The Central Issue — Charles P. Pierce on the Democrats’ identity crisis.
I may have mentioned once or twice that the single most dispiriting political event I ever attended—prior to Election Night 2016, that is—was the 1982 Democratic Midterm Convention in Philadelphia. This was the first gathering of the party since the disastrous 1980 general elections and it was prior to the party’s partial legislative comeback in the midterm elections later that year. Mainly, it was an ensemble exercise in performance-art terror at the prospect of dealing with the electoral juggernaut that was Ronald Reagan. Bold strokes were readily dismissed. “We have concluded,” said a great Texas progressive named Billie Carr, in summing up the first day of this fiasco, “that crime is really bad.”
The chairman, a banker buddy of Jimmy Carter’s named Charles Manatt, was ever alert to any signs that the party’s left flank would be tempted to color outside the lines. In that event you could see the sprouting seeds of what became the Democratic Leadership Counsel and every attempt thereafter to restructure the Democratic Party along a more corporate-friendly, less-civil-rights-conscious lines—from the DLC, to the Concord Coalition, to “neoliberalism,” to Pete Peterson’s assaults on Social Security, to No Labels, to the cult of Simpson-Bowles, to the Problem Solvers Caucus and right up to the present day. In 1982, the entire gathering was so deadeningly cautious that I wound up spending most of the first afternoon and evening in the hotel bar with Christopher Hitchens and Alex Cockburn, drinking many funereal toasts to any politician to the left of Scoop Jackson.
So, anyway, I’ve been watching these folks for a long time. And one of the things that consistently drove me around the bend was the refashioning of the word “centrist” to suit the agenda of the DLC and its many descendants. What we had here were conservative Democrats—in truth, some of them were more Eisenhower Republicans—but there suddenly was no such thing as a conservative Democrat. There were liberals and “centrists.” For decades, the dialogue shifted inexorably that direction. (One of the side effects was that, as the Republicans slid steadily off the right edge of the political world, some Reaganauts found themselves referred to as “moderates,” which did not help matters, either.) Now, though, “centrist” has taken on a whole new meaning and a whole new purpose within the Democratic Party. It is now a club to beat people with.
In the long view of history, a lot of people who are being accused of being “centrist”—or, more often, “centrist corporate Democrats”—hold positions well off the port beam of the 1972 McGovern campaign, and almost over the horizon from the left side of most Democratic presidential candidates of the past 20-odd years. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2016 platform was the most progressive Democratic platform since McGovern’s. That’s not deniable. Neither is the fact that the most conservative member of the prospective Democratic field in 2020 is Joe Biden. But if, as a lot of people seem to believe, anyone who is not full-tilt behind the Green New Deal and/or Medicare For All is unacceptably “centrist,” then the word has lost all meaning and the Democratic Party is in danger of losing its way.
Bernie Sanders had a moment with Stephen Colbert on Thursday night that is worth studying in this regard. They were talking about Medicare For All, and Sanders said it is no longer a fringe idea, which is true. Colbert asked, logically, what the political path to achieving this laudable goal might be, particularly through a Republican-controlled Senate. Sanders replied:
If the Democrats in the House move us in the direction of Medicare For All, and Mitch McConnell chooses not to do anything, there will be enormous pressure all over this country on Republican senators to do the right thing, do what the House did.
Now, it is not being “centrist,” or “corporate,” or in any way “neoliberal” to point out that Sanders here is being almost preternaturally optimistic, to the point of being unacceptably glib, about the difficulty of getting McConnell and the Republicans to do anything of the sort. And swinging those words around like a baseball bat to any Democratic politician who points out that’s a short route to chaos and a return to general minority status.
The fact is that there is a natural center in American politics that is not neoliberal, or corporate, or “centrist,” in the ever-changing meaning of that word. My politics don’t happen to reside there, but that doesn’t make it any less real. It’s been obscured by decades of dishonest politics, personal agendas, and rhetorical sleight-of-hand. It happens to be the solid place whence can be launched real progress. Political patience is the most lost art of all.
Teachable Moments — Humor from Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Pushing back against criticism of her lack of diplomatic experience, Donald J. Trump’s choice to be the next United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Heather Nauert, said on Friday that a memorable visit to the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney World made her eminently qualified for the U.N. post.
“When people look at me, they think Heather Nauert, former Fox News anchor,” Nauert told reporters at the State Department. “What they don’t realize is I’m also Heather Nauert, who went on ‘It’s a Small World’ three times when she was nine.”
Nauert said that, while career diplomats might spend twenty to thirty years learning about only one country, “I learned about twenty-five countries in fifteen minutes.”
Laying out her objectives for her tenure at the United Nations, the prospective Ambassador said, “Right now I’m just looking forward to seeing all of the other Ambassadors wearing their festive costumes and doing their dances. That’s going to be amazing, I think.”
Nauert bristled when a reporter asked about her controversial comment that D Day was evidence of the long-standing bond between Germany and the United States. “At the end of the day, there is just one moon and one golden sun, and a smile means friendship to everyone,” she said.