The Democratic Party is using its convention to among other things bridge the widening cleft between its populist base and conservative leadership. By repeatedly underscoring that the alternative to a Democratic win is four more years of Bush policies, the party leaders are calling attention to the fact that the party rank and file have no place to turn but to the party for any sort of change, even if that change does not approximate the hopes of the party faithful.
The Democratic Leadership Council spearheads the conservative faction of the party. Its position is that the party must move rather dramatically to the right to avoid obsolescence. Recognizing that this view is not shared by a majority of Democrats Bill Clinton campaigned as a populist, then actualized welfare reform that Reagan did not dare champion, promoted and got NAFTA.
He avoided much criticism from the right by usurping positions on the right. Bill Krystal was so impressed with Clinton’s record as a conservative that he expressed wonderment that the right had any objections at all to Clinton. Meanwhile many progressives felt betrayed.
In 2004 Howard Dean captured the imagination of the populist anti-war movement and was actively opposed by the DLC, which favored Kerry. Recognizing that the anti-war movement was strong enough to effect election results, Kerry after incoherent blathering about the war, became an opponent of it, undercutting some of Dean’s support.
Progressives or what is sometimes called the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party fear that Obama has done exactly what Bill Clinton did in getting the nomination. That is appealing to Democrats as a progressive candidate, then after securing the nomination becoming for many practical purposes a Republican.
Remember Clinton’s opinion poll policies. He would let Republicans launch a campaign for or against something, wait while opinion polls came then make a decision, often doing what Republicans advocated. This approach was successful if that is measured by tenure in office. Many would argue that it was not successful if measured against progressive policies.
The cleft in the party relates to fears that Obama has followed Clinton’s formula, trading on charisma while sacrificing policy. Without out a doubt he has moved to the right since securing the number of delegates for the nomination. This in itself is not betrayal and is an almost inevitable shift among Democratic candidates, just as moving to the left is typical of Republican candidates after nomination.
Part of this reaction from the left is due to the almost unimaginable hopes that were posited in Obama by the left. Clinton was the DLC’s candidate of choice and this time, in contract with 2004, the candidate with populist groundswell support carried the day. Clinton seemed to suffer a bit for not seeming to come out unequivocally against the war until late in the game. As a result her anti-war position was never entirely believed by the people defining themselves as anti-war.
Obama in contrast seemed to be clear and unwaivering. That is until his nomination seemed secure. Then he ousted his anti-war advisors and substituted Clinton Administration hawks. His speeches began to emphasize the conditions of withdrawal and looking at all the circumstances. He seemed to adopt Clinton’s initial position about the war.
Then after all the debate talk about the purity of his anti-war sentiment as opposed to Clinton’s vote for the war, he chose as his running mate the man who perhaps more than anybody was the Democratic Party point man for the war. Biden has changed his tune but he certainly rattled more sabers than Clinton before the war and following the invasion. Biden too was an ardent proponent of the anti-consumer bankruptcy bill and was one of the few Democrats to vote for it.
Obama has revealed another Bill Clinton tactic that is far from comforting to the left. He has demonstrated Clinton’s penchant for adopting Republican positions when his position appears to be unpopular. Not only has he done this with off shore drilling but so has Nancy Pelosi.
Bush also took misleading positions to get into office. Remember his sanctimonious statement in his debate with Gore that he would never allow our country to get into nation building abroad? That turned out to be what his administration was all about. Bush of course became historically unpopular but he was like Clinton elected twice. These seem to be good models for getting into office even if the endings have been unhappy.