Thursday, July 28, 2005

Go Unfuck Yourself 

Today's Article That Everyone Else Has Linked To Already is "Unfucking the Donkey: Advice for Weary, Wandering Democrats," by Rick Perlstein, author of Before the Storm (a book we are frankly quite weary of urging you to read):
As usual, Ronald Reagan boiled it down to essentials. He liked to say—maybe he said it to some of you—"There are no easy answers. But there are simple answers." I'm here to say he's right. "Building a progressive idea structure" ain't the problem. It's recovering the progressive foundation. Do that, and we are unfuckwithable.

It's simple. Barack Obama put it exquisitely in his victory speech: "Government can help provide us with the basic tools we need to live out the American dream."

Here's a dirty little secret. The Republicans know this. Nothing scares them more than us returning to our simple answers.

Here's Bill Kristol, in a famous 1993 memo I'm sure you're all familiar with: "Health care is not, in fact, just another Democratic initiative . . . the plan should not be amended; it should be erased. . . . It will revive the reputation of the . . . Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests."

I'd say this memo is the skeleton key to understanding modern American politics, if it didn't make me yawn. There's nothing here that's unfamiliar to historians who've read Republican secrets going back 25, 35, even 70 years. You can sum them up in 10 words: "If the Democrats succeed in redistributing economic power, we're screwed."
Our esteemed colleague Digby directs us to an ITT interview with Perlstein, which draws heavily -- as does the item above -- on his new pamphlet, The Stock Ticker and the SuperJumbo:
IN THESE TIMES: You have this analogy between Boeing’s multi-generational devotion to building the first jumbo jet and the Democratic Party’s multi-generational commitment to insuring economic security. How have successive generations of Democrats built on the same project?

PERLSTEIN: Take something like federal aid to education. That was an idea Democrats had ever since the New Deal. It never succeeded for various political reasons, but they just kept at it and by 1965 Lyndon Johnson finally passed the thing. By that time, everyone knew what the Democrats were about: They were the party that supported federal aid for education. Compare that to when the Clintons proposed their health care plan in the early ’90s. He ran and won on the idea that he was going to deliver health care to all Americans, and for various complicated reasons he lost that battle. But instead of saying well, this is what the Democrats are about, we’re going to stick to it despite the setback, Hillary Clinton very explicitly said: What I learned was that you have to do things in small steps and incrementally. She specifically backed off the marker that the Democrats laid down, that we are the party defined by our pledge to deliver health care to everyone.

ITT: I like this term marker. What’s it mean?

PERLSTEIN: It’s a gambling term. A marker basically is a commitment to pay. In Guys and Dolls, Nathan Detroit would say, “that guy holds my marker.” It’s something you can’t back out of, on pain of getting your knees broken. The marker that Republicans have is that everyone who runs for office has to sign a pledge—it’s enforced by their own knee-breaker, Grover Norquist—that on pain of political death they’re not going to raise taxes.

My thesis is that a commitment that doesn’t waver adds value by the very fact of the commitment. The evidence is that even though the individual initiatives that make up the conservative project poll quite poorly, they’ve managed to succeed simply because everyone knows what the Republicans stand for. And the most profound exit poll finding in the last election had nothing to do with moral values, it was all the people who said that they disagreed with the Republicans on individual issues, but they voted for George W. Bush anyway because they knew what he stood for . . . .

ITT: The most common analysis of why Democrats have strayed from this project—as one New Deal congressman whom you quote says “Freedom Plus Groceries”—points to corporate money. Today’s Dems are feeding at the same trough and they can no longer take on the insurance companies, etc. But in the latter half of the book, you provide a fascinating psychological account of why the Democrats strayed from this project, which was sort of born out of the conflict of the ’60s.

PERLSTEIN: Yeah. The trauma of the generation of people who are running the Democratic Party was being blindsided by the political failures of left-of-center boldness. If you look at a lot of the most resonant and stalwart centrists and Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) Democrats, for a lot of them, their political coming-of-age was being blindsided by conservatism. For Bill Clinton, it was losing the governorship in 1980. For Joe Lieberman, it was losing a congressional race in 1980. For Evan Bayh, the chair of the DLC, it was seeing his dad lose his Senate seat to Dan Quayle in 1980. But the formative traumas of my generation of Democrats—and I’m 35—have been the failures of left-of-center timidity. So there really is a structural generational battle among Democrats. People of a certain age are terrified that the electorate is going to associate them with the excesses of the ’60s, but most voters are too young to remember that stuff. The Republicans keep trying to paint the Democrats as the party of the hippies and punks who burn the flag.

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