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Morning Jay: The Left Will Never Abandon Obama

6:00 AM, Aug 5, 2011 • By JAY COST
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Yesterday, I argued there is no reason to expect that a serious Democratic candidate would primary Obama. Today, I’ll make the case that, in the 2012 general election, Obama will get the full, unequivocal support of the left.

Obama crowd

From the Civil War to the Great Depression, the two political parties were basically regional coalitions, and so both sides had progressive and conservative elements within it. However, starting with FDR, the Democratic party began to emerge as the sole vehicle for American liberalism, as the political argument in the country boiled down to whether or not we should continue what FDR started. While there have been some prominent liberal Republicans (e.g. Jacob Javits) and conservative Democrats (e.g. Harry Byrd), these politicians were always the exceptions to the rule (and today they are all but extinct).

This has meant, in turn, that liberals have been captured by the Democratic party – insofar as that ideology has political relevance, it works through the Democratic party, and only through the Democratic party.

Several historical examples bear this out.

In 1937, the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) of the CIO was involved in the “Little Steel Strike,” which arose after U.S. Steel signed a wage contract with the SWOC, and smaller companies like Republic Steel refused to do so. The CIO appealed to Roosevelt to intervene, but the president refused, instead criticizing both sides in the dispute. John L. Lewis, the head of the CIO, denounced FDR over national radio in strident terms:

It ill behooves one who has supped at labor's table and who has been sheltered in labor's house to curse with equal fervor and fine impartiality both labor and its adversaries when they become locked in deadly embrace.

Yikes! Lewis tried to punish FDR by endorsing Wendell Wilkie, and promised that if FDR was elected, he would resign. Most of labor stayed loyal to Roosevelt, who was easily reelected, and Phillip Murray replaced Lewis as president of the CIO.

In 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy won the Democratic party nomination, with the blessing of organized labor. However, as a Northern Catholic, Kennedy knew that his path to the nomination was extremely narrow, and it required him pulling in substantial support from the South. To that end, there was really only one choice for vice president, Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas, who had been a candidate for the presidency that year, and was also the Senate majority leader. The problem was that LBJ had been no friend of labor during his time in the Senate. While a member of the House, he supported the reviled Taft-Hartley Act, which had tightly restricted organized labor. However, there was really nobody else, and organized labor knew that if Kennedy lost, the presidency would swing to the detested Richard Nixon. In the end, labor bit down hard and gave the Kennedy-Johnson ticket its full support.

Between 1994 and 1996, no Democratic president in the 20th century had done less for the American left than Bill Clinton. Early in his first term, he had signed some bills that the left applauded – the Motor Voter Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act – but he followed that up with NAFTA, and then he cut deals with the Republicans to balance the budget, and even signed welfare reform. And if you check out the 1996 Democratic platform, you’d think it was written by a bunch of Republicans, as it touts tax cuts, crime control, and welfare reform. Yet, not only did the left stick with Clinton, but major liberal groups – like the labor unions, feminists, and environmental groups – poured tens of millions of dollars into the Democratic effort that year.

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