When a Neoliberal Makes the Case For the Left, You Listen

As we get into the 2020 Democratic nomination fight it’s important to get into the nitty gritty of policy, not just who is hard on their staff or whose single payer healthcare plan is more progressive.  Of course it will be awful, we’re already splitting hairs on whether a candidate that prioritizes economic fairness for everybody is not sufficiently devoted to racial equality, when they marched and protested for such racial equality before the other candidates were born.  We’re approaching that fork in the road where “Morning Joe” resumes being unwatchable for liberals again as they go from 2 years of “we hate Trump as much as anybody” to “you better nominate a moderate or you’ll give us more Trump” for the next 2 years.  Well, that’s a debate we will have between now and July 2020.

Brad DeLong is an economist I’ve read for a long time despite being a reasonable, but reliable neoliberal on a lot of issues.  He was part of the Clinton administration and teaches at U.C. Berkeley.  He describes himself as a “Rubin Democrat” referring to Clinton Treasury Secretary and Citigroup Chairman Robert Rubin – which must be to neoliberals as redheads named O’Riley are to the Irish – hardcore brother, hardcore.   In an interview in Vox, DeLong explains why neoliberal policy thinking has been an utter failure and “the baton rightly passes to our colleagues on the left.”

DeLong largely recognizes that the political reality that made any sort of bipartisanship, or what Clintonites called “triangulation,” the savvy, inside the beltway way to govern has been rendered foolish because of the militarization of the Republican party.

We were certainly wrong, 100 percent, on the politics.

Barack Obama rolls into office with Mitt Romney’s health care policy, with John McCain’s climate policy, with Bill Clinton’s tax policy, and George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy. He’s all these things not because the technocrats in his administration think they’re the best possible policies, but because [White House adviser] David Axelrod and company say they poll well.

And [Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel and company say we’ve got to build bridges to the Republicans. We’ve got to let Republicans amend cap and trade up the wazoo, we’ve got to let Republicans amend the [Affordable Care Act] up the wazoo before it comes up to a final vote, we’ve got to tread very lightly with finance on Dodd-Frank, we have to do a very premature pivot away from recession recovery to “entitlement reform.”

All of these with the idea that you would then collect a broad political coalition behind what is, indeed, Mitt Romney’s health care policy and John McCain’s climate policy and George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy.

And did George H.W. Bush, did Mitt Romney, did John McCain say a single good word about anything Barack Obama ever did over the course of eight solid years?

No, they fucking did not. No allegiance to truth on anything other than the belief that John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell are the leaders of the Republican Party, and since they’ve decided on scorched earth, we’re to back them to the hilt.

What Obama didn’t seem to learn until his second term was that when the other side is taking scalps, there’s little room for moderation and accommodation.  The situation with the GOP has only gotten more dire since then with the party’s further devolution to a cult of personality around a madman.  There is no dealing to be made. There is only winning and losing and that is only done by convincing the broader electorate that you have policies that will make their lives better and inspiring them to come out to vote in overwhelming numbers.

DeLong notes an interesting nuance to what works in politics now that is relevant to the moderate’s cry that you better not go too far or you alienate the mushy middle of the electorate.

The first lesson is the Gingrich lesson: If you’re in a swing state, you lose your seat if the president of your party is perceived to be a failure. The highest priority for Blue Dogs in red and purple states — in 1994 and in 2010 — ought to have been making it clear the president of their party was a great success.

If there is a good state of the world in 2021 — the Lord willing and the creek don’t rise — everyone and all Blue Dogs in office needs to recognize that and act on that.

2020 should be a continuation of the 2018 Blue Wave as the GOP has to defend an ocean of indefensible failure and corruption.  The impulse of the Morning Joes and, yes, many many Democrats  will be to play prevent defense – just don’t overreach and you’ll win this thing.  Any sports fan will get my reference to “prevent defense” as a pejorative – it rarely works and it’s a bad strategy for Dems too.

DeLong’s observation absolutely applies to the Dems in this election cycle as it did to the outsider party in 1994 and 2010 midterms.  In 2020 those moderates across the country in purpler districts will not succeed if they abandon their party and go mealy mouthed.  It’s go big, and stay united in a cause – get the Senate and the WH and expand the majority in the House.  To do that you get on board with the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, etc. and explain the fuck out of it to their constituents in ways they can grasp as being important and beneficial priorities for a country that needs big bold ideas.  Ideological collaboration with the GOP will doom them.  That will seem counterintuitive to many who are fearful of the Sanders/AOC left.   But time has come to trust the left, they have the baton.  Root like hell.

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