“What were you thinking?” the wife asks ask she hits husband Dan (played by Michael Douglas) in the 1987 thriller Fatal Attraction who has just admitted an affair. Self-defense from real physical violence notwithstanding, I don’t approve of hitting spouses, children, or any other family members. Still, one can’t totally blame Douglas’ wife here: Douglas’s character had done a serious wrong. While I don’t mean to imply that the Democrats are a mistake free party, the Dems are in the position of being slapped by others, even though they haven’t committed adultery.
Dems have been accused over the last year by the media (liberal and conservative), liberal activists, and even elected Democrats of having no “new ideas” or being “brain dead.” Bush’s victory in 2004 is credited by many (even many hard-left liberals) as being the result of the GOP being the party of “new ideas.” In other words the public bought into conservative notions of ruling.
Google Jonathan Chait’s “The Case Against New Ideas,” where he details how most voters are not idea driven. Usually they are more driven by personality, the recent history of the party, the candidate, last-minute news in the campaign, etc. In contrast to the 1990s, when Dems spent almost as much time co-opting GOP policies and rhetoric (e.g. “the era of big government is over”) as they did fighting the GOPs ideas, today “Liberals have too many ideas and don’t think seriously about prioritizing them…. ” Liberal think tanks have plans for overhauling and reforming many things, but it would “be hard to do all these things at once.”
Look at John Kerry’s website or read the books he wrote for the campaign. There are ideas on the minimum wage, fair trade, education, union organizing, environmental cleanup, weaning America off terrorist (a.k.a. Saudi) oil, beefing up homeland security, the military, the Israel Palestine issue, nuclear proliferation, veterans benefits, cutting the deficit by rolling back tax cuts for rich people and cutting corporate welfare, aid to the states, regulating Wall St., and national health insurance. And that’s just a partial list. No wonder Kerry said “I have a plan” over 13 times during the debates.
Lest you think Kerry and Edwards are the only one with ideas, remember that post-Reagan liberals helped pass laws like American With Disabilities Act, Clean Air Act of 1990, minimum wage and EITC increases, creation of the Dept. of Homeland Security, overhaul of intelligence systems, COBRA, and CHIP. Also,some, but not all, of the ideas of the Kerry campaign were proposals Dems had already made in Congress or governor chairs.
Moreover, even some in the military admit that its not right to call the fight against terorism a war, because its not a war in a traditional sense. Rather, the fight against religious fundamentalism involves a strong military, but also: international cooperation with intelligence sources all over the world, law enforcement, a strong homeland security, and showing the goodness of democracy and religious freedom, (compared to the dark, hollow, world the Bin Ladens and Saudi Royal family offers). Hmm, now which party has been saying that since oh, 9/11?
Bottom line: A lack of ideas may have been a problem in the late 1990s or 2002, and there are reasons why Dems lost this last round in 2004. A lack of ideas was not one of them.
The problem is not that the Dems have a lack of ideas, it’s that they have a lack of power. Remember that press conference Senate Dems held a short while ago where they unveiled a detailed energy independence agenda? No? That’s ok, I didn’t either. The press conference did happen, but not a single major newspaper or network covered it. According to Chait, this is because reporters harbor a bias against ideas that stand no chance of being enacted. When Dems are accused of not offering a “realistic” plan on a certain issue, the Dems are really being accused of having no plan that would realistically pass the GOP controlled Congress.
That doesn’t mean Dems don’t have ideas with merit. The reason Dems today oppose most “change” is the same reason the minority GOP opposed most “change” proposed by Wilson, FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, and Carter: The changes they were proposing went against the ideology of the party out of power.
Of course, a party must have ideas to run on. But the claim that the GOP is the party of new ideas is dubious at best. Check out this Wall St. Journal headline from 1945: “GOP Says Cut Taxes, Spending, Gov’t Regulations, and Balance the Budget,” (from Ravi Batra’s “Great American Deception). Does this sound a tad bit familar? It sure does sum up the GOP proposals of the 1920s, 1930s, and the late 19th century Gilded Age. The problem for conservatives (or those at least as right as Reagan) was: except for the 1920s, conservatives were almost never in power pre-1981.
But what a difference a couple of years makes not to mention disillusionment with liberalism in the 1970s. In 1978 two Republicans, Sen. William Roth (R-Del) and Con. Jack Kemp (R-NY) proposed sweeping tax cuts on the wealthy and business, a large reduction in domestic spending, and advocated a much wider program of deregulation without the new regulations that had bene implemented in the 1960s and 1970s. With Democrats controlling the White House, both Houses of Congress, and majorities of governorships and state legislatures, the proposal, known then as Kemp-Roth, predictably went no where. Of the 18,000 professional economists in the American Economic Association only 12!!! endorsed Kemp-Roth. After the 1980 election-where Reagan won (or more precisely Carer lost) in a landslide, the GOP gained seats in the House, and got control of the Senate for the first time since 1954- Kemp-Roth morphed into the “Reagan tax cut” or the “Reagan Revolution”, became law, and continues to occupy a prominent place in the political mainstream.
Of course this was not really a “new” idea. Reagan budget director David Stockman admitted that supply side economics was a “trojan horse,” a repackaging of the old 1920s “trickle down theory” for the 1980s. If the GOP wants to revive the jazz music of the 1920, all power to them. But reviving the economic policies of the 20s? Sorry Archie Bunker, we don’t need a man like Herbert Hoover again.