Democratic Centrists Push Minimalist Policies

In 1996, Bill Clinton perfected the art of passing poll-tested legislation limited both in its scope and its actual impact on voters, and in doing so helped convince Americans to reelect him just two years after they had broadly rejected the Democratic Congress. Ten years later, Hillary Clinton is continuing this strategy, as are many other centrists, as The Economist notes this week.

Mrs Clinton and the DLC represent the party's centrist wing: tough on national defence, liberal (in the European sense) on trade and distrusted by the left. "The American Dream Initiative" is an attempt to make globalisation sound less scary by supplying cushions and ladders. The cushions include more tax breaks for home-ownership, a free $500 bond for all new babies (an idea copied from Britain) and a subsidy for retirement savings. Small employers burdened with health-care costs would be able to use a nationwide "purchasing pool" for insurance. The ladders include more subsidies for college and a proposal for longer school hours.

All this will cost money. Mrs Clinton promised to find savings by curbing tax-breaks for rich businesses and axing 100,000 unnecessary consultants, though she wisely refrained from naming any potential victims besides Halliburton. At the same time, she promised to restore the fiscal discipline that has slipped so dangerously under Mr Bush. Democrats, she said, would restore the "pay-as-you-go" budget rules that, until 2002, obliged Congress to match any spending increase with a cut elsewhere or a tax rise.

The next day, in Washington, DC, another group of centrist Democrats called the Hamilton Project offered a complementary set of proposals. One gem: a young wonk named Austan Goolsbee suggested that 40% of American taxpayers should be exempted from filling in their own tax returns because the Internal Revenue Service already knows what they earn, having demanded records from their employers and banks. This, he said, would save $44 billion in compliance costs over ten years. It would be good for family values, he argued, since people would be able to spend 225m more hours with their loved ones instead of wrestling with incomprehensible forms.

These ideas all generally sound palatable, as they are designed to. Who wouldn't want to have to file tax returns with the IRS? Who doesn't think we need to fire unneeded consultants, like those at Halliburton?  

The problem is voters are getting tired of small, poll-tested bills meant to keep certain segments of the population content. George W. Bush and the Republican Congress have also become fairly deft at pushing the right buttons among certain voters with targeted legislation, but still today only about a quarter to a third of Americans are content with the direction of the country, and what's more, voters appear ready to throw the Republicans out of control of Capitol Hill.

I don't believe that the Democrats need to give up on these tactics, because they can win votes, particularly in individual races. But it's not 1996 anymore. So when pretty much all that comes out of the mouths of leading DLCers are these policies that don't actually address the core problems Americans see afflicting this country, the Democratic Party as a whole runs the risk of being portrayed as devoid of actual ideas that will solve America's real problems.

Tags: DLC (all tags)

Comments

10 Comments

Re: Democratic Centrists Push Minimalist Policies

I very much agree with you.  I like bold proposals and America's problems have only gotten worse under the Republicans.

There's just one problem: Americans are becoming increasingly apathetic, and they simply do not believe politicians when they make large proposals.  DemocracyCorps recently studied this very question, and found that most people would prefer small, manageable reforms to sweeping things that they thought would never be accomplished.

The DemocracyCorps memo was circulated two weeks ago, if I remember correctly.  Hillary's "limited" proposals were unveiled a week later.  More Democrats are following suit, and the Six for '06 is a pretty limited thing as well.

I think Democrats want to get in the door, so to speak, with the American people.  If we win, we can deliver on our modest reform proposals, and turn back the tide of some of this apathy with the political system.

by dafurr 2006-07-29 09:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Democratic Centrists Push Minimalist Policies

I think that the main problem with doing stuff like that stuff is that Republicans will undercut them on issues from the left.  After all Bush promised many liberal ideals.  He was just lying about all of them.

I can see the 2006 elections right now  

"Democrats are unwilling to take a stance and leave the quagmire in Iraq.  Can you trust such people on the issues?"

The democrats naturally seeing a chance to bolster their national security credentials by moving to the right of Republicans "I think we should stay in Iraq forever, those Republicans just want to cut and run"

by sterra 2006-07-29 09:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Democratic Centrists Push Minimalist Policies

I'll vote the for candidate(s) that tell me what the world should look like in 2020 and beyond; how they intend to get us there; and ask us to help.  Haven't seen any those yet.  

by rba 2006-07-29 09:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Democratic Centrists Push Minimalist Policies

More and more I think Hillary will lose the Democratic nomination in 2008. She is already pretty hated on the right, she won't be happy until she alienates everyone.

by JackBourassa 2006-07-29 10:21AM | 0 recs
Re: Democratic Centrists Push Minimalist Policies

The actions described above are a like a failing store trying to drum up more business by rearranging the same old junk in the store window.

What the Democratic Party store needs is new managment (out with the DLC), new salespeople (out with the DINOs), and new products that people really need (like health insurance and our troops back home).

by Sitkah 2006-07-29 01:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Democratic Centrists Push Minimalist Policies

another group of centrist Democrats called the Hamilton Project

It just just occured to me that Alexander Hamilton introduced deficits, corporate welfare, and founded the Federalist party which went on to become the GOP.

Why am I not surprised that self-styled "centrist" Democrats have chosen to name their GOP-emulating think tank or group after him?

by Sitkah 2006-07-29 02:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Democratic Centrists Push Minimalist Policies

I like bold and big accomplishments.

Bold proposals?  Just talk without something happened.

by v2aggie2 2006-07-29 06:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Democratic Centrists Push Minimalist Policies

Today's GOP has moved the country way too far to the right for the DLC's pathetic little nudges back to the center to be sufficient to repair all the damage that's been done. If they had their way, we'd end up, at best, in the center-right, still too far to the right of where this country needs to be, and historically has been when it's been at its healthiest (not just economically but socially, politically and emotionally).

The DLC, while not as far-right as today's GOP, is still to the right of most Americans when it comes to the economic and related issues that affect them the most. It is still too skewed towards producers, employers and the affluent, and not enough towards consumerts, workers and the middle and lower classes. Like today's GOP, it does not represent the majority of Americans, and so is unsuited to lead them out of the morass that has been created by today's GOP (and abetted by the DLC).

Only progressives can do that. If the DLC or even GOP want to pitch in and help, they're more than welcome to do so--they're not all bad, of course, and some of them clearly have something worthwhile to contribute. But as contributers, not leaders. They've each had their chance to lead, and have failed miserably at it. It's time to let others lead for a change, who actually have the ability and will to get the country--as in ALL of the country--back on track. I.e. progressives.

And hasn't it always been so, be they Republican or Democratic progressives?

by kovie 2006-07-29 11:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Democratic Centrists Push Minimalist Policies

Universal healthcare is a big idea whose time has come.

If you don't campaign for it, you won't have a mandate for it when you get elected.

by Taylor26 2006-07-30 03:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Democratic Centrists Push Minimalist Policies

More Clinton pap!  After 8 years of Bill and 8 years of Bush, we need someone who actually wants to accomplish something besides getting re-elected.  

by oakland 2006-07-30 03:52AM | 0 recs

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