Dems need more than anti-Trump plat­form

The Record (Troy, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Jonah Gold­berg The Na­tional Re­view Jonah Gold­berg is a fel­low at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute and a se­nior edi­tor of Na­tional Re­view.

One of the Right’s most com­mon, and best, ar­gu­ments for the Trump pres­i­dency is that it shat­tered the Repub­li­can party’s cal­ci­fied agenda. In­vested in a coali­tion of var­i­ous in­ter­ests and be­holden to a per­va­sive and out­dated Rea­gan nos­tal­gia, the GOP des­per­ately needed new rhetoric and a new ap­proach. For good or ill, Pres­i­dent Trump pro­vided both.

The Democrats’ ef­fort to come up with a pro­gram, sep­a­rate from anti-Trump­ism, sug­gests they’re in des­per­ate need of some dis­rup­tion as well.

Say what you will about Rea­gan nos­tal­gia, it’s at least fresher than FDR nos­tal­gia, which has largely de­fined the Demo­cratic party for the bet­ter part of a cen­tury. When Democrats look for a pol­icy vi­sion, their frame­work is the New Deal.

Harry Tru­man’s Fair Deal and LBJ’s Great So­ci­ety were both con­tin­u­a­tions of the New Deal.

Af­ter the 9/11 at­tacks, New York se­na­tor Charles Schumer wrote in the Wash­ing­ton Post that the at­tacks proved that “the era of a shrink­ing fed­eral gov­ern­ment has come to a close.” This new chal­lenge proved we needed a “new New Deal.”

Even the New Deal’s big­gest com­peti­tor, John F. Kennedy nos­tal­gia, has al­ways been about aes­thet­ics and at­mo­spher­ics. Kennedy’s own pol­icy agenda never broke with the New Deal par­a­digm.

Barack Obama, who had a Kennedy- es­que cult of per­son­al­ity, was nonethe­less ex­pected by lib­er­als to be a new FDR, which is why Time mag­a­zine ran a pic­ture of a pho­to­shopped Obama as Roo­sevelt on its cover af­ter the 2008 elec­tion. When Obama rolled out his sweep­ing pol­icy vi­sion, a “New Foun­da­tion,” it was a New Deal re­hash.

House Demo­cratic leader Nancy Pelosi, 78, is a child of the New Deal. Her fa­ther, Thomas D’Ale­san­dro Jr., a pas­sion­ate New Dealer in Congress, named one of his sons Franklin D. Roo­sevelt D’Ale­san­dro. The New Deal re­mains Pelosi’s North Star, which may be why she ac­ci­den­tally re­ferred to their new pro­gram as “the New Deal.”

Now the Democrats have their “Bet­ter Deal” agenda, yet an­other New Deal re­tread. The Democrats even ad­mit it. Pelosi in­sisted that the Bet­ter Deal is not “a course cor­rec­tion.” It is “a pre­sen­ta­tion cor­rec­tion.” Schumer says it was cho­sen in part for “its re­la­tion to both the New Deal and a bet­ter deal than Trump.”

It’s re­mark­able how Democrats call GOP ideas tired and out­dated yet keep re­turn­ing to a well that was dug four years af­ter the in­ven­tion of sliced bread. At the roll­out of a Bet­ter Deal, Pelosi said it is “founded on strong val­ues that we share. Strong val­ues fu­eled by fresh ideas.”

On Fox News Sun­day, an­chor Chris Wal­lace asked House Demo­cratic Cau­cus chair­man Joe Crow­ley to “give me one fresh idea that Democrats are of­fer­ing vot­ers for Novem­ber.”

The FDR coali­tion is a relic. The coali­tion the Democrats want is shot through with di­vi­sions. The Bet­ter Deal gives Demo­cratic pols some­thing to talk about that won’t rile one fac­tion or an­other.

Crow­ley’s con­fi­dent re­sponse: A new in­fras­truc­ture plan! But one that, un­like Trump’s plan, the feds would pick up more of the tab for. Can’t you smell the fresh­ness?

Iron­i­cally, the New Deal was never a co­her­ent pro­gram. It was a mixed and en­tirely ad hoc, di­rigiste re­sponse to an eco­nomic cri­sis. “To look upon these pro­grams as the re­sult of a uni­fied plan,” wrote Ray­mond Mo­ley, FDR’s right-hand man dur­ing much of the New Deal, “was to be­lieve that the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of stuffed snakes, base­ball pic­tures, school flags, old ten­nis shoes, car­pen­ter’s tools, ge­om­e­try books and chem­istry sets in a boy’s bed­room could have been put there by an in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tor.”

There are many rea­sons the Democrats re­main a cargo cult to the New Deal, but the most im­por­tant one for this mo­ment is that the ap­proach uni­fies not Demo­cratic vot­ers but Demo­cratic politi­cians. The FDR coali­tion is a relic. The coali­tion the Democrats want is shot through with di­vi­sions. The Bet­ter Deal gives Demo­cratic pols some­thing to talk about that won’t rile one fac­tion or an­other.

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