Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hillary Clinton's conservative populism

Jonathan Chait, author of the excellent The Big Con (which I'll have a review of sometime next week), explains how Clinton's dismissal of criticism from economists makes sense only if you view it as part of the Clinton strategy of triangulation.

The dying days of the Hillary Clinton campaign have brought the breathtaking spectacle of a candidate lashing out at every element of public life that has nourished her career. The ├╝ber-wonk has disparaged economists and expertise. The staunch ally of black America has attacked her opponent for lacking support of "working, hard-working Americans, white Americans." People who thought they knew Hillary Clinton have gazed in astonishment: What has she become? The answer is, a conservative populist.

Conservative populism and liberal populism are entirely different things. Liberal populism posits that the rich wield disproportionate influence over the government and push for policies often at odds with most people's interest. Conservative populism, by contrast, dismisses any inference that the rich and the non-rich might have opposing interests as "class warfare." Conservative populism prefers to divide society along social lines, with the elites being intellectuals and other snobs who fancy themselves better than average Americans.


Hillary Clinton's embrace of the gas tax holiday is a miniature example of the same pattern. Her plan, which rests upon the political principle that high gasoline prices are unacceptable and that the federal gas tax is a burden on hard-pressed Americans, is highly congenial to the interests of oil companies. Yet she presents it as an assault on Big Oil, much as Bush presented his tax cuts as a way to force the rich to pay a higher share of the burden of government.
This is another reason why I do not want Clinton to be the nominee (the biggest problem I have being this). If you continue to "triangulate" partisans who are reactionary ideologues with a Manichean worldview then the "center" of American politics will continue to shift in the direction of the ideologues. That's because they define themselves in opposition to their political opponents - if Bill Clinton runs as centrist new Democrat (which comes out looking something like an Eisenhower Republican) then Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and then Karl Rove and everyone else now define that as being the "far left" of American politics (E.g. the conservative Democrat Howard Dean was the "left-wing" of the Democratic Party in the '04 election according to the Republican noise machine.)

I understand that Bill Clinton was able to accomplish much that he would not have been able to do without co-opting Republican narratives. But America has gone so far off course that it is time to start building a new consensus that rejects the extremism of the conservative movement and its front organization, i.e. the Republican Party while better reflecting the views of majority of Americans who already reject the policy positions of the conservative movement (poll after poll reveals this to be the case.)*

It's time to be partisan for principles. Principles that are at the core of America's democratic Enlightenment traditions. Principles that for too long now have been defined as "far left" or "radical."

*See Why We're Liberals for an extended examination of this topic.

1 comment:

PhD9 said...

But America has gone so far off course that it is time to start building a new consensus

Needless to say, this is why io find the results from Mississippi so encouraging. The noise machine is still spouting the same old lines from the stage but people have been steadily leaving the theater steadily for years now...