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Democratic Moderates Aren't the Answer to Right-Wing Republicanism; They're the Cause
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Another election, another shellacking. Democrats are returning to the political reality that predated the quantum singularity of Biden’s anti-Trump coalition: adrift, ideologically divided and, as always, arguing over whether to chase swing voters or work hard to energize their progressive left base.

At the root of the Democrats’ problem is rightward drift. The 50-yard line of American politics has moved so far right that Richard Nixon would be considered a liberal Democrat today. How did we get here? In part it’s due to the moderates who control the party leadership — not just because they don’t fight for liberal values hard enough (though that’s true) but because of an intended consequence few people focus upon: Their campaigning reinforces the right.

Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle wrote an essay a few weeks ago that’s still rattling around in my brain. It’s about a topic that students of politics often wonder about: What’s the smartest way forward for Democrats?

In general terms, McArdle takes up the mantle of the dominant moderates who argue that the party can’t push for progressive policies, or push for anything at all, unless it holds the reins of power. Win first, improve people’s lives later.

It’s an old position. I’ve countered the wait-for-progress folks by pointing out that later rarely seems to come. When Democrats win, as Barack Obama did in 2009 — he won the House and the Senate and even briefly achieved a filibuster-proof 60-vote supermajority — they choose not to go big or push hard for purported liberal goals such as increasing the minimum wage, federally legalizing abortion or socializing health care. I agree with progressive strategist Anat Shenker-Osorio’s answer to the attentistes: “The job of a good message isn’t to say what is popular. The job of a good message is to make popular what we need said.”

In other words, use the bully pulpit. Lead.

Still, I’ve never read or heard the mainstream position articulated quite as clearly as McArdle does. She quotes self-described progressive election analyst David Shor. “To me, Shor’s vision — sort your ideas by popularity, then ‘Start at the top, and work your way down to find something that excites people’ — sounds less inspiring but more likely to help Democrats get and hold power,” McArdle summarizes. “It doesn’t require Democrats to persuade voters that, say, an Asian American assistant professor has exactly the same interests as a rural, White call-center worker or a Hispanic plumber and that only a conspiracy of the very rich prevents them from realizing it. Democrats merely have to learn what voters already want.”


She attacks “the young idealists who staff campaigns and newsrooms” who “sustain a rarefied bubble where divisive slogans such as ‘defund the police’ can be questioned only with great delicacy, while significantly more popular propositions like ‘use the military to help police quell riots’ cannot be defended at all.” Pointing out that only a third of American voters have a bachelor’s degree, she concludes: “Democrats cannot afford to cater only to that hyper-educated class (of young, urban, educated idealists).”

Leftists can easily agree that ignoring less-educated voters is a prescription for electoral defeat. More importantly, everyone deserves representation — for the left, “everyone” especially includes the poor and working-class, who are less likely to be highly educated. But her assumption that (for lack of a better word) the underclasses are inherently reactionary, cannot be organized behind a slate of progressive policy goals, and that this state of affairs must be accepted is fundamentally flawed and ideologically self-sabotaging.

We are thinking of pre-election campaigning, the election and post-election governing as discrete phases. Actually, they’re highly intertwined. For example, political campaigning is itself a self-reinforcing mechanism that affects not merely a race’s outcome but the ideological reality under which the winner must govern.

Democrats, McArdle says, must win first before they can improve things. But what’s the point of winning if you go to make things worse?

The above presents a classic example of single-mindedly seeking Pyrrhic victory at the polls. If Democrats abandon “defund the police” in favor of “use the military to help police quell riots” as per McArdle’s counsel, they might win more elections. But to what end? Victorious law-and-order Democrats will further militarize policing, increase shootings and beatings of civilians and hasten creeping authoritarianism. “Defund the police” is a tone-deaf slogan, but the idea of shifting resources away from violence-based law enforcement into programs that reduce crime by strengthening communities is a good one. We need a better slogan, not adding armed goons to city streets.

Bill Clinton won twice, but his signature legislation — welfare reform, NAFTA-GATT and the crime bill — included right-wing wish list items that could have just as easily been signed into law by George W. Bush. With Democrats like that, who needs Republicans?

You can win with a political bait-and-switch. Joe Biden did. He ran as Not Donald Trump, the ultimate centrist compromiser who bragged that he was friends with every Republican senator, even the racist ones. But you can’t govern after you pull one off. Biden’s attempt to pass infrastructure and social spending bills are being shredded by centrists who point out that he didn’t run on policies inspired by Bernie Sanders. I love those policies. But where’s the electoral mandate for these changes?

