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Time for Some Democrats to Become Republicans

No one, I think, captured the illusions about Barack Obama better than Walter Russell Mead. Writing at the website of The American Interest, Mead proclaims that

A significant chunk of the American liberal intelligentsia completely lost its head over Barack Obama.  They mistook hopes and fantasies for reality.  Worse, the disease spread to at least members of the White House team.  An administration elected with a mandate to stabilize the country misread the political situation and came to the belief that the country wanted the kinds of serious and deep changes that liberals have wanted for decades.  It was 1933, and President Obama was the new FDR.

That illusion explains perfectly the great shock-wave felt by liberals and the media over the results of last week’s unprecedented election. As Mead puts it, “They were fundamentally misreading the mood of the country.” Their great arrogance, however, prevents them from comprehending this reality. As Mead writes:

They did not perceive just how wrong they were; nor did they understand how the error undermined the logical case they wanted to make in favor of a bigger role for government guided by smart, well-credentialed liberal wonks.  Give us more power because we understand the world better than you do, was the message.  We are so smart, so well-credentialed, so careful to read all the best papers by all the certified experts that the recommendations we make and the regulations we write, however outlandish and burdensome they look to all you non-experts out there, are certain to work.  Trust us because we are always right, and only fools and charlatans would be so stupid as to disagree.

A good warning to them from a top-notch liberal intellectual, albeit one who gets it. How come there are so few of these rare liberal intellectuals like Mead and William Galston? These men stand alone as among the small number who so easily comprehend what the public at large knows from their own experience -- that you cannot trust our future to those in power who believe they alone have the right and the duty to orchestrate the American economy because of what they think is their superior wisdom. Just yesterday I sat at dinner with a man in a big city government office who is likely to be the next mayor of this major American center. I listened as he told us how Paul Krugman is right, and that we need a major new government stimulus because the one that failed simply wasn’t large enough. I felt like thrusting Mead’s comments in his hand.

Perhaps the problem is that, as Stanley Kurtz suggests in his new book, Barack Obama is ideologically a socialist. One liberal who evidently thinks this might be the case is none other than the former mayor of New York City, Ed Koch. Writing on his blog the other day,  Koch asks the following question:

Will the Democratic Party learn from the drubbing and loss of one house? Probably not, but hope springs eternal. Maybe Democrats will take a hint and begin moving to a moderate left position, pulling back from their heretofore more radical left position which they prefer to call "progressive."

Koch has been around for a long time, and he remembers when that term was the euphemism used by Communist fellow-travelers to define themselves.  Thus he explains that to him, it means “several degrees to the left of liberal.” He calls himself a “liberal with sanity,” a term he created to try and put himself apart from those other far leftists who pretended to be old fashioned liberals. Referring to the late Congresswoman Bella Abzug, a person who single-handedly defined what a fellow-traveler or a secret CP member was, Koch calls her a “person who came from a radical left background” and dubbed herself a “progressive” to try and make her politics both seem reasonable and to “convey that they were the cutting edge.”

Then, Koch writes a most striking paragraph, which I find most revealing. He writes the following, soon after the passage in which he brings up Abzug as a Democrat whom he believes personifies the worst elements in his own political home:

Above all else, the president should make clear to the public that he sees the Democratic Party not as a vehicle for socialism(my emphasis), but as a vehicle to implement fairness and justice in the mold of social democrats who believe in our capitalist economic system, with rigorous but not onerous regulations to protect the public in all spheres of public intercourse and commerce, allowing people to rise in our society according to their abilities and at the same time provide a safety net for those who need a helping hand.

To that I give a hearty amen, with one proviso: This is the position of a moderate centrist Republican, and not that of any Democrat who is active in today’s world. It is quite akin to that of the senator-elect from West Virginia, outgoing governor of that state, Joe Manchin. A man who ran opposing ObamaCare, cap and trade, and virtually the entire Obama agenda, he, like Koch, is actually closer to what most Republicans favor than most Democrats today. Manchin is thus reportedly being urged by his Republican colleagues in the Senate to consider switching parties after he is inaugurated as senator next week, a rumor that Manchin fervently denies.  According to Roll Call, some Republicans “speculated that Manchin could be floating this rumor to send a message to the Senate Democratic leadership that he will not be able to vote with the Conference on key issues, as well as to attempt to scare off any potential top-tier Republican challengers.”

Whatever his reasons, everyone in his state knows that the only reason he won is that Manchin moved away from past Democratic positions he once held, such as support for Obama’s health care agenda, and echoed mainstream Republican criticisms of it. He and Ed Koch can persist in calling themselves the real Democrats, liberals with sanity, but even they must realize how isolated they are, and how far removed they remain from their brethren.