Salon: Opinion: Mike Conrad: America’s Anti-Liberal Myth: Why Democrats Learned The Wrong Lesson From 1984
Just correct some of the things that Mike Conrad said. Walter Mondale lost badly in 1984 to Ronald Reagan winning just one state and just over forty-percent of the popular vote not because he was seen as too liberal or too Far-Left. But because he was President Jimmy Carter’s Vice President. President Carter if you remember back in 84 and before that was one of the most unpopular president’s in at least modern American history. 1984, after some really bad economic times in the late 1970s and early 80s, was a year when the American economy started bouncing back. Even with the debt and deficits going up, but people were going back to work with strong economic growth again.
Which meant President Reagan could point how things are now going well, meaning 1984 and say something to the effect, “its morning in America again. Our long national economic nightmare is finally over. People are going back to work and earning a good living again. With the cost of living going down again. Oh by the way, remember 1978-79 and 80 and President Jimmy Carter? Do you really want to go back to that again? And oh by the way, my opponent Walter Mondale was President Carter’s Vice President.” Fritz Mondale was actually a pretty mainstream progressive to liberal politician. A New Democrat even like Jimmy Carter. And didn’t lose badly because of his own politics. But the politics and political activists of the Far-Left flank of the Democratic Party. That he had to have to work with to have any shot of winning in 1984.
The lesson from 1968 with Hubert Humphrey, 1972 with George McGovern, 1980 with Jimmy Carter, 1984 with Fritz Mondale and 1988 with Mike Dukakis, all presidential elections that the Democratic Party lost in landslides, except for 1968 is that when the Far-Left runs the party and the leadership needs their Far-Left flank to win, Democrats lose. Because there’s a limit to what Americans expect government to do for them. Especially if they have to pay high taxes to pay for it. Americans tend to like having the freedom to manage their own affairs. And don’t want their government taxing them to the point that their individual decision-making would no longer be an option for them. Because now government is going to do that for them.
Liberalism didn’t lose in 84, but socialism did to the point that Democratic Party regrouped and reformed its message especially economic message. And instead of talking about a government that taxes enough and big enough to take care of everyone, especially the poor, that the message became about how can government help people help themselves. This started in 1988 and I know Governor Mike Dukakis lost forty states, but that had to do with the fact that he wouldn’t defend himself against clear bogus charges from the Bush Campaign. Not because of his message, because his message was about opportunity and freedom. The man ran on Welfare to Work in 1988.
And by 1992 the Democratic economic message was the Opportunity Society with Bill Clinton. Using government not to try to take care of everyone and making dependents of everyone, but using government to empower people in need to help everyone who needed it. Governor Clinton said that Welfare shouldn’t be free. But an investment in human capital and potential. That Welfare should help people in need pay their short-term bills. But help them get on their feet so they can pay their bills themselves with a good job. Infrastructure, education, job training, things that lead to opportunity for people to get the freedom to take care of themselves and manage their own lives. Classical American liberal values of opportunity built around education and work that leads to freedom.
Democrats win when they talk about education, job training, infrastructure, opportunity with the goal in mind to empower people to be able to live in freedom. And paying for these things in a fiscally responsible way that doesn’t hurt anyone especially middle class and low-income Americans. We lose when we don’t respect hard-working Americans tax dollars. Or when we put down people for being successful and wealthy. As if owning your own business and being able to put money away for the future is a bad thing. Or run on big government with all sorts of new programs designed to take care of people so they don’t have to take care of themselves. These are the lessons of 1984, if you want to pick one year. But 68, 72, 80 and 88 would also be good years to choose as well.