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I've long thought that American politics - and economics - went sideways in the 1970s and we've never recovered.  The ghost of Richard Nixon continues to haunt American politics.  Nixon's resignation and Ford's pardon of him left liberals feeling he'd avoided justly deserved punishment, while conservatives were never convinced his misdeeds were all that serious in the first place.  The Clinton impeachment of the 90s was little more than conservatives avenging Nixon on Democrats.  The invasion of Iraq was an attempt to refight (and win!) the Vietnam war, to restore the military and to show liberals once and for all the supporters of war were right.  Amidst the ruins of the Bush administrations, conservatives were neither chastised nor educated; the ascendant tea party was nothing more than an attempt to redeem conservatism itself.  Faced with disaster in every direction, unable to admit the problem lies not in their stars but themselves, conservatives doubled down on their ideology and have engaged in an idelogical terror that would make Stalin or Chairman Mao proud.

The left - burdened by a connection to reality - has proven unable to deal with the right's lunacy and tantrums for the same reason a parent can't control a child's tantrum.  Pushed bey0nd reason by the ever-unfolding disasters of the Bush presidency, and then the shock of losing to Barack Obama in 2008, conservatives collectively lost their minds and have spent years having a public fit.  And so the whole political system has ground to painful halt.

Could it have been avoided?

Gary Hart argues, that yes, it could have:

But beginning dramatically in the 1970s things changed. Things being: globalization and foreign competition; the decline of the manufacturing base; petroleum-producing nations controlling the price of oil; and the unsustainable costs of cold war military engagements and deployments.

The OPEC oil embargoes of 1974 and 1979 contributed to the combination of stagnation and inflation and to the flattening of household incomes for the first time since the beginning of World War II. Meanwhile, the numbers of people qualifying for assistance under New Deal and Great Society programs increased, as did the overall costs of operating those programs, especially in the area of health care.

The Democratic Party during this period had the opportunity to develop a new economic platform but failed to do so. Having no constructive response to a tide of economic and social revolutions, it clung to the defense of its historic social agenda, which required taxation of working class and middle income people to finance that agenda at a time when their own economic security was endangered.

And concludes:
The Democratic Party has not only been the party of hope, the party of compassion and inclusiveness, it has also been the party of innovation. By failing to innovate some 30 years ago, it has permitted itself to lapse into the defensive, if not also reactionary, posture that now plagues it. A well-motivated Democratic president now struggles to move the nation forward against a conservative tide that emerged in the policy vacuum created by Democratic failure to adapt and in a political climate where many people, especially young people, do not know the basic principles of the current Democratic Party or what it stands for.
Hart's basic political argument echoes Paul Krugman's economic argument about the 1970s.  Policy makers were caught flat footed in the 70s, failed to respond adequately to changing conditions and so unwittingly fed the very attitudes and opinions that undermined the policies that could have helped.  A contemporary example is the 2009 stimulus - it was the right idea but too small and badly structured.  It worked to halt the collapse but wasn't large enough to start economic growth; the outcome was the worst of all worlds - poor economy and the failure of voters to believe that stimulus spending could help the economy.  Krugman is fonding of pointing out that our experience since the Great Recession began in 2007 has proven that classical Keynesian economics work.

Faced with a revanchist and radical right that is prepared to undo a century of policy, Democrats have found themselves fighting to preserve policies and programs long through sacrasanct.

Nixon's Southern Strategy has born its poisonous fruits and delivered an ascendant, reactionary conservative movement and party that is willing to do or say everything and anything to advance its partisan agenda.  Faced with the worst economic crisis in 70 years, Republicans have deliberately adopted a policy of obstructing every policy attempt to amerliorate the suffering.  Dems, by contrast, have consistently tried to reason with unreasonable people and water down their own proposals to chase the chimera of Republican votes that will never materialize.

Hart argues:

The Democratic response of triangulation and centrism, essentially splitting the difference between reactionary liberalism and increasingly virulent conservatism, cost the party its identity.
It's a shrewd insight.  Watching the party ineptly oppose Bush's radicalism was a perfect example - there was no core identity, no concept of what it meant to be a Democrat.

