There are parts of this Michael Lind article that make sense. Of course, Lind overdoes it when he tries to give an entirely ideological explanation for the weakening of center-left parties in Europe and America. Dan is right that it is not enough to say, “The Third Way did it!” and leave it at that. Circumstances specific to each national electorate explain the fortunes of different center-left parties in Europe and America. Still, it is important to acknowledge that center-left parties over the last 20 years followed the advice of “centrists,” won a few elections, but alienated or disappointed many of their reliable constituencies in the process without gaining many loyal new supporters. The size of the GOP win in 1994 was made possible by NAFTA, and the thing fueling general disgust with the Democrats today has been the financial sector bailout as much as anything else. These were hardly great moments in left-liberal or social democratic governance. They were quite plainly the products of a Democratic Party that wanted to show that it was friendly to business and finance. The shift to the “center” that made Democrats competitive in the last 20 years has also created a much more unstable and shaky coalition, and it has been falling apart under the pressure of the recession and slow recovery.
There is something to be said for an argument that rightly identifies the “centrists” in center-left parties as chief contributors to the financial crisis and the political undoing of those parties. Conservatives who look askance at the cozy relationship between Republican office-holders and corporate and financial interests can appreciate that it is the “centrists” in power for the last two decades who bear most of the blame for the public loathing of the parties to which they belong, and they are also the ones who bear most of the blame for the policies that have created our current predicament.
There is also something worth considering in the claim that disillusioned, neglected, abused core constituencies gradually abandon party leaders that cease to represent them and their interests. Faced with the same old Republican leadership that excels at doing just that, we should hope that this is true. Center-left parties’ indifference to the public’s concerns over immigration may not be the main cause of their weakness, but it helps explain how they have been collapsing from France in 2002 to Hungary in the last parliamentary election. While I am guessing he will hang on, Raul Grijalva gave himself a much more competitive race in AZ-07 than he should have ever had by supporting a boycott of Arizona on account of its immigration enforcement law. The Democrats will likely lose PA-11 to a strong restrictionist candidate in northeastern Pennsylvania. Immigration is an issue that has and will continue to divide both parties in the U.S., but to some extent this division is more dangerous for center-left parties because their natural constituencies are so much more adversely affected by large-scale immigration.
We should not forget Gordon Brown’s participation in creating New Labour and serving as Blair’s supposed economics and financial wizard. His tenure as Chancellor was to Blair’s government what Bob Rubin’s turn at the Treasury was to Clinton’s second term. It is hard to separate Brown’s political collapse from the consequences of Britain’s loose monetary policy, housing bubble, overreliance of the government on revenues derived from the financial sector, and the financial crash. Brown’s expertise was suposed to be in economic competence and financial management, and as PM he presided over the disaster that his decisions as Chancellor had helped create. Blair got out just in time avoid taking the blame for his government’s policies. It was Brown’s demonstration of incompetence and the public’s recognition that Brown’s claims of expertise had been nonsense that broke Labour’s seemingly unshakeable grip on power. By the time “bigotgate” came along, Brown was already finished.