A New Progressive Era?

Something strange is happening this week. Republicans are defecting in large numbers to join Democrats in passing several new pieces of legislation. Republican Senators are breaking with Bush over his escalation plans. The Republican Governor of California is proposing universal health care for residents in his state--including undocumented residents. Triangulation and political defection have a new color, and that color is red.

For the past twelve years, virtually every major legislative initiative in this country passed with overwhelming Republican support, and significant support from moderate and conservative Democrats. Welfare "reform," the telecommunications bill, Bush's tax cuts, the Iraq war authorization, Medicare "reform," the bankruptcy bill, the elimination of habeious corpus, and on and on. The direction of legislation in this country has been overwhelmingly conservative, and often facilitated by triangulating, conservative Democrats. About the only major piece of legislation passed, or even fought over, since 1995 that was overwhelmingly backed by Democrats, and made possible by just enough moderate Republican defections, was the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform act of 2002. In virtually every other case, the progressive position was left out in the triangulation formula, and conservatives romped to legislative victory after legislative victory.

Quite frankly, I thought that when Democrats took control of Congress, that this pattern would probably continue. While we had a numeric, partisan majority, I still feared that "New Democrats" and "Blue Dogs" would break with their party, join with Republicans, and continue to pass conservative legislative policy. However, so far the opposite is happening: Republicans are breaking with their party in significant numbers while Democrats hold together, creating enormous majorities on a variety of issues, from the minimum wage, to stem cells, to opposing escalation, to providing universal health care. In ways that go far beyond what I anticipated form election results, the legislative center has shifted profoundly in our favor in recent days, leaving conservatives in pretty much the same position progressives had been in for twelve years. Our victories tended to either be symbolic or, at best, came from stopping conservative legislation--hardly ever were we in a position to actually pass something form our agenda. Now, the positions are somewhat reversed, even though having Bush in the White House keeps conservatives from ever being in as bad a position as we ever faced. I guess it helps to have a very, very popular legislative agenda.

If this is what we can expect in the years to come, consider me extraordinarily encouraged. I am tired of just having to try and stop conservatism--I want progressivism to have a real chance in government. We may soon be reaching a point where moderate Republicans start chastising their own party and saying that they need to move to the center in order to be elected. When that happens, we will have achieved a victory far larger than anything we won back in November. Being moderate is closer to being a progressive than it has ever been during my lifetime. The more that trend continues, the bluer the country will become.

Update: The Medicare bill passes, with 24 Republicans suporting and no Demcorats opposing it.

Tags: Ideology (all tags)

Comments

14 Comments

Re: A New Progressive Era?

Unfortunately, some Republicans in appropriate districts still need a little prodding.  Can you believe that people like Ferguson, King, Walsh and Reynolds all voted against the latest Stem Cell Research bill?  A full list of offenders here: http://www.swingstateproject.com/showDia ry.do?diaryId=210

by HellofaSandwich 2007-01-12 11:11AM | 0 recs
Re: A New Progressive Era?

Hope you're right....but come on. Let's not leave out why Republicans are crossing over on these earl votes...the 100 hours agenda is so fucking popular and non-controversial that it is almost non-partisan to a degree. These are not tough issues, and they are not divisive issues among Americans.

The hard core Right will always oppose anything from Democrats, as out hard core Left opposed any GOP bill that ever came to the floor. The 100 hours is ridiculously easy for Republicans to vote in favor of, and the true test of leadership will come in difficult and divisive issues and see what happens with the DLC and Blue Dog wings to see if they defect.

Using the ridiculously popular 100 hours agenda or an Iraq war that is is about as popular as book burning is not a true gauge of how it will all play out in the future.

by need some wood 2007-01-12 11:15AM | 0 recs
What he said

Basically.

All the old clichés about marathon, not sprint apply.

Going for the low-hanging fruit first is fine - so long as no one's under any illusions that that's what we're doing.

Already, we've had evidence that the Senate is going to be very different from the House's wham, bam, thank you Madam Speaker.

(Speaking of whom, I trust she has someone good handling D on the Samoa business. Not that there's anything in it, of course...)

by skeptic06 2007-01-12 11:38AM | 0 recs
Yes yes...

But let's not forget the factor of momentum and developing a meme of a changing tide and a new trend in bipartisanship.

These early victories will, hopefully, make it easier for these GOP Congresscritters to switch sides later, on other legislation, especially where they agree with them Dems.  They've already jumped ship once... their cherry is broken.  Early.

Sluts!

by teknofyl 2007-01-12 12:33PM | 0 recs
Re: A New Progressive Era?

Exactly, the reason why there was not a minimum wage increase sooner, for example, was the Republican leadership and the Rules Committee.  Now that members actually have to vote these measures up and down, they have to reflect to constituents' preferences.

