In my previous diary, "Fool's gold", I wrote about Paul Krugman's blog post from last week, "The War on Demand". After quoting a bit from Krugman's set-up, (shortened version):
.... it's becoming clear that many people don't so much disagree with the idea that demand matters as find it abhorrent, incomprehensible, or both. I fairly often get comments to the effect that I can't possibly believe what I'm saying about monetary or fiscal policy, that no sensible person could believe that printing money or engaging in deficit spending will increase output and employment - never mind that all I'm saying is what Econ 101 textbooks have been saying for the last 62 years.
So what's going on here?
Krugman went on to suggest three things: First, there's a basic inability to see how shortfalls in demand are even possible. Although Krugman doesn't realize it, this derives in part from arrested cognitive development, explicable in terms of Kegan's typology. Put simply, Level 3 thinking, in which the individual is the product of their social surround, cannot stand outside of itself, and comprehend the social system as a system. And that is what you must be able to do in order to understand shortfalls in demand. Second, there's a fixation on Strict Father monetary morality--although, again, Krugman doesn't explicitly discuss the Strict Father angle as such. Third, there's a failure of traditional Friedmanite monetarists to realize that they are "part of the problem" in they eyes of the newly-emergent demand-deniers.
In that diary, I focused on the first item, tying it to a Kegan-style analysis of the role of cognitive complexity. I had already discussed the issue of moral economic visions before. But now I want to talk about the relationship between the two.
You see, the problem with folks like Obama is not that they want to try to mediate between liberals and conservatives. After all, the central liberal values of tolerance and respect for individual conscience are heavily slanted toward favoring such mediation. No, the problem is that Obama wants to mediate on the lowest possible level of cognitive complexity--and conservatives, of course, just keep dragging that level down, down, down the dark ladder, as Joanie Mitchell would say.
In Kegan's typology, Level 4 corresponds with modernism, self-authorship, and ideology. It is the level at which the individual steps back from society and makes their own decisions about what is right and just--and takes responsibility for doing so. Level 3 is the level of traditionalism, where one simply accepts the social world as one finds it. These two levels correspond quite well to traditional liberalism and conservatism. And while it's certainly true that traditional society has liberal as well as conservative content to it (just read the Gospels, if you have any doubt), once one fastens on to autonomy as a central liberal value, it should be quite obvious that one cannot fairly ask a liberal to "compromise" with conservatives using a Level 3 framework that not only denies the value of autonomy, but that cannot even really grasp it.
Of course one could make a similar argument about the unfairness of asking conservatives to compromise with liberals using a Level 4 framework. As I discussed in "Fools gold", anyone operating at a lower level will be unable to really grasp crucial concepts that are central to the next-highest level.
Which is why, really, one simply can't accept conservatives as equal bargainers, mo matter how much one might want to. This does not, however, mean that one must reject paying any attention to them. It's simply that one can't grant them the sort of dominating and defining role that they naturally seek and assume, based on their Level 3 logic of defining the self in terms of society, and assuming that this justifies their view and their view alone as "right" and "natural".
As an example of what I'm driving at, consider the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, which Gingrich abolished when he became Speaker in 1995. The OTA provided an objective screening process to create a common foundation for policy discussions. And Gingrich just hated that--as well he should, raging egomaniacal narcissist that he is. And here we have to distinguish between two distinct strands of conservatism: the moderate conservatism of Edmund Burke and the reactionary conservatism of Joseph de Maistre....
Moreover, by the 1870s, British liberals had become quite aware that their previous understanding of economic freedom was a hollow joke, producing vast legions of downtrodden urban poor, and so they began seeking another way to think about freedom, closer to that which slaves have always understood-freedom as a gaining of power for those at the bottom, not to be dominated from above, but to be lifted up by collective support for one another: in short, the New Liberalism of Britain, which 60 years later arrived in America in the form of the New Deal.
