How the Various Democratic Factions Can Open Up a Dialogue

Here at Political Animal, we have now published three articles in response to Ryan Cooper’s warning to three potential Democratic candidates: Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Cory Booker and former Governor Deval Patrick. They have included pieces by Martin Longman, David Atkins and myself. Congratulations to Cooper for igniting an impassioned discussion.

To the extent that a theme emerged in all three of our responses, it is that the entire history of these Democratic candidates needs to be taken into account rather than simply focusing on one event/issue, and that—as human beings—they are more than can be captured by identifying their race/gender. In order to come together as a party, the differences must be acknowledged and discussed, as well as the common ground acknowledged.

As a demonstration of how that works, we could apply the same standards to ourselves when it comes to our disagreement with Cooper. For me, this is not the first time I have parted ways with his analysis. As a matter of fact, based on his recent writing, our approach differs quite regularly. But as Martin noted, Cooper once worked for the Washington Monthly, and so we have a wealth of articles he published right here to draw on and take a bigger picture look. I’ll share just two of them to demonstrate.

Back in 2013, Cooper wrote about “Reformish Conservatives” in a way that was prescient in predicting what I just wrote yesterday about the fact that the party of George W. and Jeb Bush is dying.

There is much talk, in the Republican National Committee’s recent “autopsy” report and elsewhere, of the need to change the party’s “messaging,” but little about the need to change the policies behind the messaging…

“There is a cultural gulf,” says John Feehery, a former staffer for Tom DeLay and Dennis Hastert, between the reformist writer-intellectuals, with their New York/Washington sensibilities, and Republican officeholders, with their base of voters in Texas, Kansas, and Georgia. The reformists “are speaking the language of policy,” notes Feehery, while the base “is speaking the language of hating Obama.”

Cooper went on to write once again about the so-called “Reformicons” in the Republican Party and noted that, when outlining their agenda, they presented it as a middle ground between Obama’s liberalism run amok and tea party extremism rather than compare it to Obama’s actual policies.

In an effort to reach moderate Republicans and obtain a Grand Bargain, Obama has reached ever-further right on policy. But since Republican beliefs about the president are based in reactionary, deep-seated cultural anxiety, all he has succeeded in doing is accidentally claiming nearly the entire sane policy spectrum for the Democrats.

I don’t know if Cooper’s suggestion that it was accidental was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but that aligns pretty well with what I have described as Obama’s “conciliatory rhetoric as ruthless strategy” approach to Republican obstructionism.

As a second example of common ground, Cooper was once again very prescient in 2014 when he wrote: “How the West Was Reinvented.” He highlighted the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and suggested that it is an example of how the Western United States is being transformed.

Escalante’s boomlet during the shutdown was only the latest episode in a longer tale of the town’s unexpected economic growth due to decisions in far-off Washington, D.C. And its story is itself part of a much larger transformation that has been creeping across the American West for decades, as a new recreation economy centered around tourism edges out an older extractive economy that relied on mining, timber, drilling, and ranching. It’s a shift not just in the type of jobs available, but in the political landscape of the entire region…

Ultimately, it is much easier to picture a western economy centered largely around tourism than around coal, oil, and gas. The Mountain West has a nearly inexhaustible supply of coal, but America’s coal industry is being hammered by cheap natural gas, Environmental Protection Agency rules banning new coal-fired plants, and the prospect of additional EPA rules that will phase out existing plants. The formation of a national-level climate policy may be hard to imagine, but it is certainly not impossible, and every major climate-related disaster increases the likelihood that such a policy will be enacted. Carbon mining of any kind is likely doomed over the long term.

The potential for a recreation-based economy, on the other hand, is as vast as the West itself. Americans have long loved their national parks. But because we aren’t creating many new ones, and we are creating more Americans, the crowds at the most famous parks, like Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, get bigger every year. And as developing countries in Asia and Latin America grow richer, their expanding middle classes will increasingly have the means to satisfy the abiding human desire to travel and see great natural beauty—and nowhere is more beautiful than the American West. In the future, there will be more people eager not only to visit the West for its natural beauty but to live there as well, if the swelling populations of places like Denver, Boise, Albuquerque, and Salt Lake City are any guide.

Personally, I think that one of the most significant items on our list of Obama’s Top 50 Accomplishments is number 25, which I wrote about on several occasions, including its impact on local economies.

By designating new national monuments and other measures, permanently protects over 548 million acres, more than any other president.

I’m sure that I could come up with more examples, but that will have to suffice for now. My point is not to simply single out Ryan Cooper—but to demonstrate that we are all much more complex than our opinions/actions on one topic. Grasping that truth can provide the platform for an open discussion on areas where we agree as well as those where we disagree.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.