FEAR THIS DEFICIENCY WE HAVE CREATED. Like Matt, I haven't finished John Halpin and Ruy Teixera's article. And like Matt, I'm going to comment anyway. And like Matt, I think progressives disagree on a bunch of stuff, and it's tough to achieve clarity of message when you're tangled in disagreement. Or at least it should be.
But here's the thing: conservatives disagree on as much stuff as liberals. Large swaths of the rightwing think we shouldn't run up massive deficits, yet they've fallen into line behind a leader doing just that. Serious sectors of the Republican movement are essentially isolationist, but they've thrown up their hands and ceded foreign policy to the neocons. Matt notes the tension between our own Harold Meyerson and the Clinton establishment's new Hamilton Project, but those disagreements are no more fundamental or fierce than those between big-spending conservatives like David Brooks and Karl Rove and the Club for Growth. Immigration slices the Gordian knot linking the party's elites and its base, hostility to major social programs is rampant among ideologues but absent among elderly white folks, and how happy do you think traditional Republicans are with the largest expansion of Medicare since its inception? Yet they're not in disarray, or lacking a sense of self. The question, really, is why.
In their piece, Ruy and John write that "progressives have been consumed with finding the strategies, tactics, messages, policies, media outlets, language and messengers to overcome their problems at the ballot box...Unfortunately, while each of these approaches offers important insights, the totality of the advice simply misses the mark and obscures the underlying problem driving progressives� on-going woes nationally: a majority of Americans do not believe progressives or Democrats stand for anything." Fair enough -- that's a bad rep to have. But does it survive because Democrats lack principles, or because Democrats never tire of writing books, papers, reports and articles about their party�s incoherence and how to fix it?
Somehow, Republicans have sidestepped the reputation for internal disarray. Somehow, Americans apparently know what they stand for, and it's not deficits, ill-planned military adventurism, messy expansions of entitlement programs, increased federal control over the American education system, and environmental belligerence. Yet that, put shortly, is their record. So here's the question: Are the Democrats truly without core and in need of righting, or do Americans just think they are because leading progressives keep saying so? And, if so, aren't the aforementioned progressives right, and this is largely just a messaging problem?
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