Jack Markell playing into Heritage Foundation frames, undermining Democratic values for the benefit of Politico. It is just sad.
|Up next for Obama: A looming Democratic divide
By: Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman
January 18, 2013 04:45 AM EST
|As President Barack Obama approaches his second inaugural on Monday, he presides over a party that has largely papered over its divisions for the past four years thanks to the president’s commanding popularity.
But almost as soon as the echo of Obama’s inaugural address fades and he instantly becomes a lame duck, Democrats are going to have to face a central and unresolved question about their political identity: Will they become a center-left, DLC-by-a-different-name party or return to a populist, left-leaning approach that mirrors their electoral coalition?
An immediate answer may come in the entitlement debate and whether Obama and congressional Democrats will agree to any Social Security or Medicare benefit cuts to achieve deficit reduction, said a wide-ranging group of Democratic elected officials and strategists.
“In the short term that’s the flash point,” said longtime Democratic consultant Paul Begala.
But as moderate Republicans become an ever rarer breed and more centrists find a home in the Democratic coalition, the party also must reconcile exactly who they are on a broader panoply of economic issues including Wall Street regulation and public employees. As 2016 grows nearer, and their presidential hopefuls begin openly maneuvering, Democrats must decide whether they want to be principally known as the party of Rahm Emanuel or the party of Elizabeth Warren.
“One of the challenges is how we continue to do the right thing while working with a wide coalition of people, both workers and business,” said Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
For decades, it was culture that divided Democrats internally as they scrambled to fend off GOP charges of extremism on issues ranging from race to gender to gay rights. But thanks toBill Clinton nudging the party on matters like welfare reform and to broader cultural shifts in the country, there’s now a consensus on social issues: Democrats overwhelmingly are in agreement on abortion rights, same-sex marriage and immigration reform. And while there may be tensions within the party’s ranks on Capitol Hill on gun control, there’s wide and deep consensus on the issue in statehouses and among the grass roots.
It’s not so much Obama’s policy choices that have reshaped the party as much as it is the rise of the Obama coalition — a largely tolerant amalgam of youth, minorities and women. It’s unthinkable, for example, that any serious Democratic White House contender in 2016 would not toe the party line on such issues. The Republicans are now the ones confronting internal divisions on such cultural matters as they contend with how to appeal to a rapidly changing country.
“The center has moved,” said veteran Democratic strategist Mandy Grunwald.
For Democrats, the gulf is over fiscal and class issues, between their populists and their elites on how to appeal to a broad group of voters while retaining their traditional commitment to those in need. In other words, finding a way forward that represents the interest of their supporters making six (or seven) figures in places like McLean, Va., and Bryn Mawr, Pa., while staying true to middle-class backers in La Crosse, Wis., and doing right by the poor of Albuquerque and Philadelphia.
“The real struggle within the Democratic Party is where you stand on income inequality and whether the government needs to be a part of fixing that problem,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “The demographics that the Democratic Party must attract are the people who need responsive government.”
Moderate Democrats counter that center-versus-left formulations are outdated — while making an emphatic case for pragmatism.
“I know what has been incredibly successful for the party and country: the banner of reform and change,” said Emanuel, adding that there is “no part of the budget that’s immune to reform and change” so long as Democrats don’t abandon their traditional “mission.”
How exactly that mission is defined promises to shape the coming debate over Social Security and Medicare.
The differences in the Democratic coalition are razor sharp. Take the question of whether Obama and Congress should consider raising the eligibility age for future Medicare recipients as a way to find savings.
“That stuff you debate out,” said Emanuel, adding: “I don’t think raising the age of Medicare to 67 is a centrist or a liberal idea.”
But to a progressive stalwart like Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) such an idea isn’t just ill-considered — it’s “morally reprehensible.”
“That is such a Washington, Heritage Foundation construction,” Brown said of raising the eligibility age.
Reminded that some of his own colleagues are open to it, he shot back: “They’re wrong.”
And he wondered, speaking of both Democratic and Republican advocates of such reform, “Do they not ever talk to factory workers, construction workers, people that work in diners?”
Such talk exasperates centrist Democrats like Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a second-termer who has taken the helm of the National Governors Association.
“I hope we’re the party of math,” said Markell, saying of the eventual costs of Medicare and Social Security: “It doesn’t make any sense to put our head in the sand on this issue.”
The Delawarean called reflexive opposition to structural reform in New Deal and Great Society programs is short-sighted.
All due respect Jack, but “the math” favors Democrats when they act like Democrats.