Will a New Democratic Government Return to 1932 Or Be Prepared for the 21st Century?

Writing in The Atlantic, Ross Douthat sees parallels to another period in which the Democrats were routed in a presidential election only to take control of Congress in the midterm elections, followed by total Democratic control of the government in the next presidential election. This was when FDR won overwhelmingly in 1932, and we may see a repeat in 2008. While I do not anticipate as tremendous a Democratic victory in 2008 as in 1932, there is an excellent chance that George W. Bush will be remembered as doing even more harm to the nation than Herbert Hoover. Douthat believes that the Democrats are more prepared to govern than in recent yeras as they are more united:

So the opening has passed to the Democrats, who suddenly and unexpectedly have the makings of a durable majority of their own within their grasp. What’s more, they have the outlines of a message that might allow them to seize that majority. The issues that split the Democratic Party throughout the Clinton years—between the center and the left, the deficit hawks and the Great Society liberals, The New Republic and The Nation, Robert Rubin and Robert Reich—still stir passionate debate, but in recent years the factions have been converging. This convergence has been particularly evident in foreign policy, where the debate over the Iraq War has been decisively settled in favor of the opponents of preventive war. But it may prove more enduring on the domestic front, where the gap between the left and the center-left has closed dramatically since the days when the two sides feuded bitterly over everything from free trade to health care to welfare reform.

On the one hand, you have The New Republic, the flagship magazine of centrist liberals, expressing regret for its role in derailing the Clinton health-care plan in the 1990s; on the other, you have the left-wing economist James Galbraith counseling readers of The Nation that “it’s time to get over” the free-trade battles of the ’90s and accept that both NAFTA and manufactured imports from China are here to stay. Protectionism and corporation bashing still find an audience, but even John Edwards, the progressives’ darling in the ’08 race, is running on an antipoverty platform that seeks to build on, rather than overturn, the welfare settlement of the mid-’90s, and is pushing a relatively market-friendly plan for universal health care. At the same time, many of the architects of Bill Clinton’s deficit-cutting centrism—including Larry Summers and even Robert Rubin—are paying greater attention to left-wing concerns over outsourcing and growing income inequality.

The result is an emerging consensus that uses the centrist achievements of the ’90s as a jumping-off point for a new-model populism. Conservatives have spent years mocking liberals for lacking big new ideas, and in a sense their charge still rings true. But the new-model populists have a big old idea, universal health care, that’s increasingly popular, and a host of smaller ideas—from wage insurance to assist the victims of outsourcing to universal 401(k) programs to help working-class families build assets for their children—all paid for, presumably, by tax hikes on the rich.

This populist mind set is unlikely to work for long in a post-industrial society where a growing number aspire to be wealthy and at least have a fighting chance at a fair degree of affluence. The failure of many Democrats to understand this is a major reason whey the Republicans ruled until their incompetence and corruption was too much for even those who have historically benefited from Republican government.

Counting on some potentially favorable trends might ultimately backfire for the Democrats:

These are the short-term trends that helped tip ’06 to the Democrats; in the long term, a new-model populism’s prospects look brighter still. The Republicans are to a large extent the party of married couples with children, while the Democrats are the party of unmarried voters, who tend to be more sensitive to economic risk, and thus more supportive of welfare spending, than members of intact nuclear families. But the nuclear family has been in steady decline for years, pushed along by falling marriage rates and rising out-of-wedlock births, trends that are likely to create an ever-larger base for a left-populist majority.

Relying on those who suffer economically to make a majority worked fine during the depression, but is also a major reason why the Republicans have controlled the White House for a majority of the post World War II era. By supporting the war and adopting the social policies of the religious right, the Republicans have made themselves unattractive to a growing number of people of all socioeconomic backgrounds As a consequence, a growing number of “Starbucks Republicans” and independents are voting Democratic, along with those living in affluent suburbs.

Opposition to Republican policies, both on social issues and the war, makes it easy for affluent independents and former Republicans to vote Democratic in the short run. Whether the Democrats can keep such votes depends upon the policies they promote once in power. Edwards-style populism, as well as economic arguments which pit those at economic risk against the successful, will have these new Democratic voters willing to overlook what might be dismissed as a few nutty ideas and return to voting Republican.

Republicans have often made the mistake of thinking they can profit indefinitely by only concentrating on defending the rights of the wealthy. Ultimately businesses are more profitable when there is a prosperous middle class which can afford to spend money. Many Democrats make the same mistake in reverse, seeing going after the wealth of the affluent as an easy solution as opposed to improving the economy for all.

