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The Democrats May Not Stay Long on Obama’s Chosen Path

Democrats are increasingly divided; at the national level the strong majority of elected representatives in Congress and President Obama himself are generally associated with what Governor Dean famously called the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” These are the people who reject ex-President Bill Clinton’s argument that Democrats had to adjust to economic and political realities by reforming and trimming the Great Society government in order to preserve the health of the New Deal state within.

President Obama won the nomination in 2008 in part because Democratic primary voters and caucus attendees wanted someone more ideological, more committed to protecting and extending the old model than Hillary Clinton was.

President Obama himself is less true blue than many of his supporters wish; on education in particular, he has pushed against hard core teacher union positions a bit harder than some liked — and on national security issues like drone strikes and Osama-hunting, he has acted more like a charter member of the DLC than like a tried and true paladin of the blue core.

That’s what’s happening in Washington, where organizations like the Progressive Policy Institute have been pushed aside by a new wave of more left wing think tanks and organizations. But the flow has been in another direction in many states and cities — including President Obama’s own Chicago hometown. In some cases, the shift may have been driven by a simple change of heart. In many more, it’s about the cold logic of fiscal arithmetic. Nearly all states are forbidden from running budget deficits, and as tax bases shrink, businesses flee and bond market vigilantes saddle up, governors and mayors have realized that it isn’t about expanding the blue model anymore; it’s about conserving what you can and restructuring what you must.

The Clintonian, retreat and conserve Democrats have become almost invisible in Washington, but they increasingly dominate at the state and local level. In New York, California and Illinois, governors whatever their original intentions have had to embrace the causes of retrenchment and reform.

Relations between unions and new or at least broke Democrats in the states have been charged; Illinois, California and New York have all seen heated fights between Democratic governors and the unions who make up much of the base of the party’s organization. But in Washington, the sun shines. This week, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, has decided to go all-in on endorsing Obama in the upcoming election. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the NEA is looking to recover from its loss in the Scott Walker recall fight by throwing its full weight behind the Obama campaign. As in Wisconsin, they’re framing the issue in apocalyptic terms:

“The election this year is critical to public education, and it’s also a turning point for the entire middle class in America,” [NEA President Dennis van Roekel] said to rousing applause. “The other side will outspend us, but we can’t let them outwork us,” he added.

Mr. Van Roekel elicited wild hoots and loud ovation when he obliquely referred to Mr. Romney while talking about public education’s role in promoting democracy across America.

“This country is about equal opportunity,” he said.

The Democratic Party was historically something of a pushmepullyou, the two-headed animal in the Dr.Doolittle books. It was the party of Southern segregationists and the party of northern trade unionists. With some longtime Democrats planning to avoid the convention this summer, and with others pursuing state and local policies that run contrary to the orthodoxy at the national level, we can see that Democrats are as complicated as ever.

The dominance of the left at the national level looks impressive today, but it may not last. Austerity is coming to Washington, if not immediately, then whenever interest rates on Treasury debt turn up as they surely will at some point. When that happens, even presidents and speakers of the House will have to start governing like tightwads, regardless of their dreams.

Many top Democrats today don’t like the Bill Clinton road, but the chances are that most if not all of them will have to walk that lonesome highway one of these days.

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  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    The sooner we fire the leftists and replace them with fiscal conservatives, the less growth we will lose, and the faster we will recover. The fact that the Democrats don’t take any action until they are forced to by fiscal reality, means they will never get ahead of the problems and they don’t know the best solutions because they haven’t been thinking about them for decades like the fiscal conservatives.

  • Gene

    Oh, but Jacksonian, as WigWag will be sure to tell you when he/she wanders in any minute now, it’s not shortsighted Dems with poor math skills that are the problem. It’s those deranged if not outright genocidal Repubs that are forcing all the GOOD people into so much difficulty.

    I’ve long thought that fealty to either party is very, very dangerous, and often comes a little too close to a mental illness for my money. It’s getting hard for me to even discuss these issues with my liberal friends, who never quite grasp that there are two conversations going on; they are usually talking about morality and I’m usually talking about morality + math. I don’t often feel like I win those arguments, but I know that math will win them eventually.

  • Anthony

    “It’s about conserving what you can and restructuring what you must.”

    The American dream – as it relates to underlying theme of Quick Take’s analysis – has been tied into our sense of identity; but reconciling reality with aspiration in era of deficits has placed many Americans in disbelief and anguish. Public policy for many (not red, blue, libertarian, or other ideologies) no longer dovetails with opportunitiy and shared prosperity (America has the highest level of income inequality of any of the advanced countries). I don’t know which political path deserves attribution for present circumstances but I ask is there a “political will” to make country once again a land of opportunity for all Americans.

