Democratic Candidates, Pressured by Party Base, Split on How Liberal to Be

Presidential aspirants test waters on health care, environmental policy; ‘bring on the tension’

Looming over the intraparty debate is the question of how best to beat Mr. Trump. Former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, an ally of Mr. Biden and several governors considering entering the race, said “the only way that Trump can win is if the nominee is too far to the left.” Asked his definition of “too far left,” Mr. Markell said it is “the giving-everything-away-for-free lane.”

The contest already is being framed by ideas to the left of those that Hillary Clinton campaigned on in 2016. The biggest names of the party’s opposition to Mr. Trump—Ms. Warren, Ms. Harris, Mr. Sanders and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York—all support a single-payer health care system, free college at public universities and the Green New Deal.

Mr. Biden and Ms. Klobuchar represent a continuation of the politics that elected Mr. Obama. Both have spoken of the need to either restore the former president’s policies dismantled by Mr. Trump or build upon them.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Mr. O’Rourke are staking out space between the party’s two poles.

Ten of the 16 announced candidates have endorsed Mr. Sanders’s Medicare for All proposal, and six back his proposal for free public university tuition. Six co-sponsored legislation to provide federal paid family leave, and eight support the Green New Deal.

Some Democrats are endorsing multiple solutions without ruling out any. Several candidates who support Medicare for All also are calling for incremental health-care improvements. Ms. Warren also has called for a public option to buy into Medicare, and for simply improving the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. Booker, who has said he would work with Republicans when possible, has proposed a “baby bond” program in which the government would create savings accounts which would provide $1,000 at birth, and up to $2,000 annually, to every child in the U.S.

.. Enough hard feelings remain from that fight that one of the biggest applause lines for Mr. Booker on a recent swing through the state was his pledge not to attack fellow Democrats.

.. “The Democratic platform already leans progressive. Our candidate doesn’t necessarily have to blow that horn,” said Marjie Foster, the Decatur County Democratic chairwoman. “We need to allow the American people to catch up with the progressive mind-set. If we try to push too hard, we will lose those who are slowly working their way left.”

.. “The litmus test is we need a candidate who can build a coalition to win,” said Mr. Scholten, who is considering a Senate bid in 2020. “If Klobuchar can do it with her message, that’s great. If Bernie can do it with his message, that’s great too. I think it could be someone from either side.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Leading and Following at the Same Time

The Democratic electorate has shifted sharply to the left, taking many politicians along with it — willingly and unwillingly.

The most active wing of the Democratic Party — the roughly 20 percent of the party’s electorate that votes in primaries and wields disproportionate influence over which issues get prioritized — has moved decisively to the left. With all the attention that is being paid to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and other new progressive voices in Congress, this may not seem like news, but we are only just beginning to realize the full significance of this shift.

The Primaries Project at the Brookings Institution conducted extensive polling of 7,198 Democratic voters in the 2018 primaries and found that 60.4 percent described themselves as liberal, including 26.4 percent who said they were “very liberal.”

In its most recent analysis, Gallup found that from 1994 to 2018, the percentage of all Democrats who call themselves liberal more than doubled from 25 percent to 51 percent.

One key Democratic target, Sawhill observes, is the “well-educated, suburban women, many of them Republican, who voted for Democrats in the midterms.” Once Trump is gone, she continued, “they could easily return to their natural home in the Republican Party.”

“Over the longer-term,” Sawhill continued,

as millennials and minorities become an ever-larger proportion of the party, it will have a natural constituency that supports a new and bolder agenda, but the concentration of those voters in urban areas that are underrepresented in our electoral system will be a continuing drag on the party’s prospects.

The extensive support among prospective Democratic presidential candidates for Medicare for All, government-guaranteed jobs and a higher minimum wage reflects the widespread desire in the electorate for greater protection from the vicissitudes of market capitalism — in response to “increasingly incomplete risk protection in an era of dramatic social change,”

Take liberalized attitudes on immigration as an example. From 2008 to 2018, the percentage of Democrats who said the government should create “a way for immigrants already here illegally to become citizens if the meet certain requirements” grew from 29 to 51 percent, while the share who said “there should be better border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws” fell from 21 to 5 percent.

