Rethinking a Party



Le Figaro stated that this year’s presidential elections would lead the Democrats to “an examination of conscience.” The French daily quoted party insiders who see the future of the Party in the hands of new figures like Barack Obama. “We came up short in the White House and in the Senate,” complained Hillary Clinton to CNN’s Larry King. “I think that means we’ve got to take a hard look at what we stand for as a party and how we present to the American people both the values and the priorities that Democrats are willing to fight for.” This hard look will have to take into account the right swing of the American nation.

Most pundits attribute George W. Bush’s victory to the influence of Christian hardliners opposed to abortion and gay rights. The religious vote is but a factor in the complicated dynamics of a “Right Nation.” Bill Clinton’s populist charm was keenly mindful of the right sway of post-Reagan America. The populist factor was, in 2004, one of the key ingredients in the Republican formula for success. For the American electorate, a distant East Coast Catholic patrician married to a Portuguese billionaire was no match for a warm and inarticulate Texas bully.

Worse than the accusations of “flip flopping” on Iraq policy, the “liberal” stigma haunted Mr. Kerry’s bid for the White House. Liberals are perceived as soft on foreign policy, economic disasters, and morally ambiguous.

The American Left has had to reposition itself after the victory of the democratic free-market paradigm. Bill Clinton was able to sell his ideas on the basis of pure charm, articulating a right-of-center Democratic platform. Mr. Clinton presided during a period of unprecedented prosperity and foreign policy success.

The contested 2000 election – where the populist element was noticeably absent chez Gore – was followed by the September 11th tragedy. The Bush administration used this historical juncture to advance the “neocon” agenda of Vice President Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld, and ideologue Wolfowitz. Draped in the American flag, the militarization of society and foreign policy as well as the Iraq excursion became necessary compensation devices in light of the barbarian aggression. Little has been written of the Iraq adventure as a national compensation mechanism to a national trauma and the unsuccessful search for Bin Laden.

Silencing the critical voice of Howard Dean in favor of a “high road,” gave Republicans the time necessary to mount a serious campaign that dictated the terms of the debate. It afforded the Bush camp the possibility of ignoring the budget deficit, the absence of weapons of mass destruction and an exit strategy in Iraq, the medical insurance crisis, unemployment, and, above all, the findings of the 9/11 Report and the judicious, disparaging “tell-alls” of insiders Paul O’Neill and Richard Clarke.

Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America (New York: The Penguin Press, 2004) singles out the sources of George W’s brand of conservatism: Texas, business, and religion.

The right swing in government policy is seen as the product of the many Conservative think tank alumni now in positions of power, the offspring of Protestant ministers currently in the Cabinet, the cultural cohesiveness of the Right leadership, and the sense of purpose afforded the administration by the September 11 th tragedy. “Conservatism’s progress goes much deeper than the gains that the Republican Party has made over the past half century or the steady decline in Democratic registration. The Right clearly has ideological momentum on its side in much the same way that the Left had momentum in the 1960s.” Micklethwait and Wooldridge argue that “the extent to which the center of gravity in American politics has moved to the right has been clearly illustrated by the current president and his predecessor. First came the first two-term Democratic president since the Second World War, who only achieved that feat by governing like an Eisenhower Republican. Now the grandson of Prescott Bush has cut taxes, catered to the Religious Right and generally governed like a Sun Belt business tycoon.” The authors point to the most important characteristic of the 2004 election: “If our survey has been one of conservative success, it has also been one of liberal failure. American liberalism, as both a body of ideas and a political coalition, is a shadow of its former self.” The Democratic Party will survive as a political alternative as soon as it confronts the right swing of American culture and the electoral need for populism.

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1 Comment

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    July 7, 2007 @ 4:56 pm


    Personally I love the American politics because it has evolved and ‘matured’ over the centuries. Though it will continue to elicit comments – good, bad and ugly – but cannot be compared to Africa where I come from.

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