Bob Ehrlich: Democrats' Lurch to the Left Is Unprecedented


For most of the 20th century (and the first decade of the 21st) both major political parties engaged in battles “between the 20s.”

You know the phrase — where most plays from scrimmage are run in a typical football game. Candidates who possessed more extreme ideological positions typically picked up and went their own way (think Henry Wallace and Strom Thurmond in 1948, George Wallace in 1968, Ralph Nader in 2000).

The primary reason why both established parties could avoid “red zone” (closer to the end zone) candidates is clear: Most of their respective bases would not stand for it.

Think about that last statement for a second. Even the most ideological candidates of the post-war era never dared question the basic assumptions (values) undergirding the American experience. To boot, when the voting public came to believe — rightly or wrongly — a particular candidate was too extreme, that candidate lost big (see Barry Goldwater in 1964 and George McGovern in 1972).

Today this history lesson is butting up against the reality of an ascendant (some would say dominant) progressive influence within the Democratic party. You want to talk red-zone offense, well … take a quick glance at a typical Democratic party presidential debate. There you will find regular offerings of positions — foreign and domestic — that only a few precious years ago would have been anathema to major-party presidential candidates.

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A good starting point is religious belief. For two centuries, a far less secular culture believed that religious practice constituted highly protected speech, despite occasional outlier lawsuits from the likes of the ACLU.

Not so much today, when just about every religious tradition and practice that contravenes progressive positions is labeled a “hate crime”; when the laws of the organized church are simply dismissed as a cover for discrimination against the no-judgment “values” of the new left.

“American nationalism,” a newly-minted pejorative on the left, is another good example. Until very recently, blatant pro-Americanism was seen as a political asset. (Personally, I plead guilty — I root for America to win every Olympic medal, to lead the space race, to triumph over every despotic regime.)

Indeed, celebrations of all that is good and exceptional about America used to be blessed by both political parties. As I’ve written in previous columns, these celebrations of American successes were never intended to erase or excuse America’s sins (slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination) — far from it. Most people believe America’s shortcomings can and should be illuminated, the better that future stains can be avoided. But most adult Americans are also able to calibrate the shortcomings and the glories of America — an art that seems lost on those who work backward from the conclusion that America is evil and today seek to destroy parts of our history that are inappropriately un-woke.

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Ironically, these are the same folks who so easily label patriotic, Trump-friendly deplorables as “fascists.”

Perhaps the most perplexing narrative from the new progressivism is the simultaneous call for open borders and the denigration of the American blue-collar worker. Economics 101 teaches that an influx of cheap, illegal labor into local labor markets disproportionally hurts low- and semi-skilled American workers. In fact, it freezes their progression from working class to middle class dead in its tracks. Yet, progressives insist on inviting ever more unskilled workers to our shores — and our voting booths.

Moreover, the newfound animosity for even clean-burning fossil fuels (natural gas) has the likes of plain ole “Amtrak Joe” repeating Hillary Clinton’s infamous dismissal of high-paying energy jobs in favor of a quixotic “Green New Deal.” No wonder Western Pennsylvania and other energy-rich, rebounding regions in the Midwest are running to Trump’s call for “American energy independence.” As for the opposition, is this really the same group that promised to listen and learn more about working-class voters after getting hammered in deplorable strongholds in 2016?

The intellectual arrogance of the campus left (so well documented by Democratic witnesses during the recent impeachment circus) may be the most subtle of the recent progressive drives into the red zone.

In retrospect, Hillary Clinton did everybody a big favor four years ago. Her “basket of deplorables” line both accurately captured the left’s contempt for middle America and provided those same voters with a handy reminder of how so many lefty intellectuals view those who still work with their hands.

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One surmises that such condescension, often not so clearly stated, has always been the dominant view from within the ivory tower — it was just covered up when previous generations of deplorables constituted the core of the Democrats’ New Deal coalition.

How interesting that the alleged elitist empathy that kept FDR’s coalition together for decades has now morphed into an unhinged resentment of those same voters during the Trump era. A further question arises: What genius told the elitists that the best way to save or rehabilitate the great unwashed between the coasts was to repeatedly insult them and take their jobs? Talk about a game-changing fumble!

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Robert Ehrlich is a former governor of Maryland as well as a former U.S. congressman and state legislator. He is the author of “Bet You Didn’t See That One Coming: Obama, Trump, and the End of Washington’s Regular Order,” in addition to “Turn This Car Around,” “America: Hope for Change" and “Turning Point.” Ehrlich is currently a counsel at the firm of King & Spalding in Washington, D.C.