I've been meaning to write about this for some time, and now I promised Paul I would, so here's a first installment on the topic. Understanding the transition liberals made from unfettered free market economics in the mid 1800s to the interventionist government model post New Deal is key to making sense of the ideological morass which humanity transitioned through in the past 400 years. I know opinions differ on this subject, and many on the left see a meaningful distinction between progressivism and liberalism, or between classic liberalism and modern social liberalism. I do not. They're all liberals, even though there can be notable policy distinctions between various groups of liberals, there is still only one liberalism, and it is the same liberalism as began (or at least took form) with John Locke in the late 1600s.
This is a daunting topic. When I first became politically aware in my late teens, and pondered what "liberal" and "conservative" meant beyond the trite caricature presented by the contemporary political parties or newspaper discourse, I discovered that no one of any academic merit had particularly good (or widely accepted) answers to this. For example, I have written of how Conservatives cannot define "conservativism." If better read and smarter people cannot reach concurrence, forgive my temerity in making a run at it too. Ideology is at the core of what drives politics and any improvement of our understanding of the topic is worthwhile. The confusion about the topic allows a lot of people who aren't liberals (like libertarians who call themselves "classic liberals") to be confused for them, and others who should be allies to create unnecessary distinctions and look at one another with distrust over what are differences not in core ethics, but technical mechanics. It is strange that we all generally able to spot liberal and conservative ideas intuitively yet seemingly no one can can agree on what these things are. We are left with too many definitions that rest on the specific policy preferences of the ideological groups at different points in history. Just as modern conservatives who love free trade are not really different from past conservatives who loved tariffs and mercantilism, today's liberals who want limitations on trade are not a different species from their Corn Law repealing bretherin of 1846.
in 2009 the [Sunday] talk shows told us (by their selection of congressional guests) that the people who matter are disproportionately white, male, senior, and Republican - disproportionate not just when compared to the American population overall, but also when compared to the population of Congress itself.
The broadest overview of the findings were shown in these two charts: the first broad-range overview of the demographics, showing that both women and minorities are dramatically under-represented in Congress:
And the increased imbalance on the talk shows:
There was also one chart showing the appearance of individual legislators--with no representatives, not even Speaker Pelosi--warranting individual mention. I decided to use this chart, combined with two measures of ideology--DW-Nominate and Progressive Punch--to provide a sharper picture of the ideological postioning of congressional representatives on the Sunday talk shows. Once again, these measures showed that what we're presented with on network TV is not the actual country we live in, but a center-right version, which has been subjected to sharp rightward tilt from reality:
The "score" columns take no account for how many appearances each Senator made. The "cumulative" columns multiply their scores by the number of appearances, allowing for aggregate averges to be computed.
It has become increasingly (anecdotally) evident to me that "progressive" has supplanted "liberal" as the preferred ideological term of self identication among the US left. For quite some time it appeared as if the terms were purely interchangable, but my read on the trends now is that liberal is declining. For example, just last night I recently Anderson Cooper's program introduce Media Matters as the "progressive media watch dog group" and a WSJ article also applied the term to Netroots Nation. Both indicate the greater acceptance of the term such that established media use it without irony. In the hunt of some kind of empirical data, I tried a variety of comparative searches, and settled on the Daily Kos internal search engine, because it allows for accurate date ranges on searches, allowing me to examine the trend:
The X-axis represents the number of years back from July 2010 (when I ran the searches), so 1 = the last 12 months, 2 = the 12 months before that (Jul 2008-Jul 2009), 3 is the 2007-2008 period and so on to 6, which represents (counts fingers...) 2004-2005. The engine allows one to go back one more year, but I am omitting it because I'm not that confident about the 2003-2004 data for when the site was really just taking off. What's evident here is that at least among Daily Kos contributors, progressive passed liberal in popularity some time around early 2006. Last year, use of liberal actually declined in absolute terms.
An obvious (fair) objection is that Daily Kos is not the totality of the left. The sociological advantage of the site is the ongoing wide participation of a fairly broad audience of contemporary US left activists. I have put another chart inside which shows comparisons for some other sites I thought to search against, to provide some validation on the sample represented in Daily Kos (which I think it does since the Kos figures do not appear to be an outlier). One problem with general searches (say Google or Bing) is the difficulty of sorting out the number of non-political uses of terms like "progressive" and "conservative." Existing explicitly for politics, it's a safer bet that most uses of those terms on Daily Kos will be in their ideological context.
The press secretary dismissed the "professional left" in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, "They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we've eliminated the Pentagon. That's not reality."
Of those who complain that Obama caved to centrists on issues such as healthcare reform, Gibbs said: "They wouldn't be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president."(...)
Progressives, Gibbs said, are the liberals outside of Washington "in America," and they are grateful for what Obama has accomplished in a shattered economy with uniform Republican opposition and a short amount of time.
Oy, on many levels.
If the White House really doesn't think it has any problems among self-identified liberals or progressives, and that all the complaints are coming from a grasstop elite, it needs to look at the data again. From 2008 to 2010, President Obama has suffered far more erosion of support among self-identified liberals than among self-identified moderates or conservatives:
In 2008, according to exit polls, 89% self-identified liberals voted for President Obama. Over the past four weeks, according to Gallup, President Obama's approval rating among self-identified liberals has averaged 74%. That is a decline of 15 points.
In 2008, according to exit polls, 60% of self-identified moderates voted for President Obama. Over the past four weeks, according to Gallup, President Obama's approval rating among self-identified moderates has averaged 54%. That is a decline of 6 points.
In 2008, according to exit polls, 20% of self-identified conservatives voted for President Obama. Over the past four weeks, according to Gallup, President Obama's approval rating has averaged 24% among self-identified conservatives. That is an increase of 4 points.
So, according to Gallup, disapproval among self-identified liberals accounts for the majority of President Obama's approval rating underperformance compared to his 2008 vote share (from the perspective that the smaller decline among moderates is partially canceled out by the small gain among conservatives). If it were not for President Obama's decline among liberals, there would be virtually no difference between his 2010 approval rating and 2008 voter performance.
Maybe the White House knows that its problem among self-identified liberals is not confined to the grasstops. Maybe it is "reaching out" to liberals in this insulting manner because it figures that while it has lost more support among liberals than among any other group, those liberals are still going to vote Democratic anyway.
Update Jul 25: Some great comments inside on what conservatism actually is, as opposed to the weak and often self-refuting definitions offered by conservative intellectuals. - D.
During Netroots Nation, we are running Golden Oldies plus a few surprises. Regularly Scheduled programming will resume on July 26.
A Daniel De Groot Golden Oldie
From Thu Jan 01, 2009. Original HERE.
As a starting point for defining conservatism, and nailing down what the real atomic core of conservatism is, I started by asking: What do conservatives think it is? How do they answer this question?
It turns out, they don't really know. Their efforts to define it are worth studying though, partly because the answers they provide are revealing, but also because their own failure to find an answer satisfactory even just to themselves points to the need for outsiders to step in and provide the answers conservatives can't or won't face.
During Netroots Nation, we are running Golden Oldies plus a few surprises. Regularly Scheduled programming will resume on July 26.
A Daniel De Groot Golden Oldie
From Mon Nov 24, 2008. Original HERE.
There has been here, and elsewhere, a low-level (ahem) ideological debate about the relative importance of ideology versus pragmatism. To some, the election of Obama is seen as a victory for getting things done as opposed to what I suppose in this formulation is the old Washington game of tilting at ideological windmills. It's a theme I have seen frequently here in the comments, through the discussion on the merits of Obama's cabinet and other nominations so far. I want to address the underlying fiction which claims there is some practical ideal route of policy that can eschew ideology itself. Greenwald addressed this today, more specifically on pragmatism as foreign policy:
If one discards the need for ideology in favor of "pragmatism" and "competence" -- as so many people seem so eager to do -- then it's difficult to see how one could form any opinions about questions of this sort beyond a crude risk-benefit analysis (i.e., "pragmatism"). Are there military and economic benefits to be derived for the U.S. from invading Pakistan? Bombing Iran? Lending unquestioning support to Israel? Escalating our occupation of Afghanistan? Remaining indefinitely in Iraq and exploiting their resources? Propping up dictators of all types? Deposing Hugo Chavez? Torturing suspected terrorists for information, or detaining them without process? If so, then those who are heralding "pragmatism" as the supreme value -- or at least something that should trump "ideology" -- would have no real basis to oppose those actions. It is only ideological beliefs that permit opposition to those polices even if they are "beneficial" to our "national self-interest."
One of the main problems facing the Democratic Party on a national level is that it caters to the 20-30% of its elected officials who are primarily center-right when it comes to public policy. (For a list of the ways the party caters to this 20-30%, read my article "BREAKING: I am now a conservative Democrat."). In the upcoming 2010 elections, the net result of this catering is likely to be a a minimal electoral boost for that 20-30% of the party, and a massive electoral setback for the entire party, including that 20-30%.
This prediction is based on available empirical studies on electoral outcomes. It rests first on a study showing that candidates who appear moderate gain about 2% at the polls. Andrew Gelman:
There is definitely some evidence that moderate candidates do better. Steven Rosenstone discussed this in his classic 1984 book, Forecasting Presidential Elections, and others have looked into this as well. For example, my 2008 paper, "Should the Democrats move to the left on economic policy?"
We also have some graphs in chapter 9 of Red State, Blue State, one showing the (estimated) benefits of moderation in congressional elections, and another graph for presidential elections. The short story is that moderation can get you something like 2 percentage points of the vote (or, if you want to look at it another way, extremism can lose you something like 2 percentage points).
Now, 2% isn't nothing, and can make the difference in many campaigns. However, this 2% swing is dwarfed by the impact that changes in real disposable income has on elections. Ezra Klein:
"In presidential elections," Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels says, "a 1 percent boost in election-year income growth has typically increased the incumbent party's vote share by about 2 percent. So an incumbent party that won 51 percent of the vote in an average economic year like 2004 would be expected to win only 46 percent in a recession year like 2008." Which is, as you may remember, pretty much exactly what happened.
Congressional elections are a bit more difficult because they're more local, but they end up being predictable, too. Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California at San Diego, has a model that uses the number of seats the majority party holds, the approval rating of the president and the change in real disposable income, and predicts about 70 percent of the change from one election to the next.
Real disposable income is the dominant ideology among swing voters. This should not come as a shock, or even a mild surprise. The mushy middle is not full of political junkies, but it is full of people who worry about their pocketbooks. As such, whether things get better or worse for their pocketbooks, those voters will blame the governing party, and vote accordingly.
In an ideal world, Democrats would get credit for moderation, and institute public policies that significantly increased real disposable income nationwide, thus creating a massive electoral landslide in their favor. Readers of Open Left might remember this as the old eleven-dimensional chess strategy of appearing to be moderate in public, but in fact being a secret progressive when it came time to write legislation (Chris Matthews supported that line of thinking in the first question he asked me back when I appeared on Hardball). However, following the current "moderate" line of slashing stimulus spending to reduce the size of the deficit is antithetical to getting more money in the hands of voters.
Blocking unemployment benefits will result in less money in the hands of voters who are unemployed. Blocking the Medicare "doc fix" will result in less money in the hands of doctors who vote. Blocking an extension of COBRA and a public option will result in voters who have to purchase individual insurance having less money in their hands. Cutting aid to states to prevent layoffs will result in state workers who vote having less money in their hands. Blocking a cap on ATM fees means less money in the hands of voters. Blocking $100 billion in the first stimulus resulted in voters of all sorts having less money in their hands. And that is just a partial list.
As a governing party, if you want to win elections, you have to get more money in the hands of voters than they had the year before. That is simply impossible if your policy focus is on cutting spending, which is the current, dominant mantra of being a "moderate." Those same "moderates" even want to cut Social security and Medicare payments in order to slightly cut the deficit, which would be a truly disastrous electoral move. Talk about taking money out of the hands of voters!
Democrats want to help the center-right members of their party win by allowing them to appear "moderate" to swing voters, and thus water down every piece of legislation the party proposes. However, all Democrats, including the center-right Democrats, are all going to lose big because they failed to enact progressive public policies that would have resulted in putting more money in the hands of voters. Whatever benefit the blue Dogs get at the ballot box for appearing "moderate" will be canceled out, several times over, because voters are pissed that they have less money in their wallets.
The dominant ideology of swing voters is disposable income. As such, enact public policies that increase real disposable income, or else face defeat at the ballot box. It really is that simple.
New numbers from Gallup suggest that the percentage of Americans self-identifying as "conservative" is on the rise:
It is important to keep in mind what this means, and what it doesn't mean:
It is not necessarily a reflection of policy preferences. For example, views of the role of government swing pretty wildly while ideological self-identification is flat. These views are also more tied to which partisan self-identification than to ideological self-identification. For example, take a long-running poll conducted by Pew:
Most Americans do not have particularly thoroughgoing, coherent ideological perspectives. So, a change in ideological self-identification does not necessarily reflect a change in policy preference.
What it does mean is that the Republican base has increased in size. Ideological self-identification is a very good predictor of voting habits. With Democrats consistently receiving only 15-20% of the conservative vote since the early 1980's (following the loss of the "solid South" in Presidential elections), a 5% shift toward conservative self-identification is a definite win for Republicans. A shift of this size in the 2008 electorate would have resulted in Obama only defeating McCain by 2%, instead of by 7%. Combined with an enthusiasm gap of at least 2-3%, this ideological shift thus represents the entirety of Republican gains since 2008.
Without more specifics, or perhaps even a larger sample size (Gallup sampled 8,000 people for the 2010 poll), attempting to pinpoint which groups are shifting toward increased conservative self-identification is pure guesswork. Still, to speculate, my bet is that this is an exacerbation of the white Christian vs non-white and / or non-Christian dynamic that has been underlying the two major political coalitions for some time now.
Despite the greater population growth among demographics that tend to vote for Democrats, Republicans always had a path to remain competitive electorally if they increased their share of the white Christian vote, and remained steady among non-whites and non-Christians. I have feeling that is exactly what is happening right now, and the two coalitions are becoming even more demographically polarized than ever. Things are going to get a lot worse in this regard before they get better.
This morning, a Democratic White House and wide Democratic majorities in Congress continue to pursue compromises with Republicans on Wall Street reform, Don't Ask Don't tell, the extension of unemployment benefits, the response to the oil spill, and more. The memory of Democratic compromise on health reform is still fresh, too.
Given all this, you might be wondering why Democrats are so eager to compromise even when they are in charge. You might especially be wondering this given that Republicans seem to govern with a steamroller when they are in charge.
The influence of corporate money is certainly one cause. However, another, much less discussed cause, is that the Democratic rank and file actually wants Democratic politicians to compromise, while the Republican rank and file does not want their leaders to do so.
In early 2007, right after Democrats had retaken Congress, Pew found (PDF, page 16) that self-identified Democrats preferred politicians who compromised, while self-identified Republicans preferred politicians who stood by their beliefs:
The latest Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, sponsored by SHRM, finds more positive than negative reactions to a candidate who is willing to make compromises. A substantial minority (42%) say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who will make compromises with people they disagree with; only about half as many (22%) say they would be less likely to back a candidate willing to compromise, while 29% say it will make no difference. But there is a wide partisan divide. More than twice as many Republicans (40%) as Democrats (19%) or independents (15%) say they would be less willing to favor a candidate willing to compromise.
The language in the Pew article on the poll is a bit garbled, but it means that far more self-identified Republicans dislike compromising politicians than Democrats. Which means, conversely, that far more self-identified Democrats like compromising politicians than do self-identified Republicans
When leading Democrats, such as President Obama, incessantly talk about the need to be bi-partisan and reach consensus with Republicans, they are actually engaging in a form of base messaging. Disturbing as this may seem to some progressives, including myself, it kind of makes sense when you think about a certain form of liberalism for a moment. The conceptualization of a rational world, which rational humans are gradually improving through rational dialogue and good-faith research, is at the core of the late Enlightenment, liberal mindset. It isn't hard to grasp how such an ideology--which I personally find to be quite naive--can lead to admiration of compromising politicians.
This is a roundabout way of saying that Democrats who want a less compromising Democratic Party are going to have to convince the Democratic rank and file that the party should be less compromising. That may be difficult, however, since the belief in compromise is endemic to an ideology that is widespread among the Democratic base. Frustratingly enough, the Democratic base likes, and wants, compromise.
How do you make a "pragmatic" compromise with failure? Pragmatism, after all, is concerned with what works. And failure, by definition, is what doesn't work. You can no more make a pragmatic compromise with failure than you can tell an honest lie. Yet, the idea of a pragmatic compromise with failure is the very essence of the Obama presidency--except when compromise blends imperceptibly into full-scale mimicry.
Bush's war on terrorism was an utter failure, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis, Afghans and others for no good reason, just like Osama bin Laden said that America always wanted to-and thereby recruiting more potential terrorists than bin Laden ever dreamed of. Obama's compromise was to kill fewer Iraqis and more Afghans, plus assorted other dark skinned people from Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia. Bush's response to global warming was to ignore it and give oil companies everything they want. Obama's compromise was to pay attention to global warming and still give oil companies everything they want. Bush's attitude towards civil liberties was to trample them underfoot gleefully. Obama's compromise is to cut back on the glee, pretending to be serious, even troubled. Bush's response to the Wall Street meltdown was tons of free cash given away by the former head of Goldman Sachs. Obama's response to the Wall Street meltdown was tons of free cash given away by the former head of the New York Fed. Bush's approach to education was to install a fellow Texan with a much-hyped, but ultimately failed educational record running Houston's school system as Secretary of Education, and instituting a narrow, test-driven plan deceptively labeled "No Child Left Behind." Obama's approach to education is to install a fellow Chicagoan (a basketball buddy, in fact), with a much-hyped, but ultimately failed educational record running Chicago's school system as Secretary of Education, and instituting a narrow, test-driven plan deceptively labeled "Race To The Top."
It's no accident that conservative policies fail. They're meant to fail....
In other words, is there room for moderate candidates and moderate voters in either party? #crist
Wow. Just, wow.
Amazing that the Washington bureau chief of the Associated Press can somehow forget that there are two large centrist caucuses of Democrats in both branches of Congress. First,, the self-described m"moderate" New Democrats boast over one in four Democrats in the House:
A July 2009 Press release described the organization as "the largest moderate coalition in the U.S. House of Representatives", announced the election of Representative Joseph Crowley (New York) as the Coalition's Chair and counted 68 Members in the House of Representatives
Then there are the Blue Dogs, who claim another 54 members in the House. Even though 16 of their members are also New Democrats, that still makes for 106 out of 254 House Democrats, or 42%, who self-identify with a Democratic caucus that is openly moderate. And this doesn't even count members like Chet Edwards, who is not a member of either group.
In the Senate, there are 16 members of Evan Bayh's moderate working group (the 15 listed in the link, plus Arlen Specter), and 14 New Democrats. Combined, there are 22 Democratic Senators who are members of at least one of those two self-identified "moderate" groups, or 37% of the entire Democratic Senate caucus.
All told, 41%, or 128 of 313, Democratic members of Congress belong to one of these self-identified "moderate" groups. But maybe Ron Fournier considers Blue Dogs to be flaming liberals.
In terms of voters, in 2009 fully 60% of self-identified Democrats identify as either "moderate" or "conservative," according to Gallup:
Further, also according to Gallup, 39% of self-identified moderates self-identify as Democrats, compared to only 24% as Republicans:
But, I guess those voters don't exist.
To claim that there are no moderates in the Democratic Party requires maintaining a remarkable amount of distance from the reality of the internal workings of the party. It also requires a health dose of bratty, whining petulance. Can Ron Fournier really believe, even as a deficit commission appointed by President Obama is underway, and even as virtually every piece of legislation Democrats try to move through Congress was basically photocopied from proposals by Third Way, that "moderation" is somehow not being served by the Democratic Party Washington, D.C.?
This goes hand in hand with Mary Landrieu's preposterous claim that progressive Senators, rather than groups of conservative Democrats, are really in charge of what sort of legislation moves through the Senate. The adolescent, divorced-from-reality, blame everyone else, cry baby, uber privileged mentality that is at the heart of contemporary American "moderation" is truly mind-blowing.
