Clinton and the Democrats: The Party of Reluctant Retreat

Clinton and the Democrats: The Party of Reluctant Retreat

It’s not just suspense that’s missing from this year’s elections. It’s hope.

Oh, there’s plenty of hope that the Democrats will win—holding the White House, retaking the Hill, wresting control of the national agenda from Newt and Trent and Bob. But there’s precious little hope, even among the Democrats themselves, that they have much of an agenda of their own, or that such agendas as they’ve come up with will really accomplish very much.

The party that once created old age pensions and unemployment insurance, the WPA and the TVA, the Civil Rights Act and the War on Poverty has shrunk itself into the party of V-chips and school uniforms. In part, the modesty of the Democrats’ agenda is simply strategic: they have resurrected themselves not through proposals of their own but largely by opposing Gingrich & Co. They tried proposals of their own in 1993 and 1994, and failed to enact the ones that really addressed the needs of working Americans, health reform in particular. Proposals, it seems—at least, the kind of proposals that defined the party for sixty years—are bad politics.