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.

Ideologically Confused Partisans

I sometimes feel like I’m living in Bizarro America.

Al Gore is a veteran and a successful businessman. He is of Scots-Irish descent from the Upper South where he spent summers working on the family farm in Tennessee where they grew tobacco and raised cattle. Al Gore is boring, if anything, in his being a generally upstanding citizen. He is smart and accomplished. He has lived the American Dream, if you’re into that kind of thing.

George W. Bush is a draft-dodger and a failed businessman, not to mention an alcoholic. He was born in New England to a political family of old wealth, but he pretended to be a good ol’ boy Southerner and a rancher. Even Bush’s Christianity always seemed like pretense. Everything about Bush seemed like pretense, even simple things like putting on a flight suit and declaring ‘Mission Accomplished!’.

Al Gore was an example of what conservatives idealize as a moral citizen, but they attacked him. Instead, conservatives supported George W. Bush who demonstrates the worst attributes of the ruling elite.

Now, conservatives claim Bush jr never was a real conservative. The last real conservative to be president, they claim, was Ronald Reagan.

However, Reagan was the president who chose to use deficit spending which created the permanent debt that later on both Bush presidents grew even larger. Also, Reagan was a part of the Hollywood elite, a union leader, passed the most liberal pro-choice abortion bill prior to Roe v. Wade, and was the first president to invite an openly gay couple to sleep over at the White House. Reagan’s sunny optimism and idealism was a straightforward expression of his liberal-mindedness. He was a former progressive who simply turned his progressivism toward realpolitik and became a neocon. There was nothing particularly conservative about him.

Before Reagan, Jimmy Carter was a Deep Southern Evangelical. He was an actual compassionate conservative, what Bush jr was always pretending to be. He was an old fashioned conservative of a conservationist bent, a type of conservative that used to be more common. It was Carter who was the first Evangelical president and he took his religion more seriously than any other recent president. His so-called malaise speech was all about America’s moral fiber and everything he said about America has turned out to be true.

Despite many perceived successes, Reagan was responsible for the permanent debt which is one of the greatest failings of any president in all of US history. Despite many perceived failings, Carter’s one great achievement was passing an EPA regulation to decrease lead in gasoline which is directly and positively correlated to the largest decrease in violent crime in US history and hence one of the greatest achievements of any president in all of US history.

I just don’t get what is conservative about Bush jr or Reagan nor what is praiseworthy about such ideology, whatever one wishes to call it. It’s equally confusing trying to figure out what liberalism means in all of this. The most liberal president in recent history may have been Reagan who supposedly hated liberalism. Obama is probably more of a conservative than Reagan. Conservative or liberal, there is plenty of cynical and confused, maybe even deceptive, rhetoric to spread equally around.

Jimmy Carter & Clean Air Act

I came across a research paper:

Click to access LeadCrimeNBERWP13097.pdf

The conclusion of the researchers was:

“This paper argues that the removal of lead from gasoline in the late 1970s under the Clean Air Act is an additional important factor in explaining the decline in crime in the 1990s. The main result of the paper is that changes in childhood lead exposure are responsible for a 56% drop in violent crime in the 1990s. This paper argues that theremoval of lead from gasoline in the late 1970s under the Clean Air Act is an additional importantfactor in explaining the decline in crime in the 1990s. The main result of the paper is that changes in childhood lead exposure are responsible for a 56% drop in violent crime in the 1990s.”

Isn’t that interesting?

Who was responsible for this vast decrease in crime? Jimmy Carter was the force behind getting the Clean Air Act passed.

So, why is Jimmy Carter considered a failed president? By passing legislation that reduced pollution, he ended up reducing one of the biggest problems that America has ever faced. What did Republicans do during that time? They fought their culture wars blaming all crime on inferior character and inferior classes of people. They attacked minorities with their War on Drugs and attacked ‘welfare queens’ and gangsta rappers for destroying America’s moral fabric. While Republicans fought their culture wars, Democrats like Carter tackled tangible problems which had tangible results. The War on Drugs, on the other hand, has been a dismal failure and has actually increased criminal activity of gangs and drug cartels. Imagine if we had both the War on Drugs and high levels of lead pollution, crime would have skyrocketed beyond anything this country had ever seen.

This fits into other data about such topics as abortion and sex education. Democrats focus on the practical problem and Republicans worry about promoting their message. If the Republicans had been right, their having lost the culture wars should have meant crime would increase and yet that isn’t the case. Similarly, legalizing abortions decreases abortion rates and there is no evidence that sex education encourages teen sex (for certain, it decreases the rates of teen pregnancy and STDs).

See my previous post:

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/liberal-pragmatism-conservative-dogmatism/

There is another example that is almost exactly like the crime issue. So, it turns out lead, rather than immorality, is the central cause of increase of national crime trends. Similarly, it turns out that hormones in food and hormone-like chemicals in plastic containers, rather than immorality, are the central cause of kids sexually developing at a younger age and hence a lowering of the age of sexual activity. If you simply morally preach at kids, it won’t help them deal with unnatural early sexual development. Like getting rid of lead, it’s getting rid of hormones and hormone-chemicals which will take care of the problem at it’s most basic level.

See another post on this topic:

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/morality-religion-and-science/

If Republicans had their way, neither the Civil Rights Act nor the Clean Air Act would’ve been passed. We would now be living in a very different America. Imagine if we had to wait for businesses (big and small) to change their racist and polluting policies. It might’ve taken another half century or longer (if it would’ve happened at all) for businesses to change their profit-making policies. Even another couple decades of lead pollution could’ve been enough to create a society so crime-ridden as to be nearly dysfunctional. Furthermore, combine such high crime rates with the policies of this last half century that have led to high wealth disparity.

On the other hand, imagine what America would be like if (along with lowered lead-related crime) there had also been a decrease in wealth disparity and increase in workers wages. Imagine if we hadn’t spent all our tax money on wars, tax cuts for the rich, and corporation bailouts which lead us into debt and instead imagine if all that money had gone to education, social programs, small businesses, community centers, and infrastructure. Imagine if the tough on crime policies had never been implemented and we didn’t have 1 in 200 citizens in prison. Imagine if conservatives hadn’t fought against civil rights and we truly lived in a post-racial society where minorities weren’t disproportionately targeted by the ‘justice’ system (even getting longer sentences for the same crimes as committed by whites). Imagine if the worker unions hadn’t been disempowered causing union membership to go down and instead we had an increase of workers rights as seen earlier last century (child protection laws, safety regulation, living wages, etc). Imagine if all the increase in social problems correlated with wealth disparity had never happened because we had maintained a decreasing wealth disparity as was seen with early progressivism.

See the following post about income inequality and social problems:

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/capitalist-us-vs-socialist-germany/