Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 9, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

LEFTY POLITICS....Avedon Carol takes me to task today because I was critical of William Galston and Elaine Kamarck's "The Politics of Polarization," but not critical enough. Bloggish death rays are apparently what G&K really deserved, and her commenters agree. Avedon says:

I'm sick and tired of being told the base is too far left. What does the base believe in? Universal health care, universal education, safe and fair employment, a healthy economy that provides good jobs, regulation to prevent corporations from defrauding us, care for our environment.

By concidence, I was at a party last night and a similar subject came up. A friend of mine was complaining that if Democrats want the votes of the middle and working classes, they need to champion policies that genuinely benefit the middle and working classes. You bet, I said. What policies do you think those should be?

Long story short, the answer was (a) national healthcare, (b) publicly funded childcare, and (c) a more progressive tax system. Fine. But if all this stuff is so popular with the middle and working classes, how come we don't have any of it? Can it really be solely because our positions haven't been loud enough and forthright enough? Because we haven't fought hard enough?

Lots of reasons got thrown out. Healthcare? Clinton's plan would have passed if he'd bought off social conservatives first with welfare reform. Plus he handled the political end of it badly. Childcare? We'd have to pay for it, and Republicans would scream that we were raising taxes. And teachers unions might throw up roadblocks too. Progressive taxation? It would get demonized as class warfare.

This is all pretty unsatisfying. After all, you can find excuses for anything if you put your mind to it. But the fact remains that the things on both Avedon's list and my friend's are exactly the kinds of issues that Democrats routinely campaign on. And they lose.

Why? If all these policies are really that popular, it's hard to believe they could make exactly zero (or negative!) progress over the past 25 years. And it's not that no one has tried. Clinton made only minimal progress on this stuff. Al Gore ran on a populist platform in 2000 and lost. (I know, I know....) John Edwards ran on a similar message in 2004, and he didn't even win the nomination.

So this all leads back to the place it always leads back to: Democrats just don't know how to talk about these things. We frame them badly. In 25 years, not one single Democrat has figured out how to effectively sell these policies to the American public.

And I'm not sure which scares me more: the possibility that this is right or the possibility that it's wrong.

For now I'm going to leave it at that, but Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson will be guest blogging on this topic for the rest of the week and we'll all have a lot more to say about it then. In the meantime, cogitate at will.

POSTSCRIPT: This conversation is mostly about domestic policy, but even so I hate to end it without saying the obvious: there's a huge fault line among liberals on national security, and we need to address this in a way that's acceptable to a majority of our fellow citizens. It's not an issue that's going to go away.

Kevin Drum 3:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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