What’s Going On

Author: Gary Hart

Among the punditocracy in our Capitol “realignment” is in the air.  A site that draws a small but highly perceptive commentariat such as this one might do well to ponder what shape that political realignment (presuming it does in fact occur) might take.

The insiders now seem to assume that the Clintonian centrist Democratic Party is no longer the home of New Dealers and Great Societiests but whose maintenance of the legacy social safety net attracts the less well-off elderly, minorities, the poor, the better educated, and the young.

More interestingly, the Republican Party, under the influence of Nixon-Fox-Rove, has become a menagerie of evangelicals, white middle class elderly, rural and small town residents, gun owners, less well educated, anti-immigrants, and blue collar factory workers displaced by global competition.

Political journalists cling to the antique categories of liberal and conservative even as those traditional ideological categories seem quaint.  After Vietnam, the Democratic war party became the peace party, and the previously isolationist Taft Republicans became the interventionist, regime change party.  But the Democrats have nominated a somewhat hawkish interventionist and the Republicans have nominated a pro-Russian, Putin-embracing, NATO critic who sounds like “come home America.”

Realignment indeed.  It might be safe to conclude that the last realignment post-Vietnam has run its course and is being replaced by a new, as yet undefined, one.

Ideological language and its meanings cause considerable confusion.  The size of government doesn’t change regardless of White House occupant.  Tax cuts on the 1% may vary a few points.  Military spending stays roughly the same.  The same figures in both parties come and go from appointive office.  Aside from academic political scientists, very few people can distinguish between liberal and left on one hand and conservative and right on the other.  There is a difference in both cases but it is rarely distinguished.

One of the more thoughtful columnists distinguished between traditional conservatism that seeks to apply traditional principles to new realities and reactionary movements, of the Trump variety, that angrily resist all change and seek to return to an imagined better past time.  This is a helpful and important distinction and observation.

As a strong believer in principles, one way out of the current political chaos might be a requirement that both major parties deliver a manifesto, a statement of beliefs based solidly on convictions and principles shared by many.  Not likely in an age of twitter.  But an interesting exercise nonetheless.  Mostly not likely because parties, especially the Republican Party of late, has tried to be all things to all disparate movements.  Draw lines of principal and you surely lose many who say, Wait a minute; that’s not what I believe.

The job of parties is coalition building.  But to persevere a coalition must embrace a central, enduring theme and purpose.  The Roosevelt coalition came apart under the pressures of civil rights in the 1960s and economic stagnation in the 1970s.  The Taft coalition came apart under the pressures of the Great Depression, World War II, and the perceived communist threat.

A Clinton victory in November might forestall a Democratic realignment for a few years, but at its peril.  The Party is not attracting young people, the next generation, the way it did in the Kennedy era.  The Party has a relevance problem.  It adopted “centrism” at the cost of principle.  A Trump victory or a Trump defeat necessarily will lead to an epic struggle for definition and control of the future Republican Party.  Even for those of us not involved, that will be worth close watching.

16 Responses to “What’s Going On”

  1. Paul G Says:

    AILING OF AMERICA … IS WHAT’S GOING ON!

    In the 50+ years since Ike warned us of a fear-mongering “defense” department that needlessly robs us of lives and treasure, and JFK sought to excise the globally-intrusive “intelligence” department that needlessly robs us of our liberties and privacy; the righties and centrists, aided and abetted by “our-profit-at-all-costs” media, have sanitized and institutionalized this madness.

    In those 50+ years, Roger Ailes, Nixon’s 1968 media resurrector and fox-creator of our 2016 Republican nominee, brazenly urges needless wars that are killing and wounding thousands of mostly poor US working-class people and praises needless privacy “terror” invasions while lying and shamelessly ridiculing our republic’s best apostles of JFK and RFK, including our noble host.

    Unlike our assassinated leaders who were rapidly learning and courageously adapting to poor and low-income people’s needs, rights and duties, Reagan, Bushes, Clintons, Obama, (and Trump), all cowardly rant about the benefits of tax cuts – even in wartime – for a non-existent middle class that somehow ends up in foreign pockets (banks). “Roger that!” Ailes and his Wall Street media wolves joyfully howl. Today, Ike and JFK would cry out: “Excise this robbery of our republic, right now!”

