Why do GOP Presidents get to go Hard Right, and Dems are just GOP Lite?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

I belong to no organized political party. I am a Democrat.

After it was confirmed that Donald J. Trump will appoint former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson Secretary of State, the shape of the Trump cabinet and team has become clear. Neofascist Steve Bannon is White House Strategist. Openly racist Jeff Sessions is Attorney General (guess how many civil rights actions he is going to initiate). General James “Mad Dog” Mattis is Secretary of War (call it what it is). Notorious Islamophobe and conspiracy theorist, who denies that Islam is a religion, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn is National Security adviser.

But Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, when they came to power (and both were very popular and had real mandates) did not go left in the way that George W. Bush and now Trump have gone right.

In fact, the anecdote is told that in 1993 Clinton and his cabinet looked around the room at each other and observed, “Here we are, Eisenhower Republicans.” Why?

In fact, the Dems had a Republican serve as Secretary of Defense, which is more a Trojan Horse than a sign of bipartisanship and which exposed Obama to Bob Gates’s vitriol in his memoir after his term. In contrast, when W.’s first Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill was fired and then set out to write a damaging memoir, the Bushies openly threatened him with jail time on the trumped up pretext that he was using classified documents (he wasn’t; he never had access to any).

What kind of signal does it send that a popular Democratic president has to turn to a Republican as Secretary of Defense? That we are wimps? Put an anti-war person into that job. I guarantee you, the GIs won’t mind one little bit. It is the chickenhawks who will squawk.

It seems obvious to me that if this country is going to survive, we need to nationalize the electricity grid and re-do it to promote a quick turn to renewables. We need to get rid of coal and natural gas plants. Call it socialism if you like. Hell, call it Menshavikism. I don’t care. I don’t want my grand-nieces and grand-nephews drowning in a storm surge or being cooked to death. Enron and those big energy companies anyway were nothing but scams. Exxon Mobil spent millions to convince you climate change is a hoax, and now they’ve taken over the Federal government. They are not your friends.

Next time, assuming the Neonazis around Trump let us have a next time, I say we go big or go home.

The equivalent of the Bush and Trump picks would be if Obama had appointed Bill McKibben Secretary of the Interior, Michael Mann head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Barbara Ehrenreich Secretary of Labor, Frida Berrigan as Secretary of Defense and Paul Krugman Secretary of the Treasury. I’m not saying that President Obama’s cabinet members were unqualified. But with a few exceptions, most of them were right of center– Panetta, Lew (former COO at Citibank), etc.

It seems fairly clear that had they won, the Clinton Corporate Democrats would not even have been gracious enough to offer Bernie Sanders or any of his prominent supporters a high-powered position. Too far left?

Too far left.

Why can’t the Democrats ever throw caution to the wind and be themselves? Is it because they are beholden to the same big-money donors as George W. Bush was? But Bernie Sanders showed that you can now crowdfund a presidential campaign. Is it because they are afraid of the gerrymandered Permanent Republican Majority in the House of Representatives? But what can they really do about a president’s cabinet? As for the Senate, surely there are things they want from a president that they won’t get if they completely shut him out. Not to mention that Obama actually briefly had a Democratic majority and squandered it. A Republican president would have had several major pieces of legislation ready to go and given it to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and said, “Here, go pass this while we have a bare majority.”

Is it because they are worried about being called socialists or about public opinion turning against them? But W. and Trump weren’t worried about those things when they appointed loony tunes Neoconservatives who told us Iraqis would drape garlands around the necks of invading Western infidel troops in gratitude for being occupied. Half of Trump’s proposed appointees could probably be committed to insane asylums if their relatives cared enough about them to get them help. And the Dems are worried about reputational damage from appointing people who are merely left of center?

I can remember when Scott Brown won a senate seat from Massachusetts, and Obama said he didn’t want to push through Obamacare in Brown’s absence. What is this, a game of lawn croquet? What did President Obama get from being gentlemanly? Not a single Republican senator voted for the ACA, despite demands that it be reshaped in ways that hurt ordinary people, and now they will destroy it and toss 30 million people out of health care.

