In 1989, in the wake of Republican president Ronald Reagan’s landslide reelection, political scientists Elaine Kamarck and Bill Galston issued a wake-up call to the Democratic Party. It came in the form of a widely discussed paper entitled “The Politics of Evasion: Democrats and the Presidency,” which called upon Democrats to bring their party back to the political center. “The Politics of Evasion” became the intellectual and political manifesto for the moderate New Democrat movement and its organizational base, the Democratic Leadership Council. In 1992, the DLC’s president, Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, won the presidency by running on a New Democrat platform.
In February of this year, with moderate Democrats worrying anew that the party has drifted too far from the political center, Elaine Kamarck and Bill Galston issued a paper entitled “The New Politics of Evasion: How Ignoring Swing Voters Could Reopen the Door for Donald Trump and Threaten American Democracy.” Once again, Kamarck and Galston warn Democrats that they are evading political reality in ways that may lead to durable Republican majorities. This time around, they write, Democrats have fallen under the sway of three persistent myths: the myth that people of color think and act in the same way, that economics always trumps culture, and that a progressive majority is emerging. But the stakes are much higher than they were 33 years ago. If the new politics of evasion leads to another era of Republican dominance under Donald Trump’s populist-authoritarianism, the result this time could be the end of American democracy.
In this episode, podcast host Geoff Kabaservice talks with Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution about “The New Politics of Evasion” and what Democrats need to do to regain electoral competitiveness with much of the American working class, including Hispanic voters. The episode also explores Elaine Kamarck’s career in the Clinton White House when from 1993 to 1997 she created and managed the National Performance Review, also known as the Reinventing Government Initiative. The conversation surveys the achievements of that initiative and raises the question of what needs to be done to reinvent government under the present circumstances.
Elaine Kamarck: Because we’ve been polarized for so long, it’s reflected in a whole generation on the right and the left, who’ve come up not knowing anything about the rest of the country. Therefore our ability to reach compromise gets worse and worse and worse.
Geoff Kabaservice: Hello! I’m Geoff Kabaservice for the Niskanen Center. Welcome to the Vital Center Podcast, where we try to sort through the problems of the muddled, moderate majority of Americans, drawing upon history, biography, and current events. And I am very pleased and honored to be joined today by Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings institution. Elaine is one of the great scholars and practitioners of electoral politics and government innovation. And, in fact, she is the founding director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution, where she is also a senior fellow in the Governance Studies program. Welcome, Elaine.
Elaine Kamarck: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Geoff Kabaservice: So I wanted to talk to you today, Elaine, because you and your Brookings colleague Bill Galston just a few days ago issued a report through the Public Policy Institute entitled “The New Politics of Evasion: How Ignoring Swing Voters Could Reopen the Door for Donald Trump and Threaten American Democracy.” And this title of course is a deliberate throwback to that of the paper you and Bill co-wrote in 1989, “The Politics of Evasion: Democrats and the Presidency.” But as the subtitle of your new paper points out, the stakes are higher, almost 33 years later, because the problem is not just that Democrats could lose the White House in 2024 but that America could lose its democracy.
Elaine Kamarck:33 years ago, losing to the Republican Party meant losing to people like George H. W. Bush or Bob Dole. It just wasn’t … Yeah, as Democrats we disagreed with them. We thought they were being really stingy on the social safety net, we thought they were protecting too many rich people in corporations, all of that stuff. But they weren’t going to undermine democracy, okay? They didn’t spread Big Lies, they didn’t incite insurrection when they lost. The Republican Party of 33 years ago was a party that, by and large, was in the mainstream of American thought, sometimes beating the Democrats, and was a party that respected democracy and democratic norms.
Donald Trump’s Republican Party is a very dangerous party. Donald Trump’s Republican Party is a party that believes in lies, and believes that you can overthrow the results of an election by force. And it is a world of difference. Which means that the Democrats’ evasions, and their hiding their head in the sand about what it takes to win, we’re very much less tolerant of today than we were even 33 years ago. And 33 years ago we hit the party right between the eyes, and we’re attempting to do that right now.
Geoff Kabaservice: On a personal note, Elaine, I first got to know about you in detail about 15 years ago. I had read “The Politics of Evasion” when it first came out. But 15 or so years ago, I was working with Jim Pinkerton, who had been Lee Atwater’s assistant in the George H. W. Bush White House. And you both, I think, were in what was called the New Paradigm Society…
Elaine Kamarck: That’s right.
