Elite Media Voices Begin Making Our Arguments

Having been one of millions of progressives who have been out in the wilderness for so long, it's hard to believe I can write this, but I can: It seems the demands for rejecting the "center-right nation" meme, accepting the progressive mandate of the election, Going Big and emulating FDR - the demands we've been all making - are starting to be echoed even in the elite media stratosphere. And that's a damn good thing.


Here's a syndicated column I wrote that appeared in national newspapers on 10/31/08:

Conservatives' contend that no matter how big progressives may win on Election Day, this is nonetheless a center-right nation. Indeed, a LexisNexis search shows this poll-tested term -- "center-right nation" -- is lately among the Punditburo's most ubiquitous Orwellian buzzwords...The "center-right nation" phrase is being parroted with the propagandistic discipline of Cuba's Ministry of Information.

The proof of this center-right nation? Republicans cite polls showing more Americans call themselves conservative than liberal. While that data point certainly measures brand name, those same surveys undermine the right's larger argument because they show majorities support progressive positions on most economic issues.

Conservatives are trying to stop Obama from pursuing any of the ideas that he campaigned on...Their gimmick is to insist that the United States is still a "center-right" country because more Americans call themselves conservative than liberal. What this analysis ignores is that Americans have clearly moved to the left of where they were four, eight or ten years ago.

We now keep hearing, for instance, that America is "a center-right nation" -- apparently because the percentages of Americans who call themselves conservative (34), moderate (44) and liberal (22) remain virtually unchanged from four years ago. But if we've learned anything this year, surely it's that labels are overrated. Those same polls find that more and more self-described conservatives no longer consider themselves Republicans. Americans now say they favor government doing more (51 percent), not less (43) -- an 11-point swing since 2004 -- and they still overwhelmingly reject the Iraq war.


On the idea that McCain made the 2008 election a referendum on conservatism, here's what I wrote on 10/24/08:

John McCain is doing what no progressive political leader has been able to do in at least a generation, if not more: He's creating a New Deal mandate for the next president, should that next president be Barack Obama...[McCain] has polarized the argument and turned the election into a referendum on the economic Darwinism of the conservative movement...He is framing the choice as one between a Republican presidency to the right of Ronald Reagan on economics or a Democratic presidency to the left of Franklin Roosevelt on economics - and if Obama wins, he will have as powerful an economic mandate as FDR received in the 1932 landslide election, because the voting public will be expecting - no, demanding - far-reaching economic change.

Here's the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne on 10/31/08, titled "Referendum on Trickle-Down":

Economic populism is thriving right now, and if Obama wins, his election would not simply be a non-ideological verdict against the status quo. It would be a clear repudiation of conservative economic ideas and McCain's claim that a more egalitarian approach to growth constitutes "socialism." McCain's attacks on Obama's thinking have been so forceful and direct that they require this election to be seen as a referendum that will settle a long-running philosophical argument.


On the "Go Big" idea, here's what I wrote on 11/7/08:

The election became a choice between continued conservative rule and a progressive agenda as far-reaching as the current crises...Obama rose on a promise to eschew triangulation -- and he won because America realized invertebracy and sail trimming will not solve problems. Voters rejected Clinton-style incrementalism in the primary, then scorned conservatism in the general election, meaning Democrats' best response to Bill McKay's "what do we do now?" question is a two-word answer: Go big.

Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly now points out that Paul Krugman, Dionne and even Fareed Zakaria (!) have subsequently said exactly the same thing.


In calling for an Obama administration to be bold and progressive in the FDR mold, here's the last line of my column on 10/31/08:

[Obama will have] the very mandate for "direct, vigorous action" Roosevelt described in his 1933 inaugural address. Should a President Obama try to capitalize on it, he will have nothing to fear but fear itself.

[Obama] has the political mandate; he has good economics on his side. You might say that the only thing he has to fear is fear itself.

Now, I point all this out not to pat myself on the back for (nor lament) writing columns that were later parroted by other columnists, sans acknowledgment. The fact is, I can't claim any kind of exclusive ownership over my columns' message because they only echo what so many of us have been saying for so long now. And even in the Jayson Blair era, I tend not to ascribe bad faith to fellow progressives, and instead subscribe to the "great minds think alike" principle that says like-minded people can honestly (ie. not plagiaristically) arrive at the same conclusions.

And that's the whole point here. Though the Braindead Megaphone (as George Saunders calls it) may be telling us that Obama's election proves America is more conservative than ever and that therefore he must govern like a Rockefeller Republican, there are an increasing number of Establishment voices saying what we, the progressive movement, have been saying for a while now: That this is a progressive country in need of a boldly progressive president. And I say the more voices that chime in and make that point, the better.