Similarly, the percentage of Democrats who agreed with the statement that “racial discrimination is the main reason many blacks can’t get ahead these days” rose from 28 to 64 percent from 2010 to 2017.

While progressives have gained ground in long-held Democratic areas, more centrist candidates have won the more competitive districts. This second development will limit how far to the left the party can go. The more the party expands into the suburbs, the more dependent it will be on those relatively centrist votes — and that dependence will become a constraint on the policies that Democrats are able to agree on.

.. In addition, while acknowledging the rise of the progressive wing, Starr pointed out that a separate December 2018 Gallup survey found that 54 percent of Democratic voters would prefer their party to become “more moderate,” while 41 percent said they would like the party to become “more liberal.”

movement is across the board on policy, ideological identification, and values, but remains furthest left on specific policy. The public movement seems to be strongest on race and gender issues as well as any proposal tied to Trump.

Somerville had moved from downscale to upscale, not to the level of Brattle Street in Cambridge or Boston’s Beacon Hill, but still many steps up the ladder.

Ocasio-Cortez did best in areas such as Astoria/Steinway and Sunnyside, which happen to be more white than other parts of the district,” a point he elaborated upon in a story quoting him posted on The Intercept:

You can also see that most of her votes, the strongest vote support, came from areas like Astoria in Queens and Sunnyside in Queens and parts of Jackson Heights that, number one, were not predominantly Hispanic, so they’re a more mixed population, and are areas where — this is kind of a term of art — are in the process of being gentrified, where newer people are moving in,

“Ocasio-Cortez’s best precincts,” Freedlander wrote, were

highly educated, whiter and richer than the district as a whole. In those neighborhoods, Ocasio-Cortez clobbered Crowley by 70 percent or more.

Conversely, Crowley did best in “the working-class African-American enclave of LeFrak City, where he got more than 60 percent of the vote.” In fact, Crowley

pulled some of his best numbers in Ocasio-Cortez’s heavily Latino and African-American neighborhood of Parkchester, in the Bronx — beating her by more than 25 points on her home turf.

Jerry Skurnik, a New York political consultant, describes gentrifying communities outside Manhattan as experiencing an influx of “people who really want to live in Greenwich Village but can’t afford to.”

This younger, well-educated constituency — predominately but not exclusively white — is hostile to cautious establishment Democrats, especially to older white men, and they are determined to engineer an intraparty cultural and ideological insurgency.

The emergence in force in 2018 of these insurgent Democrats grows in part out of the Sanders presidential campaign. Sanders mobilized millions of voters, many of whom did not want the Democrats to nominate a candidate with deep ties to party regulars and to the major donor community.

Conservative Facts

Conservative Facts

There was always a yin-yang thing to conservatism. Its hard-headedness and philosophical realism about human nature and the limits it imposes on utopian schemes appealed to some and repulsed others. For those who see politics as a romantic enterprise, a means of pursuing collective salvation, conservatism seems mean-spirited. As Emerson put it: “There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.” That’s what Ben Shapiro is getting at when he says “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” The hitch is that the reverse is also true: Feelings don’t care about your facts. Tell a young progressive activist we can’t afford socialism and the response will be overtly or subliminally emotional: “Why don’t you care about poor people!” or “Why do you love billionaires!?”

.. What Is Neoconservatism?

Here’s the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia page for neoconservatism:

Neoconservatism (commonly shortened to neocon when labelling its adherents) is a political movement born in the United States during the 1960s among liberal hawkswho became disenchanted with the increasingly pacifist foreign policy of the Democratic Party, and the growing New Left and counterculture, in particular the Vietnam protests. Some also began to question their liberal beliefs regarding domestic policies such as the Great Society.