In pointing out the failures of Democrats, however, Hart hasn't ignored the rise of the radical right:

The extreme position essentially says that half the country does not deserve representation. My friend and former colleague, Senator Jack Danforth, echoed by former Senator Chuck Hagel, recently said this was not the philosophy of the Republican party to which he belonged.

Largely by internal assault the Republican party purged (including by retirement) moderate Senators of a previous era, such as Percy, Mathias, Case, Javits, and Specter more recently, and are now purging traditional conservatives. (There is a long history of ideological purges, but only in totalitarian states.) Efforts to identify Democrats defeated by more liberal primary opponents yield only Senator Lieberman.

Name-calling is cheap. Calling President Obama a “socialist” may make radio talkers feel clever and powerful, but that does not make it so. No question, advocacy of same gender marriage is “liberal” in the traditional sense of tolerant and inclusive. But Norman Thomas never made it close to the White House and never will.[snip]

So where is the evidence for the presence of extreme left ideology, the counterpart of the rightward lurch of the current Republican party? A Ph.D. in political science is not required to know that the center of political gravity has shifted substantially to the right in recent years and therefore that the stalemate and gridlock in government is not the result of diametrically opposed political extremes. Yet that is the way it is still portrayed in the political media. If anything, liberal and progressive forces outside of government are dismayed at the perceived willingness of the President and Congressional Democrats to compromise away hard-won social victories during the New Deal and Great Society eras.

As Hart describes it, then, we have two, connected stories - the first is the story of liberals and liberalism missing the opportunities offered by the 1970s and the second is the story of the rise of the radical right.  These two stories intertwine in a connected feedback loop.  Missing an opportunity in the  70s created the opening for the rise of the radical right.   The rise of the right, in turn, makes it more difficult to effectively meet today's challenges, meaning more missed opportunities.  And so the cycle continues.

And somewhere the ghost of Richard Nixon is stroking his chin and nodding in approval.

Originally posted to glendenb on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 10:43 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Rick Perry says that "Fast and Furious" is worse (8+ / 0-)

    than Watergate.

    Of course, it took him a pause of five minutes and 3 guesses before he got lucky and remembered "Watergate."

    His first two stabs were "Waterboarding" and "Waterbeds."

    History merely repeats itself; it doesn't cure its own ills. That is the burden of the present.

    by ZedMont on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 11:24:58 AM PDT

  •  And somewhere in there Gary Hart (10+ / 0-)

    has failed to note that many of our great liberal Democratic leaders were assassinated and we were left with Nixon and other just not up to the task of inspiring and expanding liberal views.

    How easy is it to replace a JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., RFK, Malcolm X etc...Nixon could play it his way because bascially there was no one who could oppose him.

    Oh we had great leaders in the Senate and the House, some of them even Republicans. But Nixon and Cheney and Rumsfeld and the Bushes planted their extensive reach in the Executive Branch and somehow they are still around.

    Ford really screwed up when he pardoned Nixon. Something that I will never ever forgive him for.

    In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God ~RFK

    by vcmvo2 on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 11:35:21 AM PDT

    •  Pardoning Nixon (11+ / 0-)

      Was the first step in legitimizing criminal politicians.  After Bush busted the Constitution over his knee and then shit on it while giggling and jacking off, there was no such thing anymore as a crooked politician, and the gates were wide open.

    •  Ford probably had no choice (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NoMoreLies, vcmvo2, p gorden lippy

      In no way shape or form am I defending his policies or his pardon of Tricky Dick.

      I'm old enough to remember just what that despicably pathological lying POS did to the country.

      IMHO, the Democratic Party decline began with the coup d'etat-assassination of JFK.

      The message of: "Nice family ya got here. Shame if anything happened to them." is timeless and chilling across the sorry arc of human history.

      Both parties are beholden to their corporate sponsors. The Democratic Party deigns to throw us a few bones from the table on which to gnaw and squabble over, but it's just kabuki.

      by ozsea1 on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 07:39:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's true (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        p gorden lippy, ozsea1

        of course now they settle of personal character assassination. Clinton and Hart were especial victims of that.

        I mean we have Sen. Vitter still serving in the Senate and look how long it took them to deal with Sen. Ensign.

        Never mind Gov. Sanford of South Carolina but let that be a Democratic politician and the witch hunt becomes relentless.

