I agree with most of what Paul Starr said in his piece about New Democrats which I’m one philosophically and what part of the Democratic Party I’m from and how New Democrats have effected the Democratic Party. My only differences would be I don’t know how new we are since we’ve really been around at least going back to the Kennedy Administration in the early 1960s with Jack Kennedy who would definitely be a New Democrat today. And then came back to power in the White House with the Carter-Mondale Administration in the late 1970s with Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. And of course Bill Clinton and Al Gore in the early 1990s.
And my only other difference being with Paul Starr and here is where I’ll make my argument about the New Democrats has to do with this notion that New Democrats are “moderate or center-right”. No we are not, we put center-left back in the Democratic Party with a liberal flavor. Pre-1993 or so Democrats “were seen as tax and spend, soft on crime, soft on defense, anti-personal responsibility, Uncle Sam big federal government know best all the time. Americans are too stupid and can’t be trusted with their own lives”. We looked like European social democrats or Socialists even putting all of our faith in the state over the individual to create a fair society.
Democrats until the early 1990s whether this was fair or not and I believe a lot of it was fair were seen as big government statists even in a democratic sense. The way the far-left of the party actually is in reality then and today. The New Democrats led by the Democratic Leadership Council and others started changing that right after the Mondale landslide presidential loss in 1984 and started working on an agenda that would counter the Reagan Revolution of the early 1980s. That moved us ahead of the New Deal of the 1930s and the Great Society of the 1960s.
This New Democratic agenda wasn’t anti-government, but moved us away from big government and into an era that saw government as one tool that could be used to empower people who needed it to get the tools that they needed to live in freedom and live a self-sufficient life and off of public assistance. By focusing on education, job training, vocational training, infrastructure especially in underdeveloped areas. Empowering the non-profits to help people in need and looking for the states and localities and getting their input to empower people who are in poverty or struggling working class.
When Bill Clinton becomes President in 1993 Democrats were seen as the “tax and spend fiscally irresponsible soft on defense and crime party”. As well as being “soft on welfare”. To twenty years later we now especially the New Democrats are beating Republicans on all of those issues. To the point that the George McGovern or MSNBC/The Nation social democratic wing of the party badly dislikes if not hates the New Democrats for taking over the party and badly want to reclaim the Democratic Party and take us back to the late 1960s and 1970s where Democrats used to carry all of those stereotypes.