I’m growing increasingly weary of the kind of political analysis exemplified most recently by Dana Milbank. He takes a look at some recent polling that suggests more people are identifying themselves as liberal and prefers this explanation.
A third theory, which I find compelling, is that the rise in liberalism is a backlash against the over-the-top conservatism displayed by the tea party movement. The Pew Research Center and others have documented a dramatic increase in ideological polarization within political parties over two decades. The Republican Party has long been dominated by conservatives, and the recent rise in liberalism among Democrats may be a mirror image of that — the beginnings of a tea party of the left.
A “tea party of the left?” Oh puhleeze!
Let’s spend just a moment recapping some history. First of all, with the routing that Ronald Reagan gave Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential election, a lot of Democrats decided that it was time to moderate and play some ball on Republican turf. That gave us things like “the era of big government is over,” signing on to the need to reform welfare, and a big push to “get tough on crime.” The overall conversation felt – to many of us on the left – like it was being based on Republican terms.
And then came eight years of Bush/Cheney. As I wrote previously, by the end of their term it was clear that Republican policies had left us mired in two wars in the Middle East, careening towards a second Great Depression, and a federal deficit that was ballooning out of control. At that point, smart pundits knew that the real 2008 presidential election was the one that happened in the Democratic primary. Whoever won that one was likely to be our next POTUS because – no matter how loudly the right wing screamed – the majority of Americans were done with Republican policies.
It was in that scenario that the tea party was born – stoked by the racist fears of this country having elected our first African American president. As just one example of how radical these folks are, let’s remember that they are the ones who wanted to blow up the entire global economy rather than raise the U.S. debt ceiling. That their “establishment” accomplices were willing to take us to that brink on a couple of occasions tells us all we need to know about how radicalized the Republicans have become.
Now we have had six and a half years of a Democratic President who ended those two wars, has presided over the longest expansion of private sector job growth in our history and provided millions of Americans with access to health care. The candidate most likely to be his successor is running on such non-radical notions as raising the minimum wage to keep up with inflation, investing in infrastructure, addressing climate change, immigration reform, criminal justice reform and expanded educational opportunities.
In other words, Democrats are reclaiming the turf. That means having the conversation on our own terms and running on issues that have traditionally been the staple of a Democratic agenda. That they also happens to align with the views of a majority of voters in this country means that it is the opposite of tea party extremism. The mirror Mr. Milbank sees is the one Democrats are holding up to reflect the views of the people they’re running to represent.
That’s what is making it cool to be a liberal again.