“The recent flurry of effort to decipher just who this right-wing is reproduces a persistent error in the progressive narrative: A failure to address the conservatism of Democrats and the chaos and passivity of the American Left,” political science professor Alex Gourevitch writes at Jacobin.
During the ongoing budget battles, pundits often ask “why the Republican Party would be willing to engage in apparent ‘anti-business’ brinksmanship that threatens the stability of global financial markets and draws us closer to another credit crunch?” The explanations on offer—business does not control the Republicans; a “small group of radicals” are acting with respect to their local, rather than national party interests—emphasize the “relative power and rationality of the right-wing movement,” an opinion about what’s important that makes it “easy to forget some things about the Democrats and whatever stands to their left.”
The initial phases of this battle have essentially featured Obama going to the mats to defend the Republicans of the 1990s from the Republicans of today. Recall, for instance, that the basic principles of “Obamacare” including the individual mandate come from Republican thinking circa 1994. As the negotiation now seems to be transitioning from the health care law to spending and entitlements, it is again worth recalling the Democratic embrace of the conservative position. Obama and the Democrats’ wider approach to the budget process is to affirm the need for balanced budgets (in contrast to at least some right-wing Keynesianism). Presenting themselves as the party of responsible government and budget moderation is their only idea, even at a time when the cost of government borrowing is at historic lows. This is pretty thin gruel, especially for a public laid low by persistent high rates of unemployment, stagnating wages, and crappy jobs. All in all, the Democrats don’t have much on offer as an alternative. All they have is their much-vaunted moderation – a moderation that can’t even make sense of the occasional political necessity of disruption.
But what is most striking about the present is not the virtues of moderation but of the potential power of conviction. One detects, behind all the anxiety about “extremists,” “radicals,” and “militant minorities,” a degree of envy. On the Right there is a group with enough commitment to a shared project that is willing and able to disrupt the ordinary functioning of government. If only the Left had such wherewithal. We might, at the very least, get something more than than the economically stagnant, politically oppressive Mugwumpery of the Democratic Party.