Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

Same question as the question for conservatives (see longish, probably dull preface there):

Which interest group in the Democratic party coalition do you think is most responsible for preventing the Democrats from being a true liberal party?


  1. A lot of businesses of all stripes, especially big businesses. For instance, most of the liberal movement would favor much looser copyright laws, but the Dems are completely in the wrong on this one because of the movie studios and record labels. Same goes for single-payer health care (insurance companies and others), carbon tax (the oil and coal industries have completely captured the moderate Dems, especially in WV/LA), and cutting the defense budget significantly (any number of contractors). The Dems find it almost impossible to take the liberal position on any number of issues, most frequently because it's opposed by business interests which they don't disregard (Dems are NOT to business what the GOP is to labor).

  2. I'll add that business is not the only problem--there's also the fact that the Dems, unlike the GOP, have a powerful moderate wing even when there's no business opposition. For instance, gay marriage was probably the liberal consensus since at least the early 2000s, but it probably wouldn't have passed even a Dem-only Congress until the last few years, because pols are afraid of going too far to the left.

  3. It's true that the Dem Party is more influenced by its moderate wing than the GOP is. But this reflects its actual demography. According to Gallup:

    19% Conservative, 39% moderate, 40% liberal

    4% liberal, 23% moderate, 72% conservative

    As you can see, the Dems have just about as many (self-described) moderates as liberals, and even a substantial percentage who identify as conservative (almost five times as high as the percentage of Repubs who identify as liberal).

    Since moderate voters have a much stronger presence in the Dem Party than in the GOP, the failure of Dem pols to govern in a liberal way cannot be blamed exclusively on special interests.

  4. I dunno, Kylopod... you might be right, but I'd want to see polls about people's views on issues (and priority/intensity, if possible) before concluding that that's the reason why the Democratic Party is so centrist and the GOP is so... not centrist.

    The word "liberal" has been subject to a massive PR attack for over two decades, maybe more like four. There's been nothing similar for the word "conservative." So I'm not sure how much polling on those words alone actually tells us.

  5. I will nominate the small class of elected officials (of Democratic persuasion). It is their need for constant inputs of money that leaves their telephone lines completely open to the special pleadings of banks, insurance companies, defense contractors, and so on, while their interns are talking to actual constituents (and throwing their suggestions into the round file). It is also the fears of the elected officials, over how Republicans might attack them, that leaves these officials in thrall to the national security agencies (and their many associated violations of the Constitution and specific statutes), and opposed to the pleadings of civil liberties advocates.

    Grass-roots liberal activists absolutely must organize against self-serving and paranoid/cowardly elected Democrats, in the manner of bold-progressives-dot-com. The problem is worst at the highest levels of elected office, the Presidency, Senate, and Governors and Congresspersons to a lesser degree.

  6. Hmm. The biggest factor keeping the Democrats from being a true liberal party is probably the baffling cohesiveness of the Republicans as a conservative party. This has forced everyone else (especially so in recent years) to have to cram under the big tent that Democrats erected in the 1970s and 1980s. Since no one group has enough sway, there's less party-line enthusiasm in your median Democrat than in your median Republican.

    But yeah, I guess to answer the question as asked, the Democratic-specific interest group that is most holding the Democrats back from being liberal through and through is a tie between the social conservatives and the economic neoliberals. It kind of goes without saying, looking back at Clinton's presidency, that if you gave either of those two swaths of the country enough reason to be dissatisfied, then you would have made the party unelectable on the national stage.

    And there were two major ways to do this:
    1. Staking out social positions more liberal than the country as a whole.
    2. Making the country appreciably more labor-friendly.

    The political wilderness of the 1980s convinced Democrats they should be very wary of Scylla and Charybdis, as it were.

  7. People in the financial industry, including banks, hedge fund types, etc.

  8. I echo Dan Miller on the business group stuff.

    But as far as "most responsible for preventing the Democrats from being a true liberal party?" the most obvious answer is: other Democrats! Just read this excellent post on coalition building and I think there's a lot of insight there. In particular:

    "Members of the conservative coalition do not expect to get everything all at once. An anti-choice advocate would love to overturn Roe v. Wade tomorrow. But they don't get angry when that doesn't happen in a given year. Not because they are self-disciplined and patient, but because they get important victories year after year that move toward that goal. One year it could be a partial-birth abortion ban. The next year it could be defunding of Planned Parenthood. The year after that it could be a ban on any kind of federal funding of abortions, even indirect. (And in 2011, they're getting some of these at the same time.)

    "More importantly, they know that even if their issue doesn't get advanced in a given year, they also know that the other members of the coalition will not allow them to lose ground. If there's no way to further restrain abortion rights (Dems control Congress, the voters repeal an insane law like South Dakota's attempt to ban abortion), fine, the conservative coalition will at least fight to ensure that ground isn't lost. They'll unite to fight efforts to rescind a partial-birth abortion ban, or add new funding to Planned Parenthood. Those efforts to prevent losses are just as important to holding the coalition together as are the efforts to achieve policy gains.