.. The first neocons were intellectual rebels against the Great Society and the leftward drift of American liberalism (The Public Interest, the first neocon journal, was launched in 1965. It was dedicated entirely to domestic affairs, not foreign policy). Unable to reconcile the facts with the feelings of liberalism, a host of intellectuals decided they would stick with the facts, even if it meant that former friends and allies would call them mean for doing so.

.. The Harrington essay that cemented the term “neoconservatism” in American discourse was titled “The Welfare State and Its Neoconservative Critics.” In other words, the original neoconservative critique wasn’t about foreign policy, but domestic policy.

.. According to William F. Buckley, the neoconservatives brought the rigor and language of sociology to conservatism, which until then had been overly, or at least too uniformly, Aristotelian. The Buckleyites (though certainly not folks like Burnham) tended to talk from first principles and natural laws and rights. The neocons looked at the data and discovered that the numbers tended to back up a lot of the things the Aristotelians had been saying.

.. The idea that neoconservatism was primarily about foreign policy, specifically anti-Communism, further complicates things. Part of this is a by-product of the second wave of neoconservatives who joined the movement and the right in the 1970s, mostly through the pages of Commentary. These were rebels against not the welfare state but détente on the right and the radical anti-anti-Communists of the New Left (National Review ran a headline in 1971 on the awakening at Commentary: “Come on In, the Water’s Fine.”) Many of those writers, most famously Jeanne Kirkpatrick, ended up leading the intellectual shock troops of the Reagan administration.

It is certainly true that the foreign-policy neocons emphasized certain things more than generic conservatives, specifically the promotion of democracy abroad. In ill-intentioned hands, this fact is often used as a cover for invidious arguments about the how the neocons never really shed their Trotskyism and were still determined to “export revolution.” But for the most part, it can’t be supported by what these people actually wrote. Moreover, the idea that only neocons care about promoting democracy simply glosses over everything from the stated purpose of the First World War, the Marshall Plan, stuff like JFK’s inaugural address (“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty”), and this thing called the Reagan Doctrine.

.. And then there are the Joooooz. Outside of deranged comment sections and the swampy ecosystems of the “alt-right,” the sinister version of this theory is usually only hinted at or alluded to. Neocons only care about Israel is the Trojan horse that lets people get away with not saying the J-word. Those bagel-snarfing warmongers want real Americans to do their fighting for them. Pat Buchanan, when opposing the first Gulf War in 1992, listed only Jewish supporters of the war and then said they’d be sending “American kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales and Leroy Brown” to do the fighting. Subtle.
.. In his memoir, Irving Kristol, “the Godfather of the Neoconservatives,” argued that the movement had run its course and dissolved into the conservative movement generally.
So today, neoconservatism has become what it started out as, an invidious term used by its opponents to single out and demonize people as inauthentic, un-American, unreliable, or otherwise suspicious heretics, traitors, or string-pullers. The chief difference is that they were once aliens in the midst of liberalism, now they are called aliens in the midst of conservatism. And it’s all bullsh**.
.. The editor of American Greatness, a journal whose tagline should be “Coming Up with Reasons Why Donald Trump’s Sh** Doesn’t Stink 24/7” opens with “Neoconservatism is dead, long live American conservatism” and then, amazingly, proceeds to get dumber.
..  A bit further on, he asserts that “for years, neoconservatives undermined and discredited the work of conservatives from Lincoln to Reagan . . .” This is so profoundly unserious that not only is it impossible to know where to begin, it’s a struggle to finish the sentence for fear the stupid will rub off. Does he have in mind the Straussians (Walter Berns, Robert Goldwin, et al.) at that neocon nest the American Enterprise Institute who wrote lovingly about Lincoln at book length for decades?

And what of the scores of neoconservatives who worked for Ronald Reagan and helped him advance the Reaganite agenda? Were they all fifth columnists? Or perhaps they were parasites attaching themselves to a “host organism,” as Buskirk repugnantly describes Kristol?

He doesn’t say, because Buskirk doesn’t rely on an argument. Save for a couple of Bill Kristol tweets out of context, he cites no writing and marshals no evidence. Instead, he lets a wink, or rather the stink, do all of his work. He knows his readers want to hear folderol about neocons. He knows they have their own insidious definitions of what they are and crave to have them confirmed. Bringing any definition or fact to his argument would get in the way of his naked assertions and slimy insinuations.