I’m not asking for Democrats to be ruthless. I’m asking for them to be assertive and principled. If they ever win another election, they should be unafraid to go as far left as Trump has gone right (but without the conspiracy nuts, please). OK, as I think about what the Trump crew are about to do to Americans’ quality of life and standard of living, maybe I’m revising as I write.

I’m asking for the Democrats to be ruthless.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: “Trump’s Cabinet Selections Are Making Us Queasy”

55 Responses

  1. Thank you once again Juan, for your service to the actual ideals of real Americans.

    Your eloquence on this very necessary matter, which I too have noticed for a long time, needs no comment, only a big “Thank You Very Much.”

  2. Juan,
    You summed up perfectly what I have been arguing for over a decade. This is the reason why Democrats will not earn my vote because of their supine attitude towards Republicans. Until they grow a spine and govern according to the wishes of the people who vote for them and stop worrying about being called names, they will not stop losing elections.

    • Things will never change unless you and others like you work to get real progressives elected as Democrats. Why do you think the GOP has gone hard right? It didn’t happen overnight, but took about 20 years as the conservatives worked assiduously to take over the party from within.

  3. It seems to me that our last chance to go big was to elect Bernie Sanders and we blew it. We are going to have to settle for finding ways outside of the mainstream to maintain the quality of our lives.

  4. Juan, you don’t seem to get it. The Democrats would rather see a Republican in the White House than abandon their loyalties to corporate interests. Do you think that Hillary Clinton will suffer as a result of losing the election? Her life will be just as great as it ever was. You really need to learn to think in class terms. Try reading Karl Marx when you get a chance.

    • That’s ridiculous, as is Marx. History has shown time and again that economics is not the most important influence in how people vote or who they support in politics. The party nominated McGovern and he lost in a landslide. Losing big is what they fear, not abandoning corporate interests.

      • “History has shown time and again that economics is not the most important influence in how people vote or who they support in politics” – that is beyond absurd. People always have and always will vote their pocketbooks. That’s simple basic hard fact.

      • McGovern’s sin was a challenge to the National Security State, not economic policy. Sanders wasn’t mounting a real challenge to the former (at least not a cohesive and coherent one, but it wasn’t his focus).

        And I submit that abandoning corporate interests is precisely what Democrats fear, because that’s the source of money for campaigns and just about everything else, like paying the guy to man the phones in the local office. Not that losing isn’t an issue, but losing happens when people don’t have an affirmative reason to vote for you. “I’m not as terrible as the other guy” isn’t a great sell.

        Bill Clinton won against George Bush I in part because the economy was in a mild recession, and there wasn’t a clear reason for victory in the Gulf War (it wasn’t like Iraq was going to invade Florida) and in fact the first Gulf War was not as wildly popular as we often think (I know, I was an adult at the time). Polls were a mixed bag on the whole enterprise at best.

        It was only the fact that it went well and resulted in relatively few casualties, and basically no cost (at least not immediately visible) that it boosted Bush’s poll numbers.

        Let’s not forget that the Democrats (Bill C) supported repealing Glass-Steagall as well. Effectively, by the 1990s they’d abandoned the New Deal, and tacked right because they thought that was how to win, because the more traditional liberals had lost (Dukakis, Mondale). But the absence of the USSR created an opening that they didn’t take. The first Iraq War ensured there’d be no peace dividend– which was part of the point.

        It’s no accident that the Dems have been trotting out Southern Democrats for decades, in part because the leadership was — and to an extent still is — stuck in fighting the last war over the Southern Strategy.

  5. Still not seeing the ‘why’ of it. Obama wins another merit badge for helping Mitch McConnell cross the street. Hillary tells us we will be stronger together with her, presumably in small, realistic increments. Sanders runs an issues-based campaign and is stridently ridiculed. The DNC cannot hire a tech staff that reaches high-school hacker levels of competence.

    I profoundly do not get it.

