Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Moderating forces and their opposite, Part 2

Democrats moderated after their losing streak in the 60's through the 80's, which included their very wild 60's. The motivating force came from not wanting to lose so many elections, not from the idea that moderation was inherently better. However, many Dems might have started questioning how far the Great Society and welfare state could or would go under the liberal aegis, and they may not have liked what they saw. So a bunch of Dems set up the Democratic Leadership Council. They had a lot of success, with Bill Clinton winning the Democratic nomination, and then the presidency as a 'third way' New Democrat.

No Moderation in the GOP 

The GOP haven't had a moderating period for 35 years, except for a brief period when Bush was campaigning in 2000. He acted like he cared about the environment, but promptly dropped that. He did care about education, but his proposals were always tinged with partisan jabs against teacher unions, who are strong Democratic supporters.

After eight years of Bush as president, suddenly the farthest right component of the GOP realized that he was too moderate and they hadn't gotten what they wanted. They disavowed Bush and became even more hard-core.

Free Rein to Go Left among the Dems

The GOP's pivot to the right allowed the Dems to end their moderation jag. They shifted to the left (though they didn't become more extreme than they were in the 70's). Leaders were no longer claiming to be 'New Democrats.' Nancy Pelosi, the House leader and a big fundraiser for the party, is not from the DLC group but is instead one of founders of the House Progressive Caucus. The DLC disbanded in 2011, but hadn't had much influence since 2000. I'm not sure why, but the driving force and probably the money machine among Dems has been on the progressive side.

The sad consequence of this is that no party right now is trying to be moderate. All this is playing out against a backdrop of the parties becoming more ideologically polarized, rather than being coalitions.

There may not be forces that can correct this. The GOP has managed to fight off the most extreme Tea Partyers, but they certainly haven't become more moderate after their rightward turn in 2008, when their House members at first rejected legislation necessary to stabilize the banks and the economy. Many are still vehemently against TARP and the stimulus, even though these programs were successful in preventing a full blown depression.

If there are moderating forces working in the Democratic party, they aren't apparent to an observer like me. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are still the heads of their respective caucuses. Dems aren't forming new groups to spearhead a centrist message of responsible budget trimming and cost controls for entitlement programs. I wonder whether they need to lose the presidency before that happens. If so, the Dems will end up losing a great deal. 

What's At Stake

If the Dems lose the presidency, the GOP will most likely also have the majority in the House and Senate too. What, aside from Democratic filibusters, will keep the GOP from legislating a lot of their program? The GOP might be able to slice up Obamacare so that it no longer provides access to health insurance for anyone who's hard to insure (older, pre-existing conditions, women of child-bearing age, etc.). The GOP can also remove the Democratic-favored cost-control measures and substitute their own measures--a Medicare voucher system. That will probably lead to a class-based healthcare system for elders rather than the current one which is fairly equal. 

However, if the GOP remains true to form, their first move will be passing tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and that also massively inflate the deficit. If the GOP goes for tax cuts, I don't think they'll attach a sunset clause this time, so the tax cuts will last until the Dems finally win back the White House, House and Senate. How hard will it be to undo what happens in the next few years? Isn't that a good reason to be moderate  now?

Which trajectory will we take?

Extra. Part 1 here.


Anson Burlingame said...


Well written, very well written. We are caught between two extremes in American politics today and it is getting really dangerous, in my view. And we have been heading in that direction since at least 9/11, the day the world turned.

Please forgive me if you become inundated herein. I linked this blog to strong (radical?) lefties in Joplin, MO. You may get some comments from some of them. If you become upset with such publicity just let me know and I will ask the writer of that blog to take down my link, which he will do if asked.


Dangerous said...

No inundation yet. Just us crickets.

MP, I'm not sure I agree with your definition (or labels) for "moderate". To me, moderate is considering all the facts and implications of a policy, long and short term, considering the common good and share of costs of benefits people in our society and beyond will accrue from that policy, and making a decision on actions that maximum return and minimize risk and unfairness.

Naturally, that definition of "moderate" suffers from nuance that the media and politicians (a.k.a. marketers) don't cherish since that doesn't build a customer base. Flame does it so much better.

So it seems to me that your definition of "moderate" is somehow splitting the difference between two sides. That just encourages both sides of a zero-sum argument to move the needle closer to their side and hold out until they get what they want if they can prevent forward movement. That's the litigation strategy today's GOP has endorsed -- and been rewarded for it.

President Obama has been "moderate" to a fault. The GOP, meanwhile -- with your and other commenters' encouragement -- continue to use "liberal" and "progressive" as a cudgel to just halt any discussion of proposals that they find objectionable, even if they would be better for everyone.

The real radicals with any influence are all on the Right. Your demand for the "Left" or "Liberals" or "Progressive" to moderate ignores that the Dems are the new moderates, people like Elizabeth Warren are right on a wide range of public issues that simply run against powerful parties, and the on issue after issue there are wide majorities for Democratic and Progressive policies. But the GOP plays the politics and labeling game better and that makes all the difference.

For actual moderation where it matters -- in the GOP -- you'll need an level playing field in political messaging, and "conservative" will have to be just as damning a label as "liberal". If not, the new "moderate" will be the old ultra-conservative.

ModeratePoli said...

@anson, I'm glad you liked this post, and I'm glad you shared a link with others who care about important issues. I welcome all serious voices here, and I quickly zap those who aren't, so there's no problem that way.

ModeratePoli said...

@dangerous, I agree with your definition of what a moderate should consider, though of course it's hard to know all the facts and even harder to guess at all the implications. Yet that's what we have to try to do.

After that, it's sad that I disagree with most of the rest of what you wrote. I don't believe in just splitting the difference. I try to use the facts to determine my position on every issue, not just triangulate from the opinions out there.

Obama hasn't been moderate to a fault. As I've said many times, a moderate would have used the scalpel that Obama talked about on the budget. Obama only gave the idea lip service.

As for why I talk more about Dems moderating, two reasons: 1) they have in the recent past, 2) there's more hope that it can happen. I'd love the GOP to moderate too. Maybe it will happen with the gradual acceptance of health coverage for every citizen.

As for Elizabeth Warren (not a favorite of mine), it's easy to get support for spending more money. Not so easy to get support for the level of taxation needed. So if it's true that wide majorities support her proposals (vague proposals), were they also asked about the taxation pieces? I doubt it.

Anson Burlingame said...

To both "crikets",

I not only liked Mod's blog on a liberal blog, I wrote one myself and liked her thoughts. Therein I tried to offer examples of "moderates" by naming names.

George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, by todays standards, were both moderates. Bush II and Obama were/are not such animals.

Nancy Pelosi and her "progressive caucus" and Harry Reid are not moderates, Bohner, McConnel and and long list of other Dems and GOPs in the Senate are not moderates, etc., and all in my view.

Last night Obama was a moderate, for last night at least. I support what he "Ordered" to be done, think it was probably legal to do so, etc. But there are holes in that "order" big enough to drive a truck through as well and last night was only the first step.

Obama also got out of his own political trap and craftily set one now for the GOP. It will take a blog to explain why I think so however.

Let me end this note by saying a moderate leader is one who achieves bipartisan agreement, compromise, not my way or the highway using force.