One of the reasons that parties benefit when the other party becomes extreme is that it allows it to hug the center. But if Republicans are moving to the center and Democrats to the left, that means both parties are moving leftward-that the center of gravity of American politics is moving leftward. Isn’t that, too, part of the story of 1972?
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And there’s another issue. People ask me sometimes whether I’m happy about the Democrats’ current predicaments. But let’s rephrase the question. Should we be happy that one of our two major parties is going off the deep end? I don’t think so.
After watching the Robert Evans documentary on TV a couple of times last week, I started re-reading Easy Rider, Raging Bulls, Peter Biskind’s look at the “New Hollywood” of the 1970s. At several points in the book (just as Todd Gitlin–another leftist author–did in his look at the TV industry during this time), he moans about the “incipient movement of America to the right” (that’s a paraphrase, but a pretty close one). Did America move to the right in the 1970s, or did the leadership of the Democrats simply move so far to the left that they lost their voters? FDR, Harry Truman and JFK weren’t perfect, but at least in terms of attitude and jaunty confidence, they seemed far more in tune with most Americans. But Johnson’s leftward lurch with the Great Society (the New Deal–Texas size!) coupled with McGovern’s pacifism and anti-Americanism seem increasingly far removed from the ideals of the typical American voter. And politics is a symbiotic tug and pull of leadership and listening.
The Democrats are listening to their base right now–as they did in the 1970s–but they don’t seem willing to listen to the rest of the nation. Which leads back to Barnes’ article. As for my take, here’s what I wrote back in February.