Geoff Kabaservice: …which would bring Republicans and Democrats together to talk about reinventing government and other innovative ideas of the time.
Elaine Kamarck: Yeah, I met Jim because I wrote a doctoral dissertation many years ago on the presidential nominating process. And I knew the Democratic side inside and out because I had worked for the Democratic National Committee on just that. But, of course, to write a dissertation and get your Ph.D., you had to write about both parties. And so Pinkerton was really wonderful… I first went to Atwater, who was very kind, and Atwater was very sympathetic because he was ABD — he was “all but dissertation.” And had Bush lost, Atwater would’ve probably been writing his doctoral dissertation, which was what I was doing because my party had lost and that seemed like a good time to finish it.
And he handed me over to Pinkerton, who really guided me through the culture of the Republican Party, opened some doors so I could do some interviews. And I think in the years since my dissertation — which is a book that’s now in its third edition — I think I’ve done a pretty accurate job of describing the Republican nomination process as well as the Democratic nomination process. So that’s how I got to know Pinkerton and some very good Republicans that I’ve worked with over the years on rules issues, and just working on my book.
Elaine Kamarck: And it’s, in fact, a lead-in to one of the things that’s wrong with America today, which is that people grow up and people get into politics in deep red and deep blue bubbles. So for instance, I know Southerners, southern Democrats, who regularly, in the course of a conversation, will talk about Jesus Christ. And they will talk about what Jesus means to them or what they feel Jesus would want them to do in a particular situation, et cetera. If you said that in New York City or Cambridge, people would look at you like you were nuts. It’s just not part of the culture in deep blue states. And simultaneously, I suspect there are people in deep red states that have never talked to a gay person, or never thought how difficult life must be if you’re transgender and going through all of those issues.
And it’s reflected now, because we’ve been polarized for so long, it’s reflected in a whole generation on the right and the left who’ve come up not knowing anything about the rest of the country. And therefore our ability to reach compromise gets worse and worse and worse. And I think these young people are on Capitol Hill, I think they’re in the White House, I think they’re in statehouses, et cetera. And there is no appreciation for how diverse America is, and where in fact Americans might meet in the middle.
Geoff Kabaservice: Something that struck me about living in Washington D.C. is that you do encounter Republicans and Democrats who work on the Hill, who work in Congress, who don’t really know any of their opposite party counterparts, who live in little bubbles of their own even within the same city.
Elaine Kamarck: About the only people in Washington who get out of their bubbles are the reporters, the mainstream reporters. But of course increasingly with a partisan press, you have an MSNBC and you have a Fox, and they only talk to certain people. So you’re exactly right. Everybody comes here from a little bubble and then they manage to stay in the little bubble — which didn’t use to be the case. You used to be forced to socialize more. And, frankly, the two years of the pandemic haven’t helped the situation.
Geoff Kabaservice: No, they haven’t.
Elaine Kamarck: Because there’s no public arena anymore where you might actually meet a Republican. I remember a couple years ago I was teaching at Harvard, and I invited Grover Norquist to class. And Grover is a friend, and he’s done remarkably good work in the Republican Party, and he’s built something that’s quite incredible and had a huge impact on things. And oh my God, my students, it was like pulling teeth to convince them that they were going to learn something here, and that they needed to listen to him. They didn’t need to agree with him, they needed to listen to him. And I brought him. I brought him to Harvard, and I think that they realized that no, he didn’t have scales or horns. He was an important figure in American politics. But, boy, I’ll tell you, it doesn’t happen much anymore.
Geoff Kabaservice: I would think that Grover Norquist would actually be a good person in that situation, because he’s just so funny.
Elaine Kamarck: He was. He was funny, he was obviously used to being in audiences that were not necessarily sympathetic to him, and he did a good job.
Geoff Kabaservice: So before we get into talking about the twin “Politics of Evasion” papers, I wonder if you could just tell me something about your background, your early schooling.
Elaine Kamarck: Oh, I went to college on scholarship. I grew up outside of Baltimore. My dad worked for the Social Security Administration. So when I went to college, he was a GS-13 or something, so I qualified for financial aid and got scholarships. And I went to a very fancy college called Bryn Mawr, which was all-women — still is, for that matter — where I had pretty much of a culture shock. I had never been to Europe; everybody there had been to Europe multiple times in the summer. I hadn’t even been on an airplane. Taking the train from Baltimore to Philadelphia was a big adventure for me.
Elaine Kamarck: So it was like, oh, there’s this other world of people who’d gone to prep schools. I didn’t write very well because I’d just gone to a big public high school — where I was a star, but that didn’t mean much. My English teacher did ask me if English was my first language — yeah, which is pretty awful, and it shows you how close I came to flunking freshman English. But I got through and worked for a couple years, and thought I was going to go to law school. But then my husband went to law school and I realized that, no, I didn’t want to go to law school. I didn’t want to have to learn about torts and contracts. So I applied for a Ph.D. program at University of California, Berkeley, and got in. And we lived in Berkeley at the time, so it was in-state tuition, which was great because we couldn’t have afforded it any other way.
And then I left without finishing my dissertation, and got into politics. Went to work for the Democratic National Committee when Jimmy Carter was president, and my really first searing political experience was the primary race between Carter and Kennedy. And that I think formed my centrist approach to politics, because Jimmy Carter was very much a centrist, and very much against the grain of the Democratic Party at that time. And I basically did finish my degree, did go on to teach in university, but I also spent a lot of time in political campaigns, which is unusual for professors.
Geoff Kabaservice: Very true. For those who don’t remember this, you’re talking about the primary challenge to then sitting President Jimmy Carter from Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy in 1979 to ’80.
Elaine Kamarck: Yeah.
Geoff Kabaservice: And I believe, at least in one of your stints at Berkeley, you were the protégée of Nelson Polsby, the professor of political science.
Elaine Kamarck: You bet. He was my dissertation advisor. He was a political scientist who loved politics, whose politics was very much in the center. He was a Hubert Humphrey guy, which in Berkeley, California made him sort of a conservative Republican as far as most people were concerned. The first time I ever ran for delegate to a convention, I ran as a Scoop Jackson delegate, because I was a big pro-defense person and so Jackson was the person. And he did horribly in the campaign that year.
So yeah, Polsby really… There’s a whole generation of us. When he died, I sent his widow my book, which is dedicated to him. And she has absolutely a collection — must be a very big one — of all the scholars who studied with Nelson Polsby who have honored him by dedicating their books to him.
Geoff Kabaservice: I was brought out to Berkeley about 15-20 years ago by Polsby, because he liked a book I’d written on Kingman Brewster and a bunch of other people who were more or less moderate-to-progressive Republicans. And he thought that was kind of fascinating, and had me to dinner at his house, and he talked about you and I think Norm Ornstein, who was another of his students, and how no one studies the House anymore.
Elaine Kamarck: Oh, I know, it’s terrible.
Geoff Kabaservice: Yeah. But it was a great exchange between the center-right and the center-left of the kind we’ve been talking about. So you were brought into and helped to found the New Democrat movement in the Democratic Party, I want to say in the ’80s. How did that come about?
Elaine Kamarck: Well, we were tired of losing, that’s for sure. The Republicans kept winning presidential races. And the Democrats were, in the ’80s, kind of in a, I don’t know… They were in a haze. They thought that because they had the House of Representatives that they were going to have it forever, and that this was not going to somehow infect them. And, of course, Ronald Reagan was such a superstar in terms of his ability to communicate — he was so handsome, he was so nice, and people loved him so much — that it was easy to say that oh well, we kept losing to the Republicans because of Ronald Reagan. He was such a cool charismatic guy. And once we didn’t have a Ronald Reagan, things would return to normal.
Well, he was succeeded as the nominee of the party by his vice president, George Bush, who was anything but charismatic. He was handsome, but he wasn’t charismatic. He stumbled over his words. As a communicator, he was a total mess. He didn’t have the common touch at all. Remember how he didn’t know the price of milk in a grocery store?
Geoff Kabaservice: Or indeed what a price scanner was.
Elaine Kamarck: Or even what a price scanner was, that’s right. And we lost to him. And that really was a very critical moment, because all the excuses Democrats had been making suddenly didn’t work anymore. That was the end of that. And that was when, in 1989, we wrote “The Politics of Evasion,” where we talked about the myths that Democrats were living with that they had to get over — they just had to get over if they were to win nationally anymore.