Here is what Iraq does for us: it smashes the right wing propaganda machine.  Bush's position is so far beyond reality and the preferences of the American people that the usual manipulation techniques do not work anymore.

We need to continue to bring up bills that meet the needs of working Americans and Republican lawmakers will continue to defect.

That does not mean that Americans are becoming more progressive.  That'll take more work.  Rather it means that the rules of the game have changed because Bush is a failure and because we control the levers of the majority.

by Hellmut 2007-01-12 07:29PM | 0 recs
Re: A New Progressive Era?

This is definitely a very interesting development, and it makes one wonder what the word "bipartisanism" means at this point. In an immediate sense, though, what I wonder about is whether all this breaking means that some of the threatened vetoes from the "first 100 hours" stuff might get overriden.

If I've got these numbers right, the "veto-proof" point is 290, meaning 57 Republican House members have to split to override a veto. Right?

It seems like some of these first 100 hours bills have, while not hitting that point, have at least gotten a good part of the way there. Is it at all plausible that the stem cell or medicare bills might be able somehow to garner those remaining extra 30ish votes after Bush sends them back?

by Silent sound 2007-01-12 11:55AM | 0 recs
Re: A New Progressive Era?

Its been such a long time, but from what I dimly recall, sometimes vetos get over-ridden and sometimes they don't. It is chaotic ... path dependency, sensitivity to small changes in initial conditions, and the whole ball of wax.

Its said that you herd the House like cattle, keeping them together and building up speed until most Congresscritters are too anxious to stay with the herd to wonder where precisely they are going. While you herd Senators like pigs, requiring something to startle them into movement and then allowing them to settle into their pace until when they get there, they think going that way was their idea all the while.

Getting a bunch of no-brainer bills set out in up and down votes that the Republicans only frustrated by keeping them off the floor is an excellent way of keeping the House together while getting them moving.

If that analogy is anywhere close to accurate, I wonder whether Bush's speech is the big bang required to startle the Senate into movement.

by BruceMcF 2007-01-12 05:22PM | 0 recs
A truly centrist era

The republicans have engaged in their scorched earth legislative management because they know full well the major elements of the progressive agenda are very broadly popular. They routinely disguise their legislation with titles that are the opposite of the legislation's goals. Rather than offer legislation to reverse, say, the clean air act, they appoint political administrators who violate the law.

Controlling the legislature was absolutely essential to the Rovian strategy, because without that control broadly popular legislation, like an effective medicare drug plan, like an end to the war in Iraq, would pass--and could not be opposed by Republicans who wanted to hold their seats.

For the republicans, this is a disaster of overwhelming proportions, and all individual legislators can do is hold their seats by appealing to the swing voters that they've treated as irrelevant.

by jayackroyd 2007-01-12 12:00PM | 0 recs
ENormously significant observation!

While I appreciate the caveats in the comments above, I think this is an acute and enormously important observation.

The thing to see hear, I think, is the way the undertow of American politics is pulling people to the left. This isn't planned in any sense. Most Dem congresspeople are right of center themselves, and Republicans are surely not consciously saying, "Hmmm, I think I'll move left."

What these politicians are doing is an instinctive and probably preconcious response to their sense of the electorate and what it is demanding. It's the pull of the people's needs that is telling anyone who wants to be re-elected that s/he better start paying atention to the people's needs. I imagine if you said to some of these people "You are turning left," they would be shocked and would deny it with every ounce of passion they possess.

Which is a reason, I think to see this as pretty significant. I am not saying we should trust the pols to keep going on this track.

What I am saying is that, as I read the post, it is saying that an irresistable undertow is pulling pols that way. And THAT I think is something to be excited by.

I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that politicians cannot be expected to lead except in rare cases. Thom Hartmann talks about that, how Lincoln and FDR grew into powerful leadership rolls when there were no indications of anything special in them beforehand.

I think that 99% of all politicians are followers, not leaders. This is what politics generally is. We should not expect it to be different.

Occasionally, a leader will emerge. But this will generally be an expression of a powerful movement. Leaders do not get way out in front and create a movement on their own. Great leaders are produced by strong movements.

We have said for years that the progressive movement lacks leaders. Well, we need some. But we need to understand, I think, that the movement produces the leaders.

And also that the movements themselves are not the result of conscious calculation and planning, but expressions of group need.

I think these things are pre-cognitive and unplannable.

But we can organize within a movement to channel its energy.

Oh well, some thoughts.

And I agree with the post and draw a conclusion:

Moving forward, the American political dynamic will not tolerate politicians and parties who reject key progressive values. This is no longer the 1980-2004 backlash! That dynamic has shattered, and if Dem politicians ever figure that out, we can really accomplish something.

by Thresholder 2007-01-12 12:43PM | 0 recs
Re: A New Progressive Era?

