New Democrats are not amused


It was their party and they’ll cry if they want to. Centrist Democrats threatened by the party’s Warren Wing find themselves out of step with a more populist message. Is it really a “lurch” to the left, or are Democrats beginning to find their voices again? Liberal is no longer the epithet conservatives once made it.

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank explained last week how a few remaining Blue Dogs made protest votes during the election for Speaker of the House. “Colin Powell,” declared Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper. “Jim Cooper,” voted Gwen Graham of Florida, another centrist Democrat. Other Democrats voted in unison for Nancy Pelosi. Except for Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. She voted for Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat.

Third Way, “a vestige of the New Democratic movement,” issued a report that blames the populist wing for the Democrats losing ground and registration since 2008. Democrats should “rigorously question the electoral value of today’s populist agenda,” Third Way argues. Milbank is not so sure:

It was a good effort, but Third Way came up short. First, there really aren’t two wings of the party anymore; the pro-business Democrats have lost. “There’s zero question,” Jonathan Cowan, president of Third Way, acknowledged in an interview Tuesday, “that the party is now a populist party.”

It’s also dubious to say, as Third Way does, that the elections of 2010, 2012 and 2014 were about Democratic populism; that theme has only become prominent recently. Also suspect is the Third Way argument, often heard from corporate interests, that reducing inequality could hurt growth. Plenty of evidence says otherwise.

Greg Sargent at Plum Line cites Ron Brownstein’s analysis:

It’s also worth noting that this would not be the first time that major progressive legislative gains on the national level (such as the Affordable Care Act) have been followed by dramatic losses. After Congress passed major Great Society legislation and Lyndon Johnson signed it in the mid-1960s, Democrats lost dozens of Congressional seats in the 1966 and 1968 elections, which were partly driven by a backlash against Johnson’s expansions of government. Some of the pillars of the Great Society nonetheless endured, and a half century later, programs like Medicare are central to the identity of the Democratic Party and are practically politically sacrosanct.

Ultimately, as Brownstein says, we don’t yet know how much damage the Obama era will have done to the Democratic Party, because the 2016 elections could of course leave the White House in Democratic hands and scale down the Dem losses in Congress. Republicans will probably hold the House into at least the next decade, but much of this has to do with population distribution patterns that have distributed Dem voters inefficiently. (Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman has said that what Dems really need is a “massive resettlement program.”) Meanwhile, on the level of the states, there is the potential for a great deal of turnover of governors’ mansions in the next four years, and we may not know how that will shake out until 2018 and beyond. The long term Dem goal is to be in a better position in the states by 2020, partly in hopes that the next round of redistricting can help break the GOP hammerlock on the House.

That is certainly the mood around here. I don’t have time to spend on the presidential race while Pat McCrory is still living in the governor’s mansion in Raleigh with veto-proof GOP majorities in both houses of the state legislature. Democrat-leaning voters who stayed home in 2010 handed the state to Art Pope, ALEC, and the GOP. Thanks a lot. We are having to work that much harder to dig our way out of the hole.

The Guardian also reports that New Democrats are alarmed by Democratic presidential hopefuls sounding populist themes in the recent debate. Nothing, if not predictable:

“There is no question that the prevailing temper of the Democratic party is populist: strongly sceptical of what we like to call capitalism and angry about the perceived power of the monied elite in politics,” says [Progressive Policy Institute] president and founder Will Marshall.

“But inequality is not the biggest problem we face: it is symptomatic of the biggest problem we face, which is slow growth.”

Translation: It’s not that the 1% is hogging most of the pie; it’s that the pie isn’t expanding fast enough for them.

The Man Who Won’t Leave, Al Frum, advises, “But the question is whether a major political party can sustain itself solely on cultural issues and can have a real shot at governing, if it doesn’t have a growth agenda as part of its programme.” Maybe he should be asking Republicans. Frum tells the Guardian:

“If we are going to be a governing party we have to [focus more on economic growth], but there is not going to be any pressure in the presidential process until we lose an election or two,” concludes From.

“I think we are in for a long period of the Republicans dominating Congress and state legislatures and the Democrats holding the presidency.”

We are if we continue to follow warmed-over DLC remedies and DNC strategies.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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