        In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God ~RFK

        by vcmvo2 on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 08:43:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Nice diary (6+ / 0-)

    I also think you can trace the decline back to Nixon, he of power without glory fame. And when you compare Nixon and Romney, they are father and son. Both so completely without scruple, both so completely devoted to the acquisition of power for its own sake, both singularly awkward individuals, that they seem related. The country just cannot take another Nixon, the man who profoundly changed America for the worse.

    The universe may have a meaning and a purpose, but it may just specifically not include you.

    by Anne Elk on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 03:07:21 PM PDT

    •  There is no Sarah Palin without Nixon. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      New Rule, ozsea1, NoMoreLies

      Either by lineage or by style.  Palin would not be possible in a world without such a barbarous predecessor.

      Thank you to jayden, Dr Erich Bloodaxe RN, Aji and everyone in the Daily Kos community involved in gifting my subscription and gifting others!

      by Nulwee on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 03:30:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm not sure (8+ / 0-)

    I don't trust Gary Hart any further than I could throw him, and I'm wondering (I saw "On the Waterfront" last week) if this is his mea culpa for screwing up the 1988 election.  Where we are now, as James Fallows wrote in the Atlantic recently is that Bush v Gore was in reality a Republican coup-d'etat and we're 11 years into it now.

    Nobody missed any opportunities, we just don't do strategy well.  We have to get better at it.

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 03:11:20 PM PDT

    •  thank you for stating the obvious -- & i don't (5+ / 0-)

      mean that facietiously (spelling?), either -- NO one ever seems to bring up that inconvenient little matter -- the 2000 election was, indeed, a rw coup d'etat -- just as surely as the one in argentina in 1973 that overthrew allende & put pinochet in power was.

      we like to look the other way & pretend it wasn't -- those things happen in other countries, not ours -- but it happened.  and until we admit it, we're going to keep on living the lie, & paying the price for doing so, too.

  •  Tipp'd & recc'd for bringing up this topic and (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ozsea1, copymark

    its historical context.

    Hart had some good points in the original piece.
    But I would have liked to see more specificity on how Dems could have been more innovative then.  Since Hart lived thru those times, he could have provided some examples.

    "..The political class cannot solve the problems it created. " - Jay Rosen

    by New Rule on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 04:16:25 PM PDT

    •  Yeah, I didn't see a single "new idea" (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      p gorden lippy, New Rule

      come out of his explaining the obvious.

      Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað

      by milkbone on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 05:07:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Well for one.. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      copymark, New Rule, Simplify

      Ted Kennedy could have compromised with Jimmy Carter and gotten some kind of health care reform started. The Dems in the Senate could have fought against DE-regulation that unfortunately is a black mark against Carter, an otherwise fine President. The Senate could have pushed the Church hearings further.

      Democrats could have pushed back harder against the caricatures that Republicans were crafting to beat Dems over the head with. Dems could have fought back harder against Prop 13. They could have demanded more honesty and oversight of religious broadcasting. They could have fought to protect broadcasting from becoming an idealogical battleground by reinforcing the Fairness Doctrine. They could have established oversight of the cable TV industry.

      •  Thanks. (0+ / 0-)

        As you cite that thoughtful list, it still seems that they are still examples of "playing better defense" rather than ground-breaking, game-changing, Overton-Window shifting innovations that would constitute "offense".

        Of course, the Great Regression under Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Gingrich, etc. was a reaction to New Deal, Civil Rights and Great Society innovations.

        Move and Contermove, ad infinitum, I guess.

        "..The political class cannot solve the problems it created. " - Jay Rosen

        by New Rule on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 09:34:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Carter made two mistakes (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          New Rule

          One was creating the Mujahideen and trying to fight a proxy war with the USSR. (Actually that kind of worked in the short term, but was ruinous in the long term - and he also underestimated just how insane the right were, and how far they'd go to create a hostage crisis to discredit him.)

          The other mistake was failing to get Big Money onside with his solar and sustainable program.

          Now - Carter had the odds against him, so getting these right was always going to be a heroic challenge.

          But for a brief period he had the potential to shift the game leftward, and he never quite managed it.

          "Be kind" - is that a religion?

          by ThatBritGuy on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 10:53:53 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Yeah, and Nixon started (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ozsea1, copymark

    that whole meme of expanding a war into neighboring countries, by secret bombing campaign, that we still can't seem to get away from.