  2. UncleStu Says:

    “The job of parties is coalition building. But to persevere a coalition must embrace a central, enduring theme and purpose.”

    That ideal may have motivated both parties in the past. It is not true today.

    The Democrats have failed to state and work for an “enduring theme and purpose”. Only Bernie Sanders clearly stated such a vision, and worked for it his entire career.

    The Republicans only have a few basic principles – which they dare not say out loud.

    They endlessly state their theme of small government and lower deficits. They talk about tax cuts for all, but their plans insure they are only for the rich.

    The truth about Conservative tax-cut and deficit propaganda comes from Dick Cheney, who gave the game away in 2004 when he told Paul O’Neill, “You know, Paul, Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.”

    The right wing has always been about fake conservatism. Fake conservatism, now. Fake conservatism, tomorrow. Fake conservatism, forever.

    Their only mission is obtaining and maintaining power, regardless of the cost to the nation. Coalition building is only important to them as it relates to the next election. Want proof? Trump.

  3. UncleStu Says:

    A change to my previus post:

    I said
    “The Democrats have failed to state and work for an “enduring theme and purpose”. Only Bernie Sanders clearly stated such a vision, and worked for it his entire career.”

    In all fairness, it must be said that Hillary Clinton has worked tirelessly for “progressive” causes all her public life.
    Her next big job, win or (God forbid) lose should be to change her party to officially adopt a progressive “theme and purpose”.

  4. John Reosti Says:

    Senator,
    Before beginning this comment, I checked the definition of menagerie to see if there was some definition less offensive than the standard one — a collection of exotic animals for display. There isn’t. Your description of the contemporary Republican Party strikes me as more than a little offensive. Evangelicals, gun owners and blue-collar factory workers displaced by global competition remain citizens, do they not?

    My hope is that your use of “menagerie” was not purposeful, but rather resulted from a momentary lapse judgement.

  5. Tyler Healey Says:

    Senator,

    Our government is captured. There is an aristocracy that has total control of our government. Ninety-nine percent of the politicians are their puppets. Many can see that the Republicans are puppets but are blind to the fact that most of the Democrats are puppets, too.

    Maybe it really is time for revolt. I don’t know what else would work.

  6. Gary Hart Says:

    Mr. Reosti is exactly right to call me out. That reference was marginally offensive and I apologize to all for using the word “menagerie”. Bad choice of language. There was no intend to insult anyone, especially since I grew up in a blue collar, evangelical, gun owning family. The proper word should have been coalition. The principal point, however, remains: the coalition that was formed by Republican “strategists”, and that forms much of Mr. Trump’s “base” is not the traditional Republican party whose leaders are already beginning to calculate how to restructure themselves for the future.

    GH

  7. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    And, here we have another example of the hyper-sensitization of America.

    Must we really walk on egg shells? Here!?

  8. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    John Reosti wrote that a collection of exotic animals is offensive.

    I’d be interested in knowing how that is offensive. It’s certainly an unusual term to be applied to a herd of Republicans but, surely they have been called much worse, no? 🙂

  9. John Reosti Says:

    Ms. Elizabeth Miller,
    It wasn’t my intention to trigger a drawn-out argument, so I promise this will be my final post on this topic. Also, you’re right to note the poor wording in my original comment (which kind of ironic given Sen. Hart’s response).
    Calling a menagerie a menagerie is absolutely not offense. But I continue to maintain calling a group of people a menagerie is offensive, though again I agree with Sen. Hart that the offense is borderline.
    My earlier comment was just that, a comment. It’s not an example of hyper-sensitivity or anything else. You say Republicans (and I admit I am one) have been called many things worse than a menagerie. I agree, so have Democrats — but why do we have to call each other anything at all?
    As promised, I’m going to stop now, because I don’t want my little fetish for civility to distract any more than it has.

  10. Gary Hart Says:

    Ms. Miller has a point. Some of the hyper sensitivity these days, especially on campuses, about political correct language, time outs, warning messages, and so forth seem to my generation to be stupifying. On the other hand, political discourse in recent months has become coarse, callous, and vulgar. And there is a Gresham’s Law of language: bad discourse drives out good discourse. So, it is in that light that I accept Mr. Reosti’s criticism.
    GH

  11. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Ms. Miller usually has a point …

    Sometimes it’s just easier to swim with the current than to stand like a rock.

