Today Gary Hart has an opinion published in the NYT, The Democratic Road Not Taken.
Hart comes back from political oblivion to tell us
By failing to innovate some 30 years ago, it has permitted itself to lapse into the defensive, if not also reactionary, posture that now plagues it. A well-motivated Democratic president now struggles to move the nation forward against a conservative tide that emerged in the policy vacuum created by Democratic failure to adapt and in a political climate where many people, especially young people, do not know the basic principles of the current Democratic Party or what it stands for.Jump below the doo hicky thingy to see why ending that sentence with a preoposition ain't the worst thing about Hart's conclusion.
There is no policy vacuum in the Democratic party. Quite the opposite. Put 100 or more Democrats in a room, and you'll get lots of great, good and not so good policy ideas. This is not new. In those halcyon days of the New Deal Hart writes about there was not some single wondrous policy path. Remember, FDR's approach is best encapsulated by what he said "Take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly, and try another. But by all means, try something."
What differentiated the Democratic party from the Republican party in the 1930s and differentiates it today is our willingness to think about and try new approaches to solve problems. Compare that to the Republican party. The Republican party has but one approach to any complicated problem. Economic problem? Cut taxes for the wealthy. Foreign policy problem? Rattle the saber and attack. If you are looking for easy to understand simplistic principles, the Republican party is the party for you. If you want to get things done, you are a Democrat!
The ascendency of the Republican party in the 1980s and its full blown idiocy is not, as Mr. Hart would tell us, a result of "Having no constructive response to a tide of economic and social revolutions", but because of the political reality of the Democratic party losing the solid south as a result of historic and necessary civil rights legislation pushed through by President Johnson.
The rise of the Republican party, despite its demonstrably catastrophic policies and governance over the past 30 years is a complicated story with many moving parts, but that telegenic candidate who brought us the "Regan Revolution" kicked off his 1980 post convention presidential bid in Philadelphia MS dog whistling about States Rights.
At the same moment in time as Mr. Hart is telling us what is wrong with us the Republican party is in a full throated uproar over President Obama's pledge to stop deporting those terrible brown immigrant children. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
There's a difference in understanding what a political party stands for, and what it can accomplish politically. Without a doubt any group of Democrats, like those who congregate here, will tell you we need to do more and we need to do it faster. But those Democrats who are tarred with being "triangulation and centrism" by Mr. Hart have accomplished quite a bit.
In those 30 or more years since Gary Hart failed to put together a political coalition capable of bringing about the transformation "of the economic base of the United States from traditional manufacturing to information and communications." in the way he prescribed, we did it anyway. No, not without pain and without fits and starts, but it was Democrats who led it and when they could fought to stop Republicans from making a bigger mess of a painful process.
Mr. Hart tells us in 2012 that had we listened and followed his policy prescriptions we would have transformed "our steel and auto industry into plants that produced high value products". Gary, our auto workers and our steel workers are profitably producing high value products. Maybe you ought to get out and talk to some auto workers and steel workers?
He also writes
To argue that taxes on the working middle class must continue even as incomes contracted is to virtually guarantee a revival of conservatism and anti-government sentiments of the kind that now characterize our politics.What?
Look, as disjointed and slow as progress has been in the last 30 years there has been significant progress, and it is the Democratic party which has led the fight, and it is the Democratic party which has delivered. In these times of right wing craziness, and unprecedented filibustering, this president and Democrats have delivered an economic recovery, fair pay legislation, national health care, an end to government discrimination against LGBT couples, and, as of yesterday, progress on immigration, to name a few.
We Democrats are not now plagued by any "reactionary posture" and I resent your accusation. We Democrats struggle to move this nation and this world foward and we accomplish what we can, when we can politically.
No Gary, the reason things are not as good as they could be is not that we did not listen to and follow you. Maybe the reason we never paid much attention to the good ideas you have had is because you've spent a lifetime wanking about how smart you are and how foolish we are for not following you, and not nearly enough time actually getting things done.
The road you have forever pointed us toward is politically vacuous.