More subtly, but I think more importantly, running right is a lose-lose proposition. If you win, you can’t pass the progressive agenda you claim to really want. If you lose, you’ve validated and endorsed hard-line Republicans. Win or lose, polls should provide prompts for smarter messaging and framing, not selling out. A party that claims to represent the left has to run to the left.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Democratic Party, Progressives, Virginia 
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  1. TG says:

    Yeah I hear you – but it’s really simple.

    “Left” and “right” are now meaningless terms. Both parties are in thrall to their wealthy donors.

    So here’s what we get: party A wins the election, they betray their base on core economic and quality of life issues, things get worse, and party B wins the next election. And party B then betrays their base, and things get worse.

    Rinse, lather, repeat.

  2. But continue apace with importing highly racialized nonwhite Democratic Party Voters from India and China so that they can vote the Historic Native White American Working Class into a White Racial Minority within the borders of America…..This is creepy Ted Rall’s solution…

  3. Democrat Noam Chomsky:”‘I want the White Working Class Christian Population FUCKING DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD….AND DEAD!!!!!!

    Jennifer Rubin:”‘I agree with Noami….”


    • Replies: @Kurt Knispel
  4. Rahan says:

    You get destroyed for publicly saying child trannies is not OK. Blacks are encouraged to steal through special laws decriminalizing it. Protesting leftists election stealing is terrorism and the army and FBI and media are all on the leftist side. “Oh no, we’ve drifted so so much to the fascist right, how shall we ever get back to the left.” Giggle.

    Every organization, every system has two modes.
    Mode 1: Healthy mode. The organization deals with the issues it was created to deal with.
    Mode 2: Toxic mode. The organization feeds off the issues, and concentrates on expanding itself, taking over as much social space as possible, and enforcing as much control on the host society as possible.

    Modern corporate conservatism, corporate progressivism, state institutions, banking and finance, academia, the media, and megacorps, are all functioning in toxic mode.

    The modern left are now insane crypto-fascists not because they “got infected by the rightwing” or “because they pander too much to rightwingers”, but because they have become their own toxic doubles.

    It’s not about ideology. It’s about self-perpetuating parasitic structures taking over and killing their host societies. Doesn’t matter what they call themselves. When the Left, the Mass Media, the Megacorps, the CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon, Homeland Security, and Academia are all saying the same things, using the same symbols, and pushing toward the same end point, what is happening.

    1) A golden utopia has been achieved, in which every place is now stacked with good people, who are no longer divided by institutional boundaries and are all holding hands, working together for a better future for all.


    2) Society has been taken over. Checks and balances, pluralism, free speech, and institutional transparency have been dismantled, and communities has been disrupted via corp monopoly and forced immigrant injections, breaking the trad civilizational safeguards, and filling the resulting vacuum with the unrestricted power of the toxic system.

    The enemy is not “the other side” and fixing things isn’t about “rediscovering ideological purity”. The enemy is within now. The enemy is all around. Both the sane conservatives and the sane progressives need to take back society one step at a time, to recreate the system in which taxpayers tell institutions what to do and not vice versa, in which voters tell politicians what to do and not vice versa, in which parents tell schools what to do and not vice versa.

    This summer a crash is coming. Mostly to do with the realization of what the forced vaccination actually achieved, combined with overall economic crisis of the late-USSR type. By the spring of 2023 globohomo will regroup. During the months between the summer crash and the regrouping is the window of opportunity to take society back, be you a sane rightwinger, or a sane leftwinger, or a sane centrist.

    Just don’t be dazzled by symbol and buzzword-based camouflage of the toxic masters. Learn to sniff out their tricks.

    …In the real world it’s not Nixon looking like a liberal today. In the real world it’s 1990s Bill Clinton or first term Obama sounding like “an evil Nazi” today. This is the real shift of enforced “proper values”.

    The real shift is the progressive media giving themselves permission to lie because “we are the good guys and have the moral right to lie in the name of cosmic justice”. Once you take this step there’s no going back. Once you give yourself permission to be this, you are a servant of the Father of Lies.

    • Replies: @Quartermaster
  5. Bill Clinton won twice, but his signature legislation — welfare reform, NAFTA-GATT and the crime bill

    Don’t forget DOMA– the revenge of normal folks– and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. All passed after Newt Gingrich, of all people, took the house in 1994. Newt was Bill & Hill’s gift to the nation. The first GOP House in four decades.