  • Corlyss

    “The Clintonian, retreat and conserve Democrats have become almost invisible in Washington,”

    The disbanding of the DLC, Bob Borosage’s #1 wet dream, was an extremely ominous sign for the tractability of those who own and operate the national political system in DC.

  • chase

    Do you mean austerity or reform? Austerity doesn’t necessarily have to come to Washington, provided that a consensus can form to restructure entitlements in a more affordable way.

    Austerity means cutting discretionary spending, which is not a good idea during a recession (neither is raising taxes, or tinkering with the healthcare system). We need reform not austerity.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    Obama wasn’t much of a community organizer. Didn’t organize anything as far as I can remember. So I doubt his true blueness. He’s just a jive man, alas.

  • Joe Eagar

    I’ve always been grateful that Obama crushed Clintonism at the national level; best thing ever to happen to us Republicans. We would still be out of power in twenty years if not for that.

  • Joe Eagar

    Chase, it’s unlikely we’ll avoid some austerity. The US, fundamentally, suffers from an overabundance of domestic demand and a lack of external foreign demand. No amount of fiscal stimulus will fix that.

    Achieving full employment at the cost of an exploding current account deficit requires foreign funding of that deficit, and foreign governments may not be happy to oblige. There’s not much we can do, other than continue to apply pressure on China to reform (which it is), and start applying pressure on Germany (that other sinkhole in global demand) to do likewise.

  • thibaud

    “The dominance of the left at the national level”

    Looks like happy hour began early today.

    So Arne Duncan’s a “leftist.” Sure.

    Obamacare, which is essentially a pro-insurance company, Republican plan patterned on Romneycare, is somehow “leftist.” Yup.

    A half-arsed stimulus is “leftist.” Uh-huh.

    Drone strikes, targeted assassinations, continuation of Guantanamo etc are all”leftist.” Ohhh-k.

    And the GOP, which is now effectively dominated by Grover Norquist’s foolish zealotry, is somehow the picture of moderation and inclusiveness. Right.

  • Corlyss

    @ Chase
    “provided that a consensus can form”

    Is that all? Why didn’t Washington lawmakers think of that! Alert the media! A solution has been found!

  • thibaud

    Bad day for Via Meadia: this is the third upside-down, flat out wrong VM post of the day.

    First Mead tries to slam the US jobs performance as the fault of Keynesian policies – never mind that US unemployment since 2010 has fallen faster and farther than unemployment in Britain, where Mead’s hero Cameron has resisted Keynesian stimulus. Ditto for deficit spending. Oops.

    Then Mead pretends that the socialist Hollande in France is the one behind the policy of sticking it to foreign absentee home-owners – never mind that a quick search would reveal that the policy was actually initiated LAST YEAR BY SARKOZY, on June 13 2011.

    Oops.

    And here Mead goes again, branding as a “leftist” a cautious centrist who continued the Bush admin’s war on terror policies in almost every respect – he actually went further re. targeted assassinations – that is, the same man whose healthcare policy was taken, wholecloth, from the Heritage Foundation and Governor Romney, R-Mass.

    Oops again.

    An off day for Mr Mead. Is it because the interns are running the show on summer Fridays?

    Or, perish the thought, because the interns were given the day off and were not around to protect Jekyll-Mead from Hyde-Mead’s sloppiness and surly biases?

  • http://Thepencilofnature.net Lorenz Gude

    I think the greatest single political lesson of the second half of the 20th century was that making the governmentn 100% of the economy led to social, economic and political failure. What worked a treat dining this period was what Stalin called Socila Democratic Deviationism and Professor Meade calls the Blue Model. And it was Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan who successfully pointed out the limits of the Blue Model and Bill Clinton and Tony Blair who recognized the validity in the conservative critique and tried to respond. The progressives have tried to push that critique aside and return to the past. They have become reactionaries. I think Chase @5 put his finger on the key issue- the difference between austerity and reform. I think that it is fair to say that Paul Ryan’s budget is an excellent Republican reform budget. What is missing is a Clintonian counterpart to negotiate on behalf of a Democratic reform budget. Obama specifically rejected Ryan’s approach when he met with the Republican caucus at the beginning of his presidency and Democratic pundits continue to dismiss Ryan’s proposals out of hand with no attempt to
    engage. Train wreck a coming folks.

