democratic Party. And they don’t. Not any more.
Anyway, onto where the real ideological rigidity in the party lies (boldface mine):
I admit I sometimes find myself getting annoyed by people who will not accept even a shade of difference from their ideal policy proposal. But IMO such people are a minority, and such people are not the Democrats’ real problem when it comes to purity tests.
The landslide defeat of George McGovern in 1972 may have persuaded the Democrats to avoid the appearance of radicalism, but by the defeat of Walter Mondale in 1984 a rising faction of the Democratic party believed that even the legacy of the New Deal was too far from the mainstream.
The Democratic Leadership Council formed in the 1980s to give the party a new direction, and that direction was to the Right. The DLC proposed to reduce the role of unions, get tough on crime, cut spending, balance budgets, “reform” welfare, and promote free trade. The DLC’s best-known chairman was Bill Clinton, and when Clinton won the White House in 1992 it enshrined the DLC agenda as party orthodoxy…
In 1992, the DLC approach may have been justified as a pragmatic accommodation to the dominance of Reaganism and movement conservatism. An influential paper from PPI argued in 1989 that Democratic “programs must be shaped and defended within an inhospitable ideological climate, and they cannot by themselves remedy the electorate’s broader antipathy to contemporary liberalism.” In other words, the Dems had to acknowledge that “liberalism” was a dirty word and that they were playing defense on the Right’s field. This, too, became party orthodoxy.
However, as the Right grew more extreme and less capable of so much as tying its shoes, never mind govern, Democratic Party orthodoxy didn’t adjust. Even after the “blue wave” years of 2006 and 2008, and the election of Barack Obama, Dem leaders remained stuck in 1992 and offered no real alternative to the Right. Democrats were rigidly fixed to the idea that they were playing defense in the Right’s field, and the only policy ideas that they would countenance were those considered to be “safe” and possibly even attractive to centrist Republicans.
What irks me about Dems who whine that the leftie-progressive wing are “purists” is that it’s the centrist-DLC-Third Way crowd, which has dominated the party agenda for many years, that set rigidly narrow limits on which policy ideas were considered legitimate and which were out of bounds and could not be taken seriously. Why aren’t they the “purists”?
They call themselves “pragmatic,” but what they really are is blind. They are the ones who rendered the Democratic Party irrelevant to much of the working class. They are the ones who pissed away Rust Belt votes. They are the ones who made room for the right-wing populism that made Donald Trump president…
But for most of the 1990s and 2000s the Democratic Party has functioned as a huge barrier that only allowed the most modest and unoriginal ideas to be promoted.
Even its one progressive signature bill, the Affordable Care Act, was a warmed over Heritage Foundation idea that had been tried out in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney. I would be the first to say that, as hard as it was to pass the ACA, a genuine single-payer bill wouldn’t have been possible in 2009. But it was the Democratic Party itself that had helped establish the parameters what was too “radical” and what wasn’t.
This trend was exacerbated by the need (and desire) for campaign contributions. There was a NY Times story this week about how wealthy donors and political operatives are panicking over the possible prospect of a Sanders nomination. Leaving aside how much work “Democrats” is doing to make it seem like wealthy movie producers and former Republican political operatives are representative of the Democratic Party, their fear is real*.
After this week’s excellent performance by Sanders on Fox, one wonders if what really scares them is that the guy who is very good at reaching out to the white and conservative-ish voters the New Democrats have always valued is… Bernie Sanders.
The wheel turns, I suppose.
*New Democrat/Clinton-aligned political operatives also realize that 2020 is the last chance for most of them to gain administration positions. After that, most of them will be too old and their patrons too far removed from power to really help them.