The Republicans will remain in control even if John Kerry winsby Robert Reich / May 20, 2004 / Leave a comment
Even if John Kerry wins in November, the right will remain in control of America. Democrats have almost no chance of winning back the house or Senate. Most state governorships and legislatures are also in the hands of Republicans, which gives them power to draw the lines of future congressional districts and thereby keep hold of congress. Right-wing conservatives now claim most of America’s airwaves – they are in full command of “talk radio” and “yell television.” They run most Washington think tanks. They inhabit some of the most influential positions on Wall Street and in American corporate boardrooms. Radical conservatives are, in short, America’s new governing elite.
A little over a decade ago, it looked as if Bill Clinton’s New Democrats – the forerunners to Tony Blair’s third wayers – were in control. Although Clinton was elected on a minority of votes cast (Ross Perot took votes away from the first George Bush), once in office he appeared to enhance his standing as a “new kind of Democrat” by eschewing stands associated with the traditional left. He signed Nafta, embraced fiscal austerity and deficit reduction, and called for an end to the dole. It seemed as if a new Democratic era had begun. Democrats controlled both houses of congress. The country seemed solidly behind us.
But within two years, Clinton’s ambitious healthcare plan went down to defeat. In the autumn of 1994, Republicans took over congress. Clinton was re-elected in 1996, but his second term was mired in scandal, and the country appeared to veer to the right. In 2000, with the US enjoying unparalleled prosperity, George W Bush won the presidency. What happened?
We failed because we failed to build a political movement behind us. America’s newly ascendant radical conservatives do have such a movement, which explains their success. They have developed dedicated sources of money and legions of ground troops who not only get out the vote, but also spend the time between elections persuading others to join their ranks. They have devised frames of reference that are used repeatedly in policy debates (among them are: it’s your money, tax and spend, political correctness, class warfare). They have a system for recruiting and electing officials nationwide who share the same worldview and who vote accordingly. And they have a coherent ideology uniting evangelical Christians, blue-collar whites in the south and west, and big business.