  12. Gary Hart Says:

    Ms. Miller reminds us of the distinction central to this site, that between style and principle. If her oblique reference is to suggest that the host took the easy course on the issue of language raised by Mr. Reosti and abandoned principle, she is wrong. The use of a marginally offensive word to describe the relatively new Republican party coalition does not rise to that level. If the effort is to suggest abandonment of principle in my case, a better illustration must be found.
    Let’s move on.
    GH

  13. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Senator Hart,

    Let’s move on, indeed. As your piece is a very compelling one that deserves a robust discussion.

    A few thoughts to start …

    It has taken the US quite a long time to get to where it is today, as far as the realignment of political parties and thinking is concerned. And, if we can agree that it is a bad place then the question is how do you move it to a better place.

    This is going to be a tough proposition since one of the two major parties has a thinly veiled aversion to goverment and governance and works to ensure that the institutions of government do not work effectively.

    It’s also hard to imagine moving to a better political landscape as long as Citizens United stands as the law of the land, in direct opposition to campaign finance reform. And, that is to say nothing of the dysfunctional media culture that is seemingly uable to focus on what really matters for any practical length of time.

    For me, the move to a better alignment requires political leadership of the up-wing, future-oriented variety. But, how do you persuade people who have the capacity for that kind of leadership to seek public office in the current political environment?

    If there is a way out, it certainly won’t be easy and will definitely require a lot of time and effort on the part of everyone who cares about the promise of America and the future of the planet.

    In other words, this is a discussion worth having, for the duration.

  14. Eric C. Jacobson Says:

    If I may first briefly add to the potentially constructive colloquy started by Mr. Reosti: it would be useful if his fellow Republicans stopped their use of the grating phrase “Democrat Party” instead of the accurate “Democratic Party”. That Frank Luntz’ism contributed to the current crisis of incivility.

    As I’ve suggested in this space before, in my view the Trump phenomenon is (and the counterpart Sanders surge was) essentially a long overdue voter revolt against establishment (business and political) elites who have (in sum) thrown America’s everyday people to the wolves of Wall Street by (among other ways) placing them into jobs and wage competition with the world’s poorest people – by both massively relocating much industrial- and considerable services production to China, India, Vietnam, etc. and by importing excessive numbers of both low- and high-skilled immigrant workers.

    Donald Trump’s anti-globalization rhetoric (lately including the very refreshing “I’m not running to be president of the world. I’m running to be president of the United States”), seemed to have come out of nowhere (except perhaps GOP strategist and dirty-trickster Roger Stone’s head). But this “wheat” (not Trump’s borderline-bigoted “chaff”) “hit a gusher”: resonating with both stranded white working class folks (see eg. “In Pa., boomers see the American Dream slipping away” http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2016/09/01/retirement/sIRT23m4MHGkEwXaP8YB9H/story.html?event=event25 ), AND with non-conservative Bernie Sanders (2016 Dem presidential primary) voters of all stations in life who are outraged (as Nancy Pelosi once was) by the devilish immorality of the 1%’s and Democratic Party’s (and pre-Trump Republican Party’s) unholy alliance with the Chinese Communist Party (and now the Vietnamese Communist rulers — of all groups!).

    The great difference between Sanders and Trump is whereas Sanders was an heir of Franklin Roosevelt it is hard (but not impossible) to see Trump becoming an heir of Teddy Roosevelt. TR was a Republican who railed and legislated against “the malefactors of great wealth.” Trump OTOH (to date anyway), is selling not just Perot-esque Americans First populism and protectionism (which is long overdue and welcome) over Hillary’s “corporatist globalism uber alles” but (as Hillary correctly pointed out in the first debate) trickle-down Reaganomics redux which always was and is today nothing but thinly veiled upper-class warfare by the 1% against what we today call the 99% (or more accurately the 79%). This contradiction would surely inform the conduct and fate of a Trump Administration commencing in January 2017.

