Are liberals hopeless suckers?
You better believe it.
Back in 1997 and 1998, as the presidential contenders were readying their engines, all Democrats pretty much realized that the nomination was Al Gore’s to lose. But liberals were discomfited by Gore’s centrism and casting about for some standard-bearer. Dick Gephardt decided he was that man.
Eventually, Gephardt decided that the Gore juggernaut could not be stopped and he stepped aside and endorsed Gore. But until then he pitched himself as the real Democrat, the Democrat who wasn’t afraid to admit he was a Democrat (as Jim Fallows put it in this article), the Dem who still believed in the old time New Deal religion. Throughout the latter years of the second Clinton administration, looking toward the 2000 primaries, Gephardt consistently positioned himself as the leader of the party’s liberals — and signaled his stance by bucking the administration on some key votes.
I had just started working at the American Prospect — the publication of liberal Democrats — at the time and people had totally taken the bait.
Now, we’re getting ready for 2004 and the lay of the land looks a little different. Gore wants to run again. Maybe Tom Daschle (though TPM feels confident this will never happen). And others. Now, Gephardt has decided he’s going to run to the right of everyone else, as the one who doesn’t believe in the same old tax and spend, who doesn’t want to revisit the Bush tax cut, and so forth.
There are two possible explanations here. Either the Democratic party has lurched hard to the left in the last four years or Gephardt is a shameless opportunist…
And they say Bill Clinton’s slick willie? That Al Gore’s constantly reinventing himself?