 I’m not a fan of tu quoque arguments, but the idea that American Greatness has standing to position itself as an organ dedicated to larger principles and ideas is hilarious, given that the website’s only purpose is to attach itself like a remora to Donald Trump, a man who doesn’t even call himself a conservative, even for convenience, anymore. Just this week, American Greatness’s Julie Kelly mocked Nancy French’s childhood trauma of being sexually abused. When I criticized her for it, Kelly snarked back something about how “Never Trumpers” have a problem with the truth. It’s like these people don’t see it. You cannot claim to care about the truth while being a rabid defender of this president’s hourly mendacity.
.. American Greatness ran a piecefloating the idea that Trump’s “covfefe” tweet just might have been a brilliant piece of historically and linguistically literate statecraft. That’s actually plausible compared to the idea that Trump is Moses saving conservatism from a “a purified strain of backward idolatry.”

.. Who is in conflict with the best principles of America: the magazine that for 23 years lionized the founders, Lincoln, and Reagan or the website that rationalizes literally anything Donald Trump does — from crony capitalism to denigrating the First Amendment to paying off porn stars — as either the inventions of his enemies or a small price to pay for national greatness? Not every contributor to American Greatness is dedicated to the art of turd polishing, but that is the site’s larger mission.

.. Trump’s sense of persecution is as contagious as his debating style. Facts are being subordinated to feelings, and the dominant feelings among many Trumpists are simply ugly. And even those who have not turned ugly see no problem working hand in hand with those who have. And how could they, given who they herald as their Moses.

Dividers, Not Uniters

In a new book, Steve Kornacki looks back at the 1990s — and finds the roots of today’s polarization in the Clintons’ ascent.

..  the 1990s was until recently an invisible decade. “The holiday from history,” it was called, a “lull” where nothing much really happened, a candy-colored coma between the Berlin Wall’s fall on 11/9 and the 9/11 attacks less than a dozen years later.

.. The Red and the Blue, is a political procedural that sets out to explain how we went from giga-landslides in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s to Electoral College squeakers today, how Republicans disappeared from the coasts and Democrats died their final deaths in the South and Midwest.

.. it benefits from the context provided by Trump’s ascent, which has clarified that one big reason we’re seemingly reliving the 1930s today is because both the Left and Right spent the 1990s and early 2000s rehashing the culture wars of the 1960s and early ’70s.

.. Because cable and the Internet have so completely transformed American culture over the past two or three decades, it’s easy to forget (and younger people can’t even remember) just how norm-shattering Bill Clinton was, compared to the Greatest and Silent Generation leaders who came before him. To social conservatives and foreign-policy hawks, Clinton’s election was downright triggering, and deserved nothing less than full-on #Resistance. Historian Steven Gillon famously interviewed one who succinctly fumed that Clinton was “a womanizing, Elvis-loving, non-inhaling, truth-shading, draft-dodging, war-protesting, abortion-protecting, gay-promoting, gun-hating Baby Boomer!”

.. aside from Gary Hart, whose ill-fated career was recently reexamined in the Jason Reitman movie The Front Runner, America hadn’t had a youthful, truly sexualized major-party presidential nominee since JFK — until Clinton came along.

  • .. The Federal Reserve’s preference for financialization and neoliberalism was at its very peak under the influence of Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan.
  • Nearly half of Americans still thought “sodomy” — never mind same-sex marriage or civil unions — should be illegal.
  • And while America was pro-choice, huge percentages of voters demanded restrictions to abortion-on-demand.

The Red and the Blue gives an excellent Gen-X-plaining of just how systemically, institutionally, and culturally impossible it would have been for Democrats to move even farther leftward than they did back then — of how much damage their “too far left” brand had done to the party in the ’80s and of the disastrous political consequences of Bill Clinton’s attempts to govern from the left in 1993–94, as epitomized by Hillary’s attempt at health-care reform. He reminds his readers with his trademark aptitude for facts and figures that America in the 1990s was still very much living in what Sean Wilentz called The Age of Reagan.