    What does it all mean, the host asks? See also Sen. Hart’s companion longer-form interview on the same subject here: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/10/gary-hart-politics . It’s a great question and one the host brings his customary eloquence to framing and discussing (serious “coffee talk” style).

    Part of the answer surely “must needs be” reasserting traditional pro-American patriotic values and policies and then ministering to alienated white working class citizens (who have swallowed the kool-aid of regressive ugly American “white nationalism”) essentially the way Frank Sinatra does here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhPwtnGviyg .
    It’s the 1945 short film starring Frank Sinatra titled “The House I Live In” (asking and beautifully answering “What Is America To Me?”: “…Especially THE PEOPLE…”).

    But surely at this juncture the only true answer to the host’s question about the coming realignment is the one Chinese premier Zhou En-Lai is said to have given when asked by President Nixon in 1971 what he (Zhou) thought of the 1789 French Revolution: “It’s too soon to tell.” (Turns out Zhou thought Nixon was referring to the 1968 near-revolutionary uprising in Paris. See http://peterhousehold.blogspot.com/2011/07/chou-en-lai-on-french-revolution-did-he.html )

    Although I’m a confirmed Never Hillary voter, someone hoping for a Trump victory who further believes Mr. Trump’s election on Nov. 8th is now a foregone conclusion (see link to article re the LA Times poll below), and who looks forward it it being followed (in compliance with Trump’s mandate) by a subsequent major roll-back if not total end to “corporatist globalization as we know it”, I assess the “fine mess” we’re in as a nation and world with “eyes wide open”.

    This includes awareness of the down-sides of a prospective Trump presidency, and there will be many not the least of which will be the return to deficit-ballooning Reaganomics I advert-to above. As W’s nefarious Chen-nanny said around the turn of the 21st century: “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.” Easy for the present generation to say. Such heedlessness of future generations violates basic precepts of inter-generational responsibility, what Sen. Hart refers to in one of his books (I believe The Patriot) as “patrimonial leadership”.

    It is for that reason that I devote the balance of this comment to a “backgrounder” not on Mr. Trump himself but on a man I believe to be Trump’s chief consigliere and why it’s important for a post-Clintons Democratic Party (or a successor big tent patriotic non-conservative party) to recapture fidelity to America’s ideals and position itself to strongly challenge the Trump Republicans in 2018 and beyond.

    You can tell a lot about people by the company they keep:

    In Trump’s case there was once the infamous Roy Cohn (the arch conservative aide to Communist witch-hunter Joseph McCarthy), who served as Trump’s lawyer in the 1970s when Trump was battling race discrimination civil rights cases at his Queens apartment buildings.

    Later there was Roger Stone, who has Richard Nixon’s mug tattooed between his shoulder blades, who is (still) Trump’s senior strategist (I’m convinced) despite Stone’s formal leave-taking from the Trump campaign in the summer of 2015.

    If there’s anyone who is Trump’s Brain (the way Karl Rove was said to be George W. Bush’s Brain) it’s Roger. Stone can sound reasonable and wax populistic, protectionist and isolationist (albeit spouting the regressively-tinged version as opposed to Bernie Sanders’s enlightened version I support), as he does during regular interviews he conducts with the bumptious alt-right AM talk radio host turned conservative “matinee idol” Alex Jones. In a speech a few weeks ago Hillary oddly went out of her way to attack Jones, who may or may not be who he says he is (Google it) and thereby make Jones famous. Go figure. Roger Stone has a much longer Republican political pedigree than Jones and it’s clear (to me anyway) that there’s a seething rightist zealot just beneath Roger Stone’s surface.

    I wrote about Stone here: http://www.salon.com/2015/01/28/roger_stone_vs_the_world_inside_the_conspiracy_filled_mind_of_legendary_gop_trickster/ (scroll down to Comment). And because it is at least peripherally responsive to the topic the host has framed in his main blog post, including the manner in which assassinations (in my view) skewed American politics out of alignment between the 1960s and 1980s, and because it forecasts the battle-lines of ardent loyal opposition to a Roger Stone- and Alex Jones influenced alt-rightist Trump White House that we “happy few” enlightened American political stalwarts must and will form — alongside practical idealist Sen. Hart and other Democratic Party fighters such as Howard Dean and Elizabeth Warren — on November 9, 2016 when (and it is now safe to say “when” in preference to “if and when” – see eg. https://www.peoplespunditdaily.com/news/elections/2016/10/02/defense-la-times-poll/ ) Mr. Trump becomes the president-elect, I reprint my Salon.com comment in lightly edited form here: https://www.facebook.com/ECJLA/posts/1103830666321215 (scroll down to end of this reprinted comment).

