To understand how Democrats self-destructed in 2014, one should first understand how Republicans turned the U.S. from a liberal to a conservative country. After Goldwater lost his 1964 election in a landslide, they decided that no conservative would ever win as long as we were a liberal nation.
In his 1984 book, The Rise of the Right, William Rusher bragged about how he and others made the U.S. a conservative country. He explained: “…the political movement Ronald Reagan rode to power is in the full tide of its maturity. It is equipped with the whole apparatus necessary for survival: thinktanks, journals of opinion, legal foundations, a growing youth movement (Young Americans for Freedom), grass-roots organizations, political action committees, journalistic training centers, and schools for political candidates.”
Rusher further explained that, of the “battles the conservative movement must fight and win … the media will be the battleground of the first, the academy will be the arena of the second. It will be the most important and most difficult battle of them all.” In other words, a key part of their strategy was to discredit the mainstream media, and, after that, the universities. Today, conservatives have targeted scientists as another group to discredit, especially with regard to climate change.
So, instead of trying to be more like liberals, they decided to demonize liberals, government, the news media, universities and scientists —the ones that describe reality in ways that conflict with their ideology. They didn’t go to where the public was; they convinced the public to come to where they were by dreaming up creative ways to discredit statistics, theories or events that reflected badly on them.
Contrast this successful strategy with what Democrats have been doing for the past 25 years. President Bill Clinton decided the best way to win an election was to adopt a few of the Republicans’ main positions. The Wall Street Journal reported about a meeting of frustrated Republicans in 1999: “Imagine Republicans’ funk. From all the states Republican leaders have come here this weekend to seek a message and a messenger, only to find that the closest they can get is, President Clinton.”
The most damaging thing Clinton did was to adopt the Republican free market approach to international trade, NAFTA, which gave corporations the power to pit low-wage foreign workers against America’s workers in a race to the bottom.
His triumphant proclamation to the 1994 Congress that “The era of big government is over” validated the Republican charge that government was too big, along with all that implies — from entitlements, to government regulations, to tax policy.
Unfortunately, Clinton was successful, and the Democratic party has never been the same. They bought the philosophy that to win elections, they had to act more like Republicans, instead of educating the public about what’s best for the country. Every time they validate a conservative position they should disagree with, they cede ground that will be difficult to ever regain.
Even now, President Barack Obama lists two issues he and Republicans can agree on, and they’re both out of the conservative handbook: further liberalization of international trade and more tax breaks for corporations. He claims that the Trans Pacific Partnership will increase our exports to other countries. That’s true, but we will lose far more industry and jobs than we gain, which has been the case with every free trade agreement we’ve made to date. The big winners will be big corporation executives and their investors, and the losers will be small businesses and lower level workers.
When he tried to improve the nation’s health care system, Obama abandoned his pre-election preference for Medicare-for-everyone. Instead, he tried to get conservative support by adopting Mitt Romney’s private industry solution, which was a product of the Republican Heritage Foundation think tank.
The two major political parties used to be Republicans vs. Democrats. Toda,y they are the Wall Street politicians vs. the Main Street Politicians. Whereas almost all Republicans are 100 percent Wall Street, an influential minority of Democrats has become 20-50 percent Wall Street. Some have been conned into actually believing the absurdities of trickle-down economics, and others don’t have the courage to be honest and be attacked by a well-financed and strident opposition.
As a result, neither party is willing to address the fundamental cause of wealth and income disparity: an unregulated free market capitalism that has insufficient governmental interventions to compensate for its weaknesses and its vulnerabilities to abuse.
Chuck Kelly is a retired management consultant living in Burnsville and is author of The Destructive Achiever; power and ethics in the American corporation and Farewell Fantasyland; time for political and economic reality. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.