The Fogies and the Turks

THE FOGIES AND THE TURKS….Matt Yglesias argues, basically, that young liberal turks who have only been following politics since the time the Republican Party went batshit insane (which would be either 1994, 1998, or 2000, depending on how you keep score) have a fundamentally different worldview than old liberal fogies who have been following politics for decades. Given the GOP’s recent history of using bipartisan charades as a thin excuse for back alley political muggings, the first group considers the whole idea of bipartisanship to be dangerously naive. The second group, conversely, continues to value traditional bipartisan comity as a way of getting things done.

Noam Scheiber offers a slightly different gloss on the same subject:

I’d put it this way: The first group basically thinks George W. Bush and the GOP are the biggest threat to the country these days. From that it follows that anyone who enables the Bush-era GOP is complicit in hurting the country. The second group ? at least the portion that was supportive of Bill Clinton ? came of age at a time when you could argue that the threats to the party (and the country) from the left were as big as the threats from the right. Back then, this group regarded the left wing of the Democratic Party as substantively wrong and politically self-defeating.

Most of the second group no longer thinks the far left represents as big a threat as Bush and the GOP; some, like Lieberman, still do. But, either way, it’s tough to get over your formative political experiences, which is why there’s still a lot of sympathy in this group for the Liebermans of the world.

This attitude is what I’ve come to think of as Kaus-ism. Although reasonable minds can differ on this subject, Noam is right that beating up on loony-lefty Dems in the 70s and early 80s was arguably necessary for the health of both the party and the country. But here’s the thing: it worked. In the late 80s and 90s the party became far more soberminded, adopting nearly all the prescriptions that the centrist neoliberals had been fighting for. The neolibs didn’t win every single battle ? no faction ever does ? but they sure won a lot of them.

At the same time, the Republican Party abandoned the (in hindsight) relatively pragmatic conservatism of Ronald Reagan and became crazed reactionaries under leaders like Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and eventually Dick um, I mean George Bush. This is not your grandfather’s Republican Party.

So yeah: In 1975, when Time magazine wondered aloud if capitalism could survive and the Republican candidate for president was the Eisenhower-esque Gerald Ford, it might have made sense to think that it was worth spending your energy on fighting deranged hippies in your own party. But today? When serious lefties sneer at the Democratic Party and Republicans are united behind the barroom gibberish of George Bush? Why should anyone even moderately left of center spend more than a few minutes a week worrying about a barely detectable liberal drift in the Democratic Party? Will the tut-tutters not be happy until CEOs make 1000x the average wage instead of the mere 400x they make now and the 200x they made during the Reagan years? How much farther to the right do they want Dems to go?

Beats me. As with foreign policy, I fundamentally believe that domestic politics is primarily a battle of public opinion, and scorched earth policies mostly come back to haunt you. At the same time, you still have to fight like you mean it and you have to adapt to your opponents’ tactics. Worrying about lefties in the Democratic Party when the GOP is led by a guy named George Bush is like worrying about the Michigan Militia when a guy named Osama is driving airplanes into your buildings. The fogies need to get real.

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