Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The New Grover Cleveland, The New Gilded Age

Lots of great commentary out there on Obama embracing Hooverite policies to deal with the recession, particularly Noon decrying Obama following the advice of Hans Morganthau. But I really want to focus on Eric's comparison of Obama to Grover Cleveland, a comparison I also made in my long post on Brown's election last Tuesday night.

Eric uses this image and also quotes Richard Hofstadter on Cleveland
, who wrote

a taxpayer’s dream, the ideal bourgeois statesman for his time: out of heartfelt conviction he gave to the interests what many a lesser politician might have sold them for a price. He was the flower of American political culture in the Gilded Age.

Maybe Obama is the next Grover Cleveland. I increasingly believe it. Like in the 1880s, we have a Democratic party that has totally bought into Republican rhetoric and a president who is increasingly facilitating whatever corporations want. It's pretty bad when the person you thought might be the next Lyndon Johnson turns out to be the next Grover Cleveland.

During the Democratic primary, I was a mild Obama supporter (after Edwards fell away) and once told my students when they asked who I voted for that I went for Obama because I was ready to be disappointed by someone new. Indeed, that disappointment is setting in, particularly in the last week. At this point, I'm beginning to wish Hillary had won. If the Democrats are going to sell out, at least Hillary would be going about it competently.

In a related post, Steve asks whether the new 2 party system is the old Republican Party (now called the Democrats) and the Tea Party Party. I wonder. While the nation's political tendencies aren't really moving to the right (and the preferences of young people for libertarian social policies suggests a long-term shift to the left), both political parties continue their 35 year long move to the right. How long can this be sustainable? Progressives thought we had put a stop to this when we elected Obama, but we were clearly too optimistic. I'm not quite as pessimistic as Steve however, because you have a large and increasingly active base of the Democratic Party very angry about all of this. A continued Democratic rightward lean isn't tenable because they won't win elections this way.

Under different circumstances, with active labor unions able to provide the votes to make this happen, I almost wonder if now might have been a good time to do what England did when the Labor Party outflanked the Liberals as the 2nd major party in that country. Eventually, it seems the Democrats will move so far to the right that most of their members won't be willing to go with them. Of course, the long historical failure of 3rd party movements in this country make it very difficult to see any alternative except for dropping out of the system entirely.