The Magazine

The Democrats’ Goldwater

Elizabeth Warren leads the party’s leftward march.

Aug 18, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 46 • By FRED BARNES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Republicans had Barry Goldwater. Democrats now have Elizabeth Warren. What do they have in common? Years back, he pointed the way for his party, and now she’s doing the same thing for hers.

To his left—and rightly so

To his left—and rightly so

AP / Detroit News / David Coates

Goldwater was already a force in Republican politics when his Conscience of a Conservative was published in 1960. He pushed the party toward a conservative future. Warren is riding a liberal surge among Democrats and prodding them in an even more liberal direction.

We know where Republicans wound up. They’re the conservative party, all the more so as a result of Tea Party activism. We don’t know where Democrats will ultimately land. But if Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, is any guide, they’ll be a far more liberal party than they are today and more politically vulnerable as well.

Much attention has been paid to the GOP’s recent drift to the right. The mainstream media, echoing President Obama, have characterized congressional Republicans as the chief cause of gridlock in Washington. Obama’s role as an impediment to compromise and his allegiance to liberal interest groups has been largely ignored.

That Democrats have grown more liberal has been quantified by both Gallup and Pew Research. In January, Gallup found that 43 percent of Democrats identify themselves as liberals, up from 29 percent in 2000. Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones called the shift “a telling indicator” of a once-diverse party “increasingly dominated by those from the left end of the ideological spectrum.”

In February, pollster Andrew Kohut wrote that Pew’s “values survey” from 1987 to 2012 shows Democrats “as a whole have moved to the left in recent years. They are much more socially liberal than they were even a decade ago, more supportive of activist government, more in favor of increased regulation of business.”

In June, another Pew survey found that since 1994 the share of Democrats who regard themselves as usually liberal had jumped from 30 percent to 56 percent. And 70 percent of active Democrats said their views are mostly or always liberal, double the 35 percent of two decades ago. 

Josh Kraushaar of National Journal is one of the few journalists to call attention to this trend. Citing Pew’s polling, he noted five issues on which Democratic liberals and moderates disagree: the deficit, the environment, social issues, income inequality, and foreign policy. On all five, he wrote, “Obama is on the leftward side. .  .  . Obama has been effective in portraying himself as a moderate consensus-builder while governing in a liberal direction.”

Liberals and Obama “give low priority to dealing with the deficit,” Kraushaar wrote. They favor “paying higher prices to help the environment.” Liberals “are much more optimistic about the ability of government to make a meaningful difference in the income gap.” Kraushaar also noted Pew found that “most liberals don’t believe in ensuring peace through military strength.”

Obama’s fidelity to liberal interest groups, a key feature of his presidency, has intensified this year. With Latin American children flooding across our southern border, he initially backed a change in a 2008 law that protected them from quick deportation. But after liberal, pro-immigration groups urged him not to, the president dropped that idea.

To jack up Democratic turnout in the midterm elections, his policies are focused entirely on stirring the Democratic base—racial minorities, the poor, environmentalists, peaceniks, gays, unions, and every other liberal faction. “It’s tactical,” Obama’s only hope for enlarging the turnout, says Republican adviser Karl Rove. Obama has given up on appealing to independents and moderates.

He’s unleashed Attorney General Eric Holder to insinuate that Republicans are racist. He’s outlawed antigay bias in hiring by federal contractors. In his speeches, Obama stresses income inequality—an issue spawned by the failed Occupy Wall Street protest—and raising the minimum wage. He talks about CIA “torture” and reduced payments on student loans. 

Meanwhile, “an ascendant progressive and populist movement .  .  . is on the verge of taking over the party,” Doug Sosnik, the political director for President Clinton, wrote in Politico. It’s currently “simmering beneath the surface.” 

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers