Heading into this week’s Democratic National Convention, the party knows the country isn’t really better off than it was four years ago. They also know that President Obama can’t count on a repeat of the wave of messianic expectations that swept him into office in 2008. But they seem united on one proposition: the Republicans and their ideas for changing Washington must be stopped. Though most of those who gather in Charlotte dub themselves “progressives,” that word, which once evoked the liberal call to transform America into a more egalitarian society, now means something very different. In 2012, to be a progressive means above all to be steadfast in favor of maintaining the status quo on a wide range of issues. It is a credo of not of progress but merely in defense of the power of the state that generations of Democratic politicians have built.
The best of example of this came over the weekend as Vice President Biden, whose value as the administration’s rabid attack dog has never been more apparent, denounced Republican plans for reforming Medicare so as to enable it to survive despite the overwhelming demographic and budget disaster that looms over it. Biden’s battle cry claiming: “We are for Medicare; they are for Vouchercare,” contained no nuances about dealing with problems. Indeed, Biden, citing his own mother’s experience, gave a straightforward pitch for paternalistic government in which he said older Americans were too befuddled to make their own choices and needed to be told what to do by Washington.
Biden’s speech was a shameless partisan distortion of the plan put forward by Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, who seeks a transition that will not change Medicare for anyone current receiving it. This is in keeping with the “pants on fire” style of Democratic campaign rhetoric we’ve been hearing lately. But it is also indicative of a belief that nothing, not even the impending collapse of these entitlement programs ought to be allowed to justify new ideas about government.
This isn’t the only important theme of the week for Democrats. We will hear a great deal about the “war on women” that Democrats falsely claim Republicans are waging. But at the core of that is another defense of big government and entitlements such as the right to free contraceptives, for which poster child Sandra Fluke will advocate again this week.
To the extent that we will hear new ideas this week about support for the environment or fear of global warming, they will all revolve around greater government involvement in the economy via cap and trade or restrictions on development of resources. At their core they are all about defense of an ever-expanding federal bureaucracy that must be fed by more taxes to pay for more spending.
If the Democrats can get more of the electorate to fear Republican reforms like Paul Ryan’s plan or to buy into the myth of a war on women, they may win. But if they do, it will be accomplished by a campaign oriented solely toward keep things as they are. We’ve come a long way from the hope and change of 2008.