How Conservatives Shaped the Democratic Party
Kimberly Phillips-Fein is an American historian. Her primary areas of research concern the role of business in the development of the modern conservative movement in the second half of the 20th century and the role of economic ideas in the rise of conservatism. She has written for publications including the Nation, London Review of Books, New Labor Forum, Baffler, and In These Times, to which she has contributed articles and reviews. Her first book, "Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan," was published in 2009 by W. W. Norton.
Question: How has conservatism shaped the Democratic agenda?
Kim Phillips-Fein: Well, I think that the biggest, deepest impact is really in economic ideas, and there's just a lot -- the kind of old confidence in the idea that the state could, you know, by taking -- the state had the ability to take positive action in order to change economic relationships and create a more equal, fair, just economy. I think that the contemporary Democratic Party, even under Obama, is not committed to that in the same way. And I think one place we really see this actually is with regard to labor unions and the really complete lack of commitment of the Obama administration to passing labor law reform. I think we see it all over, though. I think you can see it in the health care debate, in the way in which what's actually being talked about now is substantially watered down and is quite far from anything like a single-payer program, which might actually -- which many experts think would have the greatest chance of actually delivering on the goal of truly universal health care. But it's not on the table; it's just nowhere in the discussion. Not nowhere, but it's definitely not in the -- it's not what is being talked about in Congress. So I think that kind of thing, that there's a way in which the center of political opinion has really shifted.
Question: Is Obama post-partisan?
[00:14:13.20] Kim Phillips-Fein: Is Obama a post-partisan president? Well, no, I don't think that it is -- I think the whole concept of post-partisan is problematic in that it's -- you know, the way that things really change is through people being willing to take positions and fight for them. And I think the idea that you can avoid the fight or transcend it in politics is just not right. And Obama, as a community organizer, should have known better. I think in the 1936 election, we have FDR speaking in Madison Square Garden, saying if the forces of organized business are united against him, he welcomes their hatred. That's not a post-partisan position, but that is the kind of position that you need to, I think, really make things change. And I think with Obama it's interesting: clearly he tries to -- you back away from conflict, but it's impossible to actually avoid it. In the ways in which he's been attacked for the reforms that he's tried to put through, especially in health care, you can see this dynamic where he's putting something forward that seems quite moderate, really. But it doesn't matter how moderate it is; it still gets attacked. And so that's why I think it's -- I don't think he is a post-partisan president, but I also think it wasn't really the right thing to try for.
Recorded on October 22, 2009
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