Back in 1983, the British Labour Party, traumatized by Margaret Thatcher, contested a general election on a distinctly anti-American platform calling for unilateral disarmament, stepped up socialism, and other crazy ideas that the British press called the longest suicide note any political party had ever proposed. (They also couldn’t help themselves by embracing a offensive slogan about Thatcher, “Ditch the bitch!”) Thatcher crushed Labour, in one of the largest landslides in British history. Of course, that was then, and nowadays Labour said, “hold my beer,” and summoned up Jeremy Corbyn.
In any case, the media is starting to get alarmed that the Democratic presidential field is lurching too far to the left, and may be assuring Trump’s re-election. Jennifer Rubin worries:
Democrats also give Trump the upper hand when they are willing accept the role he’s designated for them: Socialists. We’ve already heard his Green New Deal attack. Socialists want to take away your car and outlaw cows (or the reverse)!
Likewise, if you promise to take away private health insurance, Trump would be delighted to run on “Democrats say you can’t keep your doctor.”
It would be a particularly egregious error for Democrats to identify with proposals that are non-starters (Abolish ICE! Reparations!). It’s an unforced error with no upside. If you have to go so far out on the left-wing to attract support, chances are you’re not making the case effectively to an electoral majority.
One of the Post‘s other liberal columnists, Richard Cohen, beat her to this theme several days ago:
Democrats Are Wrapping a Gift for Trump
I don’t quite know what a handbasket is, but the Democratic Party is heading in one to electoral hell with its talk of socialism and reparations. Given a Republican incumbent who has never exceeded 50 percent in Gallup’s approval ratings poll and who won the presidency thanks to a dysfunctional electoral college, the party is nevertheless determined to give Donald Trump a fair shot at re-election by sabotaging itself. In fact, it’s veering so far to the left it could lose an election in 1950s Bulgaria.
Likewise Ed Kilgore in New York magazine:
Will 2020 Democrats Help Trump By Destroying Each Other?
. . . It would be smart for Democrats right now to make sure that on November 4, 2020, they aren’t looking down the barrel of an eight-year Trump presidency and wondering how their party blew it again.
This advice is falling on deaf ears mostly. I think the left believes that Trump is so weak and beatable that now is the moment to go for it with the most left platform possible. A lot of liberals have talked themselves into believing that the hard left is the new center. Politico offers for example:
Democrats Must Reclaim the Center … by Moving Hard Left
. . . The Democratic Party must reclaim the political center. And the only way to do that is by boldly moving toward the so-called “radical” left.
If you look at the press clippings for AOC you can see why this appeals to the confirmation bias of a leftist, never mind that most “progressive” candidates actually fared rather poorly in the midterm election just past.
Beyond the media, there is an entire theory from the academy and coffee houses of Cambridge, Berkeley, and Madison to the effect that Democrats have been too far to the right for a long long time. Maybe my favorite example of leftists determined to brew up the Kool Aid for the 2020 campaign comes from The New Republic, a former magazine, where Alex Sheppard writes of “The Overdue Death of Democratic ‘Pragmatism.'”
Now I’d be the first to celebrate the death of capital-P “Pragmatism,” on the grounds that it doesn’t work, but what Sheppard really means is the kind of “moderation” under people like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair that is now despised on the left as “neoliberalism.” This paragraph strikes me as especially wacko:
The party’s rightward drift began in the mid-1970s, when the so-called “Watergate Babies” began to replace New Deal Democrats, but proceeded in earnest in the 1980s due to Ronald Reagan’s two landslide victories. The Democratic Leadership Council, formed in the wake of Walter Mondale’s defeat in 1984, pushed Democrats to embrace balanced budgets, welfare reform, and other centrist policies. The argument was that the Democratic Party must meet American voters where they were. This neoliberal turn also led Democrats to embrace technocratic policy as an engine for social change: markets, not governments, would solve the major challenges of our time. The kind of imagination and ambition that drove the New Deal and the Great Society became passé.
First of all, losing 44 states in 1980 and then 49 states in 1984 does have a way of concentrating the mind about how to win an election, and high-octane leftism didn’t seem like the way.
But it is this sentence that really jumps out: “The party’s rightward drift began in the mid-1970s, when the so-called “Watergate Babies” began to replace New Deal Democrats. . .”
Sheppard has it exactly backwards. The so-called “Watergate babies” of 1974 marked the beginning of a major step change to the left for the Democratic Party, as I explained in volume 1 of The Age of Reagan:
Watergate had provided the impetus for organizing and accelerating the generational transition within the Democratic Party. Seventy-five of the 292 House Democrats—a quarter—were freshmen; half of the Democratic caucus in the House had been elected since 1970. The “Watergate babies,” as they became known, were infused with a liberal and in a few cases radical reformist zeal formed in the crucible of the antiwar movement and tempered by the convulsion of Watergate. The official Democratic Party magazine, The Democratic Review, estimated that the incoming representatives were more than twice a liberal as the Democratic members they replaced. A Washington Post survey asked the incoming Democrats, “What nation, if any, do you consider a threat to world peace?” The largest plurality, 27 percent, thought the United States was the leading threat to peace, with only 20 percent naming America’s principal adversary, the Soviet Union, along with Israel.
I hope (and expect) that liberals will continue to indulge their revisionist history and slouch toward a suicidal campaign, even as I stock up on popcorn.