The short story is that moderation can get you something like 2 percentage points of the vote (or, if you want to look at it another way, extremism can lose you something like 2 percentage points).
This is all short-term analysis; it neither captures the long-term gains from being able to implement desired policy (if you happen to push extremist candidates and win the election) or long-term loss of credibility from being outside the mainstream. Nor does it consider asymmetries such as the potential appeal to rich donors of right-wing low-tax policies, or potential feedback effects such as left-wing policies that could lock in political advantages for unions. (I'm using "right-wing" and "left-wing" to place positions in the U.S. political context, not as value judgments.)
So now it is official: David Broder represents 2% of the electorate.
Not only is 2% a meager difference but, as Gelman notes, it is entirely possible that being more an "extremist" could actually negate this difference through the effects of difference policy and / or from improved fundraising and activism efforts . As such, at least from my perspective, it certainly feels like Democrats place far more emphasis on being perceived as "moderate" than this net 2% would justify.
In the extended entry, I take a look at how many seats ideology may have swung in Congress from 2006-2009, and how legislation would have changed in 2009 as a result.
Within the Senate, Democrats are moving to the left, Republicans are moving to the right, and he two parties are now further apart from each other than ever.
Since the 1960's, the left-ward trend for Democrats outside the south has slowed. It even briefly reversed itself in the 1970's and 1980's. Still, Senate Democrats today, both inside and outside the south, are more left-wing than ever.
As a collective decade, the 1960's were the most fertile time ever for progressive legislation. For a single administration, the best opportunity was actually the Carter years. When they had 60 votes in 2009, Democrats had a roughly similar legislative opportunity to the 1977-1980 period. In 2010, the opportunity is more akin to the 1961-1968 period. Were it not for the filibuster, this would be the most left-wing federal government of all time (but hey, Democrats could get rid of the filibuster anytime via the nuclear option, they just choose not to do so).
All of the information below is based on DW-Nominate scores, which are the only available long-term ideological voting scorecard for Congress. DW-Nominate is based on roll call votes, and uses a negative 1.000 to positive 1.000 scale. The lower the number, the more left-wing a party or Senator is considered to be on economic issues.
1. Democrats are moving left, Republicans are moving right, and polarization is increasing Conventional wisdom is that the two major parties are moving away from each other. Democrats are moving left, and Republicans are moving right, as the parties shift into primarily ideological coalitions. This appears to be exactly correct:
Senate DW-Nominate mean, by party, by decade
Democrats had a sharp move to the left during the 1940's to 1960's period, and then again in the 1990's and 2000's. Republicans started further out on the right than Democrats began on the left, and began a hard right turn in the 1980's.
2. Left-wing turn for Democrats not just because southern Democrats left the party Like many others, I had assumed that the Democratic shift to the left was largely just conservative southern Democrats moving out of the party. However, a look at DW-Nominate scores only for Democratic Senators not from the 11 states that once formed the Confederacy shows that some of the movement was caused by that phenomenon, but not all of it (number of Senators in parenthesis):
Outside of the south, there was rapid left-wing movement among Democratic Senators from the 1930's to the 1960's. That was followed by a period with some rightward backsliding, which was itself followed by a new period of left-wing movement. By 1993-1994, the Democratic Senate caucus outside of the south was once again as left-wing as it was in the 1960's. By the most recent decade, it had surpassed the 1960's:
It is also worth noting that the current decade has equaled the 1930's and 1960's for Democratic strength outside of the south.
3. The middle of the Senate Means don't tell you much about the possibility of passing legislation. For that, medians are required. Here is a look at the DW-Nominate score for the 51st vote in the Senate from 1961 to 2010:
51st Senate vote, DW-Nominate, 1961-2010
Light blue signifies Democratic control of Senate and White House; purple signifies split control, bright red signifies Republican control
These numbers show pretty clearly that the 1960's were indeed the peak decade for the possibility of progressive legislation. With a Democrat in the White House, and the 51st vote consistently in the range of 0.1 to 0.2, there was fertile ground for the passage of Great Society legislation. It is only in 2009 that the opportunity surpassed that of the 1960's. Claire McCaskill is easily the most left-leaning 51st vote of all time.
