It struck me the other day that we are fighting against a critical shift in the definition of the political spectrum -- a shift that threatens to undermine 70 years of progress. Until Reagan, the New Deal (and Great Society) were considered the unassailable, consensus center of the political spectrum. The moderate left wanted to expand the New Deal to include, e.g., health care and rights (completion of the Civil Rights movement, women's rights, gay rights). The "far left" only grew to be a force briefly, when the anti-Vietnam war movement swelled its ranks in the late '60s and early '70s. (Contrary to mythology, McGovern was hardly a "far left" candidate -- despite the best efforts of the purveyors of the "conventional wisdom" that the "lesson of McGovern" is not to go "left.")
Until the late '70s, The Consensus Center even included Republicans, who as Krugman points out in Conscience of a Liberal, had stopped their war against the New Deal by the Eisenhower administration, and even Nixon, for all his evil paranoia, accepted and expanded (or at least didn't fight), e.g., the EPA.
The spectrum therefore looked like this:
Far right: Kill the New DealFor 40 years there has been a relentless campaign to redefine the consensus center -- to delegitimize the central concept of the New Deal -- that government can play a central role in improving everyone's life. The driving forces behind this were movement conservatism and its exploitation of racism, and now nativism, to create the perception that government was only helping the "others."
Moderate right: Accept the New Deal; perhaps lower taxes
Center: Accept the New Deal with incremental improvements
Moderate Left: Push for greater expansion of the New Deal.
Far Left: (Actual) Socialism
Deliberate creation of deficits then provided a rationale for "serious" people to thoughtfully stroke their chins and "realize" that we just can't afford the New Deal and Great Society anymore. The villains here are not primarily the right wing ideologues, but those considered to be on the "moderate left," led by Thomas Friedman. (That's why Atrios was right in ranking Friedman No. 1 on his "wanker" list.)
This has led to the dangerous situation now, in which maintaining the basic protections of the New Deal and Great Society like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is now considered to be the "left" position. The thoughtful chin-strokers have anointed Simpson-Bowles as the paradigm of the "Center," and the moderate right has been swallowed up by the far right in the form of the Ryan Budget.
The Spectrum now is dangerously close to this:
Far Right: Kill the New Deal (Ryan Budget)Polls show that by large margins, people believe in left and moderate left policies (more progressive taxation, like the Buffet Rule and maintenance and expansion of social security, medicare and medicaid). However, the relentless propaganda of Fox et al. causes voter confusion as to who stands for those policies. Thus, we saw the 2010 spectacle of people voting in a Tea Party Congress based in large part on non-stop ads screaming that the Democrats had "cut $500B from Medicare," and immediately thereafter, that Congress voting (via the Ryan Plan) to eviscerate Medicare.
Moderate right: See far right, above
Center: Slowly strangle the New Deal (Simpson Bowles)
Moderate Left: Preserve the New Deal (Obama Budget)
Progressive Left: Expand the New Deal (Congressional Progressive Caucus Budget)
Far Left: Who?
Sadly, Obama has flirted with the moderate right by appointing the Simpson Bowles commission and proposing the Medicare/Social Security threatening "Grand Bargain." But now he is asserting the moderate left position by pushing the Buffet Rule and at least using left populist rhetoric.
It's up to us to push back against this poisonous re-alignment, in which the policies we have enjoyed and were inviolate for 70 years are now characterized as "left."