October 16, 2015

YES: Democrats’ 2016 strategy assumes America is lurching left. Are they wrong?

A self-proclaimed socialist like Bernie Sanders will always be an oddity in American politics; one who polls so well in Iowa and New Hampshire doubly so.

But what was so odd about the Democratic debate on Tuesday was not the socialist; it was how little his opponents disagreed with him. Particularly Hillary Clinton, whose career has always been built on, well, Clintonian triangulation. Hillary’s lurch to the left is by now well-documented. There’s her support for immigration amnesty and tougher gun control measures. When those scandalous Planned Parenthood videos emerged, she initially expressed concern — old habits die hard — before veering toward a full-throated embrace of the pro-choice gospel. And, of course, there’s her flip-flop on the TPP free trade deal, which she herself negotiated and now opposes, as well as her newfound opposition to the Keystone pipeline.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether this progressive scramble is merely a primary gambit, to be discarded for studious centrism once Clinton can decorate her desk with Bernie’s bleached skull, or whether it is her true political strategy. But remember, her lurch to the left began before Sanders’ meteoric rise in the polls. . . .

The competing narrative says that America really is becoming a much more progressive nation. The increasing secularization, or at least unchurching, of the U.S. makes America’s middle much more friendly to progressive social issues — witness the stunning success of the same-sex marriage movement. The uncertainties associated with globalization and technological change, and the increasing atomization of American society, increase the demand for a safety net. The 2012 election, after all, was basically about ObamaCare, and Obama won. In this view, America’s changing demographic mix is creating an emerging majority “rainbow coalition” even as Republicans are locked in a deadly vicious cycle of relying evermore on supermajorities of the shrinking white vote to remain competitive nationally, turning off everyone else in the process. Obama really was a “New Reagan,” a figure who not only won political successes for himself, but also changed the political balance of power for the country.

The Democrats are banking on this competing narrative. One need look no further than Clinton’s response to Anderson Cooper’s query, “Just for the record, are you a progressive, or are you a moderate?” Clinton disavowed the moderate label and replied, “I’m a progressive. But I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.”

Yet just a few weeks ago, Clinton told a smaller Ohio audience, “You know, I get accused of being kind of moderate and center,” Clinton told the audience at a Women for Hillary event in Ohio. “I plead guilty.”  Even CNN talking heads have laughed at Clinton’s obvious flip-flopping.

By using the first national debate to proudly wave her progressive flag, Clinton is revealing that she thinks the “new narrative” of a left-of-center America is accurate.

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