However, as we all know, 51 votes don't seem to matter much these days. So, here is a look at the 60th vote in the Senate from 1961-2010:
60th Senate vote, DW-Nominate, 1961-2010
(Before 1975, cloture required 67 votes, not 60 votes. The pre-1975 period still looks at the 60-vote threshold for comparison purposes.
With a 60-vote threshold, the current government is not an improvement on past Democratic trifectas. The 1977-1980 period was comparable to 2009, and the 1963-1968 period is comparable to the post-Massachusetts special election setup. Having Ben Nelson as the deciding vote is much worse than having Claire McCaskill as the deciding vote.
The bottom line of all this is that even though the Democratic Party has moved to the left, overall the federal government has not, even under a Democratic trifecta. The main reason for this is that any Democratic movement to the left since the 1960's has been cancelled out by Republican moves to the right. As such, if we want a more progressive government, it will require not just more and better Democrats, but also better Republicans. Given the control the conservative movement has over the Republican Party these days, that is an extremely tall task. However, the continuing decline of moderate Republicans has, to date, made it impossible to elect a Senate further to the left of what this country experienced even 45 years ago.
Ryan Grim and Arhtur Delaney have a must-read article at the Huffington Post about the power struggle within the Democratic Party between progressive Dems and more centrist Dems. If long-term trends are any indication, this is a struggle that Progressives will eventually win.
DW-Nominate, the only ideological voting scorecard for members of all Congresses, all-time (1789--current), shows Democratic Senators moving, on average, decisively to the left over the past eighty years. While the trend was particularly pronounced during the 1960's, according to their methodology it continues to this day. In fact, hard as it may be to believe, the current Democratic Senate caucus (Lieberman and Sanders included), is ranked as the most left-leaning Democratic Senate caucus of all time.
First, here is the mean DW-nominate score for all Democratic Senators, by decade, starting with the 1931-1940 period. The number in parenthesis is the total number of Democratic Senators during that decade:
Democratic Senators, mean DW-nominate score by decade, 1930-2010 Scale is negative 1.000 to positive 1.000, with lower numbers indicating a more left-leaning economic voting record 1930's: -0.111 (334)
1940's: -0.096 (289)
1950's: -0.167 (269)
1960's: -0.271 (330)
1970's: -0.291 (299)
1980's: -0.303 (249)
1990's: -0.370 (248)
2000's: -0.394 (253)
Second, here is more recent detail on the trend, looking at each individual Congress (two-year period). Once again, the number in parenthesis is the total number of Democratic Senators during that Congress (including Independents Jeffords, Lieberman and Sanders; also including Senators who did not serve an entire two-year term):
The trend through the decades, and over the last eleven Congress, is unmistakable: the party keeps moving to the left. The main factor in this trend has been the long, slow defection of conservative, southern Democrats out of the party, and the influx of liberal Senators from the northeast and west coast. It is also a reflection of ideological self-identification trends among the rank and file, as self-identified liberals are increasing as a percentage of the overall party:
For me, the lesson in these numbers is not that progressives should be satisfied with the current incarnation of the Democratic Party, or that we should take victory in the ongoing internal ideological struggle for granted. Instead, I take it as a rejection of the notion that there was some idyllic time in the past when Democrats were a "true" left-wing party. That time never existed. For all the mythology about how great the party was under FDR or LBJ, the truth is that Democrats were more right-wing back then they are now. This hits home even more when one realizes that the above numbers only measure ideology in terms of the economy, and do not take into account past internal party struggles on matters like civil right and the Vietnam War.
There was no glorious time in the past when Democrats were a "real progressive" party. There has actually never been a more progressive Democratic Party than its current manifestation. Whether that makes you excited, because the long-term trend shows we are winning, or depressed, because the most left-wing version of the party is not very left-wing, is probably a matter of individual orientation along the pessimism / optimistic linear binary.