.. He manages, for example, to nail the most salient point of the abusive relationship between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich: that it was at heart a love story, and/or a co-dependency worthy of Dr. Phil. One man could simply not have managed to stay in office without the other.

.. It was Clinton hatred on the social right that gave us Gingrich, and it was Gingrich’s surefire ability to trigger the libs that protected Clinton year in and year out. “Do you want him – or me?” became the basic campaign pitch of both men.

.. his Officer Friendly approach to the media is just too naïve by half, especially for someone who is a cable-news host with considerable experience in online journalism. In Kornacki’s telling, reporters merely report, offering just the facts or serving as quickie Greek choruses and footnote sources. This might work for a tenth-grade term paper, but for a book that seeks to illuminate the decade that saw the rise of the Internet, the birth of Fox News, unprecedented media consolidation, and what Eric Alterman called “the punditocracy” at the height of its influence, it’s entirely inadequate.

From highly influential anti-Great Society “Atari Democrats” like
  • Michael Kinsley,
  • Joe Klein,
  • Sidney Blumenthal, and
  • Robert Samuelson and proudly un-PC pundits like
  • Camille Paglia,
  • Ben Wattenberg,
  • Bill Maher, and
  • Andrew Sullivan to donor-funded think tanks like
  • Heritage and
  • Cato, an entire intellectual infrastructure was shaping the national narrative for what became Third Way Clintonism well before the Clinton era began. Yet most of these people and institutions do not even appear in Kornacki’s index, or if they do, they’re curtly dispensed with in one or two lines.

.. It’s possible that with Donald Trump’s attacks on the press (and with some people using criticism of “the media” as an anti-Semitic dog whistle), Kornacki didn’t want to even go there.

.. But a book on 1990s polarization that omits Steve Jobs, Roger Ailes, and Bill Gates from its index? One that effectively ignores the O.J. trial, Maureen Dowd’s gendered, campy, sexist (certainly by today’s standards), Pulitzer-winning coverage of Monicagate, and Clarence Thomas vs. Anita Hill?

.. writers as far apart as Ann Coulter and Eric Alterman blamed Al Gore’s loss in 2000 on the media’s hatred of him (and his hatred of them)?

.. Limbaugh’s pioneering tactic (soon perfected by Gingrich, Coulter, and Karl Rove) of branding anyone whose politics were even slightly to the left of, say, Sandra Day O’Connor or Dianne Feinstein, as a Loony Liberal, Radical Leftist, or Femi-Nazi. From Clinton and Dubya well into the Obama years, red-meat conservatives intentionally fuzzed the line between corporate social-liberals and the true hard left of Michael Moore, Pacifica Radio, and Thomas Frank, and Kornacki captures their strategy perfectly.

.. Aside from the Obamas themselves, no other politician would even remotely disrupt or challenge Clintonistas’ hold on the Democratic party for another ten or 15 years. But Clintonism could only continue as long as the true far-left remained repressed, and as long as the economy kept humming.
.. When a fist-shaking socialist senator from Vermont lined up an army of Millennials in formation behind him eight years after the dawn of the Great Recession caused in no small part by Clinton-era financial policy, it became crystal clear that Newt Gingrich had won the war.
.. When they exited the White House, the Clintons left behind a Democratic party that working class, rural, and/or religious whites had become almost allergic to, one more dependent on African-American and Latino voters than ever.
.. Donald Trump cruised to triumph in 2016 using all of the dog whistles and wedge issues that Gingrich, Rove, Buchanan, and Ross Perot had refined to perfection.
.. And just as education-conscious, socially liberal white professionals reacted against Gingrich’s and Buchanan’s reactionary rhetoric in the late ’90s, Trump’s Republican party has now been effectively evicted from places as once-synonymous with the GOP as Long Island, Maine, New Jersey, San Diego, and Orange County.