The lost Democrats

It would, in fact, be a gross exaggeration to call the Democrats left-wing. The Democratic Party is, vaguely, a pro-business, pro-free-trade, socially moderate, hawkish entity. In any European country, they would be the right-wingers in an uneasy coalition with the mainstream center-right party. The British Conservative Party of half a century ago under the leadership of the High Tory Harold Macmillan looks Stalinist in comparison with today’s Democrats. When my Marxist friends told me that from their perspective the only meaningful difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was that the former was a credible opponent of free trade, they were on to something.

Insofar as it has stood for anything in my lifetime, the Democratic Party has defined itself against its opponents. When George W. Bush was president, the war in Iraq was bad and so were the unconstitutional Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay prison, and the lame aesthetics of the ’60s anti-war movement were due for a revival. When President Obama and his first secretary of state made a hash of Libya, there was virtually no outcry from within the ranks of his party; the ill-fated invasion was not a wrong-headed and arbitrary exercise of presidential authority but a prudent example of statesmanship by a credible tough-minded intellect firmly ensconced in the tradition of foreign policy realism. (Republicans did not, to their credit, change their tune: Rather than suggest that overthrowing Moammar Gadhafi was a bad idea, they trivialized the murders of American diplomatic personnel with conspiracy theories. Clearly consistency for its own sake has its limits.)