In this Sunday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat cautions that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are taking a big risk by abandoning “the center”. He informs us that Hillary Clinton is “running as a liberal”and…
Wait a minute…what? Come on, Ross, old boy, pay attention! Hillary Clinton is a Democrat, at least nominally, and running as a liberal is what Democrats (should) do. It’s somewhat refreshing to see so-called liberal politics that reflect a liberal platform. Enough of the Liberal Lite brand the dems have been shopping around in its ill-advised attempt for bipartisanship. Many of us saw that con decades ago. Perhaps now others are tired of the ruse as well. (Cf. Bernie Sanders, et al, 2016.)
To be fair, I am absolutely certain Ross Douthat is trying to be helpful, advising the Clinton campaign to hold to a course closer to the mythical middle for strategic reasons, but the logic there seems to rest on a double-standard. It is a stealthy way to say, “I’m with her”. But the entire premise is built on a double standard.
While Ross Douthat — and also Frank Bruni today — warn that abandoning the center, whatever that means, is risky business and a “big bet”, they allude to the popularity of Donald Trump. To wit, Donald Trump and his appeal to fear and loathing has somehow tapped into a strong and real sense of foreboding that exists in the country. That works. That’s real. While on the hand, the enthusiasm for progressive action rallied by Bernie Sanders, for example, isn’t as real or strong?
It is ok to stoke up the knuckle-dragging rabble on the right, but not ok to do so on the left. And I guess I would agree with that. The progressive politics of liberalism entails sophistication and thoughtfulness often lacking on the right. However, we — progressives and conservatives alike — have suffered enough from lack of progressive politics abandoned by democrats long ago. This might precisely be the time to express a more progressive platform, even if only in the context of a broader message of national unity and bi-partisanship. She is at least trying to couch those politics in the bigger picture and Douthat senses that.
He suggests that Clinton’s platform is “well to the left of where her party stood five or 10 or 20 years ago” but at the same time he laments that she has co-opted the “tropes and themes” of the Republican Party. What’s wrong with a progressive embracing the flag, God and country, and the Constitution from a progressive point of view? Some will argue that Democratic politics more is more true to these values in the first place.
Douthat says “you would be happy to vote for the Hillary Clinton of the early 2000s” presumably because her values were more in line with conservative values, at least outwardly. (How quickly we forget Hillarycare.) First off, who is “who” and why would that who be happy to vote for Hillary Clinton in the early 2000s? If it is because her platform was more favorable to the GOP than Democrats, perhaps Republicans would have reason to be more happy, but I am not sure about the other whos out there.
More importantly, that’s a very striking statement. Let’s presume the “you” is some moderate middle or even the conservative right. If those voters would be happy casting vote for Hillary in the early 2000s, why the hell were we happy voting for the party of George W. Bush?! Moreover, if Hillary were a better choice in the 2000s, she is a hell of a lot better choice today.
Democrats should be happier with post-Bush era politics. It finally abandons the failed detours and compromises that were made to accommodate Reaganism. The five-to-twenty year window Douthat is sad to see disappear is a relief to people paying attention. In short, Reaganism has been a disaster for this country, both domestically and internationally, pursuing a better path isn’t going to look like the last 35 years.
It is time that a Democrat abandons the party’s thirty-plus years complicity with regressive politics and the failed solutions it offered. Outwardly — and probably only briefly — Hillary Clinton is expressing this move. In the end, I doubt Ross or any of his ilk really have much to worry about. This is politics, after all, and Clinton, being the best-qualified candidate for the presidency in decades, understands this. Clinton will hold to a more middle course, now and after the election. She won’t turn this country into a social democratic utopia. We’ll surely wallow in mediocrity and self-serving political gridlock for years to come. But at least Hillary appears be taking a turn towards a better direction for this country, even if the steps that need to follow for a meaningful change in that direction are hard to muster.