I do not think that this legislative shift to the left was at unplanned or preconscious.  I think it is the result of some very conscious calculations starting with the one that the Democrats made when they replaced Gephardt with a San Francisco liberal as speaker.  They knew that the Right would have a field day with Pelosi being from California and holding very liberal positions, and the Right did.  I have been reading it for a long time on NewsMax, which is my handy indicator of Republican memes.

It was not at all obviious to me that this was a good move at the time, and media coverage of the choice of Pelosi was uniformly negative.  The Democratic caucus knew that would be the case when they made the decision.  

Nancy Pelosi and the caucus have done some very careful and conscious planning and calculating about the "Six in 06" to make our current momentum happen.  It was crucial that there be no big mistake or rebuff at the very beginning of the 110th Congress.  Any media frenzy would have been disastrous.  They needed to build some momentum and demoralize the Republicans.

I believe that part of the reason Bush delayed his speech on Iraq was to disrupt the positive PR that Rove knew the Six in 06 would create and to block coverage of it.  Originally this appeared to be working, but CNN, the Washington Post, and the New York Times have continued to follow the House legislative successes, although NBC and MSNBC have not.

It has been quite tricky for the Democratic House to keep the agenda moving and stay on top of Iraq, defunding, etc., and they have been successful.  By the way, I have seen better and more articulate Democrats appearing on TV than before the election.  The message is clearer and firmer.

Democrats have a strange reluctance to ever acknowledge that their leaders ever have any courage or successful strategy and skill.  I am all for exposing the Liebermans and the cowards, of whom there are plenty, but if we do not balance this with recognition that our successes are not lucky accidents but the result of good planning and strategy and even courage, we feed into the media narrative that only Republicans have courage, toughness, and principles.  This was very damaging to us in 04.  I think this perception cost us the Presidency and that we should not be reinforcing it, as it will continue to hurt us.

by bobbles 2007-01-12 04:10PM | 0 recs
Re: A New Progressive Era?

I wonder how much of the shift is the results of simple thinking.  The war is the biggest testament to the republican's thinking on everything.  I think we are seeing these people reading the opposition to the war and projecting that sentement as being the overall position on the rest of the major issues.  

They are not stupid.  They are primal in that they want to survive politically.  Such projection allows the preservation of their neocon, religious principles while serving the will of the people.

by Dan5602896 2007-01-12 04:16PM | 0 recs
Re: A New Progressive Era?

I largely agree with the low hanging fruit part.

Even most conservatives are 'liberal' on some issues, like minimum wage.  As much as I agree that the U.S has become more partisan and many voters are completely tied to one party or the other (with the exception of the occasional ticket splitting), it would be a mistake to take that partisanship too far and extend it to every policy issue.

We'll see after these 6 items get passed in the House how long the bipartisanship lasts for.  Obviously, Pelosi wanted to create momentum with the '100 hours' idea and limiting debate, and it seems to have paid off.  To what end though, we don't know.  As others have said here, it doesn't even guarantee that these 6 popular items will pass in the Senate.

by Adam T 2007-01-13 02:06AM | 0 recs
Re: A New Progressive Era?

This is the start of a new progressive era, and it is starting here, and at many other progressive blogs.  Legislators are very good at getting re-elected, and most do not lead; they follow.  For the past 25 years, the republican message machine has been very effective at convincing the American public that most were to the right of center.  While their positions on issues weren't, in most cases their votes were.  They were aided in this endeavor by the inside the beltway pundit class.  By effectively using the internet, our message is being heard, and we are only at the beginning of the transformation.  It took me a long time to decide to blog, because I believed that these blogs were only people of like ideologies venting; more or less a support group.  I finally realized that by participating, we are one by one reaching the disaffected and those on the fence.  Just look at voter turnout in 2006 among democrats and youth.  This insidious movement was not inconsequential in Pelosi's election as speaker.  This never could have happened in 2002.  I really believe that we are witnessing something big.

by joetalarico 2007-01-13 04:15AM | 0 recs
Re: A New Progressive Era?

A honeymoon is a honeymoon.  The Democrats have learned PR strategy from the Republicans and this is a step forward to creating perception that we are tough.

But only when the blue dogs overturn the Military Commissions Act and throw out the worst   of the Patriot Act will I  believe the Democratic party  represents the best interests of this country.      We should observe whether the blue dogs, and the Democrats would even consider cutting off funding for the war.  Pelosi said no.

Impeaching Bush.  Not politically correct.  Israel making plans to use tactical nukes on Iran...wanna know about that read the British papers.  

I'm happy about the 100 hours legislation, and the appearance of toughness,  but I refuse to put rose colored glasses on again.  The "grass roots" has to do more than raise money, canvass and phone bank.  

by jd2 2007-01-13 04:22AM | 0 recs

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