Democrats’ Tent is Shrinking Fast

The last few days should have been a loud and clear wake up call to centrist Democrats: The party you love doesn’t exist anymore. Need proof? Consider:

  • It began with the Democrat debate when Hillary Clinton was cheered for saying the enemy she was proudest of was Republicans. Contrast that with the ridicule Sen. Jim Webb received for naming his greatest enemy as the Vietcong soldier who was trying to blow up Webb’s fellow marines.
  • On Saturday a poll was released showing that 49 percent of Democrats view socialism favorably, while only 37 percent view capitalism favorably. Contrast that with the population at large that shows only 25 percent of adults have a favorable opinion of socialism, while 48 percent  view capitalism positively.
  • On Tuesday, Jim Webb announced that he was dropping out of the race because he correctly identified that “my views on many issues are not compatible with the power structure and nominating base of the Democratic Party.”
  • Yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden dropped out of the race for ostensibly the same reason – he didn’t have a path to the nomination. But, he said, “I intend to speak out clearly and forcefully to influence as much as I can where we stand as a party and where we need to go as a nation.” That should serve as a fairly loud hint to the current candidates that they’re not where Vice President Biden thinks they should be.

Taken together, these events paint the picture of a party that is rapidly evolving away from what it once was – a blend of moderate fiscal conservatism (the “New Democrats” for example supported deregulation, welfare reform, and middle-class tax cuts), a razor-sharp focus on the wellbeing of the everyman, and a blend of positions on social issues (the “Blue Dogs” for instance tended to be strong supporters of gun rights, pro-life positions). Now, the party advocates a very narrow agenda, made up of socialist-tinged policies to equalize economic outcomes, aimed at mollifying its left flank and defenestrating its Republican opponents. This, as Noah Rothman writes for Commentary Magazine, is not a big tent.

The biggest takeaway, however, from insurgent candidac[ies’ of Jim Webb and Lawrence Lessig] is the Democratic Party’s antipathy toward dissent in the era of Clinton. The party Barack Obama inherited when he was first elected to the presidency was one of broad ideological and geographic divergence. Today, the Blue Dogs and the fixers are almost all gone. The party today is one that is geographically isolated to small urban pockets and coastal enclaves, all of which are more predisposed to reward uniformity of political opinion. The party’s mistrust of divergence is matched only by its discipline. There are consequences for going off the reservation or undermining leadership’s goals. The GOP is, by contrast, everything the Democrats once were; unwieldy, undisciplined, disorganized, ideologically and geographically diverse, and ascendant. Being unmanageable is often a consequence of serving the governing majority party. It’s unclear whether the Democratic Party would prefer to expand their tent if that means diluting its ideological purity.

You know something is wrong when Vice President Joe Biden, who most recently receives 100 percent ratings from the AFL-CIO and NAACP, a 32 percent rating from the Chamber of Commerce, and an “F” from the NRA, was thinking of jumping in the race to target the unspoken-for centrist Democrats. His comments earlier this week jabbing Clinton’s debate performance were especially telling.

“I don’t think we should look at Republicans as our enemies,” he said. “They are our opposition, they’re not our enemies. And for the sake of the country, we have to work together.” “How can we move forward without being able to arrive at consensus?” Biden asked. “Four more years of this kind of pitched battle may be more than this country can take. We have to change it.”

Apparently Biden learned fairly quickly that Democrats want Republicans to be the enemy and aren’t likely to support a candidate who appears willing to [gasp] talk to them, much less refuse to grind them into a political pulp.

Maybe this is all a solid bet on where the nation’s voting demographic is headed. But at the end of the day, less ideologically driven voters want results more than political purity. If Democrats want to win the White House, and not just have a less fractious primary, it seems as though they may want to build a bigger tent.