THE mastermind of Bill Clinton’s rise from being just another shady bubba in a Southern governor’s mansion to the man sworn in as 42nd President of the United States says he’s “scared to death” his beloved Democratic Party might be on the verge of becoming an unelectable rabble of terrifying crackpots. If you balked at the word becoming, you get why James Carville’s intervention in the post-Iowa fight for “mainstream” status should be seen as tactical rather than ex-tempore. The Democrats jumped off the verge of normal and became terrifying crackpots a long time ago. Not since Clinton and the then relatively conventional Al Gore left office in 2001 has the party been even remotely connected to average Americans. Carville is no dilettante on the meaner streets of US politics. The “Ragin’ Cajun” not only strategised Clinton into the Oval Office; he has also overseen a number of other campaigns – both for gubernatorial candidates in the United States and for parties in Israel, Britain and Canada. He is a smart operator. By distancing the remnants of working class and centrist Democrats from Bernie Sanders and The New York Times, Carville is attempting to disguise the other leading contenders to take on Donald Trump as culturally grounded and politically orthodox.
But they’re not. All of the remaining primaries candidates – with the exception of Tulsi Gabbard – are some or all of the following things: literal socialists, cultural extremists, conspiracy theorists and nanny-stater cranks. The big-name non-contenders – abecedarians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and old donkeys like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Jerry Nadler – are even worse. This is what happens when a party is captured by special interest extortionists who deftly use like-minded activists in the media to create and re-create at will the definition of mainstream.
Where was Carville when Hillary Clinton was accusing Gabbard of being run by Moscow? Where was he when the entire Democratic establishment was pushing the Steele Dossier and the Russia collusion hoax? The Louisiana reality whisperer was missing in action. He gave the crazies their head believing Russia (then Ukraine) could pay big dividends. Three years of insanity from ‘mainstream’ Democrats did nothing but encourage the Sanders insurgents. If Donald Trump really is the criminal, racist Hitler that party elders made him out to be, why would the Bernie crowd behave any differently now? Their radicalism isn’t an outlier phenomenon. It’s long-sanctioned boilerplate. Coincidentally or not, Carville’s remarks hit the airwaves on the same weekend as the Washington Post Editorial Board published a surprisingly accurate insistence that Bernie Sanders is not the only hard-core socialist 2020 contender. “In fact, every major Democratic candidate is running on an agenda to the left of Mr. Obama’s,” it helpfully points out. What seem like competing interpretations are actuated by the same agenda: to marginalise Sanders and convince his supporters to vote for anybody else. Carville does so by appealing to registered Democrats who might be tempted to see the Vermont senator as the challenger with all the momentum, the man of the hour. The Washington Post, on the other hand, wants them to see Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and even Joe Biden as respectable radical alternatives.
Some sanity is just not coming back
It was the connection to working-class Americans that preserved traces of normality in Democratic thinking from the last days of the Kennedy-Johnson period through to the 1970s and 80s. Those men cultivated the old patriotic labour vote with reverence. It’s hard to imagine any contemporary Democrat fostering the loyalty of coal miners as much as the Kennedys did. Those tough West Virginians and East Kentuckians knew the Boston brothers were rich and their hands uncalloused but they respected them for turning up in person. By the 1990s, the relationship with the working-class was over. The original insurgent, Eugene McCarthy, endorsed Ronald Reagan in 1980. Clinton and Gore could flatter a factory audience when they had to but nobody believed they made policy with blue-collars in mind. Blue dresses maybe.
Carville’s famous bullet-point set the tone for the Clinton administration and was the next best thing: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Barack Obama and Joe Biden sent even that gem to the Smithsonian. They boasted about destroying the coal industry on behalf of urban climate worriers. Factory work was no good either. “Some jobs are just not coming back,” President Obama explained (his mellifluous voice unshaken by emotion). What is genuinely new about the skittish cop/calm cop routine of Carville and the Post is its frank admission that the party of the Kennedys and Tip O’Neill – even of Jimmy Carter and Gary Hart – is dead. Still dead, to be more exact (like Generalissimo Francisco Franco), and it’s never coming back. The more conventional election-year ploy is to claim the modern GOP is extreme and the Democrats are a moral constant. The Trump economy, the President’s unexpected routing of Deep State holdovers minding the fort for a friendly ‘progressive’ and Joe Biden’s primaries implosion have smoked out the truth. Donald Trump has changed everything.