Who's in Disarray?

01.18.13

The *Democrats* Face Trouble?

Two treatments of the Democratic-liberal future divert our attention this morning. Tom Edsall's column in the Times raises lots of interesting, important, long-term questions for liberalism that I'll try to explore by turn in the coming weeks. A Politico piece by Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman puts the matter, as Politico is want to do, in more immediate and hyped-up terms.

Edsall is working off a recent piece by Walter Russell Mead in The American Interest claiming that "the blue model" of government and society is fast running out of answers for the coming fiscal crises, that the entitlement state can't be sustained, etc. The Politico piece insists that in the coming weeks and years, on a raft of fiscal and economic issues, the Democrats are going to have to "decide whether they want to be principally known as the party of Rahm Emanuel or the party of Elizabeth Warren."

It's easy to predict that this article is going to come in for a massive round of abuse on the liberal blogs today, because when outlets like Politico run articles like this, they tend to channel what the liberal blogs call the Very Serious People, and the unwritten assumption is of course that the party is on the verge of going the Warren route, which is understood to be the hippie route, and it's going to be a giant train wreck, and everyone will get to write #demsindisarray stories forever!

The Politico piece is actually more nuanced than these pieces usually are, if you read all four pages, and it gives a pretty fair shake to the Warren point of view. What I dispute is the premise.

It is true--and Edsall makes this point as well--that the Democratic coaltion of upscale whites and working-class people of color contains some contradictions. An economy that works well for the former--the people with the money, let's face it--doesn't necessarily work well for the latter and indeed might punish the latter in some respects. There are some tough and divisive decisions coming, and there will be internal dissension, especially on Social Security and Medicare, and especially especially vis a vis the working poor.

But on the other hand, there are a lot of things both of these groups basically agree on. They agree on higher taxes for the wealthy. They agree on a vigorous state. They agree, in fact, on just about everything except entitlements. And trade, although the trade gap was much wider in the Clinton era, and the Warren wing (Warren wing? She's been in office two weeks!) has come around to a gruding acceptance of free trade, meliorated in certain ways.

In other words there are a lot of economic decisions and policies on which Warren and Emanuel would agree. That "middle-out" economic view is taking shape now. The differences are important, but Democrats tend to let themselves get too drawn in to these media narratives about how this or that is a battle for "the soul of the party." The Democratic Party is hetergeneous; schisms are inevitable. But the big differences of opinion are few.

Meanwhile, it's worth remembering that while the Democrats are apparently deciding between Warren and Emanuel, the Republicans are the party of Crazy Eddie. I'd say they're in just a slightly bigger pickle than the Democrats. The GOP is a complete joke, relevant only because they've been able to exploit the economic crisis that they created (!) and because they've figured out how to gum up the works in Washington, preventing any progress while representing really only about one-third of America. Whether the Republican Party is even going to exist in 20 years is a fair question. We'll get to that, too.