The defaming of Toyota, disappearing moderate Dems, & more
From the Scrapbook
Feb 21, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 22 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
The Vanishing Conservative Dems
The Scrapbook has a fondness for perennial news stories—the growing gap between rich and poor, how the Internet is changing politics, the increasing diversity of the suburbs—but the granddaddy of them all is the troubling disappearance of liberal Republicans.
It takes different forms, but is always the same old plot. The Washington Post will find a retired businessman in Ohio who cast his first ballot for Wendell Willkie but now is horrified by the right-wing extremism of George H.W. Bush or John McCain. The New York Times will run a friendly profile of the two moderate Republican senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who represent the dying breed of moderate Republican senators from the Northeast. And so on, and on.
The Scrapbook is happy to concede that the Republican party, like the country generally, has moved rightward in recent decades; and that fewer candidates would today identify themselves as “liberal Republicans”—whatever that may mean—than in, say, 1966. Still, The Scrapbook can’t help but observe that, as the GOP has shifted to the right, the Democratic party has lurched decisively to the left, leaving what used to be called “conservative Democrats”—Reagan Democrats, Cold War liberals, Blue Dog Democrats, whatever—as an endangered species within their party. The difference, of course, is that while the press tends to obsess on the thinning ranks of liberal Republicans, it is unaccountably silent about the demise of conservative Democrats.
We were reminded of this last week when the Democratic Leadership Council announced that it was closing shop. At a moment when Nancy -Pelosi is the undisputed leader of congressional Democrats, the Obama White House is a wholly owned subsidiary of organized labor, and MoveOn.org and Daily Kos are the intellectual engines of the Democratic party, it is fair to say that the species of moderate Democrat is not only endangered but moving swiftly toward extinction. The last Cold War liberal, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, has announced his -retirement, as has Rep. Jane Harman of California, whose support for the war on terror, under Speaker Pelosi, cost her the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. Of the 53 Blue Dog Democrats in the House, 21 were defeated for reelection in November, and the 6 Blue Dogs who retired were succeeded by Republicans.
You wouldn’t know it from the abuse it endured from within its own party’s ranks, but the Democratic Leadership Council was hardly a conservative organization. Formed in 1985 after the Mondale debacle, it sought to inject a measure of fiscal responsibility into Democratic dogma and put some distance between the party and the protectionist AFL-CIO. After the defeat of Michael Dukakis in 1988, it earned the active support of senators such as Charles Robb of Virginia and Sam Nunn of Georgia, as well as governors such as Bill Clinton of Arkansas. And it may well be said that Clinton’s most enduring achievements as president—welfare reform, NAFTA, deregulation, budget surpluses—were largely in accordance with DLC doctrine.
But that was then. Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama turned their backs on the policies that had elected Bill Clinton to two terms in the White House, and Howard Dean, as presidential candidate and Democratic National Committee chairman, was a relentless public antagonist of the Democratic Leadership Council. Its influence is long gone, and its demise was overdue.
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