By John Buell
Is a candidate or party centrist? This question matters because many voters think of themselves as moderates or centrists. Some of my friends tell me they are waiting to find a good moderate to support. And many voters, not heavily engaged in the political process, are responsive to labels.
Therefore the candidate who captures the label in the eyes of the corporate media has a leg up. But before accepting media designations, more careful scrutiny of the candidate and the historical context is in order. How do the views of the candidate stack up against grassroots perspectives, consensus views within the beltway, and historic or international norms?
By these standards, the Republican Party is as extreme as any major party in our history.
Consider the politics of Social Security.
“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.” These are the words of Dwight David Eisenhower.
Eisenhower was a fiscal conservative. He viewed government debt as evil. Nonetheless he supported expansion of Social Security. He accepted the results of democratic elections.
In this sense, Bernie Sanders’ push to improve the benefit structure carries on the tradition of the moderate Republicanism, which, like much of the New Deal, was borne of an effort to preempt more radically redistributive agendas, even Communism.
Even Sanders’s “radical” Workplace Democracy Plan, which includes “just cause” legislation prohibiting employers from firing workers for anything other than their performance on the job, would only secure rights that many union members had once gained through collective bargaining during the post World War II era.
How many Republicans would carry the torch of a robust Social Security or a reinvigorated labor relations act today? Even many Democrats hide their antipathy to Social Security behind loose and misleading talk about its future bankruptcy. And labor’s purported Democratic friends on the Hill seem never to make labor a legislative priority.
The D.C. political center today has moved far to the right. It was born from and contributes to an extremist movement, a counterrevolution against the New Deal liberalism that dominated U.S. politics from Truman through the first two years of the Carter Administration.
This evolving counterrevolution may be popular or even beyond dispute in D.C., but it hardly fares well among the electorate today.
“About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultra-wealthy,” Columbia University law professor Tim Wu pointed out in a recent op-ed. “The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support. Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws. Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. The list goes on.”
One could add that several polls suggest support for Medicare for All even among Republicans.
Given its unpopularity, the counterrevolution against the New Deal survives in large measure through another of its extremist measures, its sustained state and national attack on democracy via its well funded campaigns of voter suppression. In private, some rank and file Republicans condemn voter suppression and even more the Trump Administration’s resort to increasingly thuggish and violent tactics. But few speak out.
It is not primarily gridlock or voter polarization that is preventing progressive legislation from passing.
One party sees blocking any progressive reform legislation as its reason for being and it will resort to any necessary means to achieve that end. A regime that cannot defend itself deploys dirty tricks, filibusters, and simplistic, inflammatory labels to discourage citizens from even contemplating any challenges to its rule.
John Buell is a columnist for the Progressive Populist. He lives in Southwest Harbor.