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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 Deal

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

For 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."

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)

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?

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.

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."

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Comment Preferences

  •  For too long, too many of us (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Youffraita, VetGrl, TomP, Upper West, Marie

    took the essential humanity of the New Deal for granted and we (the left in general) neglected the necessity of rearticulating its values for succeeding generations.  For the last 3plus decades we have failed miserably in defending its commonsense vision of what life is all about  --we've screamed and whined about the rightwing, but we have rarely managed to express what our view of society means to the average person.  I think we tend to enable the right when we play gotcha with them instead of expressing our own (very appealing) sense of values (calling loony xtians "values voters" implies that we don't have any).

    If we want to gain some traction in the politics of our time, I think we will have to stop playing silly games with the fanatical right and make a point of expressing our positive view of society.

    Obama has been trying to do this (whether one is disappointed in him or not) and has made a point of saying that we won't really get anywhere until we stop fighting "culture" wars and get along with the job of building our society.  

    I am a construction worker and I am reminded several times a day that one makes progress by actually building things and very little progress by constantly criticizing the products of others.

    If we are to succeed in saving our country from the economic royalty and their henchmen in the Inquisition, we will need to start communicating the commonsense truths of the society we envision rather than wasting our time being drawn into the endless distractions the clowns of the right offer up to us for outrage.

  •  Great Start; However (7+ / 0-)

    top marginal individual rates <70%, free trade, media consolidation, freedom from anti trust regs are not New Deal, and they'll continue transferring the peoples' wealth and opportunity to the rich.

    Rightwing policies work the same way no matter which party passes and runs them.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Apr 20, 2012 at 08:18:31 AM PDT

  •  From "by the Eisenhower administration" (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sny, Deep Texan, Upper West, Marie, sidnora

    "until Reagan" doesn't really include a lot on the Republican side. That's less than thirty years and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress almost the entire time, and there was one just one other Republican Presidency, thoroughly corrupt and historically discredited President. There has never really been any sustained period of bipartisan consensus around the New Deal. There was just an exceptionally long period where the Democrats were the clear majority party in the U.S., and there wasn't much that Republicans could do about their most significant programs. If Repub's had controlled both houses on Congress, say, under Nxon, I bet the New Deal would've been on the chopping block.

    •  agreed (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Upper West

      -You want to change the system, run for office.

      by Deep Texan on Fri Apr 20, 2012 at 08:58:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  If you read the 1956 Republican Platform (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The grouch

      you'd think it was written by Nancy Pelosi at the very least (strengthen unions, expand social security, strengthen the UN).

      As for Nixon, to the extent he believed in anything, I think he accepted the New Deal, at least to the extent that the middle class should not be destroyed (at least the white middle class).  Remember, Kevin Phillips, the founder of the southern strategy, became very much an economic populist in the '80s.  I think he had that perspective to some extent when he was with Nixon.

      Believe me, as someone who hated Nixon with the heat of a thousand suns, it pains me to acknowledge this, but in the '70s, the idea of eviscerating the New Deal was still beyond the pale, and even the hated Nixon was not perceived as going that route.

      The GOP: "You can always go to the Emergency Room."

      by Upper West on Fri Apr 20, 2012 at 09:24:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I acknowledge Nixon (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Upper West

        at least within the context of that period, but I'm just saying that saying that Republicans accepted the New Deal from Eisenhower "until Reagan" (who obviously didn't) as though that were some kind of normal state, and the current state is abnornal, is inaccurate within the sweep of history. The "normal" state would seem to me to be the other 120+ years of the Republican Party before and after that period where they didn't accept that kind of "consensus" as opposed to the less than 30 years that they did.

      •  There's a difference between (0+ / 0-)

        accepting the New Deal and acknowledging that eviscerating it at that time was politically impossible. I have no doubt that he would have done so had the opportunity presented itself.

        Much of the progressive policy that folks here like to give Nixon credit for was enacted by a Congress over which he had no control.

        He was a creature of his times as surely as Obama is of his. Someday, I hope, when the Overton Window has shifted back towards a more normal ideological distribution, and we have a left again in this country, there will be a bunch of disgruntled Republicans sitting at their keyboards (or whatever) complaining that their current Republican president is more liberal than Obama or Clinton were.

        "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

        by sidnora on Sat Apr 21, 2012 at 08:22:41 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Ultimately the New Deal created conditions for its (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Upper West, FG

      opposition through rural electrification, improved education, medical and retirement support in the South and throughout rural America.  Many whose lives were improved no longer recognized the need for the Democratic approach and shifted their allegiances to Republicans Nixon, Reagan etc.  The farther we get from the memory of condictions prior to the New Deal, the less people see the need for these policies, unfortunately.

  •  Depending how far 'RIGHT' they get, property (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bobdevo, Upper West, Marie

    ownership might become the 'LEFT.'

    Serfdom, anyone?

    Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
    I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
    —Spike Milligan

    by polecat on Fri Apr 20, 2012 at 08:23:54 AM PDT

  •  Tthe catalyst (7+ / 0-)

    that moved America away from the New Deal/Great Society was the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the consequential decline of Jim Crow.  

    Until then, the political spectrum was more exclusively defined by Whites.

