The New Liberals

When he leaves office in January of 2017—provided there isn't a terrible scandal or some kind of economic or foreign policy disaster between now and then—Barack Obama will likely be hailed as the greatest Democratic hero since John F. Kennedy. He got most of the way there just by winning a second term, before we even get to his already substantial policy successes. But the real reason is that for a long time to come, Obama will represent for Democrats the moment when they and their beliefs were ascendant. You can see it in the way some Democrats are already positioning themselves to run for president in 2016.

We'll get to those particular candidates in a moment, but what's important to know about them is that this new Democratic coalition you've heard so much about is going to produce its own kind of candidate. That isn't to say they'll necessarily be people you had never heard of until a couple of years ago; some will be politicians who came of age in an earlier era adapting to the way their party looks today. That party is multi-racial, hanging on its traditional near-complete support among African-Americans as it relies increasingly on Latinos and Asian-Americans (73 percent of whom voted for Obama in 2012). It's also more secular than before (even if most Democrats are still religious), concentrated in urban areas, and most important for the future, younger (Obama beat Romney among voters under 30 by 23 points).

You might say that sounds like the people who have always been Democrats. But consider that not too long ago, the party's wise leaders thought that for a Democrat to win a national election, he had to be from the South, with a drawl in his voice and the vernacular of small towns on his tongue. No more—in fact, though there are still a few prominent southern Democrats left, none of them are being touted as 2016 Democratic candidates. Potential presidential candidates now being mentioned (some with their cooperation, others not) hail from places like New York City, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, and Minneapolis. The urban, multi-racial Barack Obama is the apotheosis of the new Democratic candidate, even if the coalition took time to come into clear focus around him.

Perhaps most importantly, Obama—particularly the second-term Obama—does not apologize for liberalism. That isn't to say he's the most liberal guy around, because he isn't. But the very occasional smack at dirty hippies aside, he does not exude the fear of his party's ideology that characterized an earlier generation, scarred as they were by the Gingrich revolution of 1994. Candidates like Al Gore in 2000 or John Kerry in 2004 always seemed apologetic, terrified of being tarred as gun-hating, weak-on-defense, minority-coddling big-government Democrats. You could smell the fear coming off them from a mile away. But Democratic candidates in the next election, and maybe a few after that, are likely to be bolder and more aggressive. They're looking at the polls and their party's demographic makeup, and feeling suddenly free to advocate for liberal policies without shame. The radical turn the GOP has taken lately has something to do with it and it may change eventually, but nevertheless, Democrats are feeling ideologically bold in a way they haven't for decades.

Let's look, for instance, at the two governors who are as close to certain 2016 candidates as we have, New York's Andrew Cuomo and Maryland's Martin O'Malley. Both Cuomo and O'Malley successfully advocated to legalize same-sex marriage in their states. In the wake of the Newtown shootings, Cuomo pushed through a law making assault weapons and large-capacity magazines illegal; O'Malley is now pushing a similar law. O'Malley also wants to eliminate the death penalty in Maryland (which officially still has it, although it was suspended by a court order in 2006 and the last execution in the state was in 2005), and pushed hard for a state version of the DREAM Act that passed by ballot measure in 2012, allowing undocumented young people in Maryland to get in-state tuition at the state's universities. Cuomo wants to expand the conditions under which women can obtain a late-term abortion.

Yes, these are just a few issues, and one can argue that Cuomo in particular is not a raging liberal when it comes to economics. And yes, both governors lead very liberal states. But neither one is a wild-eyed idealist; they're both pragmatic politicians carefully charting a path toward the White House, and what's notable is how some aggressive liberalism now looks like the practical political course.

Is that just positioning to appeal to liberal primary voters? Maybe. But ten years ago, Democratic candidates wouldn't have dared, no matter what primary voters might have thought. To take just one example, the last Democratic nominee who was opposed to the death penalty in all cases was Michael Dukakis (John Kerry came close, saying he favored it only for terrorists). We got used to candidates from both parties shifting their positions on abortion to line up with their party (something both Gore and George H.W. Bush did), but now Democrats are moving left of where they were on issues like marriage equality and guns in order to make sure they can win the favor of the new Democratic coalition. Democratic politicians never felt shy about strong advocacy for a higher minimum wage or increasing taxes on the wealthy, but now they're realizing that "social" issues too are playing in their favor. The days when Republicans could sneer that a Democrat was a "[Northeastern state] liberal" and know that the attack would make the liberal in question shudder in fear seem to be over, at least for now.

Now, for the necessary caveats. We're still a long way from 2016—the race won't start in earnest until after the 2014 midterms (if you can bear to wait that long). Things can change quickly in American politics. We don't have to look back too far to be reminded; four years ago Barack Obama was going to usher in a generation of activist liberal government, and two years later the Republicans had taken the House and all anyone could talk about was how much we should slash federal spending. But the makeup of the parties won't change that much, and Republicans are likely to have the same problem they had in 2012: an ideologically extreme party base demanding perfect fealty to an ideology the broader public finds less than appealing. Democrats, on the other hand, look at their coalition and see a national majority to whom they can pander without much risk. If Republicans moved right, they'd be ensuring defeat at the polls. But some Democrats look like they're moving left, and it's for one reason: because it's good politics.

Comments

Let's not get carried away. Democrats are in the process of coopting the demographies you mention. I don't see liberals, I see moderates lining up to run. They have more in common with Bill Clinton who brought Robt Rubin and the end of Glass Steagall to us. Obama is in liberal phase. We need to talk liberal economics and renewing the middle class which the aspirants you mention are weak on.

