Thursday, June 10, 2010

Elvis Sightings

I have three notes on the Big Dog...I'll stick two here, and do another item for the third.

1.  Brendan Nyhan points out that there is some empirical evidence supporting the idea that Bill Clinton shifted in the direction of the center after 1994.  I'm not entirely convinced, but given the choice between working up a full critique and conceding the point, I'll accept for now that there was some movement.

2.  Commenter MPR, responding to my previous item, says:
Clinton was in the center from the beginning. Before he was president, he chaired the DLC, and as president, he was the poster boy for the efficacy of the DLC way. 
I don't think that really captures Clinton, or the DLC, quite right.  My sense of it is that the DLC was a coalition between two groups.  One, and think here Sam Nunn, was flat-out to the right of mainstream Democratic liberals (think Walter Mondale).  They wanted a party that was, in fact, comfortably in the center, which in practice would mean that there was plenty of room for right-of-center pols.  The other group, however -- and I always think of Bruce Babbitt here -- was actually in agreement with mainstream liberals over goals and values, but believed that the best way to reach those goals was through market mechanisms and other means traditionally associated with conservatives.  So for example mainstream liberals believed that the obvious way to help working people was to support unions, while DLC liberals were open to the possibility that unions could be part of the problem in some cases.  Generally, DLC liberals believed that the problem with 1980s liberals was that were too wedded to old programs and organizations.  For DLC liberals, those programs and organizations -- even if the original intentions were good, and even if some of the past results were good -- needed to be held to the same standards to which conservative programs and organizations were held.  DLC liberals were great believers in using market forces to accomplish liberal goals; rhetorically, DLC liberals fully accepted and supported capitalism (and so they could seek and welcome the support of business), while traditional liberals had never really done that rhetorically.

And Bill Clinton?  As always, he tried to straddle both sides, but in my opinion at least he ultimately was on the side of the DLC liberals.  Some DLC liberals wound up so obsessed with critiquing liberal programs and organizations that they were functionally indistinguishable from conservatives; Clinton bashed the "brain-dead" policies of both parties, but never really joined that group.  And Clinton was never really a good fit with someone like Sam Nunn or John Breaux, who really just wanted to do a good job of managing the status quo.  Clinton, I think the evidence shows, was a much better fit (as far as goals are concerned) with Mondale, or John Kerry.  Of course, none of these pols are part of the "left," which to me at least has always indicated a group that is far from the Democrats' mainstream. 

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