Elaine Kamarck: And at that time, 1989, one of the biggest ones was on crime. The Democrats had allowed themselves to become the party that made excuses for criminals, as opposed to the party that was for the victims. That was not a good place to be. Basically it wasn’t a good place then, and it’s certainly not a good place now. And so we wrote this paper, got a lot of blowback from the Democrats, lots of anger. It was a weird thing… We got lots of angry public denunciations, and then we got a lot of private phone calls saying, “Oh, we’re so glad you finally said this.” “Oh, we’re so glad someone finally said that.” So it was one of those things.
And fortunately for us, there was a governor of Arkansas named Bill Clinton, who really got it. Bill Clinton really got it. Bill Clinton was a data guy. For all of his foibles, which were many, the fact of the matter is he was one of the most brilliant political thinkers ever. And he and the DLC and Al From, who’s quite a political entrepreneur, basically put together the New Democratic movement. And so we were the intellectual heft behind it, but organizationally and politically, it was really Al From and Bill Clinton, along with… At that point, remember, the South hadn’t gone completely Republican like it is today. So we had people like Senator Sam Nunn, we had people like Governor Dick Riley (the governor of South Carolina), we had people like Governor Bruce Babbitt (governor of Arizona). And they were sort of square pegs in round holes, so to speak. They were Democrats in really conservative states — states that in subsequent years would in fact become really solidly red states. But they were looking for a way to differentiate themselves from this political party that had just gotten off-track, that was saying loopy things and turning off voters. And of course with the Republican Party, they’re waiting to make sure that everybody knew the loopy things that they were doing.
And therefore, we had a lot of support. There was a lot of support. Chuck Robb was an early member of the New Democratic movement. There were a lot of them. But of course the biggest one was Bill Clinton, who like Ronald Reagan — and in my book I write about the two of them — was very similar in the sheer enormity of his political talent. Great communicator. Different than Reagan, but a fabulous communicator like Reagan.
Geoff Kabaservice: Had you in fact worked on Bruce Babbitt’s 1988 presidential campaign?
Elaine Kamarck: Yes. I worked for Bruce Babbitt in 1988. Bruce Babbitt, unfortunately, was not a great communicator, but he was a brilliant policy guy. I sort of wish that he’d gotten on the Supreme Court instead of having been Interior Secretary, because I think we could use his brain today — and he’s still doing well and healthy, et cetera. But yes, I worked for Bruce Babbitt. All of these guys at the time — Bruce Babbitt, Bill Clinton, Sam Nunn, they — back to my earlier point about everybody now in their bubbles that don’t talk to each other… That was a generation of Democratic politicians who were in Republican states or conservative states. They had a lot to teach America, and they knew a lot about running and governing in a conservative country. And of course, “The Politics of Evasion” was literally just a political scientist’s way of amassing the data and saying, “You guys are wrong about the party. We’re never going to win if you don’t face the facts.”
Geoff Kabaservice: So, people listening to this podcast won’t be able to see this, but I am holding up my copy of Al From’s book The New Democrats and the Return to Power.
Elaine Kamarck: Yes.
Geoff Kabaservice: The Democratic Leadership Council had been created by the time of your paper around the politics of evasion. I want to say that so had its think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute, which of course published both of those papers…
Elaine Kamarck: Right.
Geoff Kabaservice: …the one now and your more recent one. One of the things that From mentioned about that think tank is that he didn’t think that what he was doing was upholding a conservative Democratic position, which is why he wanted to call the think tank by that name, because it would at least be a little awkward for the media to call it “the conservative Progressive Policy Institute.” But your paper in a lot of ways was a manifesto, both intellectual and political, for this New Democrat movement. And Bill Clinton in many ways used it as the platform from which he eventually gained the presidency in the 1992 election.
Geoff Kabaservice: But the context was somewhat different then than now – although as you say, there are an awful lot of similarities. For example, you were talking about the three themes of political evasion in the time that you came out with this original paper. And you said the first was “the belief that Democrats have failed because they have strayed from the true and pure faith of their ancestors. We call this the myth of liberal fundamentalism.” But at that time that would’ve meant the faith of the New Deal, correct?
