In Tuesday’s Daily Pennsylvanian, guest columnist Erich Reimer laments what he sees as the decline of the Democratic Party.
While the author’s concern for his party and country is admirable, his argument represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the Democratic Party in American politics and government for the last century.
Reimer’s main contention is that the Democrats have drifted too far to the left, abandoning the “big tent.” But this just doesn’t match up with the facts.
On issue after issue, the Democratic agenda is in line with majorities of the general public. A recent Politico poll found that 50 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s handling of foreign policy, 51 percent approve of his handling of taxes, 50 percent approve of his handling of Medicare and a full 58 percent say that he has stood up for the middle class.
According to Gallup, 77 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances and a New York Times analysis of polling data found that 50 percent of Americans support the legalization of same-sex marriage.
The party’s agenda, eschewed as “ideologically progressive,” is neither ideological nor particularly progressive by historical standards.
Democratic tax policy? Go back to the Clinton rates — actually, lower than the Clinton rates.
National security? Aggressively pursue drone warfare, keep Gitmo open and continue the Patriot Act.
Health care? Enact the reform plan Republicans have been selling for 20 years.
Gay marriage? Leave it to the states.
Gun control? There are no new rules in sight.
Reimer also says that fiscal responsibility has been attacked as “right-wing” — but by whom? Is there anybody in the Democratic Party actually opposed to fiscal responsibility? Are there Democrats out there actively calling for a larger national debt, with bigger annual deficits?
The last I checked, the budget is on track to come into primary balance by 2018. Any increase in the deficit will come solely from interest on current debt. Meanwhile, the Republican plan includes massive increases in defense spending and huge new tax cuts that would blow an even larger hole in the deficit.
Indeed, the only evidence provided for the too-far-left argument is some tough rhetoric against Bain Capital, the God-in-the-platform issue and the shrinking number of Blue Dogs in Congress.
First, political campaigns have always been rough. Thomas Jefferson’s campaign called John Adams a hermaphrodite, LBJ suggested that Barry Goldwater would start a nuclear war and George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign accused John McCain of fathering an illegitimate child. The criticism of Bain Capital seems fairly mild by comparison.
Second, the boos that ensued during the convention were probably not a display of godless liberalism. The platform already had numerous references to faith and spirituality — the booing was more about anger at being sucked into a fake controversy manufactured by the conservative establishment, especially after Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s spirited call for Democrats to “grow a backbone.”
The Blue Dog argument is the weakest of the three. Blue Dogs generally come from conservative districts and most of them never would have been elected in those localities were it not for the unpopularity of the Bush administration in the 2006 and 2008 cycles.
The author states that the Blue Dog coalition dwindled from 54 to 26 after the 2010 election; he fails to mention that 23 of those 54 were defeated by Republicans in 2010 and another six didn’t even run for re-election. Their seats also went to Republicans. The shrinking number of Blue Dogs is not a result of movement to the left — it’s a result of the Republican surge in 2010.
But the most puzzling thing about the argument is its advocacy of centrism as the foundation of the Democratic Party — the same Democratic Party that is called the party of FDR and LBJ.
Were either of these two men centrists? Under their tenure, Americans saw the size of government increase dramatically. The New Deal and Great Society ushered in not only massive new government programs but also a massive shift in our expectations of government. It was because of their policies that Americans now enjoy and count on Social Security, Medicare, public education and the social safety net.
Reimer and I have some major disagreements on the state of our party. But it’s still our party, and I stand with him in proudly saying that I’m a Democrat too. And that just goes to show — Democrats really do have a big tent.
Ajay Koti is a College senior from Bethleham, Pa. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.