  6. You should ask for the organised left to be ruthless Juan. I for one will always regard the 2008 crisis as a missed opportunity to stamp down good and hard on the neck of the global banking system. Instead we got Timothy Geithner (who is a German American, so no ‘allusions’ intended) via Kissinger Associates, the IMF and (nearly) Citigroup and what has changed after two Democratic terms? Nothing.

    In fairness to Obama he turned out to be a pretty good moderate centre right president compared to the alternatives of John ‘Bomb bomb bomb Iran’ McCain and the oligarch Mitt Romney. Certainly his foreign policy was better than Clinton’s was (but then he was also spared the evangelizing presence of Tony Blair), especially in his second term. He learned the mistakes of Libya and letting H/C set foreign policy priorities.

    But alas domestically he never had the guts to really take on the finance lobby when he had the chance, and two years later it was all over. Oh well, I expect Trump will drive the US so far into the ditch that the next leader won’t be able to take half measures.

    • There were something like 430 ;bills passed by the House that never got through the Senate because of Republican filibusters while Democrats had a majority (2009 to 2011). Because of Teddy Kennedy dying, the Democrats had a filibuster proof majority in the Senate for a little over 6 months and most of that time was spent on healthcare.

    • Obama was hardly a great Progressive — he was, you know, very much a product of the Chicago Democratic machine, which has its merits but forward-looking progressive legislation that challenges the status quo won’t be among them.

  7. Well-written and thoughtful, as usual. But the Democrats you mentioned do not want to “be Democrats.” They are moderate Republicans. In their current manifestation they have nothing to offer and it is hard to see it being otherwise. If Bernie had been given a fair chance and won the nomination, do you think the Democratic Wall Street and lobbyist donors would have continued to write their checks?

  8. “Why can’t the Democrats ever throw caution to the wind and be themselves?”

    The problem is they are being themselves. The Democrats are that conservative.

  9. “I’m asking for the Democrats to be ruthless.”

    Once again I agree with the thrust of your post….In my opinion the democrats are puXXies (For the reasons you mention: Obama knew that the ACA as instituted would run into serious problems, yet Obama did not push for Single payer or even a public exchange; also his stand on big pharma), whereas the Republicans are ruthless.
    As a progressive, Independent, I am furious at the Democratic party for being sycophants of the Clintons. Even now instead of going to work they are coming up with all kind of excuses for their Loss (the metric was wrong, Putin did it, Comey did it, etc etc) !!!

  10. The fact the Democrats aren’t more assertive when in office has harmed this country and slid political discourse way to the right. This shows that the two party system is a farce, as are the Democratic Party’s establishment. That’s why they lost. They are pathetic.

  11. To answer your question, simply follow the money. Obama and the Clintons are backed by the corporate wing of the Democrat Party, and therefore follow the “Third Way” line, particularly regarding economic policy and foreign policy. The only way we’ll ever see the change you seek is for the left to stage a hostile takeover of the party. Hopefully, Bernie and his allies are starting that process.

  12. It is all about the money. Bill and Hillary Clinton got filthy rich by selling out Democrats to the interests of the 1%. Obama will be well compensated too for immunizing the criminal banksters from criminal prosecution and enriching them beyond their wildest dreams.

    Real Democrats are progressive , well left of center, but Democrat politicians are not . They are bought and sold by big money almost to the last man or woman. Real Democrats need to take a lesson from Trump and drain the swamp of all the phoney Democrat politicians and elect real Democrats.

  13. With all due respect, I feel like this sort of observation belies a striking lack of awareness of how the US political system works- especially for someone of your acumen re: the Middle East.

    Its not a personality thing, Professor Cole, its not anyone’s backbone or the Democrats being “wimpy”. The Democratic Party is heavily influenced by its funders, its leaders, and structures are present – the DNC, state parties, various leadership positions, etc. – that limit the exposure of the Democrats to left influences. Clinton and Obama might speak to the left for votes now and then, but their entire leadership teams are made up of corporate, neoliberal advisors with occasional nods to liberal social issues; why are you just pretending they even wanted to put lefties in office? Its just wishful thinking, you are ignoring facts.