    "Being in the conservative coalition means never having to lose a policy fight - or if you do lose, it won't be because your allies abandoned you."

    To be fair, I was directed to this post by Digby -- I don't usuall read DKos. But I think this is very astute. The liberal coalition is less a coalition than a group of people supposedly in service to the corporate neoliberals. Progressives are constantly being thrown under the bus, pro-choice and anti-war factions and, increasingly, labor, are constantly losing ground and told to suck it up.

    That doesn't happen with conservatives.

  9. The Senate filibuster rules make for results that often disappoint progressives . There are always alot of moderate to conservative Senators in the caucus . Getting their votes requires alot of movement rightward. I couldn't think of one particular interest group that is in the fold that moves policy further right than it could be. It is the need to get financial support from the business sector to fund campaigns and the need to draw lots of votes from the center and center right.. That's the rub.

  10. This is one where I'd especially like to see the answer of our gracious host, btw.

  11. Red (and reddish purple) state Democratic Senators are the big problem. Because of the Senate's cloture rules, the votes of these Senators are always required to pass bills which means truly liberal legislation always has to be watered down to become moderate or even moderately conservative.

  12. The financial industry specifically and business interests more generally. The Democrats should be more pro (private) unionization, more willing to tax capital gains and the wealthy more generally, more tough on Wall Street on both regulation and the bailouts, and much more willing to spend money to improve infrastructure and create jobs. I can't tell how much of the reluctance of Democrats is direct (because of loss of support, especially campaign finance support) and how much is indirect, through concerns about how "Wall Street" will react to more these policies, especially fiscal expansionary policies.

    I'm surprised at how many of the answers turn away from actual interest group explanations and use some theory about the internal organization of the party or about elected officials. The financialization of the economy has had significant huge effects, and looking at proximate causes (cloture, tactics of Democrats) obscures this broader structural cause.

  13. I was going to say 'banks', as many have, but then I remembered military contractors.

    Damage done by banks is, at least, contained within fiscal and economic policy. The military-industrial complex creates serious fiscal problems too, but also increases the likelihood of catastrophic wars where many innocent people all around the world die.

  14. It seems to me that this is a Rorschach test to see what the person answering values. (I also think this is what "our dear host" was aiming for, which is why I think it is unlikely he will answer). How you answer this question mainly reveals which part of the party you ally most strongly with and which sides you feel are most foreign to your own interests.

    I think the "other Democrats" answer is the best. For example, Blacks and Hispanics are significantly more socially conservative than the white members of the party. So if gay rights is your big issue you are not going to like the fact that two major party factions are less on your side than you would like.

    On the other hand, Blacks and Hispanics are (I think) more economically liberal than the mostly white Wall Street type Democrat. If unions and minimum wage and safe working conditions are your issues you are going to instead be annoyed at the rich white folks.

    If immigration reform is your issue you might find Blacks on one side and Hispanics on another and now the two groups that stayed together to be conservative on one issue and liberal on another are now on opposite sides of the divide.

    I think all this reflects the fact that most Democrats hold a mixture of liberal and conservative beliefs. How you answer this question tells more about how you perceive groups to be conservative on the issues upon which you are liberal.

  15. Here's the view from Canada: the "interest group" that keeps the Dems from being a truly liberal party is ... voters!

    That answer is a bit tongue-in-cheek, obviously. But I'm serious: American voters as a group are too far to the right for a truly liberal party ever to be elected.

    Here in Canada, voters are significantly to the left of American voters on both social issues and fiscal issues.

    The Conservative Party (currently in office) has repeatedly promised _not_ to introduce legislation against either abortion or same sex marriage. (Same sex marriage is legal in Canada; and there is no law restricting access to abortion, at any stage of a pregnancy.) The Conservative leader has made that pledge because he knows Canadians simply won't elect a party that intends to pass legislation on either topic.

    As for fiscal matters: Canadians did want to see our deficit & debt reduced, and the Liberal Party achieved that result in the late '90s. Similarly, all provincial governments except Quebec managed to balance their books around the same time. However, Canadians support much higher levels of taxation; and we accept the use of the tax system to redistribute wealth. In Canada we redistribute wealth not only among individuals, but also as between "have" provinces and "have-not" provinces. The principle of fiscal equity (comparable programs and services at comparable levels of taxation) is mandated in the Canadian constitution.

    One could say that, just as there is no truly liberal party in the USA, there is no truly conservative party in Canada. In both countries, voters (not interest groups per se) are responsible for the positions staked out by political parties.

    So my answer may be tongue-in-cheek, but it is also quite serious. The Glenn Greenwalds will be consigned to the fringes until American voters in general shift considerably to the left.


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