Joan Walsh has an excellent review in Salon of a new Matt Bai book about the Democratic Party. It’s worth reading whether or not you’re interested in the book. Walsh’s analysis of recent political history is spot on. Especially welcome is her refutation of the old “Democrats lose because they lack ideas” canard. Leaving aside that progressives have plenty of ideas, Walsh also nails the corollary, that Republicans succeeded merely on the strength of their own positive programs:
But for all its love of big bold ideas, “The Argument” is premised on a big, bold idea that’s simply wrong: that Republicans seized and held power in the Nixon-Reagan-Bush I generation by selling Americans on a positive platform of new programs for national renewal, while Democrats, by contrast, are now winning merely by not losing, bashing Bush for wrecking the country while never explaining to voters what they’d do instead.
I wanted to agree with Bai, at times — I love big, bold ideas, really I do. But I think the role of big, new ideas in political realignments is overrated. Bai’s book is flawed by his failure to grapple with the negativity, lo, the hatred behind the Republican revolution of the ’70s and ’80s, some of which is still politically operative today. Does he really think Reagan rode to power on the Laffer curve, not by bashing Cadillac-driving welfare queens, scruffy war protesters and big bad government? Both Nixon and Reagan (George Bush I was merely Reagan’s long tail) were the political beneficiaries of a resentful, sometimes racist reaction to the perceived excesses of the 1960s and ’70s, associated with the Democrats, far more than they were the avatars of a wildly popular new way of running the country.
That’s just one nugget in a story that is full of them. Read the whole thing.