Friday, July 9, 2010

Political Center: Open for Lease or Buy

This week marks the point at which everyone woke up in their canoes and heard the sound of the waterfall up ahead waiting for President Obama and the Democrats this Fall.

Where did it all go wrong? After all he was supposed to inaugurate The Emerging Democratic Majority, as John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira prophesied back in 2002.

Democrats were "progressive centrists," wrote Judis and Teixeira. Democrats wanted to "supplement the market's invisible hand... to ensure that the public interest is served... government regulation of business... strengthen social insurance programs... shield workers from... insecurities... stronger social safety net." But they were centrists that wanted government "to steer, not to row" with "incremental, careful reforms" that would improve health coverage without a takeover of the private health-care market.

Democrats were the party of the transition "from urban industrialism to a new post-industrial metropolitan order" in three main areas. In work, Democrats represented the new professionals, "crafts workers... frustrated by the imposition of market imperatives". In values Democrats represented "a libertarian ethic of personal life." In geography Democrats represent the new "postindustrial metropolises... peopled by the new professionals who live according to the ethics of postindustrial society."

The happy prophesy of Judis and Teixeira shows how easy it is to write an optimistic scenario and how hard it is to put it into practice.

Obama & Co talked a good line about a centrist America, but when it came to governing, they said "we won" and rammed old style patronage "stimulus" and radical health care takeover through Congress. They talked about the postindustrial future but in practice have demonstrated just how important the industrial-era labor unions are to their political makeup with huge payoffs to government employee unions, auto unions, and now maritime unions. They have written a financial reform bill that puts the government's visible hand in complete control of the financial system.

And at the back of it all is the delusion that government is a beneficial force, a "visible hand" that can serve the public interest. No it can't, at least not most of the time. Government is force. Politics is power. That is why the founders created a limited government.

Democrats in January 2009 were like Hitler's army in June 1941 with nothing but the open country of suffering Russia before them. They could have nailed down a huge new majority coalition if they had pursued consensus politics and befriended the moderates.

They could have had a bipartisan stimulus, but scorned to throw a few crumbs to the Republicans to get a bipartisan majority. They could have crafted "incremental, careful reforms" to health care and got big bipartisan majorities for their pains. But they didn't, and now, out of the long grass has suddenly emerged a vast counterattacking army that nobody even knew existed in November 2008. Just as Stalin got the Russian people in their tens of millions to fight against the Nazis.

Now the Democrats are staring into the face of the biggest political disaster of our times.

The consequences of the great Democratic Failure of 2009-2010 are incalculable. But one thing is certain. The center ground of US politics is vacant. For Lease or Buy. Any offers?

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