    One thing Rall doesn’t touch is that perfect intersection of economic and cultural issues– low-wage immigration.

  6. anonymous[395] • Disclaimer says:

    There are two ‘lefts’ and two ‘rights’, the oligarch-supported versions and the more genuine versions, and Ted Rall is not parsing this

    Rall needs to first distinguish between the oligarchic-supported fake ‘left’ whose key themes are pro-lgbt, pro-migration, stoking racial tensions, and destroying traditional cultures, all of which the Biden admin is well supporting … these aren’t selling to the mainstream, the immigration agenda even being rejected by a good part of US citizen Latinos

    Or the more ‘real’ classic left of supporting workers and their families … which today’s Democratic Party, oligarch-supported ‘left’ denounces as ‘class reductionism’

    The ‘right’ must be distinguished as well, between the libertarian ‘muh free market’ oligarch-supported ‘right’, which almost nobody except the rich believes in

    Or the populist, more real ‘right’ of supporting workers and families and traditional culture … supporting workers as they really wish to be supported

    The populist right has become a more appealing home for the truly pro-worker old left, and Ted Rall is far from figuring this out … Rall a boomer caught up in feelings for a long-gone, worker-union-man framing of the ‘left’ that doesn’t apply anymore

  7. PJ London says:

    “People who live at subsistence level want first things to be put first. They are not particularly interested in freedom of religion, freedom of the press, free enterprise as we understand it, or the secret ballot. Their needs are more basic: land, tools, fertilisers, something better than rags for their children, houses to replace their shacks, freedom from police oppression, medical attention, primary schools.”
    ― Mao Tse-tung, Mao Tse-Tung On Guerrilla Warfare

    “There are two principles here: one is the actual needs of the masses rather than what we fancy they need, and the other is the wishes of the masses, who must make up their own minds instead of our making up their minds for them.”
    ― Mao Tse-tung

    Although America is not at the old subsistence level, the actuality is that many of the people are 1 at most 2 pay-checks from poverty.
    They live as did the peasants in constant fear having nothing.
    Until politicians either follow or lead this constant pandering is causing the chaos.
    This is why Trump is so popular, he vocalises what most people want.
    He leads by following. The fact that he could not produce what they want is because he is an idiot who does not understand how bureaucracies work. The machine has control of the country and he did not realise it.
    Bill Clinton once reportedly told senior White House reporter Sarah McClendon,“Sarah, there’s a government inside the government, and I don’t control it.”

    “They” control the country via the DoJ and FBI the rest do what they are told.

  8. Nixon would be too conservative to be a Republican in this day and age, not liberal enough to be democrat, Rall. Further, JFK and RFK would be far to the right of today’s democrat party and they espoused values a Republican wouldn’t dare utter today And what’s the point of considering college “educated” voters in all these calculations when we know the collegiate diploma mills are no more turning out educated adults than does kindergarten?

    You badly misinterpret the political swings, Ted. Nixon and the Kennedy boys all sent the National Guard to defend cities against the orcs and demanded law and order, the death penalty and long sentencing for violent crimes. They could not be called too liberal to be Republicans of today. They were too conservative to even BE in politics today and they were SIXTY years ago. Tellingly, 1992 Bill Clinton is now outside the mainstream democrat party of today, just 30 years on, and more conservative then than any republican today.

    That’s fact, Ted. When you misread history SO badly, your piece appears terribly bent. But that’s modern “education” for you. Your critical thinking faculty ignores reality and yields irrational dogma. Keep up the good work.

    • Agree: Macumazahn
    • Replies: @Charles
  9. Charles says:
    @Jim Christian

    When Rall stated that Nixon “would be a Liberal Democrat” in today’s USA I truly did not know if Rall was attempting satire or being straight-forward.

    • Replies: @Jus' Sayin'...
  10. ruralguy says:

    The 50-yard line of American politics has moved so far right that Richard Nixon would be considered a liberal Democrat today.

    Seriously?! Let’s look at surveys by Gallup. In 1949, a few years after FDR led the country in a leftward lurch, only 14% believed the country should move towards socialism. A Gallup survey in 2020, last year, showed 76% of Democrats would vote for a socialist for President. Another poll found 43% of Americans believed some form of socialism would be good for the country. You would be much more credible, Ted Rall, if you used facts to back up your assertions.

  11. @Charles

    When Rall stated that Nixon “would be a Liberal Democrat” in today’s USA I truly did not know if Rall was attempting satire or being straight-forward.