    You say 'Until the late '70s, The Consensus Center even included Republicans' as if they were the same parties then as they are now - they are not. The modern Republican and Democratic parties have only existed since Nixon's Southern Strategy.

    The Democratic Party used to be the  KKK party of the South and the GOP was the party of Lincoln until  the passage of the Civil Rights Act caused America to switch parties more along the lines of racial politics.

    It is not a coincidence that Goldwater/Buckley/Reagan new conservative movement sprang up right after the Civil Rights Acts passage - with their anti-New Deal, Ayn Randian, selfish rugged individualist economic philosophies and new plausibally deniable racist strategies. It is all about tribalist insecurities regarding their tax dollar going to 'those people' and denying them equal rights and opportunities in order to maintain their superiority.

    •  even many Leftist whites (5+ / 0-)

      will deny that the CRA played any major role in re-defining American politics & economics. It is amazing that they believe this regardless of America's foundation being built on centuries of slavery and Jim Crow (unconstitutionally low wage minority workers).

      Racist politics is deeply ingrained in Americans economy - it STILL is.   See the lopsided injustice on Blacks in 'War on Drugs' and it's creation of jobs for millions of whites in the law enforcement and justice system, and the consequential effects it has had on the black population

      •  oops- (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        socalmonk, Upper West, Marie, getlost

        *consequential effects it has had on the black population that created even MORE jobs, income & revenue for whites in other public services like welfare,  medicine, private prisons, etc.

        If we were to end the War on Drugs, all those jobs and revenue would disappear. This is why the War on Drugs will NEVER be ended. It was never about eradicating drugs.

    •  CRA (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Deep Texan, Upper West, Marie

      I agree that the Civil Rights movement was a catalyst of the move away from the New Deal. Right wingers successfully portrayed the New Deal as programs to give benefits to minorities, and working class whites now are against the New Deal (while at the same time being for New Dealish programs such as Medicare, Social Security, and some jobs programs).

      This is not specific to America either. More homogeneous countries around the world tend to have more socialistic policies. In the US, some of the most progressive state-level democrats are from the upper midwest and New England.

      •  By CRA, I thought you meant (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        the Community Reinvestment Act, which, as everyone knows was the prime cause for the housing bubble. (/snark).

        Seriously, though, the use of the CRA by the right in blame-shifting in the housing crisis is just another example of their trying to leverage racism to deflect from right wing economic policies.

        The GOP: "You can always go to the Emergency Room."

        by Upper West on Fri Apr 20, 2012 at 09:30:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Don't forget busing . . . (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Upper West

      because the understandable but ill-advised creation of busing as a solution to issues of race and education was the pry bar to remove working class whites from the New Deal coalition.

      Retrospectively, the billions of dollars wasted on driving students around town in buses would have been far better spent on new schools, higher teacher salaries and more investment in communities . . .

      I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever. ~Thomas Jefferson

      by bobdevo on Fri Apr 20, 2012 at 08:57:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  During the post-WWII period . . . (6+ / 0-)

    the hard right (fascists) were able to insinuate themselves into a heckuva lot of control over how thing work in the US.

    Consider the Dulles boys, who defended both Standard Oil of New Jersey (Esso/Exxon) and the Bush/Walker families when their assets were seized by Roosevelt for doing business with the Nazis.  

    Allen worked for OSS during the war, and when the OSS was deconstructed, losing its left wing elements and consolidating rightist power in the National Security Act of 1947 (partly drafted by Gem. Reinhard Gehlen, a Nazi intel master) the rise of the peace time Military Industrial Complex began in earnest.

    When Eisenhower was elected, John Foster became Secretary of State and Allen CIA director.  It didn't take them long to cook up the overthrow of the democratically elected secular/left government of Mossadegh in Iran, and to wreak similar misfortune throughout Central and South America.

    Similarly, they were hard at work to line the US up to replace France as the resident colonial power in SE Asia following the defeat of the French at Dienbenphu.

    Following the Bay of Pigs debacle, Kennedy fired Allen's ass, and said he wanted to smash the CIA into 1,000 pieces.  Then he went to Dallas....

    I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever. ~Thomas Jefferson

    by bobdevo on Fri Apr 20, 2012 at 08:52:24 AM PDT

  •  Wall St. stirs the drink, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marie, Upper West

    even in 1940 Wall St.'s Wilkie had accomodated to Roosevelt's New Deal, which catered to capitalists, as it served popular interests. Nicol C. Rae said economic issues were resolved more by the party bosses back then, but cultural issues were unresolvable as in 1924. The flip of the solid south to the GOP may have disturbed the factional checks on Wall Street influence. Taft conservatives and the rural South do not counterbalance on issues of plutocracy, particularly when their cultural issues are fully adopted, providing Wall Street with a useful decoy. Not Northern liberals either, after Buckley v. Valeo raised the ante, making politics a game, lke polo, for aristocrats only. Hence Clinton's signing of surrender to Wall St. But it is interesting that Bernanke, the agent of the aristocracy, has tacked to the left, in suggesting Keynesian fiscal remedies, as Greider reports. The Fed is also responsible for employment, and with Greenspan discredited, the balance point is going leftward. OWS identified the access for moving the nation forward.

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