Elaine Kamarck: Yeah, that’s right. It would’ve been… it was primarily about the New Deal. But also at that time, remember, we had pro-life people in the Democratic Party at that point. You don’t have them now. So we had people who were more culturally conservative back then than now, and we still had a shot at getting culturally conservative voters back then. So it was… Yes, it was primarily sort of New Deal politics and concern about balanced budgets and support for capitalism, et cetera. But it also was… There was a cultural dimension to it as well.
Geoff Kabaservice: Again, I could be misremembering or misreading or both, but my sense was that you weren’t really aiming this paper at a really lefty activist class that was having great influence in the party. You were really aiming it at the party establishment: the Walter Mondale people, if you will.
Elaine Kamarck: Yeah, we were. That’s right. It was much more… I mean, there was a little bit at the lefty class, but also at the main establishment. And part of it was that Bill and I had both worked for the Mondale campaign in 1984, and it was a real awakening. Because by 1984, the enormous progress that Franklin Roosevelt had made was simply done; it was standard operating procedure. Everybody got Social Security, everybody got Medicare. Now, periodically the Republicans would make the mistake of wanting to change Social Security and they’d get their head handed to them on a platter, right? People would say, “Oh no, no, no, you can’t do that” — or Medicare for that matter. But basically, it didn’t motivate voters the way these things did in the ’30s. And Mondale, bless his heart, who I loved dearly — he was a creature of another era.
Part of what we were doing was saying, “That era is over, and support for more money, more programs, et cetera is simply not as popular today as it was” — in part because we’d already succeeded at that, right? People had a safety net. Could it be better? Could it be more robust? Yes, of course, and a lot of Democrats think that. But the appetite for government spending had really been quashed by Reagan and by the movement that happened in the Republican Party to basically say, “Hey, stop this big government stuff.”
Geoff Kabaservice: There’s a phrase in your “New Politics of Evasion” which in a way harkens back to something in the earlier report that struck me, and that’s that in the new report you think that Hispanics might be becoming the new Italians.
Elaine Kamarck: Yes.
Geoff Kabaservice: If you go back to the ’80s, you had this sort of potential Democratic presidential contender in Mario Cuomo, the governor of New York, who was a traditional, stalwart New Dealer. And the thinking was, “Well, of course all the Italian Americans will line up behind his candidacy and propel him to the top.” But the reality was that Italians, by that time, had become a very reliable Republican block, because the New Deal had succeeded. It had elevated a considerable majority of them to the middle class, and once there they started voting like a lot of middle-class voters of those days.
Elaine Kamarck: That’s right. You know, it really is… The Democrats have this tendency to see everybody through the lens of the African-American experience. But the African-American experience is so different and so unique and so much worse, okay? Hispanics, Italians, whoever — they came here largely of their own volition. They did not face the same degree of housing discrimination, severe red-lining. They were allowed to intermarry. I mean, yes, in my grandmother’s generation — I’m Italian — in my grandmother’s generation, marrying an Irish Catholic was kind of a big deal. And then, in one generation, nobody cared at all. Most of the people I meet these days are Irish-Italian. It’s very common, because everybody met in the church, everybody met in the Roman Catholic church. So they intermarried.
African-Americans were not allowed — I mean legally not allowed — to intermarry until the middle of this past century. And even then, there was enormous hostility towards intermarriage. A girlfriend and I the other night watched Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner again, and it’s 1967… It really is, it’s a slice of history of the time about that. So there’s a huge difference between an immigrant experience and the African-American experience, and Democrats have tended to assume that the new immigrants of color are going to be all the same as African-Americans. And it just isn’t panning out that way.
Geoff Kabaservice: In early 1989, Bill Galston in effect previewed some of the themes you would write about in “The Politics of Evasion” at a conference, I think, in Williamsburg. And while his presentation was more or less uneventful, at the press conference afterwards there was a real blowup between Chuck, Robb, who was an exponent of the DLC point of view, and Jesse Jackson, whose Rainbow Coalition in so many ways prefigured a lot of what we have now in terms of identitarian Democratic politics. Jesse Jackson’s viewpoint, obviously in hostility to some of the points, but especially on this idea that the Democrats can win through mobilizing their base.
Elaine Kamarck: Yeah.
Geoff Kabaservice: Whereas Robb’s point was, that’s not enough. You need to actually reach out to bring back some of the disenfranchised white working class.
