"Optimistic Democrats" in N.Y. Times Insist On Sixties Liberalism

As the polls are gloomy and gloomier for President Bush, it’s time for giddy-Democrat stories. On the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times, reporter Robin Toner’s story is headlined "Optimistic, Democrats Debate the Party’s Vision: Seeking Big Goals and a Clear Alternative to Conservatism." Big goals for government, the opposite of anti-statist conservatism...wouldn’t that be defined as....liberalism?

The L-word does appear a few times, but without much sense of the socialist, soft-on-defense, and libertine-left impulses that drive independent voters into voting Republican. Liberals in the piece are clearly calling for a return to Old Liberalism of the mid-20th century: the Democrats need "a broader vision, a narrative, they say, to return to power and govern effectively – what some describe as an unapologetic appeal to the ‘common good,’ to big goals like expanding affordable health coverage and to occasional sacrifice for the sake of the nation as a whole."

Those are a Times writer's weasel words for "nationalizing health care" and "soaking the rich with new taxes."

In other words, liberals are tired of the miniature-initiatives, consultant-driven centrist feints of the Clinton playbook when they want to let out their inner LBJ. Toner is really presenting the case of Michael Tomasky, editor of the liberal journal The American Prospect. (By the time she quotes him by name, she does use the words "liberal journal.") Inside, on page A18, Tomasky gets his own picture and a sidebar by Toner titled "Liberal of the ‘Lost Generation’ Senses a Shift." The "lost generation" is code for liberals who came of age in the Reagan era.

Overall, the piece is a decent exploration of the internal Democrat debate – albeit free of the idea of the real electoral pitfalls of liberalism. William Kristol makes a cameo appearance, saying large visions aren’t as important as locating policy stands: for the war on terror? For a tax hike? Peter Beinart appears at the end for the mildly hawkish Democrats.

But Toner also highlights the blogging base of the Democratic Party, and how Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos wants a more "authentic, pre-consultant politics that he argued was embodied by Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 campaign." He thinks Hillary Clinton is "too careful, thinking too small, essentially being a throwback to an outmoded centrism." Thinking Hillary is a centrist: now that’s a good indicator of how far out on the left the Kosmonauts really are.

New York Times
Tim Graham's picture