The old days, they have come again. Sort of.
In the wake of the Lieberman defeat, there have been a raff of articles about the radicialization of those who used to be moderates, and a great deal of speculation about when they will return to their middle-of-the-road roots. The discussion has 2 different veins. The first began with Josh Marshall writing about the radicalization of the moderates in response to the extreme politics of the Bush Administration. Like many (myself included), he began as a DLC-type "New Democrat" and now is a pretty ferocious liberal partisan. Digby chimes in with his own story, which began not with Bush, but with the Republican takeover of Congress in the 1990's and the impeachment imbroglio. Kevin Drum wraps it up by wondering why Bush had such a polarizing effect on such mild-mannered people.
A similar question is asked by Norm Schreiber, who initiates the 2nd discussion- what do the Lamont-style neopopulists want? He speculates that their anger to the Bush Administration is a temporary phenomenon, and when Bush is gone they will return to their upper class, neo-liberal roots. Ezra Klein doesn't think the neopopulists are really all that lefty - they've come out for standard things like universal health care and the minimum wage, which the DLC would support gladly. Matt Yglesias thinks that the radicalization of centrist Democrats might be durable because market forces have proletarianized white collar professionals: they are now just as vulnerable to corporate abuses, and in need of government support and unionization, as blue-collar workers. Susie Madrak echoes Yglesias's point, noting her own experience with proletarianization, while Atrios argues that it is the very failure of neoliberalism, which failed to deliver the goods and in fact paved the way for Bushism, that has turned former DLC supporters against it. Finally, John Judis points to the historical parallel of these events, the Progressive movement of the early 20th century, in which former middle class moderates turned against the abuses of big corporations and joined hands with working class populists.
I took so much time with this summary because all of it is an encompassing problem I have been obsessed with. It is a very personal story, because I was a moderate Southern Democrat who supported the free trade/market mechanism/incremental approach to government. I am now a liberal class warrior. In short, I am precisely the sort of person they are talking about. And I think the basic narrative they have constructed: that the policy failures of neoliberalism, the reactionary policies of the Bushies, and the ferocious style of politics practiced by Republicans have converted a lot of moderates into ideologues.
We are experiencing an odd sort of deja vu. Karl Rove wanted to re-create the old McKinley coalition, and the result was the rebirth of the Roosevelt/Wilson progressive movement. Talk about your unintended consequences! The conservatives decided to try and overturn the legacy of the old Progressive movement. Predictably, those elements of society who had been part of that movement have spontaneously re-organized to defend it. So just like a century ago, educated professionals have abandoned their place on the political sidelines in order to halt the pernicious forces of mega-corporations.
The parallel does not hold true entirely, however. We are faced with a very different, and more threatening, situation. The new corporations are now global in scope, which means that national policy will have less of an effect on them. The U.S. also no longer enjoys the competitive economic advantage it did a hundred years ago, when we were just beginning our era of hegemony. This means that our fixes will be harder to implement and likely more painful. The domestic political situation is also for dangerous. Evangelical christianity and the segregationist South were the allies of the old progressive movement, and now the are our most bitter enemies. Also, today's Republican party is far more corrupt, far more vicious, than it was then. It is subject to a kind of nascent authoritarianism which will make it far more difficult to defeat.
So I don't think the conversion of professional moderates to the cause of populism is an aberration. It is likely permanent. What worries me is that alone they will not represent enough sheer political power to dethrone the conservative coalition.
Excellent analysis. You indirectly pinpoint why immigration, and especially illegal immigration, is such a hot political issue right now. Illegal immigration, coupled with outsourcing, is the precise market force that is proletarianizing the middle class professionals. The economic gains of global corporations are going only to the top, and the buying sprees of the corporate CEOs and VP, especially in real estate, are pricing the middle class professionals out of the middle class life. Now, in order to live a middle class lifestyle, one must go into debt. Wages are being depressed by illegal immigrants and outsourcing, and prices for durable goods are skyrocketing because of the expensive tastes and wealth of the rich.By Marriah, at 9:51 AM
However, once the illegal immigrants become legal, they become part of the progressive coalition. This is in part a result of the conservative backlash against illegal immigrants. It is also, I suspect, part of a general symmetry between progressive goals and immigrant expectations for life in the U.S. Progressives want universal health care while immigrants expect if for their children when they become citizens. Every new immigrant is a probable progressive voter. This is already showing up in the electoral victories of progressive Democrats in formerly hard core conservative states, such as Arizona, where Napolitano was put there by a coalition of Hispanic and Native American voters, and New Mexico's governor, Bill Richardson, captured the Hispanic vote as well. The key question is whether there are more immigrants voting for progressive candidates than there are Christians and Nationalists voting for Republicans. We will know by 2016.
There is very little evidence that illegal immigration is a threat to white collar professionals. They are competing with blue collar and unskilled workers. Outsourcing is a much bigger threat to them. Which is good, because unlike immigration, opposing outsourcing does not split the Democratic coalition by alienating our own voter base.By Arbitrista (formerly Publius), at 1:20 PM
Random musing: I wonder how illegal immigration, by whatever measure (percentage of pop., market cap., # of jobs, etc.), compares now and in the past. It's not obvious to me it's any better or worse.By sheepish, at 11:45 AM
Anyway, I like your analysis. It strikes a bit close to home for me, although I started a touch more to the left before Bush (yet was callow enough to think Clinton more liberal than he really was). It's not clear to me that this reshuffling of the middle is really a bad thing. I think the polarization of the country is bad, but the active engagement of the middle is not, in my mind.
We are now about tied with the largest percent of foreign born in U.S. history. "Illegal" immigration per se isn't really an issue, since we had pretty much open borders before 1920 - at least to Europeans.By Arbitrista (formerly Publius), at 7:22 AM