In the 1980s and 90s, Washington Post columnist E.J.Dionne, Jr. was a sensible centrist; a man who took conservatives seriously and often tried to comprehend what they were saying without animosity. In 1991, he wrote a book titled Why Americans Hate Politics. In 1996, just about the time Bill Clinton was set to run for his second term, Dionne was author of a book defending the “progressive” agenda, titled They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate the Next Political Era. I reviewed the book for Commentary, and you can find an abstract of what I said here. (Unless you pay for it, the review is behind their firewall.)
Dionne had been, I argued, trying to find a “new middle ground” between contemporary liberalism and conservatism. To renew liberalism, he understood in the 1980s, liberalism had to rescue itself from irrelevance by learning “the many lessons that conservatism has to teach about the value of tradition, value, and community.” Of course he defended big government and a large public sector, but he had a great aversion to the political correctness of that era: multiculturalism, radical feminism and other “anti-democratic impulses,” as he called them. That is why, in an earlier book, he sought to save liberalism from itself.
By the eve of the Clinton second term, he and other former liberals ditched the term and began to call themselves “progressives,” a term they hoped would separate themselves from the fringe elements that used it. He hoped that Gingrich era Republicans would collapse, and that his Clinton third-way progressives would use government to “temper markets and enhance individual opportunities.” He did not envision the disaster Clinton experienced when his attempt to redesign health-care totally led to a great political setback and to a major defeat in the 1994 mid-term congressional elections.
And now here we are in 2010, when our most recent mid-term elections have led the Obama White House to suffer its major political defeat, one created by its social-democratic big government agenda and its insistence on ramming through a health-care bill that is one of the most unpopular and loathed programs by the majority of the American populace. Now, as in the1990s, the Democratic Party and its think-tanks are still, as I wrote in 1996, “locked into positions very far from what Dionne’s Anxious Middle could plausibly be said to want.”
So what does Dionne call for today? Writing in the WP, Dionne argues that he supports the fight of the so-called New Label “movement,” (1000 people in a university auditorium a movement hardly makes) in its effort “to be repulsed by the replacement of real argument with a vicious brand of name-calling.” Dionne is upset that Barack Obama “is attacked simultaneously as an ‘extreme liberal liar’ and a ‘Nazi,” which he says reveals “a sick irrationality at work in our discourse.”
As Peter Wehner points out today at “Contentions,” when George W. Bush was called during his presidency a “liar,” a man who “betrayed his country,” a president who “lied us into war,” a leader who “told lie after lie after lie,” all comments said by the likes of Al Gore, Harry Reid and Sen. Edward Kennedy, “Dionne, in an amazing feat of self-control, held his outrage in abeyance.” For some strange reason Dionne does not address, either those remarks were among the many he never heard, or he did not find them objectionable once he had heard them.
Of course, Dionne writes that he is still “devoted to moderation.” But the reason the kind of moderation he purports to like does not exist is exclusively because of the conservatives, since he claims that “the American right is much farther from anything that can fairly be described as ‘the center’ than is the left.”
Where does this man live? Of course we know that already. The answer is in the heart of the Beltway- among his “progressive” friends and allies, all of whom see only enemies on the right, and only friends on the left. Sure, Dionne claims- falsely and without evidence- that “there is no far left to speak of anymore.” One can only make such a claim, however, by pretending not to know anything about the far left milieu in which our President grew up to maturity and political activity. Perhaps that is why Stanley Kurtz’s important book Radical-in-Chief has all but completely been ignored virtually everywhere—in every mainstream publication and even by most conservative publications. If Dionne bothered to read and learn from it, I would argue that he would find the documented material in its pages evidence he could not ignore.
He must also ignore the effect of leftist groups and think tanks like International Answer, Code Pink, J-Street, MoveOn.Org; The Center for American Progress (oh yes, I’m sure E.J. would argue they are center moderate, and not leftist — I disagree), Institute for Policy Studies, Democratic Socialists of America, ACORN, SEIU, etc. etc. All of these and many more are active, organized, and at times quite effective. It’s simply easier for him to assert that there is no left.
Next he argues that even the groups that are left now reject state ownership of the means of production, accept markets, and even do not challenge inequalities of wealth and income. I don’t know who he is referring to, but I could pull out of a hat the many leftist groups that in fact, do exactly challenge inequalities of wealth and income as unacceptable, and favor redistribution of wealth through stealth means and via programs they advance through the Democratic Party’s allied institutions. No wonder the Left hates Glenn Beck so much; he manages to often accurately pinpoint just those groups and shows videos of their spokesmen — like Van Jones — arguing for precisely that.