Dems need a liberal Reagan

The union-busting attack that has now begun, financed and orchestrated by ultraconservative business interests and hyperpartisan Republicans and cloaked by the masquerade of deficit reduction, has finally begun to rouse the widely mocked and largely depressed Democrats.

The attack against labor is an attempt to destroy the Democratic Party. It may well succeed unless Democrats learn how to fight back, which has not been their strong suit during the Obama years, which is why Democrats lost in a landslide in 2010.

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Democrats desperately need a progressive version of Ronald Reagan, who stood for his own high principles and battled from the wilderness of 1976 to the presidency in 1980.

Reagan was what national Democrats lack, a conviction politician who was reverent toward his base, firm in his worldview and cogent in his narrative about America.

Soon I will write about the coming battle in cable television between MSNBC and Current TV, led by Al Gore, which recently hired Keith Olbermann. This battle will be one forum for what could become a revival of the progressive populist movement in America.

This movement is largely silent in our debates today but is stirring beneath the surface and roused in response to a national debate that has moved so far to the right that the destruction of the Democratic Party in 2012, and the destruction of progressive programs enacted over generations, are now possible outcomes.

A progressive Democratic Reagan would champion a narrative about America that opposes Republicans who threaten a government shutdown over the principle of attacking programs that create jobs when one-fifth of the nation faces depression-level joblessness, and countless other Americans face recession-level hardship.

Herbert Hoover tried this after 1929. FDR, intimidated by the conservative coalition of his time, cut spending in 1937 in what he later considered his great mistake, which sank the nation back into the jobless abyss.

A Democratic Reagan would deplore the war against workers, the war against jobs programs and the war against fairness that has caused the most extreme income disparities in history, real wages that have declined for decades, millions of jobs lost to low-wage nations, and a deficit created not by high wages or the greedy poor but by special interests that control spending and tax policies in Washington.

The president could have mobilized his base in 2009 and 2010. He did not. His opponents rallied their base, raised their money, promoted their narrative, organized their rallies, supported their media, brought out their voters, and won their landslide in 2010.

A Democratic Reagan would tell a story about America that champions workers and jobs, and take his case to the heartland. A Democratic Reagan would champion equal opportunity and pay equity for women, a fair deal for small business and entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who create real wealth earned by results that creates new jobs with good wages on American soil.

A Democratic Reagan would call to the conscience of the nation to help the poor who are freezing, and those who are jobless for 99 weeks, and not let them disappear in their pain like prisoners in Pinochet's Chile and Brezhnev's Gulag.

A Democratic Reagan would tell a story about America in which the real Tea Partiers fought for a nation in which we are in this together, not a nation that rewards the lords who surrounded the king, or the profiteers who made their fortunes from favors granted by the British crown in 1776. 

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.