    When banjos are outlawed, only outlaws will have banjos.

    by Bisbonian on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 05:02:26 PM PDT

    •  actually, ike & the cia had us involved in all (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bnasley, copymark

      of nasty shit in c america, overthrowing democratically-elected governments in guatemala & honduras b/c they were too friendly w/communist governments & not friendly enuf to united fruit co.

      it was also during ike's administration that we engineered the overthrow of the iranian government (also democratically-elected) & installed the shah, so no wonder the iranians are trying to protect themselves from assholes like mitt romney & the rest of the r's who are so fond of throwing other people's children in front of bullets & bombs & want to start another war we can't afford.

    •  Dems Own the Vietnam War (0+ / 0-)

      Kennedy and Johnson were responsible for the run-up in Vietnam and for the insane rules of engagement that tied our hands. And, don't think for a minute that incursions into Cambodia started with Nixon.

      •  "tied our hands?" (0+ / 0-)

        Please don't tell me you're arguing that we could have "won" the Vietnam war if only LBJ had allowed the military a free rein.  That war was unwinnable by any means short of nuclear genocide. If we had gone all WWII and deployed 2 or 3 or 5 million troops, what do you think would have happened?  Ho and the rest of the Northern leaders would have gone to China, and the bulk of the NVA and the VC would have gone underground and waited, all the while carrying out a guerilla war.  How long would, or could, we have stayed?  A year?  5 years?  10?  The Vietnamese lived there, it was their country, and they would simply have waited until we left, and established the same government they did in 1975.

        And while you're classifying the rules of engagement as insane, why don't you think back 15 years before, to Korea? Johnson imposed limits that he felt were necessary to avoid a war with China or Russia--no invasion of the North, no bombing ships in Haiphong harbor, etc.  He remembered that in 1950 China went to war with us in Korea when US troops invaded the North and got too close to China's border.  And that was before China had nuclear weapoons, which they acquired in 1964.  LBJ's rules may or may not have been wrong, but they were hardly insane.

  •  i remember when carter was all set to legalize (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    pot, back in '75 (or '76) & one of his aides was caught doing coke & that was the end of that.  what a fucking shame that was.

  •  Maybe this was critical (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    whenwego, NoMoreLies, copymark

    JFK - shot and killed
    RFK - shot and killed
    MLK - shot and killed
    Harvey Milk - shot and killed
    George Moscone - shot and killed.

    Many other liberals threatened or killed including Fred Hampton, Medgar Evers, Harry and Harriet Moore, and Malcom X.

    It is a long list.

    The Democrats got the message.  Act up and we can kill you.

    When Bobby was killed I believed it was the end of our Democracy.  Nobody in their right mind would advocate for the common people against the elite.  The Democrats could provide lip service, and nothing more.

    Surprisingly, they did more than that with Johnson and the Great Society and the Civil Right  Act.

    It will take a lot of guts to speak up these days.  I hope someone steps up.

    "If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve; if impeached, I will not leave" -Anon

    by Graebeard on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 07:37:25 PM PDT

    •  Sorry, grassy knoll, but this doesn't add up. (0+ / 0-)

      JFK was hardly a liberal.  RFK was killed over Israel/Palestine, King's death was racially motivated, at least primarily, and Malcolm was killed by the group he broke with.  And how do the shootings of Wallace and Reagan, and the several attempts on Ford, fit in to this scenario?

      Politics makes people do the wacky (apologies to Joss Whedon), and there are whack jobs all across the spectrum.

  •  You should also note that real middle class income (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NoMoreLies, p gorden lippy

    has also stagnated or gone down since the 70's. Coincidence?

  •  Gary Hart is wrong. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    He's attempting to use today's economics to weave a singular theory to the economic past, thereby explaining everything. Except economics just isn't big enough to account for the lurching history of the last fifty years.
    If there is a single theorem that more coherently binds today to the 70's, it is restitution and it's corollary.
    Google's definition of restitution defines it as "A return to or restoration of a previous state or position." Google's definition of corollary describes it as "A natural consequence or effect; a result."
    The common theorem that most ties today to the seventies is the lack of restitution by our leaders in politics, industry, finance and communications; the corollary is that they do it because they can get away with it.
    Without restitution there can be no progress. Without punishment, there is no crime.


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