Should Dems Shift to the Middle? Liberals Say 'No Thanks'

"The Democratic party moved to the right after the 1980s, and the result was a mess"

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As expected, Democrats took a bruising at the polls on Tuesday. The defeat, though not as bad as some foreshadowed, is forcing liberals to reflect on the last two years. Were the party's policies overly liberal, or did Democrats fail to promote them convincingly enough? In a widely-read opinion column in The New York Times, outgoing Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh (D) is urging Democrats to move towards the center. He says the Democrats' defeat was not a matter of "messaging" but of policies that didn't square with the general public:

It is clear that Democrats over-interpreted our mandate... We also overreached by focusing on health care rather than job creation during a severe recession. It was a noble aspiration, but $1 trillion in new spending and a major entitlement expansion are best attempted when the Treasury is flush and the economy strong, hardly our situation today.

And we were too deferential to our most zealous supporters. During election season, Congress sought to placate those on the extreme left and motivate the base — but that meant that our final efforts before the election focused on trying to allow gays in the military, change our immigration system and repeal the George W. Bush-era tax cuts. These are legitimate issues but unlikely to resonate with moderate swing voters in a season of economic discontent.

Already the liberal blogosphere is denouncing Bayh's arguments as inane and misguided. Here are their arguments:

Whatever the merits of Evan Bayh's arguments, given that he walked away from a winnable Senate seat and held on to a $10 million war chest that other Dems could have put to good use, I think what most Democrats would like from Evan Bayh right now is for him to shut up. It's really not about his analysis. He just walked off the field in the middle of the game. Who can respect that? He just has no standing to talk.

  • Bayh Has His History Wrong, writes M.J. Rosenberg at Talking Points Memo:
The Democrats were anything but aggressive. Thanks to the influence of blue dog Democrats like Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson and the Founding Father of Sellout, Joe Lieberman, President Obama never had a united party behind him. He always knew that any initiative that offended entrenched interests would find Bayh and his buds threatening to defect. Bayh has always believed that moderation means sucking up to the other side (invariably the well-heeled side). The only issues he ever got excited about was (1) the Iraq war and (2) helping to promote an Iran war. Otherwise, Bayh was as Franklin Pierce Democrat.
  • Bayh Is Wrong About Passing Health Care During a Recession, writes Paul Rosenberg at Open Left. He compares Obama's situation to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's: "Yes, FDR made a terrible mistake instituting Social Security in the midst of the Great Depression.  It ensured his landslide defeat in the 1936 election, as everybody knows. Oh, wait..."
  • Bayh Doesn't Know What Americans Want, writes M.J. Rosenberg at Talking Points Memo:

There is little that the two parties have in common. But there is one thing. Neither Democrats nor Republicans get excited about politicians who stand for nothing except being elected and then re-elected. We want our elected officials to be driven by some kind of passion, some reason for being in politics other than just being there. (That is why Obama needs to revert to the passion that seemed to drive him in 2008).

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.