Populism, not conservatism, won the day
Paul Krugman in the New York Times (sub required):
Ever since movement conservatives took over, the Republican Party has pushed for policies that benefit a small minority of wealthy Americans at the expense of the great majority of voters. To hide this reality, conservatives have relied on wagging the dog and wedge issues, but they’ve also relied on a brilliant marketing campaign that portrays Democrats as elitists and Republicans as representatives of the average American.Thanks Mr. Krugman for echoing my point in the "Lessons of the Midterm" post below.
This sleight of hand depends on shifting the focus from policy to personal style: John Kerry speaks French and windsurfs, so pay no attention to his plan to roll back tax cuts for the wealthy and use the proceeds to make health care affordable.
This year, however, the American people wised up.
True to form, some reporters still seem to be falling for the conservative spin. “If it walks, talks like a conservative, can it be a Dem?” asked the headline on a CNN.com story featuring a photo of Senator-elect Jon Tester of Montana. In other words, if a Democrat doesn’t fit the right-wing caricature of a liberal, he must be a conservative.
But as Robin Toner and Kate Zernike of The New York Times pointed out yesterday, what actually characterizes the new wave of Democrats is a “strong streak of economic populism.”
Look at Mr. Tester’s actual policy positions: yes to an increase in the minimum wage; no to Social Security privatization; we need to “stand up to big drug companies” and have Medicare negotiate for lower prices; we should “stand up to big insurance companies and support a health care plan that makes health care affordable for all Montanans.”
So what, aside from his flattop haircut, makes Mr. Tester a conservative? O.K., he supports gun rights. But on economic issues he’s clearly left of center, not just compared with the current Senate, but compared with current Democratic senators. The same can be said of many other victorious Democrats, including Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, Sheldon Whitehouse in Rhode Island, and Sherrod Brown in Ohio. All of these candidates ran on unabashedly populist platforms, and won.
What about Joe Lieberman? Like shipwreck survivors clinging to flotsam, some have seized on his reelection as proof of Americans’ continuing conservatism. But Mr. Lieberman won only through denial and deception, for example, by rewriting the history of his once-fervent support for the Iraq war and Donald Rumsfeld. He got two-thirds of the Republican vote, but managed to confuse enough Democrats about his positions to get over the top.
Last week’s populist wave, among other things, vindicates the populist direction that Al Gore took in the closing months of the 2000 campaign. But will this wave be reflected in the actual direction of the Democratic Party?
Not necessarily. Quite a few sitting Democrats have shown themselves nearly as willing as Republicans to bow to corporate interests. Consider the vote on last year’s draconian bankruptcy bill. Mr. Lieberman voted for cloture, cutting off debate and ensuring the bill’s passage; then he voted against the bill, a meaningless gesture that let him have it both ways. Thirteen other Democratic senators also voted for cloture, including Joe Biden, who has just announced his candidacy for president.
The first big test of the new Democratic populism will come over reform of the 2003 prescription drug law. Democrats have pledged to repeal the clause in that law preventing Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices. But the fine print of how they do that is crucial: Medicare reform could be a mere symbolic gesture, or it could be a real reform that eliminates the huge implicit subsidies the program currently gives drug and insurance companies.
Are the newly invigorated Democrats ready to offer a real change in this country’s direction? We’ll know in a few months.
And to DemGorilla and others who tout Jon Tester's victory in Montana as some proof of the need for Dems to become more conservative, I'd warn that a flat-top does NOT make a person conservative. His positions are definitely NOT conservative.
DemGorilla has also apealled for "responsible governing" inferring that blogs were icky and nasty and too partisan.
Here's the total raised by the so-called "overly partisan" left-wing blogs for the supposedly "conservative" Jon Tester: $343,017.27
Tester and other candidates received massive support, publicity, cash, organization and boots on the ground from overtly liberal (and "irresponsible" in DemG's terms Im' sure) blogs, and Tester himself has acknowledged their critical role on his campaign website.
I cannot thank you enough for everything you have done. Words cannot express how deeply grateful and deeply honored Sharla and I are for the hard work and support that grassroots and netroots Democrats gave to this campaign. You opened up your schedules, opened up your wallets, and opened up your hearts to make Montana and our country a better place.Now DemGorilla wants to be sure that Dems don't pay any attention to the non-conservative side of the party, advocating avoiding being too hard on Republicans or calling them to account for their years of ineptitude and corruption. It's time to put it all behind us and set an example.
This despite the fact that in Jon Tester's case and many, many others, these blogs that he decries, that have vociferously held Bush and Republicans accountible, have played a key role in revealing their dirty dealings and hypocrisy, and have made the difference and put Democrats over the top and into office.
I don't think ignoring the many millions of people who are NOT conservative and who most certainly do NOT want the Dems to run the government in the same unresponsive, radically right wing way is good policy for the Democrats in the years ahead.
It may seem like a radical shift to the left just to get back to the center, but the mistake should not be made of being timid about doing exactly what the majority of Americans want done. And that's not to continue the past 6 years with only a few changes around the edges.
Changing course in D.C. CAN be effective and "responsible" and civil without getting to the left of the center. And that doesn't preclude being tough on Bush and the Republicans and continuing to speak out loudly and strongly against right wing policies and hypocrisy.
Dem candidates across the board won with populist, anti-Bush policy messages and positions. This was NOT a clear sign that the party needs to follow the utterly failed policy of the past where it continued to try to move right and co-opt and imitate the conservative agenda, not realizing that the idea that most of the country agreed with this agenda was a product of massive spin, not reality.
The message of the election surely isn't to continue to chase conservatives to the right, but to stand up for the majority of people with a common sense populist message and a pledge to clean up and put an end to the the corrupt policies of the Bush administration and Republican leadership. And to do this in an effective way to get results. Obviously, this requires a return to the way government is suppposed to work, as opposed to the way Republicans have run things. And it requires working across the aisle and bringing Republicans into the "reality based" community.
Nothing wrong with that.
But to hand-wring and panic that the Dems might somehow turn out to be out of their minds and do nothing but push far-left agendas that are shared only by a fraction of the party itself is, frankly, nuts and way too much worry about nothing. But it does show the person's affinity for a truly conservative Republican agenda, as by trying to spin the mid-terms as a mandate for conservatism, they're joining the Republican's themselves in trying to box Democrats out pre-emptively from following any sort of center-left policy goals.
I think this attempt to hand-cuff Dems and lock them into right wing positions amounts to simply helping to spread the very spin Republicans are attempting to put out.