    While the general population might like the Democrats to be the “opposite” of the Republicans, its not how it works. There is a consensus (see Palestine) of foreign and domestic policy that can only waver a certain distance, there are 2 major parties structured in certain ways, and its really the Republicans who, at this point, can move farther right than the Dems left.

    You do your readers a disservice to publish such fanciful musings.

  14. If you look objectively at the evidence the situation appears to be as follows: Republicans get elected and engage in fierce class warfare against 90 percent of the population. Public resistance increases over a period of about 8 years and a Democrat is elected to tamp down dissent by giving out a few crumbs to the public. Then after the political situation has stabilized, the republicans are brought back in to continue the class warfare. It is all about managing public behavior while advancing class warfare objectives.

    The Dems are just playing their role.

  15. Obama furthered the national security state like a ‘Bush on steroids.’ GOP lite? Gates colluded with the COIN people at the Pentagon to practically weld the military’s special ops forces to CIA paramilitary operations on Obama’s watch. Just one example. Drones were unleashed several times the Bush numbers, assassination of American citizens came out of the closet and were ‘legalized’ (no doubt discussed at ‘kill list Tuesday’ meetings, e.g. Anwar Awlaki), as well whistle-blowers became persecuted at historic highs exceeding all prior US presidencies combined.

    The Democrats are simply smoother criminals and Obama could actually speak English without butchering the language. He was the better thespian, by far (compared to Bush Jr.)

    ‘In any democracy, ethics, self restraint, tolerance and honesty will always take a second seat to narcissism, avarice, bigotry & persecution, if only because people who play by the rules in any democracy are at a disadvantage to those who easily subvert the rules to their own advantage’ (Ronald’s Maxim)

    Any way you cut the pie, the people on top come out on top.

  16. With regard to choosing a Republican as secretary of defense (remember that Bill Clinton did it too not just Obama), democrats are always afraid of being labeled leftist and by implication communist. I remember reading an article in Newsweek back during the first Gulf War by Gore Vidal in which he detailed how Republicans had shut down any kind of rational discourse on foreign policy using the cudgel of communism during Cold War era. Anitcommunism was the basis of JFK’s and Johnson’s policy. Anticommunism, blocked rational thought and made our foreign policy establishment see only in black and white. After cold war was over, we never went back to study the history and see that a lot of rhetoric was baloney. Obama chose one of those Cold War warriors Bill Gates to be his secretary of defense. This man was so ideologically driven that right up to 1989 he was denying that Soviet Union was collapsing. And he was the head of CIA at that time!!
    Anticommunism, or seeing an arch enemy out there trying to destroy us has been the driving ideology of military industrial congressional complex. Now that communism is gone, we concoct new enemies, Islam, Iran and who knows what next.

    • It is my supposition that one reason for our escalation in Vietnam was because of Communist China. The Republicans hammered the Democrats and Truman for “losing China” as if it were ours to lose. It was only 15 years from the takeover of China by the Communists until LBJ escalated the war. Anti-communism was like a religion during those times and I think LBJ was truly worried about being branded as the President who lost Vietnam and Indochina. When you hear some of the tapes when he was talking to Senator Richard Russell, a friend from his Senate days, you hear a man (LBJ) who sounds tortured because he knows it is a terrible situation he is putting himself and the country into, but it sounds like he sees no other alternative.Too often people judge things by the norms of their own era instead of the tenor of the times at which events took place.

    • The conservative movement’s goal was to make the final enemy those who demand equality inside America, and the final solution that they be scapegoated, silenced, disenfranchised, impoverished, and reduced to servants forever. Republican office-holders resisted open acceptance of this – as opposed to the cover stories of States’ Rights and limited government – until November 8. Now we shall see how many of their sponsors are willing to follow this logic to its horrifying end.

  17. Marvellous, Juan (I am not an American,hence the spelling!)
    Too far left is better than no country left,which seems to be the desire of the present mob. i have known for years that the “two Parties” were to the right of most Parties in other democracies, and the reason for the low turnout in US elections could be that there is not a real Party to represent working people eg a Labor Party. The Dems have sped right and pushed the Repubs off the spectrum.

