Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Party of Ideas

Here, we have Robert Reich calling Bill Clinton on his unseemly display of the last week. Good for Reich.

Obama's statement about the GOP being the party of ideas in 1980-2000 is a simple statement of fact, irrespective of whether you thought they were good ideas or bad ideas. As Reich writes:

Republicans put forth a range of new ideas while the Democrats sat on their hands. Many of these ideas were wrong-headed and dangerous, such as supply-side economics. But for too long Democrats failed counter with new ideas of their own; they wrongly assumed that the old Democratic positions and visions would be enough.

But that got me wondering: Given that the GOP is running on fumes, idea-wise, what exactly are the new ideas that will animate the Democratic Party? It's entirely possible--indeed, likely--that the "new ideas" are merely the "old Democratic positions and visions". If so, we're in for some bad times.

What's changed? How are the Democratic positions today any different than those of 1979?

  • Protectionism? All the candidates are talking about ensuring that American jobs stay in America. Is there any way to do this other than through tariffs?

  • Regulated markets? Hillary sure is talking like regulation is the key to everything.

  • Railing against corporations? Well, yeah.

  • Highly progressive taxation? Check.

  • Welfare? Not exactly, but then there's the health care thing.

  • Pacifism? Ya' think?

Maybe the answer isn't so much one of kind but of degree. Free trade's OK, in the abstract. Nobody's talking about a top marginal income tax rate of 70% The welfare discussion has morphed more into a "well-being" discussion. (Of course, comprehensive health care will make welfare look cheap.)

If Obama can get back on message, there's a chance for something genuinely new. I'm sure that Obama's inclinations are at least as liberal as Hillary's. The difference, I think, is that Obama wouldn't dream of ramming something down the opposition's throat. If he's willing to build consensus, there will still be too much legislation but at least that legislation will be centrist.

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