    Nixon woulda/shoulda been regarded as a liberal Democrat even back when he was President. Almost all his policies and successes were liberal wet dreams at the time: Nixon/Kissinger got the US out of Vietnam. Affirmative action was created while Nixon was President. Nixon introduced price controls for petroleum products. Nixon inserted the federal government into local law enforcement via expansive use of the LEAA. Nixon took the USA entirely off the Gold standard. The list goes on.

    Nixon was a liberal but despite this liberals hated him for many reasons: (1) During his tenure on HUAC that committee proved conclusively that the Democrats had allowed significant Soviet subversion of their Party and the federal government. (2) Nixon beat Helen Gahagan Douglas in her attempt to return to the Senate by using the campaign strategy devised by Douglas’s opponent in the Democrat primary. (3) Nixon became Eisenhower’s Vice President. (4) Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey handily and McGovern overwhelmingly in two consecutive presidential races. (5) Despite all the liberal and prog calumny slung at him, Nixon retained his popularity among the mass of US citizens. Based on polling results, he could probably have won a third presidential campaign had such a campaign been possible.

    • Thanks: Hibernian
    • Replies: @John Johnson
  12. @Jus' Sayin'...

    Beat me to it.

    Nixon basically broke with his own party and actually pushed Affirmative Action even father than the Democrats were planning. He was never a Republican or conservative by policy.

    There is the hated and corrupt Nixon that everyone knows from movies and it is just assumed that he was some right-winger that wouldn’t work with Democrats. In reality Nixon as president signed off on all kinds of Democrat bills to the astonishment of Republicans.

    He was basically a racial realist conservative that thought the racial conflict needed to be mitigated by creating a Black middle class, even if it was artificial. This is why he supported Democrat social spending and Affirmative Action.

    That’s not merely my take on it. His secret recordings reveal all of his positions. He didn’t think Blacks and Whites were merely different by skin color but supported lying to the public and creating all kinds of entitlement programs for them. This isn’t discussed in modern political circles for obvious reasons.

    That same type of nihilistic and dishonest thinking that characterized Nixon is what plagues the modern left. They aren’t interested in working class politics because they have deviated so much from reality by trying to equalize the races. The foundation of the modern left is built on a giant lie of natural equality. Sure they dominate the discourse but they could collapse at any moment like the Soviet Union. I honestly wouldn’t spend that much time trying to assess them. At some point the lie will come out and their foundation will fall. That could in fact lead to the worker’s movement of Ted’s dreams. Once the truth of race is out we will see a return to practical populism.

  13. Hibernian says:

    Bill Clinton won twice, but his signature legislation — welfare reform…

    … was forced on him by the post-1994 Republican Congress.

    • Replies: @John Johnson
  14. Hibernian says:

    When someone like Mr. Rall says that we’re more right wing now than in the ’70s, he’s not comparing now vs the ’70s. He’s gauging the difference between 1970 reality and 1970 leftist dreams and comparing it to the difference between 2021 reality and 2021 leftist dreams. I.e. reality now is further behind present almost unlimited leftist dreams than 1970 reality was behind the more restrained leftist dreams of 1970.

  15. @Hibernian

    Bill Clinton wanted to sign welfare reform.

    He vetoed it twice before reaching a deal.

  16. QuikHit says:

    Stop using the word Democratic for Democrats. It is incorrect. They are Democrats.

  17. @Rahan

    There is no such thing as a “sane progressive.”

  18. …for the left, “everyone” especially includes the poor and working-class, who are less likely to be highly educated.

    I used to see Rall’s pathetic comic strip in a free newspaper out of Athens, OH, a strongly idiotic leftist town because of Ohio University. Rall has not grown at all in the last 30 years. The man still cannot differentiate between the corporate controlled people, which is almost the entire so called “progressive lef6t” (actually quite regressive), and the true center of the country.

    The founders defined the center both in their rhetoric, and the constitution they gave us. Rall, and idiots like him (and that includes the Republic establishment) do not want rule of law, and ignore the constitution unless it is convenient to uphold it. None of the progressive program upholds the rule of law, and the left (which includes the establishment of both parties and the “elites” they support) will suffer for their stupidity. Many will die as a result while they are uttering the equivalent of “if only comrade Stalin knew.” Whoever the modern equivalent of Stalin is, he will laugh at their naivete, think you could have a strong government and not end up with a dictator.

    Such naïve fools they are.

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