It’s funny that it took conservatives this long, or rather one conservative, this long to arrive here. But here he is.
Strong liberalism is on the rise, Bruce Bartlett announces rather sadly in the Fiscal Times, as you would expect for a supply-side economics expert who was a policy adviser to Reagan. Liberalism is on the rise, it’s going to take over just like conservatism did, because people like liberal ideas like a minimum wage and taxing the rich, he tells us.
But before Bartlett gets to the super sad part about how conservatives have no ideas and liberalism might just get somewhere if only they had a strong leader, Bartlett has to drag liberalism-in-action through the mud, chock full of the usual FDR resentment (“free stuff” isn’t written anywhere, but you can hear the whispers). He opines, “One can argue about how liberal Obama is, but it is obvious that he has not been a transformational president. It is clear that the energy remains on the Republican side with almost all policy issues debated within a conservative framework.”
This is how Republicans comfort themselves, but it’s actually not accurate. The framework of a policy argument is not set by the President; it’s a cultural matter, as all policy debate really is. Yes, Democrats and liberals need to do a better job of reframing issues if they want to win hearts and minds. The media is stuck in the stone age when Republican frames were all the rage.
But also, Obama has been very liberal via an incremental approach to long term paradigm shifting. Only someone who hasn’t actually read what was in the stimulus thinks Obama isn’t liberal, and isn’t enacting a very liberal agenda. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone. Republicans would really freak out if they knew.
Michael Grunwald’s “The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era” breaks it down:
As ambitious and far-reaching as FDR’s New Deal, the Recovery Act is a down payment on the nation’s economic and environmental future, the purest distillation of change in the Obama era.
The stimulus has launched a transition to a clean-energy economy, doubled our renewable power, and financed unprecedented investments in energy efficiency, a smarter grid, electric cars, advanced biofuels, and green manufacturing. It is computerizing America’s pen-and-paper medical system. Its Race to the Top is the boldest education reform in U.S. history. It has put in place the biggest middle-class tax cuts in a generation, the largest research investments ever, and the most extensive infrastructure investments since Eisenhower’s interstate highway system. It includes the largest expansion of antipoverty programs since the Great Society, lifting millions of Americans above the poverty line, reducing homelessness, and modernizing unemployment insurance. Like the first New Deal, Obama’s stimulus has created legacies that last: the world’s largest wind and solar projects, a new battery industry, a fledgling high-speed rail network, and the world’s highest-speed Internet network.
But it’s a comfort to Republicans to pretend that Obama hasn’t fundamentally changed America, that he’s been inept.
Ironically, Obama has been a better fiscal leader than any Republican of late. He’s shown restraint, responsibility, integrity, and character. He paid for his healthcare reform program – a program based on a liberal idea but implemented using competition as its foundation. Is Obama moderate? No, but he’s wise and has a solid temperament. He is not an extremist, a fact which does not preclude being a strong liberal unless you only see liberals as they were stereotyped in the 1960s. Obama picks up on good ideas and he doesn’t care where they come from. This causes many to view him inaccurately based on that one idea.
Bartlett thinks Republicans have a shot at taking control of the Senate, for sure keeping the House, but the White House may be a long shot for them. “Just as the political energy of conservatives turned in their favor long before Republican politics caught up with it, I think there are signs that conservative energy is weakening and liberal energy is rising today.”
He notes that these days, “conservatives are basically on the defensive, as liberals were in the 1970s.” They don’t have something they want to accomplish. They aren’t for anything. (This has been obvious for the last four years.)
Bartlett then identifies that the public is favoring a liberal agenda based on the following from a poll from the Public Religion Research Institute:
For example, 63 percent of people support higher taxes on those making more than $250,000, with only 34 percent opposed. There is now majority support for allowing gays to marry versus 41 percent opposed.
Raising the minimum wage is supported by 73 percent of people, with just 25 percent opposed. And 54 percent of people favor legal abortion, with 42 percent wanting it to be illegal.
Whose agenda does that sound like? That’s right. The President’s. And many Congressional Democrats and at least one Independent.
But that’s not what Bartlett sees, “Today, Democrats lack leadership and much of the party’s weakness vis-à-vis the Republicans stems from it. The party’s base is depressed, lethargic and fearful of attacks from the right. But strong, articulate leadership can turn that around overnight, I believe.”
Liberals just need a good leader, Bartlett posits. Someone who can defend liberal policies (see above; aka, the President’s agenda). It’s time for “an unknown back-bencher to possibly catapult himself or herself into the presidency, as those with more name recognition and seniority play it safe.”
Liberals have plenty of “back-benchers”, or front-benchers, who are clearly articulating liberal policies. Elizabeth Warren comes immediately to mind. Bernie Sanders. And heck, given the agenda Bartlett himself labeled as liberal, our current President is just that liberal leader.
That’s just another thing Republicans don’t get. Liberals have a strong leader. He’s in the White House. He doesn’t look like Republicans think a liberal looks; he doesn’t sport a beard and hippie sandals, but he’s as much of an FDR liberal as a modern president can be under the changed Congressional rules and Republican obstruction.
And yes, sometimes the Democratic base is “depressed, lethargic and fearful of attacks from the right”. They have PTSD after years of Republican dirty bombs. Many of them still fall for Republican lies, even though they know the Republican playbook includes things just like what Darrell Issa just did to Obama. Some of them still trip over it.
But it’s not because they don’t have a good leader. It’s because the media hasn’t caught up with the changes, and the media still courts Republicans as if Republicans were the forever ruling class. Liberals are still treated as if they stink, as if they are fresh off the commune with glazed eyes and no working vehicle.
In reality, liberals look like President Obama and Elizabeth Warren. They are college students, day traders, nurses, doctors, lawyers, writers, artists – they are everywhere. They are more mainstream than Republicans dare face.
Even in the South.
In 2008, Republicans ran against Obama by calling him the “most liberal Senator” in the Senate. Why didn’t it occur to Republicans then that Obama won in spite of being labeled the most liberal senator in the entire universe ever-ever-ever?
The message was clear as a bell to me. That label doesn’t carry the stigma they think it does. This is not the 1970s, the 1980s, or even the 1990s. This country had just survived Bush. We weren’t hating on liberals.
So yes, Bartlett is correct — liberalism is on the rise. But it’s far past where he thinks it is, because he can’t recognize the very policies he calls liberalism when this President has them as his agenda, and he can’t recognize liberal leaders if they aren’t wearing a t-shirt that says HIPPIE. He doesn’t want to see what’s already here, even if he’s more intellectually honest than most of his party, whose fear blinds them to this reality.
Welcome to 2013 folks.
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah has won two Telly Awards and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.