NPR's Diane Rehm show on Thursday took up the cause of the new group "No Labels," inviting one of its founders, former Clinton aide Jon Cowan, in for a panel with right-leaning New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, former GOP Rep. Mickey Edwards (now a centrist railing against political parties in general), and Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne. Dionne applauded the "No Labels" niceties about changing the tone and "fact-based" debates, but challenged Cowan's grip on facts:
John, in his discussion, gave away what I find troubling here. He used the word “far left.” I challenge him to show me where that “far left” is. I’d love to know where that is. I think the basic difficulty I have with his group arises from the false equivalence they’re making between our current left and our current right.
The truth is the American Right has moved much farther from anything that can fairly be called the center that the left has. I mean, in the column, I say, even socialists – real socialists, people who call themselves socialists – they’re not for nationalizing industry any more, they’re for the market. There is no far left.
Dionne came back to his point about "false equivalence" several times during the hour. But it seems like he's not even reading his fellow Posties on the current policy wars, since Ezra Klein boasted the Republicans may have just signed "the death warrant for private insurers" and cleared a path for a "very constitutional" socialist single-payer system. How is it that socialists aren't pushing for industries being nationalized any more? Even inside the walls of The Washington Post? Dionne also failed to locate socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders pushing for single-payer health care. Dionne needs some "fact-based" reporting.
Dionne's Post column on Thursday said all of this -- with a little less bravado than he showed on public radio, where he was preaching to the far-left choir:
The basic difficulty arises from a false equivalence they make between our current "left" and our current "right." The truth is that the American right is much farther from anything that can fairly be described as "the center" than is the left.
Indeed, there is no far left to speak of anymore. Even among socialists -- I'm talking about real ones -- almost all now acknowledge the benefits of markets, no longer propose state ownership of the means of production, and accept the inevitability of inequalities in wealth and income. What they oppose is the rise of extreme inequalities that are antithetical to both a healthy democracy and a healthy market economy.
In the meantime, large parts of the right have moved to positions that Ronald Reagan didn't dare take, or abandoned in the name of realism: voucherizing Medicare, partially privatizing Social Security, insisting that the New Deal represented an unconstitutional power grab, and eviscerating inheritance taxes and progressive income taxes.
So successful has the right been in dragooning the discourse that President Obama's health care plan, a rewrite of middle-of-the-road Republican ideas from 15 years ago, is condemned as radical. His overall program and his rhetoric are more restrained than FDR's, Harry Truman's or LBJ's.
Once again, how can E. J. Dionne mangle history by implying that Ronald Reagan -- of the Kemp-Roth tax cuts "for the rich" and the 1986 tax reform -- didn't favor "eviscerating" progressive income taxes? Or that Reagan didn't feel the New Deal was a liberal power grab? The liberal media spent the Reagan years presenting Reagan as an extremist, but now that he's gone, he's somehow become an avuncular squish. Dionne also presented "staunch conservative" David Frum as being cast out by the far right:
Moderation, very much alive on the center-left and among Democrats, is so dead in the Republican Party and on the right that even a staunch conservative such as David Frum, a former George W. Bush speechwriter and No Labels co-founder, is an apostate. He was too quick to raise questions about Sarah Palin's qualifications and dares to think that Republicans need to get serious about problems such as health care.
The No Labelers can yet be a constructive force if they remind us of how extreme the right has become and help broker an alliance between the center and the left, the only coalition that can realistically stop an ever more zealous brand of conservatism.