  • Gary L

    In the immortal words of Will Rogers: “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

  • Mark Michael

    Mona Charen’s latest column digs into the history of Massachusetts “RomneyCare” and uncovers a bunch of facts about what happened that directly contradict the Obama campaign storyline. Link:

    http://townhall.com/columnists/monacharen/2012/07/06/what_romney_needs_to_say_about_romneycare/page/full/

    KEY FACT: Romney used his line item veto to strike out the individual mandate in the law that the legislature sent to him. The legislature then overrode his veto, restoring the individual mandate. Read the excerpts below to see the context in which Romney vetoed that mandate.

    EXCERPTS:

    #1 The Massachusetts law contained an individual mandate, which states — unlike the federal government — are allowed to impose. But it did not consist of 2,700 pages of new regulations; 159 new boards and commissions; and more than $500 billion in new taxes (and counting); the Independent Payment Advisory Board [IPAB – Palin’s “death panel” for which liberals excoriated her for lying], a rationing board whose decisions are unreviewable by the courts and practically untouchable by Congress itself; restrictions on religious liberty; Medicare cuts; affirmative action mandates for medical and dental schools; huge new authority over one-seventh of the U.S. economy for the Secretary of Health and Human Services; and open-ended regulations of the way doctors and others perform their jobs.

    Beyond that, a glance at the history of Romneycare in Massachusetts shows that Romney’s instincts and initiatives were for free-market reforms. An 85 percent Democratic legislature thwarted his best efforts, and a Democratic successor as governor twisted the law’s trajectory dramatically.

    #2 Before Romney’s time, Massachusetts had enacted a number of laws that made its health care system needlessly expensive. All policies offered in the state were required to cover expensive treatments such as substance abuse counseling and infertility. In 1996, the state passed a law requiring “guaranteed issue” and “community rating” — meaning people could wait until they got sick to purchase health insurance. Naturally, rates skyrocketed. In addition, a 1986 federal law required hospital emergency rooms to treat all patients, regardless of ability to pay.

    Romney’s idea was to permit Massachusetts insurers to sell catastrophic plans. As Avik Roy explained in Forbes, “Shorn of the costly mandates and restrictions originating in earlier state laws, these plans, called ‘Commonwealth Care Basic,’ could cost much less. Romney also proposed merging the non-group and small-group markets, so as to give individuals access to the more cost-effective plans available to small businesses.” Romney’s plan would also have involved a degree of cost sharing so that those receiving subsidies would have an incentive to minimize their consumption.

    Romney agreed to the mandate, believing that Massachusetts citizens would get the opportunity to purchase inexpensive, catastrophic plans. But the legislature, together with Romney’s successor as governor, Deval Patrick, changed the law to require insurers to offer three tiers of coverage — all of them far beyond catastrophic care. Perhaps Romney ought to have foreseen what future legislatures and governors would do — but that’s a far cry from the accusation that Romneycare was indistinguishable from Obamacare.

    Romney’s proposed reforms included fraud prevention measures for Medicaid, requiring the income of both parents to be considered in children’s Medicaid eligibility, medical malpractice tort reform, and giving individuals the same treatment as small businesses in the purchase of health plans. He envisioned a system of increased competition and choice.

    #3 He opposed the mandate, preferring to permit individuals to post a $10,000 bond in lieu of insurance. The legislature overrode him. He vetoed the employer mandate, coverage for illegal aliens, the creation of a new bureaucracy to be called The Public Health Council, a provision limiting improvements to Medicaid, and one expanding Medicaid coverage to include dental care. His vetoes were overridden.

    The health reform law Romney introduced — as opposed to the one that was implemented by his successor — stressed competition, reduced regulation and expanded choice for the consumer.

    It was a mistake for Romney to sign the bill. As Avik Roy put it, “The individual mandate was a loaded gun that Romney handed to his opponents, who used it to force individuals to buy comprehensive insurance they didn’t need.” But Romney’s bona fides as a free-market advocate and critic of Obamacare are not undermined by Romneycare. He can rightly claim that he foresaw, and attempted to prevent, the consequences of heavy-handed government control of the health care market.

    END OF EXCERPTS

  • thibaud

    Spin spin spin / Spinnin’ like a spinnin’ top …

    Here’s RedState’s Eric Erickson in March, correcting the increasingly desperate and ludicrous spin about Romney and his well-documented, repeated support for the national individual mandate:

    http://www.redstate.com/erick/2012/03/03/further-proof-romney-supported-a-national-individual-mandate-in-2009/

    Poor Romney. When the swing voters in OH VA CO IA FL and NC watch his clownish and hypocritical Meet The Press and other video performances, the choice will be clear. You can’t trust Romney on healthcare.

