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(Rick Perlstein joins Chris Matthews on Hardball in above video)
Rick Perlstein is a damn good piano player with a love of fusion, a great guy and an incredible historical writer. He said on Hardball Thursday:
PERLSTEIN: Chris, forget the word left. Ronald Reagan, let's quote him. "There is no left and right. There`s only up or down." Up for the middle class means some kind of protection of their economic interests. I mean, Obama is worried that if he talks about this stuff, he`s going to sound divisive. History suggests that people who talk about this stuff aren't divisive. They're uniters. I mean, look at -- look at Franklin Roosevelt. This is the guy who said the kind of stuff you -- you heard in that clip. This is also the guy who built the strongest, the biggest, the most diverse political coalition in American history, and then he united the whole country to defeat Hitler. The idea that talking about malefactors of great wealth, about -- about people who are taking away the birthright of every American, is going to make people think that you`re somehow creating class war, history doesn't suggest it. It`s just not there in the record. This is the kind of stuff that makes people feel that the Democratic Party is on their side, that Democratic leaders are going to lay down the tracks for their interests
Rick's latest piece in Time is very instructive to you and to me and to hopefully President Obama. How Democrats Win: Defending the Social Safety Net
I was flattered to learn from Joe Klein’s Aug. 15 column in TIME that Barack Obama is reading my book Nixonland. The book is about the “separate and irreconcilable fears” over the past 50 years that have come to define the increasingly acrimonious cohabitation of Americans on the left and on the right. I assume Obama turned to it for insight about how he might help turn down the volume in our political conversation. But there’s also a story in Nixonland about how the Democratic Party wins, why it loses and the good things that happen when the party gets the formula right. I surely hope Obama did not miss it.
It concerns the two major axes upon which major national elections get fought. Sometimes they become battles over the cultural and social anxieties that ordinary Americans suffer. Other times they are showdowns about middle-class anxieties when the free market fails. Normally, in the former sort of election, Republicans win. In the latter, Democrats do — as we saw in 2008, when the tide turned after John McCain said “the fundamentals of the economy are strong.”
So we learn that the president is reading Nixonland which is an excellent idea because knowing our history is like having a window into the soul of future decisions. There's always been a two party system and Republicans have blocked social programs and opposed helping the middle class and the poor while the Democrats created our social safety nets and weren't afraid to tell Americans that fact. Now Obama has at times defended the principles of the safety nets like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, especially when Paul Ryan had his insane Medicare destruction budget passed, but now since the 2010 midterm elections all that is coming out of the White House is how we must cut the deficit, reduce spending and fix entitlements. He's been using our safety nets as a bargaining chip against the tea party to appeal to Independents. Even if it's a chess match of sorts, the middle class loses because the narrative is all about cutting and chopping during a bad economy to appease the confidence fairies and austerity freaks that inhabit the WSJ op-ed pages. Need proof? Just read the Senate Democrats who are on the Super Congress piece in the WSJ to be totally horrified. As Digby says: We are so screwed: confidence fairy, "shared sacrifice", "balanced approach", China bashing, the whole nine yards.
Back to Perlstein:
Two years later, Nixon thought he had another one in the bag — the 1970 elections, in which he campaigned tirelessly for Republican candidates, then gave an election-eve TV speech blaming Democrats for the “thugs and hoodlums” in the streets. Only he made a terrible mistake: he sounded just as frantic and ugly as the forces he claimed the GOP would subdue.
In contrast, the Democrats ran a response to Nixon’s hysterical election-eve address from Edmund Muskie, the calm, quiet Senator from Maine, who sat in an armchair and asked Americans to vote against a “politics of fear” that insists “you are encircled by monstrous dangers” and instead choose a “politics of trust.”
You might say Muskie’s was a very Barack Obama sort of speech — but with a difference. It was overwhelmingly partisan. It excoriated Republicans for the way they “cut back on health and education for the many … while expanding subsidies and special favors for the few.” In other words, it was just the kind of speech Obama will not give.
This shows how much power Broderism has over this administration. He's been sucked into the right-wing framing of our economy and seems to give more credence to the deficit hawks than the principles that have made the Democratic Party the champion of the American people. By the way, there are many Congressional Democrats that are behaving much the same way. Since the President is reading Nixonland he still has time to readjust his post Labor Day jobs speech and grasp these fine points of analysis by Perlstein;
Here’s what LBJ knew that McGovern didn’t: There are few or no historical instances in which saying clearly what you are for and what you are against makes Americans less divided. But there is plenty of evidence that attacking the wealthy has not made them more divided. After all, the man who said of his own day’s plutocrats, “I welcome their hatred,” also assembled the most enduring political coalition in U.S. history.
The Republicans will call it class warfare. Let them. Done right, economic populism cools the political climate. Just knowing that the people in power are willing to lie down on the tracks for them can make the middle much less frantic. Which makes America a better place. And which, incidentally, makes Democrats win
Republicans have been attacking, attacking and attacking while your advisers are saying to be measured and adult-like. Sorry, this is a fight to save this country and its senior citizens and not to see who wins the credit rating agencies hearts and to get hand shakes from the Chamber of Commerce.
Rick, everybody here loves you, so we can't wait to hear your thinking about this. I want to start this off, lady and gentleman, because this is the best piece of clip I've ever seen to make your point, Rick, and to educate all of us how to be, if you want to be, a strong Democratic president.Here`s President Roosevelt warning about Republicans back in 1936 in words that could be used right now in this partisan fight. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me warn the nation against the smooth evasion that says, Of course, we believe these things. We believe in Social Security. We believe in work for the unemployed. We believe in saving homes.Cross our hearts and hope to die, we believe in all these things. But we do not like the way the present administration is doing them. Just turn them over to us. We will do all of them, we will do more of them, we will do them better, and most important of all, the doing of them will not cost anybody anything! (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Unbelievable! Rick, that is American speech. That`s how you talk to people today. Your thoughts because it seems to me what you`re saying.
RICK PERLSTEIN, AUTHOR, "NIXONLAND": Today. That`s right. I mean, every Democratic candidate from dog catcher to, you know, (INAUDIBLE) presidential candidate have been saying the same thing ever since, every generation.I mean, in 1960, everyone remembers the famous debate between Nixon and Kennedy. Kennedy made Nixon sweat. Well, why did he sweat? It came right after Kennedy said, I`m a Democrat. I`m proud to be a Democrat. We built Social Security. And by the way, you elect me, I`m going to put together something called Medicare, you know, Social Security for medical care for old people. And this guy, Nixon -- he`s part of a great, proud American party called the Republicans. Oh, and by the way, let me just mention the Republican Party opposed all those things.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Let me go out to Alex Wagner. This politics, it seems to me, reminding people what the stakes are -- you won`t have all this stuff even to kick around anymore, to use a Nixon phrase. There won`t be Medicare, Medicaid. These are things the Republicans have been dying to take apart and now they`re on the verge of doing it.