I will be celebrating (mourning?) my twentieth year since coming to work in Washington next year. I came here with the Clinton team, and even though I was President Clinton’s liaison to the progressive community, I still came to town with a bunch of moderate Democrats. Given my banging away on so many topics in my blog posts, I do get asked from time to time whether I have moved to “the left” over the years. The answer is absolutely not. I still believe virtually the same things about politics and the economy I believed a couple of decades ago, including:
1. That the America I grew up in during the 1960s and ’70s, which had a broad and prosperous middle class and a sturdy safety net for those down on their luck or too old to work, was a great country to live in for most Americans, but that the middle class had been squeezed right and left by big corporate interests and the conservative movement.
2. That the growing extremist conservative movement, which had taken over the Republican Party, blindly worshiped the free market along with the wealthiest and most powerful among us, and was determined to roll back social progress of all kinds.
3. That the Democratic Party was deeply flawed because too many Democrats were not willing to fight for progressive policies that would help the middle class and poor, but that they sure were better than the scary extremists who controlled the Republican Party.
4. That party politics alone would never win the progress we needed; that we need a strong progressive movement to fight the good fight.
5. That the New Deal and Great Society policy victories of the 1930s through the early ’70s were what moved this country forward more than any other set of policies. Social Security and Medicare gave senior citizens a measure of economic security they never had before. Labor unions were able to grow and expand, ensuring that middle-class incomes would rise, and that more working class people would get a secure foothold in that middle class. Banks were strongly regulated and kept to a reasonable size, ensuring that the financial crises that periodically wracked the country’s economy in the decades before and after those years didn’t happen. The minimum wage, the end of child labor, OSHA, and the 40-hour work week ensured more dignity and safety on the job. A wave of school building, the GI Bill, Pell Grants, the development of community colleges, and other educational initiatives meant that more Americans got good educations than ever in history. Civil rights, voting rights, and new anti-discrimination laws for women meant far more fairness and equality of opportunity for all Americans. Unemployment compensation, Medicaid, school lunch programs, food stamps, Head Start, and legal services meant that even low-income Americans had a modest amount of financial security in the hard times. The Clean Air, Clean Water, and Superfund acts made our environment far cleaner for all citizens. All of these new policies helped create the wealthiest economy, and most prosperous middle class in world history, and that our goal in politics should be to build on that success rather than tear it down.
I believed all that the day I moved to Washington to be part of the Clinton administration, and I believe it still, so I don’t feel like I have moved to the left at all. I feel very certain that I am solidly within the mainstream of the Democratic Party and progressive thought in America.
But I do think something important has changed. The corporate stranglehold on our media, government, and ideological parameters has shifted, and the Bob Rubin wing of the Democratic Party has grown steadily stronger.