JJPGLOBAL 2019.08.17 02:54 조회 수 : 20
After the horrific mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton this past weekend, Democrats are focused on what should be their top priority: evicting from the White House a president known for spewing hateful rhetoric and blocking gun reform. But in the absence of immediate tragedy, the Democratic Party is in danger of losing sight of that goal, as they did on the debate stage in Detroit last week, when they directed their ire not squarely on Donald Trump, but also on President Barack Obama.
I don’t know what prompted so many Democratic candidates to throw Obama under the bus at the debates—but it was something to behold. If you’d predicted a week out that several wannabe Democratic standard-bearers would attack the first African-American president while the Republican incumbent was spewing racism right from the Oval Office, I would have said that was impossible. But here we are.
I’ve never bought into the idea that Democrats can win consistently with a strategy that focuses exclusively on driving up the “base” vote—I think long-term success depends on our ability to build a broad-based coalition. But that’s what’s so confounding. Even if you do believe that base turnout is everything, why would you think attacking the first African-American president was going to inspire more people of color to cast ballots? Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time progressives have chosen to eat their own. If you go back far enough, you’ll realize we’ve seen this before, and it doesn’t turn out well for the Democrats.
In the plast half-century, progressives have enjoyed two intense periods of dramatic and prolific legislative success. The first was in the mid-1960s when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and a whole slew of domestic initiatives: Medicare and Medicaid, vast federal expansions of aid to public schools, a new phalanx of environmental protections and a range of other programs known collectively as the Great Society.
Four decades later, Obama’s first two years in office marked the second progressive windfall. Working with a Democratic Congress, the young president pulled the country back from the brink of another depression, thereby kick-starting the longest period of economic growth in the nation’s history. He rescued the auto industry, saving hundreds of thousands jobs that would have otherwise disappeared across the country. He overhauled banking regulations so drastically that the financial industry subsequently decided to bankroll the GOP. And, of course, he signed the Affordable Care Act into law, a bill that has since provided health insurance to millions of Americans who would have otherwise gone without coverage.
Without a doubt, every Democrat in Detroit knew some version of both those stories. What they may not have realized is that both episodes have followed similar patterns. In each case, the right has responded with fury. Gov. George Wallace, who ran for president on a pro-segregation platform as a Democrat 1964 and an independent in 1968, didn’t arrive on the nation’s political stage by accident. Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” and Ronald Reagan’s appeal to the evangelical right also emerged largely as a reaction to the Great Society and the civil rights movement. In the same vein, the Tea Party and President Donald Trump’s populism were born in reaction to Obama’s legislative triumphs—and also as a response to the president’s race (read: birtherism).
But it‘s not just conservatives who ended up angry; both periods of progressive reform also saw wedges driven within the progressive movement. In 1968, turmoil over civil rights and the Vietnam War tore apart the Democratic coalition. Wallace pulled the white working class in one direction; Vietnam War opponent Eugene McCarthy pulled northern liberals in another; in the middle was Johnson’s vice president, Hubert Humphrey, who was left with the nomination but without a unified party behind him. Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” was designed explicitly to exploit that break—and thanks to the division, Nixon won that year.
Today, we’re facing a similar moment. In the wake of Obama’s successes, Democrats once again risk turning on one another, and losing their focus on general election voters as a result. The analogy isn’t perfect, because Obama’s purported sin—that he wasn’t “big” or “bold” or “revolutionary”—isn’t the same as Johnson’s duplicitous strategy in Vietnam. Even so, it appears today’s grievances, highlighted on liberal Twitter, have convinced some Democratic presidential candidates that there’s some advantage to parroting the far left’s complaints that Obama, and Bill Clinton before him, were not radical enough.
Before things get out of hand, let’s recall the facts. The first issue is whether Democrats should aim to tear the Affordable Care Act apart in order to replace it with “Medicare for All” or, alternatively, should strengthen and expand a law that’s working remarkably well, given the headwinds. It’s certainly true, because the Senate elected in 2008 wouldn’t support the public option, that the Affordable Care Act left a role for the private sector. But that’s no reason to abandon a law that expanded health coverage to 20-plus million more Americans. And the politics don’t work either. The ACA passed without a Senate vote to spare nearly a decade ago. Is there any reason to believe that the Senate elected in 2020 will be capable of repealing the existing law or replacing it with Medicare for All? In an age of debilitating public cynicism, Democrats should be very careful not to promise something they can’t deliver.
Second, yes, the Obama administration deported undocumented criminals. That’s hardly the same as separating children from their families and using racially divisive language. There’s really no moral equivalence here. Remember, Obama explicitly fought tooth and nail to protect the Dreamers, even while maintaining that America is both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. Finally, the tax regime in place when Obama left office might not have been as progressive as some Democrats would have liked—and Trump’s tax cuts for the rich have since made it much worse. But let’s not forget that Obama raised taxes on the very rich as part of the ACA and then again after the 2012 election. That may not have been a total rewrite of the federal code—but Obama struck huge blows for economic fairness.
Here’s what everyone needs to understand: For Democrats, progress happens brick-by-brick, with one success built on the next. We’re not going to win the White House by proposing ideas that will never pass through Congress. We’re going to win by meeting voters where they live, explaining how we’re going to strengthen protections that already tangibly make their lives better. At a moment when Washington is spinning its wheels, we need to focus on specific and tangible plans to expand access to college, control health care costs, welcome new immigrants who believe in the American Dream and rebuild America’s transportation systems.
That’s how progress has always worked. Social Security initially passed with the support of 141 Southern Democrats—most of whom were eager to prevent African Americans from receiving benefits. To that end, the bill FDR signed into law in 1935 boxed out farmworkers and maids—a vestige of racism that wasn’t corrected until the 1950s. It then took us three more decades to create Medicare and Medicaid. Then it took another three decades for Democrats to pass President Bill Clinton’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers 9 million children today. From there it took nearly 13 more years for Obama to pass the Affordable Care Act. To strike the next blow, we shouldn’t scare voters by offering a proposal that takes their health care plans away, which Medicare for All does. When it comes to scaring voters, leave that to Trump because he seems to have that market cornered. As Democrats, our best strategy, both in terms of policy and politics, is to explain how we’re going to build on progressive achievements that voters already know, understand and have come to appreciate.
But it’s not just that repudiating the most important parts of the progressive legacy is a fool’s errand—it’s a lousy electoral strategy as well. After 1968, progressives didn’t just lose an election—they lost a generation. With the exception of Jimmy Carter’s fluke win in the wake of Watergate, Republicans held the White House for the next quarter century. Clinton and Obama were the first Democrats to win reelection since FDR.
Right now, we actually have the benefit of hindsight. No matter how passionately Democrats of different stripes disagree on issues of tactics, or even on issues of policy, our problems aren’t with one another—they’re with Trump and his minions. The progressives who went to war with one another in the late 1960s didn’t understand that they were rolling out a red carpet for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush—but we do. Our job is to maintain the strategic discipline required to keep the party focused on what really matters. To prevent this coming election from becoming a redux of 1968 and 1972, we need to hold fast to our policy accomplishments, understand how we achieved them and make that progressive approach our strategy for pushing the country further ahead.
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