  18. It’s so funny to me. When friends say they don’t follow politics because it’s all fixed they are right. They are just as correct as people like us who do follow politics.

  19. It wasn’t the “Democrats” who lost this election, it was the Democratic party machine. The party could not/would not see that its own members were hurting, in no small part due to the party’s ineptitude downstream of 2008 and lack of courage; that Clinton’s narrow public base dated from a previous election; that dislike (to be nice) of another Clinton was widespread and vulnerable to intensifying; and that the dynamic for any change that might have persuaded Democrat voters to vote during the campaign was almost entirely via Sanders. On top of that Clinton’s attention was too frequently on big money which did little to assuage concerns of her base that she would not be more of the same, and much to further solidly condemn her as more of the elite same by those who had even a mild distrust of her. Voters were not given candidates worthy of the office, or of preparing the US for its future, by either party. The parties failed the people and compromised the election. Due to the depth of the Democratic party’s goof I see no reason to try to change it. A replacement party is needed.

    • First of all, Clinton won 2.1% more of the vote than did Trump. Secondly, a recent study of the polls shows that the unprecedented Comey letter cost Clinton 2% of the vote. If she had that 2% she lost, she would have beaten Trump by the same margin as Obama beat Romney in 2012 and would have won the 3 swing states, plus Florida, more than enough to win the electoral college.

      • Granted, but Clinton did lose the election, and the Democrat party did ignore campaign dynamics and did inhibit its own voters. If given the choice, “None of the Above” would probably have won this election.

  20. I can remember when Scott Brown won a senate seat from Massachusetts, and Obama said he didn’t want to push through Obamacare in Brown’s absence.

    Then there was Obama’s abandonment of the Wisconsin Democratic Party when it was trying to get rid of Scott Walker.

    Walter Karp explained in his book Indispensable Enemies the long history of collusion between the Democratic and Republican party oligarchs. Nothing has changed since Karp wrote that book in 1993 except the names of the players. The system is very much the same.

  21. Seeing as 100% of the world’s peer-reviewed climate scientists think we are in real trouble someone had better get ruthless.
    Studies have shown that the rich are more likely to lie and cheat to get even more. Have there been many poor democrates in Washington lately?
    Democrates are really just Rebublicians lite.

  22. What kind of signal does it send that a popular Democratic president has to turn to a Republican as Secretary of Defense?

    That Obama was deferring to that part of his soul left over from what he sold to the Israel Lobby and was owned by the military-industrial complex. The popular saw about there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans comes close.

  23. When You elect Senate Leaders like Shumer, the New York Patron Saint of Bankers and House Leader Polosi, the multi-millionaire from Upper Class California, both strong supporters of the failed Candidate HRC as well as the failed Policies Todays Democratic Party represent, You certainly don’t expent change do You? To paraphase Billy Him-self, ” It’s the Money Stupid”. The Clintons got really, really rich off the system and Obama is getting ready to reap His Own rewards for the path He chose. To answer Your question, what the Democrats did was well planned except for the Election Outcome, Ethics and doing for the People is not one of Their Principles.

  24. I recently emailed a group of Republican friends a litany of the dirty-trick techniques that Republicans have used so successfully to gain and maintain political dominance and concluded that America has two political parties: a party of cheaters and a party of bleaters.

    Crooks And Liars recently reproduced a twitter storm by Matthew Chapman calling on Democratic leaders to — for God’s sake — stand up and fight fire with fire. There’s a link to it immediately below.

    And in the New York Times today, Dahlia Lithwick and David Cohen made a similar call to wimpy Democrats to buck-up.

    (I don’t think two URLs can be attached to one comment, so I will attach The Times URL to a second comment.)

    link to crooksandliars.com

  25. As a senator, President Obama knew part of the solution of these problems is public financing of our elections. Crowdsourcing only goes so far: I agree with you that Senator Sanders demonstrated that it is possible, but I worry just how much longer our public is willing to crowdsource when billionaires are able to so effectively drown out their voices.

