When Barack Obama made his famous remarks about Ronald Reagan being transformational, it was misinterpreted as being political, an attempt to reach out to the other side. It actually was, as some feared, philosophical. It really did mean, sincerely, that except around the edges, he thought that Reaganism-Thatcherism was irreversible. Just as Bill Clinton does, just as Tony Blair does.
The Third-Wayers are serious about this. Seriously deluded, perhaps, but dead serious. There was never an attempt to triangulate the "independent center", those who still believed in Reaganism but were distressed by the partisan cultural meanness. That was sincere. Those who were played were the Democratic base. They would have to be satisfied with corporate-style knockoffs of social-democratic ideas (health care being the most obvious example). Labor reformers would have to be mollified with "we don't have 60 votes". And symbolic gestures devoid of content like inviting Pete Seeger to the White House.
Why didn't this work? Why are the Dems SO wounded by a bad economy? A better economy was absolutely crucial to the Third Way plan. They didn't think it would get this bad. If it hadn't gotten this bad, they might have been able to pull it off. People would be working, the craziness wouldn't have gained so much traction, people would have been able to laugh at Sarah Palin, Dems would have been fat and happy. But that way depended on bubble economics, which the neolibs mistaken thought was permanent. They may not even believe they depend on bubble economics, they may even delude themselves that they truly stand in the middle. But when push comes to shove, they never move to the left.
Instead we have this worst of all possible worlds - Obama falsely accused of "socialism" and "socialism" - his toothless attempts to counter bubble economics - all that neoliberalism will allow - blamed for the economic failure.
When the pundits say "America is a conservative country" I have to say, in opposition to most left thinking, they're right in a way. Our counterargument has been poll numbers. This is not an effective counter because they have enough power elsewhere to spit on poll numbers, to manipulate them and to make the inconvenient ones disappear. Thus we hear endlessly about polling on the the "Ground Zero Mosque". Not so much about Social Security.
When we say "the Dems hate the Left" or they're beating up on "dirty fucking hippies", what we're REALLY saying is that, for the Third-Wayers, neoliberalism vs. social democracy is actually the whole ballgame. The last vestiges of American social democracy - the New Deal and all its accoutrements - must be wiped out, at all costs.
They haven't been able to say so - because they need the votes of the "little people". But there's almost no play left in that gambit. With each [dispiriting] election betrayal (Clinton and NAFTA, Obama and Health Care, Obama and Social Security) the Democratic brand gets weaker and weaker.
We on the Left, the "netroots", etc., need to understand the centrality of this point more than we do. The coming fight over Social Security is not one issue among many, it's the defining issue of this period. Third Way politics is dependent on the bubble economy. This has failed. We can't go back there. We have to make this known.
The Third Wayers were born of the idea that Communism had failed. It had, but the Third Wayers went much too far in sweeping the entire social democratic program off the table with it. The social democratic reforms of the twentieth century are what enabled the West to defeat the problematic communist opponent. The mistake is in cynically jettisoning them after the threat passed. Bait and switch, really. But going back to the nineteenth century for economic inspiration ignores why social democracy and communism gained the traction they did in the first place.
Free-market fundamentalism is not the answer, but the Third Wayers have no answer to it, because they cravenly accept its orthodoxies. In the current situation we have to drag them, kicking and screaming, back from this abyss.
But until we understand why we're in the position we're in we won't be able to get out of it.
STRENGTHEN SOCIAL SECURITY. DON'T CUT IT.
Well said, particularly raising the too-rarely raised point that the New Deal (and Great Society) built America into the most powerful and prosperous society in human history. This should be one of the most powerful arguments for the type of liberal/progressive policies most reading here support, and should be used more often. All of the sophistry that gets into the weeds of various New Deal programs and arguments about arcane figures feels rather unnecessary when you look at the grand aggregate result. If it was all such a failure, why did America succeed so well?