The Moderate Republicans of the Democratic Party

“I don’t know that there are a lot of Cubans or Venezuelans, Americans who believe that. The truth of the matter is that my policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies that I had back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican.”
~Barack Obama, 2012 interview (via DarkSkintDostoyevsky)

Not just a moderate but a moderate Republican. His argument was that GOP has moved so far right that he is now holding what was once a standard position among Republicans.

This is supported by his having continued Bush era policies, further legalized the War on Terror, and deported more immigrants than any president before, even a higher rate than Trump. His crown achievement was to pass Romneycare healthcare reform that originated from a right-wing think tank, while refusing to consider that most Americans being far to his left were demanding universal healthcare or single payer. Heck, he even expanded gun rights by allowing guns to be carried on federal land.

The unstated implication is, in order to occupy what once was Republican territory, that has involved the Democrats also moving right. But this didn’t begin with Obama. Mick Arran notes that, “In ’92 or 93 Bill Clinton said, in public, on the record, that his admin would be a ‘moderate Republican administration’. It was.” It’s easy to forget how that decade transformed the Democratic Party. This is made clear by E.J. Dionne jr. in 1996 piece from the Washington Post (Clinton Swipes the GOP’s Lyrics):

The president was among the first to broach the notion of Clinton as Republican — albeit more in frustration than pleasure. “Where are all the Democrats?” Clinton cried out at a White House meeting early in his administration, according to “The Agenda,” Bob Woodward’s account of the first part of the Clinton presidency. “I hope you’re all aware we’re all Eisenhower Republicans. We’re Eisenhower Republicans here, and we are fighting the Reagan Republicans. We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market. Isn’t that great?”

To be fair, this shift began much earlier. What we call Reaganomics actually began under Jimmy Carter. This change included ushering in deregulation. From CounterPunch, Chris Macavel writes that (The Missing Link to the Democratic Party’s Pivot to Wall Street):

As eminent historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., an aide to President Kennedy, posited, Carter was a Democrat in name only; his actions were more characteristically Republican. He observes: “[T]he reason for Carter’s horrible failure in economic policy is plain enough. He is not a Democrat — at least in anything more recent than the Grover Cleveland sense of the word.” Grover Cleveland, it must be remembered, was an austerity Democratic who presided over an economic depression in the late 19th century. According to Schlesinger, Carter is “an alleged Democrat” who “won the presidency with demagogic attacks on the horrible federal bureaucracy and as president made clear in the most explicit way his rejection of… affirmative government…. But what voters repudiated in 1980 [Carter’s defeat] was not liberalism but the miserable result of the conservative economic policies of the last half dozen years.” (Leuchtenburg 17)

It was Carter who, as the first Evangelical president, helped to create a new era of politicized religion. He was a conservative culture warrior seeking moral reform, as part of the Cold War fight against Godless communism — of course, conservatism meant something far different back then, as it still could be distinguished from the reactionary right-wing. Strange as it seems, Carter was a conservative who wanted to conserve, although he didn’t want conserve a progressive worldview. His austerity economics went hand in hand with an antagonism toward welfare, unions, and leftist activists. New Deal Progressivism was mortally wounded under the Carter administration.

As fellow Southerners, Carter and Clinton were responding to Nixon’s Southern Strategy by rebranding the Democratic Party with conservative rhetoric and policies. There was a more business-friendly attitude. In place of progressivism, what took hold was realpolitik pessimism but with a friendly face.