    Had President Obama followed through with legislation on campaign finance reform our nation would be far better off. Obamacare is far better than what we had previously, but campaign finance reform is even more important. Had campaign finance reform been enacted, the chances of electing Trump and a billionaire-beholden congress would have been far smaller. Thereby, reducing the chance that progressive legislature, such as Obamacare, is knocked down due to the whims of our billionaires.

    • Obama never had a legislature willing to work with him on these issues (or only had one for 4 months out of 8 years).

        • I squirm when someone tells me: “Imagine if he’d been far Left. And Black.” Are people of color not allowed to state their opinions in order to be taken seriously by whites?

          He was certainly more left than former Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton on foreign policy and likely even on domestic issues, though unfortunately more centrist than either Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

          As a person of color and progressive, I definitely admire President Obama. I think he will look back at his time as President, and take pride in dealing with a recalcitrant Congress, but at the same time wonder, could it have been different. Could he have kept his progressive ideals as a constitutional law Professor at University of Chicago on issues where he doesn’t even have to deal with Congress? Could he have gotten more in his bargains with a Republican-held Congress? I think so… For whatever reason, he chose not to.

      • Agreed: I’ve heard this reply whenever I state this. Yet, I always wonder that if Obama was able to get through Obamacare through Congress, had he first attempted campaign finance reform rather than Obamacare, would he have gotten it? I’d like to think he would have… One could argue that Obamacare is significantly more important than campaign finance reform, but I find such arguments difficult to accept, considering just how effectively billionaires subvert our democracy and constitution.

      • Apologies for harping on this while we have moved on to probably better discussions, but as you write…

        “As for the Senate, surely there are things they want from a president that they won’t get if they completely shut him out. Not to mention that Obama actually briefly had a Democratic majority and squandered it. A Republican president would have had several major pieces of legislation ready to go and given it to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and said, “Here, go pass this while we have a bare majority.”

        He could have passed campaign finance reform in this time.

    • As a senator, President Obama knew part of the solution of these problems is public financing of our elections.

      Obama SAID that, but I question whether he was sincere about public financing.

      Obamacare is far better than what we had previously, …

      Obamacare is a delaying scam to preclude single-payer which is far and away superior to Obamacare. Stock market investors will disagree with that assessment because the day Obamacare was approved insurance stocks saw considerable gains and the scribes who wrote up Obamacare began their exodus from their government offices to return to their corporate offices.

      • After reading the first half President Obama’s autobiography, “Dreams from My Father,” I started to believe in President Obama’s sincerity. I don’t doubt that President Obama has deeply held progressive positions. It’s just that as a community organizer, he probably realized that to forcefully make unwilling participants (Congress) follow your dogmatic positions, no matter how correct and valid, might end up hurting one’s cause and the community.

        In the case of campaign finance reform, I have no doubt that he would like Congress to pass legislature. However, it just remained that: a wish, one that has to be temporarily, if not indefinitely, ignored in order to get re-elected… I think he could have had campaign finance reform, but he probably thought Obamacare was either more viable politically or more important.

        I agree that single-payer is better: countries that have single-payer systems have far better health metrics. Hopefully, we’ll get there. I’ll settle in the mean-time for Obamacare over insurance companies denying people with pre-existing health conditions.