The problems with the world views of both the Democratic and Republican Parties is one reason for the Perot movement of the recent past and the interest in an independent candidate in 2008. In an educated affluent post-industrial nation neither the social conservativism and disastrous foreign policy beliefs of the Republicans or the populism of portions of the Democratic Party provide a satisfactory alternative to many voters. The question is whether the Democrats realize it is not 1932 and develop a governing philosophy for the 21st century or see recent electoral advantages as an excuse for advocating reactionary populism.

Democrats Continue to be Haunted by Failure to Stand Up To Republicans on Terrorism Issue Since 9/11

A report on terrorism policy in today’s Washington Post shows the problems the Democrats have had since 9/11. While the Democrats sought national unity following the attack, the Republicans played politics instead, setting up a situation where failing to agree with GOP policies was portrayed as being soft on fighting terrorism.

Once it was clear that the Republicans were playing politics with the terrorism issue, the Democrats should have stood up for preserving our liberties regardless of the threat. Basing their objection on such principles would not only be the right thing to do, but would provide the Democrats with a political argument they could campaign on. Democrats have also failed to make the case that restricting civil liberties is playing into the hands of terrorists and only acts to encourage them to continue this strategy.

Having failed to make the case based upon liberties, the Democrats now find themselves in a political bind:

The Democrats’ failure to rein in wiretapping without warrants, close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay or restore basic legal rights such as habeas corpus for terrorism suspects has opened the party’s leaders to fierce criticism from some of their staunchest allies — on Capitol Hill, among liberal bloggers and at interest groups.

At the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress yesterday, panelists discussing the balance between security and freedom lashed out at Democratic leaders for not standing up to the White House. “These are matters of principle,” said Mark Agrast, a senior fellow at the center. “You don’t temporize.”

The American Civil Liberties Union is running Internet advertisements depicting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) as sheep.

“Bush wanted more power to eavesdrop on ordinary Americans, and we just followed along. I guess that’s why they call us the Democratic leadersheep,” say the two farm animals in the ad, referring to Congress’s passage of legislation granting Bush a six-month extension and expansion of his warrantless wiretapping program.

Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.), who leads a newly created House select intelligence oversight panel, lamented, “Democrats have been slow to recognize they are in the majority now and can go back to really examine the fundamentals of what we should be doing to protect democracy.”

Reid and Pelosi promised last week that they would at least confront the president next month over his wiretapping program, with Pelosi taking an uncompromising stand in a private conference call with House Democrats. When lawmakers return in September, Democrats will also push legislation to restore habeas corpus rights for terrorism suspects and may resume an effort to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But conservative Democrats and some party leaders continue to worry that taking on those issues would expose them to Republican charges that they are weak on terrorism. And advocates of a strong push on the terrorism issues are increasingly skeptical that they can prevail.

Democrats would be in a far stronger position if they had made the case for liberty from the start as opposed to allowing the Republicans to frame the issue as being for or against defending the country against terrorism. Democrats might also find themselves having a harder time than anticipated in the 2008 election should Clinton or Edwards win the nomination considering their poor track records on the issue.

Study Argues US Troops Can Be Withdrawn From Iraq Safely in One Year

A study from the Center for American Progress projects that US troops can be withdrawn from Iraq in about one year:

Most U.S. troops can be withdrawn safely from Iraq in roughly one year and the Bush administration should begin planning the pullout immediately, according to a study released Wednesday.

With the exception mostly of two brigades of about 8,000 troops who would remain in the touchy Kurdish region in the north for a year to guard against conflict with Turkey, the U.S. troops would be moved to Kuwait initially, says the study by the Center for American Progress, a self-described ”progressive think tank” headed by John D. Podesta, a former chief of staff to former President Clinton.

A brigade and an air wing of some 70 to 80 planes would remain in the Persian Gulf country indefinitely. Meanwhile, the withdrawal would give the United States leeway to add 20,000 troops to the 25,000 in Afghanistan trying to counter Taliban and al Qaida forces.

How fast the troops depart from Iraq and go home depends largely on how much essential equipment goes along with the withdrawal, according to the study.

The troops could be out of Iraq in no more than three months if the equipment is left behind, a course not proposed in the study.

On the other hand, ”if the United States does not set a specific timetable, our military forces and our overall national security will remain hostage to events on the ground in Iraq,” the report said.

Even worse, an all-out civil war could compel a withdrawal of the U.S. troops, now numbering about 160,000, in three months’ time, which would force leaving valuable equipment behind and preventing control of an orderly exodus, the report said.

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