Penn: Democrats Must Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

One happy result of the way the primaries came out is that Mark Penn is writing op-eds in The Financial Times rather than advising the next President of the United States:

The history of 1992 contains a clear warning that a centre-left coalition can fall apart quickly if the policies are seen as too far left. In 1993, Mr Clinton raised taxes on the wealthy, adopted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military, proposed and lost universal healthcare and adopted gun safety measures, banning assault rifles.

To just repeat what I said in response to Doug Schoen’s similar argument, the real thing that the next administration needs to do is to avoid failure. In particular, the country clearly faces a serious economic challenge. What the next administration needs — and what the next congress needs — is policies that will work to restore prosperity. If the administration signs into law a recovery program that, whether popular or not at the time, delivers the goods in terms of restoring prosperity, then the president and the congress will be in good shape politically. By contrast, if they can’t do so, they’ll suffer. Similarly, a health reform plan that works will be rewarded. That’s the real issue here — not policies that “are seen as too far left” or policies that are seen as too far right, but policies that are seen as failing.

Beyond that, I think facile analogies to 1992 should be rejected. In 1992, the Democrats lost 9 seats in the House of Representatives, there was no change in the composition of the Senate, and Bill Clinton got 43 percent of the popular vote. It was an anti-establishment result, but also an equivocal one — reflecting the reality of over a decade of divided government. Now we’re looking toward an unambiguous public desire to put the fate of the nation in the hands of progressives. The challenge they face is to take responsibility for the governance of the nation find policies that are equal to the size of national challenges, not to shrink from that duty by shying away from any sign of potential controversy.