  26. Most of these comments seem simplistic to me. Looking at this as a political scientist, an amateur historian, and a long time Democrat, here is how it looks to me. The mistake was made after Reagan won. Teddy Kennedy tried to unseat Carter in the primaries, which is close to impossible for a sitting President and, off the top of my head, I can’t think of any occasion when it was successful. This weakened the party. After Reagan won, Tip O’Neill made what I think was a fatal mistake. He decided to work with Reagan, even though Democrats held a majority in the House. Having lived through that time I remember clearly that polls showed that Reagan was very personally popular, but his conservative policies were not. The spirit of the New Deal was still ascendant in the country up to this time. By going along with Reagan, the Democrats allowed a number of conservative policies to be put into law. Then, when Bush was elected in 1988, we had 12 years of uninterrupted conservative Republican rule and practically a whole generation of voters who had been brought up under that paradigm. As a result, conservative policies became the orthodoxy and New Deal policies were shunt aside. This is when wealth inequality began to rise significantly, unions were reduced or even crushed, trickle down economics became accepted, and government was presented as the enemy and not the solution. Bill Clinton and the DLC arose as a result. The main purpose of a political party is to win elections. Many of the Democratic leaders felt that the only way that they could win was to embrace more of a business friendly approach to politics. They may have been correct; we don’t know. We do know that the previous Democratic candidates before Clinton were New Deal like and got crushed, although their policies probably had little to do with it. Even Clinton felt that he had to adopt the mantra that the government was the problem, not the solution. You need to remember that Clinton was a Southern Democrat and was able to win some Southern states that the Democrats haven’t won since. This seemed to validate his approach. Thus, the problem facing the Democrats, which they helped create back in the 80’s, was the popular feeling that government did more harm than good. Private enterprise is the answer. This meme is still strong in this country. Anyone remember seeing the signs saying the government should keep their hands off of Medicare? You can’t change what has become a cultural norm over night. I personally think Obama should have and could have clamped down harder on Wall Street, but I think his failure to do so was a calculated action for 2 reasons:1. He knew he would need their money in 2012, and 2. He was worried that if he clamped down too hard the economy could tank. Even with Obama’s success, you still have close to half the population who thinks the answer to society’s problems is reliance on the free market. BTW, this is why the ACA/Obamacare was so vital. Its success would go a long way in changing the public discourse that government is the problem not the solution.
    As to the main point, I agree that the Democrats need to get tougher. It’s like they are prepared for fisticuffs while the Republicans are bringing a gun to the fight. The Democrats gave in to Reagan; they gave in to Bush before the Iraq War, and they didn’t fight hard enough for their principles while in power. However, a large part of the post Reagan behavior was a result of the extant political culture. While I disagreed with a lot of the party’s decisions, I find them understandable and defensible. However, if they had taken a tougher approach and not been so willing to go along, then they would be in a better place IMO. Another thing you should take into consideration. Cognitive studies have shown a difference in how conservatives and liberals think. Conservatives are more authoritarian and willing to give and take orders with little or no questions. Liberals are much more willing to work with others, take the views of others into consideration and are more willing to compromise. So liberals have to go against their basic nature in many respects.

    • I agree with much of what you have written, but we must also remember that one David Koch ran for vice- president on the libertarian ticket with Ed Clark (I think they garnered like 1 percent of the vote). The Koch’s had established the Cato institute back in 1977, and I had a philosophy class with a graduate student who was a big Reagan fan, and was going to go to work at a conservative think tank. Whether its Scaife or Adelson or Coors or the infamous Kochs, the Right created a unified infrastructure of propaganda, including think tanks, a network, whole departments, radio and bloggers etc. Some of the biggest donors could care less about Christian “morality” or “family” values, but they realized
      they needed to appropriate any and all techniques that worked, because its a given fact that Conservative and Right-wing philosophies are not really very popular when you leave the theatrics and get down to the specifics. The means conquered the ends…

  27. After Reagan won, Tip O’Neill made what I think was a fatal mistake. He decided to work with Reagan, …

    Before Reagan won Tip O’Neill and the other oligarchs (Democratic and Republican) in Congress ganged up on Jimmy Carter rendering his presidency a failure for the most part.

  28. It is disappointing to see the once beacon of shining light and world’s greatest democracy become yet another struggling nation whose political system is terribly corrupt, and leaders owned by special interests and lobbies, and like all other nations including dictatorships, and the best interests of the citizenry never put above their financial backers.

  29. Right on. Wish you were here 8 months ago, but better late than never.

    One of these days we’ll have to start asking questions about how the fact that our system gives us only 2 choices contributes to this situation . . .

