Friday :: Jan 18, 2008

Sen. Obama's Party of Ideas

by eriposte

Markos has posted what is one of the strangest and most spectacularly wrong posts on Daily Kos that I've ever seen (emphasis mine, throughout this post):

Huh. I didn't see the part where Obama said the GOP's ideas were "all the good" ones.

In fact, Obama isn't saying anything that couldn't come straight out of Crashing the Gate -- that the GOP build a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy that used its think tanks to create ideas, a media machine to sell those ideas, and a modernized campaign operation to win elections on those ideas. Yes, the GOP was the party of ideas. They were crappy ideas. But they were "ideas".

That's not controversial, so I'm not sure why the Clinton campaign is making such a big deal out of it.

Especially "welfare reform" Bill Clinton.

Here's Sen. Obama's statement cited by Markos:

I think it’s fair to say that the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10-15 years in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom.

This statement clearly implies two things. One is that unlike the Democratic party, the GOP has allegedly been the party of ideas. This is completely wrong - whether or not Sen. Obama was referring to "good" or "bad" ideas. In fact, what the Republicans are much more famous for is message discipline and propaganda - which tends to limit the number of ideas they propagate. In contrast, there were plenty of ideas from Democrats - much more so than from the Republicans. If anything, Democrats have failed time and again because they have had far more ideas amongst themselves - ranging from the very liberal to the somewhat conservative - that they have often failed to unify around a single set of ideas the way Republicans have. Don't just take my word for it. That is, in fact, one of the messages in Crashing The Gate. I'd like to point Markos to pages 173 and 174 in his own book:

Ask ten people what the Republican Party stands for and you'll get roughly the same ten answers: [...] Now ask ten people what the Democratic Party stands for, and you're likely to get ten different answers...

...As it turned out, this hasn't been a book about policies or new ideas or message, even though those are critically important in taking back our country. We like to believe the ideas that will lead the Democratic Party to a new governing majority already exist, but they need to be articulated clearly.

Markos unfortunately confused message discipline with ideas. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The Democrats have been the party of ideas, the Republicans have been the party of propaganda. That has not changed much in a long long time.

There's another way in which both Markos and Sen. Obama are wrong.

Sen. Obama says that it was the Republicans who challenged conventional wisdom. Now, I am curious - conventional wisdom among whom? If it was conventional wisdom amongst the media and chattering classes - then, the conventional wisdom was largely what the Republicans were claiming. In other words, what the Republicans were saying - and had been saying since at least the Reagan era - was conventional wisdom in the 1990s and that continued to be the case for most of the 2000s. In fact, it was because there was no media or progressive machine on the left that the Clinton administration was sometimes forced to triangulate and adapt to that conventional wisdom. However, in many cases, the Clintons themselves fought the conventional wisdom repeatedly and introduced a number of progressive and Democratic ideas challenging that conventional wisdom. Big Tent Democrat just provides a handful at Talk Left (emphasis mine):

In what I can only term an absurd post, Markos writes that Democrats have had no ideas, it has been the GOP with the new ideas.

Setting aside whether "new" ideas for the sake of having something new means anything, it simply is false. "The new GOP idea was the old GOP idea - cut taxes and strangle the government. Oh, and the most important GOP idea? Stop anything that comes from Dems, be it old ideas like Social Security and Medicare (see the 1995 government shutdown) to new ideas like universal health care and addressing climate change. Or how about the Earned Income Tax Credit? The largest tax reduction for the the poor working class ever given. Or raising the top tax rate on the richest Americans in order to balance the budget? How about those new ideas that the Republicans fought fiercely? Does Kos NOT know about those?

Because I have news for you -- those are the ideas that form the centerpiece of the Democratic agenda this election. They are not new ideas from Obama, Edwards or Clinton. These are Democratic ideas. Formulated in the last 15 years. By Democrats.

Kos has always said he does not pay much attention to policy. In this post, he proved it. And he does a great disservice to the Democratic Party when he buys the nonsense David Brooks is selling.

In other words, in the last 10-15 years, the most unconventional wisdom came from Democrats. So, unless Sen. Obama has been living in a cave from 1992 to 2007, there were plenty of Democrats and progressive groups with great ideas in this time period. I am just disappointed that Markos endorsed Sen. Obama's ahistorical nonsense (which he seems to deliver at regular intervals).

As Paul Krugman said:

Read Rick Perlstein. Rick is our premier historian of the rise of modern movement conservatism, and knows whereof he speaks.

Update: The Republicans were the party of ideas for the last 10 to 15 years, because they were challenging conventional wisdom? OK, now I’m completely boggled. Is Obama talking about the same GOP I know — the Republican party of Tom DeLay and George Bush? The party in which candidates compete to see who can do the best Reagan impersonation? This is the party that’s challenging conventional wisdom? What’s going on here?

Yeah, what is going on here? I believe I know.

eriposte :: 8:21 PM :: Comments (18) :: Digg It!