  • donzi_boy

    Two important facts: 1) every incumbent leader has lost election or been ousted by his parliament this year; 2) Relative to Obamacare nothing has changed since 2010 except that now the incumbent President is up at the plate. Does anyone think that will help congressional races? Ask some of the Democratic Senators what they think about that.

  • John Nelson

    You forgot to mention the rise to dominance of Socialists/ Marxists in the Democratic Party. You know, the kinds of people who “admire” Mao?
    They’re the ones who send in checks, and flood the websites at Daily Kos and Move-On.Org.

  • JDcomments

    The problem with this analysis is that it ignores that at the Federal level Progressives can implement policies [by executive order, or other means that circumvent Congress]that can prolong the profligate spending while things get worse- Nero can still fiddle while the flames are spreading.

    Additionally, with half the country not paying Federal income taxes, and almost half the households receiving some form of government largesse, we are dangerously close to the point where Congress may adopt the class warfare argument more seriously with the result that “the rich” will become the target of wealth grabbing through taxes and other means.

    While the other guy still has some money Progressive dreams will not end.

  • Rick Rock

    I don’t see any divide in California. Moonbeam makes noises, but the government unions are firmly in control, and Democrats march in unison over the fiscal cliff. They just funded an extremely wasteful and completely unnecessary new boondoggle – high speed rail. They can’t even build roads that do not immediately self destruct.

  • don

    Well, in order to have identity politics, you need to have identity based taxes. We’ve come a long way in two hundred years. The congressional power to lay taxes only applied (were limited) to direct (unavoidable) and indirect (avoidable) taxes. An apportioned direct head tax does not currently exist, but an excise tax on income earning activity or on commodities purchased does exist. And now thanks to Roberts, we have the new do nothing, inactivity, shuffle-butt tax that doubtless will be extended to the failure to purchase and drink British Tea by the Indians. Celebrating this new taxable state of affairs will not win the election for the democrats.

  • KLSmith

    Thibaud: just because Obama is a corporatist fascist killing machine doesn’t mean he’s not a leftist. He’s just not your definition of a leftist.

  • john werneken

    I don’t think so. Only one significant country has been half-way committed to addressing reality: Germany.

    The Germans have the unique experience of being able to blame something far worse than a Depression on unsound money: the rise of Hitler. My guess is that other countries will need a similar experience (civil war or revolution or totalitarian takeover)before they are willing to tolerate unemployment for a couple years in order to win a generation of prosperity.

  • OldGriz

    thibaud, Obama is not a centrist. He is a fascist. He believes in government control of the private sector. He does not trust free enterprise. He is the worst president since Roosevelt, the disaster who kept the depression going for years.

  • JOHN JORDAN

    If Mr. Romney does not use the same scorched-earth tactics on Obama that he used on Gingrich in Florida, I will be inclined to believe there is collusion between the Elite D’s & R’s. Obama has done nothing that deserves further consideration. The man is a crooked Leftist swindler.

  • Captain Kirk

    On the mark! The fact is that government spending can not possibly continue on the trajectory it has been on. And I’ll be the first to point out that this actually started under Bush WITH Republicans holding both houses. We HAD a balanced budget, and instead of staying with it Bush expanded government at the same time he cut taxes, a bad combination. Although the crash was due to government intervention into the housing market (can anyone say Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Affordable Housing?). Clearly though this President has taken it to a new level. BUT…HOPEFULLY…we’ve had a close enough look at butt ugly to apprecaite real beauty. That being “LIMITING GOVERNMENT”.

    No matter what happens in the election, the spending will stop! It will either stop because we had the courage to make the needed sacrifice across the board and take less fro government…or…because we went off the cliff as we demanded out share…either way IT WILL STOP. I give Clinton credit for at least recognizing that (althought I think that had more to due with the fact Newt had him by the gonads)!

  • thibaud

    “OldGriz” = Mama Grisly?

    Sarah, we hardly knew ye.

    Just curious: is Mr. Mead at all embarrassed by the know-nothing rabble his blog attracts?

    Perhaps he should tone down the lib’rul-bashing a wee bit. Just a thought.

  • Ponce De Leon

    Wigwag has a new identity. It’s thibaud.

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