  30. I think more than a few people have noted that excessive money in politics, is not particularly kind to the more complex ideas that progressive politics is about–Not to mention where most of the tsunami of Benjamins originate.
    The type of negative mass knee-jerk propaganda the right specializes in, wins not so much because of the content of the message, but because the container is so simple, and is built upon the foundation of fear (one of our most powerful motivators). The right long ago realized their elitist policies obviously are not supported by the mainstream when broken down and analyzed. They are only assented to when
    splintered to the dark PsyOps of the black boogie man, the immigrant boogie man, and of course, the liberal boogie man, who has a laser guidance system on his/her nose to look down upon the rabble accurately.
    Not altogether an exaggeration to say Lee Atwater is one of the great terrorists of this century, and never even had to fire a shot! He apologized on his death bed, and now we see our countries death bed in the mists he and his acolyte Rove spun to democracies great detriment. Heres hoping we survive intact.

  31. It’s not just about being ruthless, which I agree with. It’s about standing for the real issues. Hillary could have galvanized voters by leading on climate change and income security. About 44% of eligible voters did not vote at all. That’s more than the roughly 26% that each candidates received.

    If the democratic party took seriously the most pressing issues of our time, namely climate change and the social safety net, it would give a reason to the majority who didn’t see a reason to vote for either candidate.

    Automation will make an dramatically bigger difference in the number of jobs available in the next ten years and beyond. A society predicated on full employment is a chimera and political parties and capitalism need to evolve to provide a new paradigm for a post-capitalist society. We’ve got a long way to go.

  32. The Reps & their looney wing, Gingrich, Giuliani openly boast of rolling over the competition and annihilating liberal agendas & laws.

    Dems? Seth MacFarlane got it perfectly:

    link to m.youtube.com

  33. I share your frustration, Prof. Cole but — no disrespect intended — I think your assumptions about who the Democrats “really are” are naive. The Democrats don’t act as you want them to because they are following precisely what it is that they are. They are GOP lite, socially liberal Republicans. They prefer a dreadful neoliberal economist like Larry Summers to Barbara Ehrenreich precisely because that’s what they believe in: neoliberal, anti-worker, deregulation, corporate oligarchy and little environmental commitment to speak of. You judge a party or politician by what they or he/she fights for. Look at Obama’s determined effort to fight for TPP and compare it to what he’s done for labor rights, consumer rights and the environment.

    The Democrats are not and have not been for decades a genuine party that gives a damn about workers, the poor, civil liberties or the environment. What little they’ve done in that direction in the last 3 decades is lip service, weak sauce, cosmetic efforts.

    There are individuals in the party – many in its liberal wing – who are very much concerned about those things but they are marginalized in the party. Since the party’s takeover by the Clinton/DLC crowd, its commitment to labor, anti-poverty, the environment, consumer rights and so on have been cosmetic only. The Democrats are first and foremost fundamentally a corporate party- a creature of Wall Street, big banks, arms manufacturers, big oil, big pharma. There’s a reason that big money donors keep funding the party. It is absolutely certain that if the party acted as you wanted, those donors would flee the party instantly.

    Obama was a big recipient of such corporate donations. Every organization on the planet holds its primary fealty to whoever or whatever funds not just its survival but its prosperity and success. The Democratic party is no different.

    The proof of this has been the party’s abject performance with regard to the environment, labor, anti-poverty, anti-trust, banking regulations etc in the last 30yrs. It is the DLC/Clinton version of the Democrats who have controlled the party during the systematic destruction of the New Deal and the LBJ era legislation. They own it.

    Those are the real world easily observed facts.

    You judge Democrats — like every other organization and like every other person — by what they DO and DON’T DO, not what they say. You judge them – like every other organization – by what they choose to expend their energy on and what they don’t.

    The Democrats represent the rich and powerful and for US imperial expansion and hegemony. They do not go left because they despise the left. They prefer Republicans to the left. That is the demonstrated truth that they’ve kept showing us for 30-35 yrs.

  34. “Why can’t the Democrats ever throw caution to the wind and be themselves? ” But democrats ARE being themselves! Let’s face it: Democrats would rather lose than have the left win. Does Obama support Ellison for DNC chair? Hell no. But he’s the one who put Debbie Wasserman Schultz in charge of the DNC. Is anyone arguing now that the Democratic nomination process was not slanted against Sanders?

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