NEW DEMOCRATS

Volohh Conspiracy regular Jacob Levy has a piece in The New Republic Online assessing the state of the New Democrat movement:

It is a foul political season for those of us with sympathies for the New Democratic agenda. Joe Lieberman’s campaign is showing a few signs of life, but they are far too little, far too late. Clintonistas have mostly gravitated toward Wesley Clark, still a blank slate on domestic policy, or John Edwards, in many ways an Old Democrat who happens to have youthful good looks and enough of a drawl to remind them of the good ole days. And presumptive nominee Howard Dean is calling for a rollback of deregulation and explicitly distancing himself from Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party. On the other side we face a GOP that is determined to buy its way to electoral dominance, abandoning its free-market and small-government principles in all but rhetoric. Among other things, the administration seems convinced it can impose protectionist measures while still triumphantly concluding a hemispheric free trade agreement, several smaller trade deals, and the Doha round of WTO negotiations. Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t worked; the protectionist measures have torpedoed most of the trade talks.

In retrospect, it appears that the New Democratic moment was a fragile one, and its highlights more than a bit accidental. Welfare reform, NAFTA, and the WTO were all essentially products of the interaction between Clinton, a small minority of moderate Democrats, and a majority (but not an overwhelming majority) of congressional Republicans. The budget surplus was the result of a bitter standoff between Clinton and Newt Gingrich’s GOP over fiscal policy; for a brief moment, both sides decided they would rather let accumulating revenues just sit there than let the other side use them.

But the good news is that, accidental or not, some of the most important New Democratic policy triumphs of the ’90s are more or less locked into place. And that may contribute to changing the political climate a few years down the road.

It’s an interesting piece and worth reading but I disagree with the premise. While it may be the case that the things Levy cites as evidence of New Democrat success–NAFTA, WTO, and welfare reform–would not have passed in the identical form without a Democrat in office–in the best “Only Nixon can go to China” tradition–the fact remains they were almost entirely Republican initiatives.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.