Yesterday I linked to an EJ Dionne column which analyzed the loss of Segolene Royal in France as an indicator of an overall problem with the Left among Western nations. Dionne correctly linked the rightward move in France with similar shifts in eastern Europe, Sweden, Germany, and even Britain, where the Tories won in local elections. He advised the international Left that the movement needed to recast its vision rather than just rely on tactical changes in the future.
The Left isn’t listening to Dionne — in fact, they don’t even acknowledge a problem exists. In today’s Guardian, Jonathan Freedland tells readers to disregard the Royal debacle, because the Left is experiencing a “global awakening”:
Europeans speak of the Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-American model as a synonym for turbo-charged, take-no-prisoners capitalism. Yet there are some signs, tentative for now but noticeable all the same, that movement is under way even in the US, inside the belly of the capitalist beast. They come partly in reaction to the ever worsening state of inequality in that country. You can pick your stat, ranging from the claim that just two men – Bill Gates and Warren Buffett – have as much money between them as 30% of the entire American people, to the findings by a federal reserve study that the top 10% of Americans now own 70% of the country’s wealth, while the top 5% own more than everyone else put together. …
America’s politicians have begun to notice. The Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards speaks of the “two Americas”. Barack Obama tells audiences that not only is caring for the poor an American tradition, but that “those with money, those with influence, those with control over how resources are allocated in our society, are very protective of their interests, and they can rationalise infinitely the reasons why they should have more money and power than anyone else”. Most striking was the Democrats’ response to Bush’s last state of the union address, given by Senator Jim Webb. He invoked the early years of the last century. “America was then, as now, drifting apart along class lines,” he said, deploying the c-word that is now all but barred from British political discourse. Recalling the robber barons who were “unapologetically raking in a huge percentage of the national wealth”, Webb gave this charged warning from history: “The dispossessed workers at the bottom were threatening revolt.”
I hate to break it to Freedland, but the Democrats have used class warfare for decades — at least since Lyndon Johnson, and more accurately back to FDR. They have long championed the reallocation of wealth by force of government in the guise of entitlement programs. That strategy stopped working for them at the end of the Carter administration, and played a large part of why they lost the Congressional majority in 1994. They didn’t win it back on the promise of more entitlement programs, but on the Iraq war and the fact that Republicans couldn’t restrain themselves from being just as avaricious as Democrats.
The only Democratic president since Carter made the mistake in his first term of taking this nonsense from Freedland seriously. Bill Clinton, with the campaign song “Dont Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” still ringing in his ears, decided to nationalize health care and put Hillary in charge of it. That lost the Democrats control of Congress, and that lesson still resonates today.
Freedland makes a number of dubious assumptions in this article. First off, he give John Edwards far more weight than he deserves. The Two Americas talk didn’t do him any good in 2004, and it’s not getting him much farther in 2008, especially after he built the huge mansion in between campaigns. Barack Obama has given some lip service to Edwards’ class warfare ideals, but has mostly tried to remain focused on traditional liberal themes rather than the kind of Leftist populism Freedland describes. In one passage, he describes Zbigniew Brzezinski as a “cold war hawk” who is “no leftist”, both of which would come as a huge surprise to anyone who recalls the feckless foreign policy of the Carter administration, which Brzezinksi helped author.
It’s a classic case of spin, or perhaps an even better example of self-delusion. Socialism and the Left have run Europe for decades, and the Europeans have finally discovered that societies which build nanny states and obsess over multiculturalism wind up like — well, like France. Balkanization and economic stagnation are the inevitable result of Leftist policies, which is why the Left is in retreat, even as its apologists claim victory from defeat.