Agreed on the economics pseudoliberalism of centrists.

Get on the Warren train early.

should be: ...AND THE pseudoliberalism of centrists.

In the next decade the liberalist progressive agenda will end after finally having to face the wall of debt that our bloated government has created. According to the CBO, by 2025 Social Securitiy, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the debt will consume 100% of federal tax revenues. There will be nothing left for education, defense, roads, farm subsidies, food stamps, or any other government programs. The American people will then have to decide if they want to pay European size value added taxes for their European size government. The bottom 80% of wage earners in Europe pay about twice the share of taxes that the bottom 80% in the United States do. So far it's been easy for the politicians in Washington to kick the can down the road and run trillion dollar deficits every year. All the politicians in Washington know that taxing the rich is not a solution - the most recent tax hike on the rich only runs the government for 1 WEEK! The only way to sustain the federal government in its current form is to broaden the tax base and dramatically raise taxes on the middle class. Get ready for it.

Lyndon Johnson got Medicare and Medicaid passed, programs which today provide health care to more than 100 million Americans. His anti-poverty programs cut the poverty rate in half in less than a decade. Worth a mention, surely, in the liberal pantheon? or you referring simply to image?

Thank you! JFK was no FDR and BHO has been no LBJ.

The poverty rate following "The War On Poverty" - and a trillion wasted dollars later - was EXACTLY the same. "Feed a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
Google it up friend. On this, you're simply wrong.

We must be using a different Google. Mine shows the poverty rate dropping precipitously between 1964 and 1973. I should have said he cut the rate by half rather than "in half", but you have to torture some logic to reach the conclusion that anti-poverty programs haven't worked.

The Dems base may yet break apart. How long can Dems fool people into thinking they're moving "forward" when in fact they're standing still or moving backwards?

As long as Dems can keep minorities from advancing their economic status in society, minorities will likely remain loyal to, and dependent on, them.

Permanent underclasses are a large part of the democrats' base & strategy.

Dems know that if minorities realized the American dream & became more prosperous, they might also become Republicans. And Democrats certainly don't want to establish any programs or policies that would erode their base.

America has spent trillions in its war on poverty. Yet, poverty still exists. If anything, conditions in the inner cities have worsened. Why? Became Democrats don’t want to win that war. If they did eliminate poverty, they might lose a significant part of their base. Instead, Democrats want to fight an endless, seemingly unwinnable war on poverty as a way to co-opt the minority vote.

Young people may wake up to the fact they're jobless, living at home, & up to their ears in college loan debt. Plus, they may realize that once they do get jobs, they're the ones that will have to pay back the $16-22 trillion dollars in debt big government is piling up. And that means they'll have to live on less money far into the distant future (high personal taxes & higher prices as businesses compensate for the higher taxes they have to pay by increasing prices).

In the same way that you know that liberals want to enslave minorities permanently, I know that you want to deny minorities the right to vote and you want to return to Jim Crow America with segregation and disenfranchisement of all non-whites (including Jews and Hispanics in the conservative lexicon). You see I can read your mind just as you can read mine.

I do not mean to minimize the importance of social issues. So many have suffered due to the backwardness of our norms and policies in this regard. The fact that this is changing is truly something to celebrate and continue pushing forward.

There IS however a broader significance to the demographic transformation of social equations: The right wing embraced social/cultural issues to move the white working class into its camp after the Goldwater defeat. This in turn forced many on the left to focus on identity politics in order to defend themselves and those they care about. While the focus on identity politics was problematic, it was somewhat unavoidable given the right wing cultural assault.

Now that we appear to have turned a corner on the social issues (due in large extent to the evolving demographics) the time has come to return to working class politics and the focus on progressive economics,...just barely in time (or rather late) to get us out of the economic hole we are in and to make the transition to what David Coates calls "a new long-term growth model."
( http://www.davidcoates.net/2013/01/21/second-inauguration-third-growth-model/ )

The fight for continued progressive change regarding the social/cultural issues must of course continue. But the time has long since passed when the economic needs of the working class can take a backseat. Cuomo, Clinton, and - heaven forbid! - Emanuel will not lead the way forward. Warren seems to be worthy (I know she says she's not running, but what else should she say at this point). We will of course need to see how she does as senator, but since support needs to start early nowadays, I suggest we build that support now, unless or until she gives us reason not to.

The faux Cherokee Senator from Massachusetts!! You're kidding right? Someone who enriched herself and her employers by lying for three decades is not my idea of a good choice for anything. She's already the laughing stock of the Senate.

She's a faux Cherokee the same way your a pretend patriot.

Hey you leftists, in the real news; "Authorities in New Jersey say a muslim man beheaded two Coptic Christians, burying their bodies and heads and hands in separate graves near Philadelphia, bringing the horror of the persecution of Christians in Islamic nations to the United States.

Hey you leftists; authorities in New Jersey allege a muslim man beheaded two Coptic Christians, burying their bodies and heads and hands in separate graves near Philadelphia, bringing the horror of the persecution of Christians in Islamic nations to the United States. Aren't they nice?

Ok, let's see if I got this right - gay rights and gun bans. That's the new, more acceptable and electable Democrat?? Really? That's it?
Oh yeah and then there's this minority thing. Aren't we ALL minorities in some way, shape or form?

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