  15. John Reosti Says:

    .”..against establishment (business and political) elites who have (in sum) thrown America’s everyday people to the wolves of Wall Street by (among other ways) placing them into jobs and wage competition with the world’s poorest people.”
    Eric C. Jacobson, that’ a very clear explanation of the down side of free trade.

  16. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    Senator , and colleagues,

    I have witnessed , not a little nod, even, to what could be called offensive, on here , and think this a respectful and sensible forum ! Not a glass menagerie!

    May I ask of colleagues ,to engage with me in a bit of international , and , for you , some relevant, history ?!

    In my country , Great Britain , we more or less are the blueprint of realignment, and , in the politics of the centre – left , the talk , if not the actuality , continues.The two party system in the US is more or less based on the British one that was , but is, much less.For my country has a greater degree of multi-party politics than it did .But once that was not so. The whigs vs Tories in 18th century Britain became the Democrats vs Republicans in America,then and later.

    In Britain, the Whigs became the Liberals , in the 19th century ,and the Tories, the Conservatives.And it was in the 20th century that things changed.The increased trade unionism and industrialisation led to the birth of socialist and labour parties throughout the world. In Britain, the Labour party gradually replaced the Liberal Party as the alternative to Conservative governments.But the Liberals , split , fragmented and smaller , continued to exist.

    As left and right converged in the decades that followed, towards the centre ground , although a far more leftward centre ground than now, the Liberals were squeezed further. But if you did not like the nationalisation of socialism and its most authoritarian or extreme elements lurking , nt so subtly, , you had , as a progressive only to cling to social democracy in a socialist party , or Liberalism.

    In the 1970s in all democracies, polarisation was commonplace.Step in Reagan and Thatcher, and the rest is history.

    No, not quite , for history repeats itself and transforms itself.

    In the 1980s in my country the Labour party split , some of its moderate wing , created the SDP, or social democratic party, it joined electoral forces with the remainig Liberal Party , eventually becoming the Liberal Democrats. A moderate and radical , always sensible, party .I say that as a member !

    But that is the point . In the years of my youth I was a member of the Labour party . It also changed more than once . The left lost control to the moderates , New Labour emerged, and Tony Blair , influenced by Bill Clinton, himself influenced by British knowledge.

    But just as the Clintons are centre stage yet, Blair is like Marley’s ghost , a loss, a spent force , but with talent , however tainted post Iraq. With the Conservatives back in charge , much has changed yet again ,after a Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition that helped to economically practically save the country , but electorally helped to nearly ruin my party!

    The Labour Party has now moved to the far left in opposition. The Conservatives post-David Cameron have moved both right and left, pandering to populist nationalism and anti -immigrant mentality , and to working-class disdain and concerns of isolated communities.

    Yet again the talk is of realignment. My party , post the so called Brexit vote to have Britain exit the European Union, already horribly effected by having served in government with the liberal minded Conservative David Cameron, is trying to forge a path of decency , reason , compassion and common sense , anti xenophobia, pro humanity, and , according to Howard Dean , who delivered this years Liberal International lecture, could one day be the government ! Not bad going considering we are the third or forth party on about 10% of the vote !

    Realignment ,is the movement of people between parties.And of parties between elections! The greatest example is Mayor John Lindsay, of New York, of the former, and it shows in one man ,in America, what I have of the latter, taking place in one or two centuries , in what happened in my country!

    There is a misuse of liberal in America.It need not mean left wing at all. There is a Liberal Party of New York that is centre-left and sensible, radical and moderate. That is what we all need . Only it can help us.That kind of Liberalism and a degree of social democracy. I see it in much but not all, in the Democratic Party. It needs to revive the Liberalism that influenced Roosevelt and Kennedy , and before them Jefferson. Social Liberalism , with a bedrock of classical liberalism. Watch this space …

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