The old Bill Clinton-style Democrats are starting to re-emerge
Democrats have been out in the wilderness for a while now, and, most visibly, they've mostly thrown tantrums. Antifa, the snowflakes on campus, and unpopular causes such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; the hypocritical #MeToo movement; Russia, Russia, Russia; impeaching Trump; grown men in the little girls' room; and gun control pretty well have defined them. It's been a lot of extremist positioning, and it hasn't been good to them.
It's natural to wonder if they have a future at all, given that they have a bad split between the extremist factions of the Bernie Sanders camp and the far leftists of the Hillary Clinton camp, and they don't seem to stand for anything serious. Will they really keep spinning farther into fringe causes? As J.R. Dunn noted in a brilliant piece in American Thinker here, their lunatic turn is precisely because they are falling apart.
This is why the emergence of some of the old retreads from the Clinton administration (Bill, not Hillary) is so interesting. Yesterday, Larry Summers, Clinton's former treasury secretary, wrote about the importance of a strong dollar, an old mantra from the Clinton era, first introduced by treasury secretary Robert Rubin. The idea was to get foreigners to buy U.S. debt issuance so Clinton could keep spending, but it also attracted quite a bit of foreign investment and encouraged savings at home, which was doubly buttressed by free trade.
Sounding sensible, Summers writes:
The confidence of global markets is much easier to maintain than to regain. Currency markets are sending a signal that the US is not on a healthy path. Its [sic] time for the United States to strengthen the strong fundamentals on which a strong dollar and healthy economy depends [sic].
His piece follows Paul Krugman's fierce condemnation of tariffs being proposed by the Trump administration. Krugman these days is known as an unpleasant left-wing pundit, but back during the Clinton era, he was one of the strongest voices in favor of free trade, and indeed the work he did in his academic career that got him his Nobel Prize in economics was on free trade. So his loud re-emergence to condemn Trump's tariffs (which free trade gets rid of) brings him in line with the Clinton era of economic thinking, when he first got famous.
After starting his column with weird insults against President Trump, Krugman sensibly writes this:
Trade isn't a zero-sum game: it raises the productivity and wealth of the world economy. To take a not at all random example, it makes a lot of sense to produce aluminum, a process that uses vast amounts of electricity, in countries like Canada, which have abundant hydropower. So the U.S. gains from importing Canadian aluminum, whether or not we run a trade deficit with Canada. (As it happens, we don't, but that's pretty much beside the point.)
These are both fairly strong free-market positions, something Democrats have never been associated with, at least not until the era of Clinton, with "the era of big government is over." It suggests a possible shift in the wind for the Democrats. (And it's problematic ideologically for Republicans, who have held the free market banner for decades.) These free trade and strong dollar ideas don't represent all free-market ideas, but they represent the ones Clinton supported, and that sounds like a shift, given the hostility to all markets that has characterized Democrats since House speaker Nancy Pelosi took the gavel in 2006.
Now take these ideas and combine them with the pattern of low-key, non-firebrand Democrats who are winning (think Doug Jones, who beat Roy Moore in Alabama), and it starts to look as though the path to victory for Democrats is not through all the insane chaos they have been propagating, but through the Bill Clinton model to victory, coming across as moderate Democrats and promoting some free trade ideas. Politics-wise, it would fit the U.S. pattern of elections – just as Reagan followed the extreme misery of Jimmy Carter, and then Bill Clinton emerged to reclaim ground for the Democrats, we now have Trump following the economic failure of Barack Obama, and a sort of Bill Clinton-like moderation of the party line emerging.
There's one missing thing here: leadership. Unless the Democrats get any, who can follow this line, they can look forward to a long extended Trump administration and then his successor. Free markets are an unlikely issue for Democrats to beat Trump at, but Trump has created a bit of an opening for them (and I wish he'd close it by dropping the talk of tariffs) in this era. Krugman and Summers starting to show up may be a sign that the coast is clear for such a leader if the party can drop its lunatic causes as a strategy. These intellectuals (and the victories of low-key, presumably moderate Democrats) may be wind at the back of Democrats toward just such a shift.