Elaine Kamarck: Yeah. Well, we did one simple thing in “The Politics of Evasion.” We literally ran a little experiment in states that had large numbers of African-American voters — because Jesse Jackson had made, as my dissertation advisor Nelson Polsby would’ve called it, a verifiable proposition. The proposition was that Dukakis lost by the margin of unregistered Black voters. So Bill and I just went and we said, “Okay, let’s assume… Let’s make a really wildly unrealistic assumption, but let’s make it for the sake of argument, that you got 100% of African-Americans who actually voted — who were 18 and older and actually voted — and voted for Dukakis. Would that change anything?” The answer was no, okay? In other words, this was complete pie in the sky. There simply aren’t enough. It’s not a … Democrats, like they think with their heart sometimes.
We are very much a party of African-Americans, and when you’re in the party, you really have to, you give lots of credit and lots of attention to African-Americans, because they’re so important. But the fact of the matter is, they’re 11% of the population. So they’re maybe doubled within the Democratic Party — they’re maybe 20% — but you cannot win general elections with just that base. Now, to go from Jesse Jackson to the present, what happened in between there was that there was growth in this coalition of color. We did elect Barack Obama, we did elect the first African-American president. That was fabulous. But people kind of took that and they took it too far. They thought, “Ah, it’s a brand-new era. We can win with our base.”
So, lo and behold, 33 years later, as we’re about to head towards the nursing home, Bill and I said, “We’ve got to write this again.” Because once again it’s the same thing happening. This time the illusion is that the Hispanics are going to join with the Blacks, and that while the Black population in America has stayed constant for many decades — it’s not growing — the Hispanic population is growing enormously, and so it will be a huge piece of the pie. It’s still not enough. It’s still not enough, particularly in some swing states.
Geoff Kabaservice: And even if Hispanics voted in enormous percentages for Democrats, which increasingly they seem less likely to do.
Elaine Kamarck: Yes.
Geoff Kabaservice: This also doesn’t even mention Asian-Americans, who wouldn’t have figured much into your 1989 analysis but are, again, a growing percentage of the electorate now.
Elaine Kamarck: That’s right. One of the… If people read nothing of this report but Table Number One, I think they’ll get it. Because Table Number One simply lays out for nine states the non-college white population, the college white population, the Black and Hispanic populations. And in seven of those nine states, the non-college white population is not just bigger than the Black and Hispanics combined, it is much bigger than the Black and Hispanic populations. Only in Texas and Georgia are they about equal. So even if every single Hispanic and every single African-American voted for Democrats, if you didn’t have some piece of the white non-college population for you, you can’t win.
Now, we saw that, because that’s what Biden did manage to do. Biden managed to get just enough, just enough — and sometimes it was very close — just enough Hispanic and Black votes to win in Georgia, to win in Arizona, to win in a couple other swing states. But that’s the name of the game, which is why we focus this paper on the importance of swing voters, of these swing voters who are largely white and non-college-educated.
Geoff Kabaservice: Bill Clinton was the last president, I think, on the Democratic side to win a sizable majority of the white working class. And it seems that he did so by running as a New Democrat. But then I don’t actually think that he brought a whole lot of New Democrats with him into the administration. Am I wrong about that?
Elaine Kamarck: He did, he did. Well, it was an odd administration. He did after the ’94 midterms, because he screwed up. I mean, he screwed up in the first two years. He basically listened to the House Democrats, who at that time… Remember, the House Democrats always have a problem — as both caucuses do, by the way, the Republican too. Because the center of gravity in their caucus are the safe, very, very liberal districts. So it kind of draws them to the left, and the Republicans get drawn to the right, because the center of gravity’s a little bit different.
Clinton, in the first two years, made a lot of mistakes by listening to them. I was there. I mean, I remember him saying, “We’re not going to do this again. I can’t, we can’t govern like this. I can’t listen to the House Democrats. I have to remember how I got here.” So, after ’94, which was a real shellacking, Newt Gingrich came in with the Contract with America and a lot of new Republicans. And it was the first time in decades, by the way, that Democrats had lost the House.
Geoff Kabaservice: Almost four decades.
Elaine Kamarck: Yeah, almost four decades. It was really, I mean, it was a real wake-up call for the Democrats. After that, he actually righted the ship a little bit. There were personnel changes. He did make changes, and I think that’s why he was able to win in 1996 comfortably. A lot of those, that lesson held, but then of course he had other problems…
Geoff Kabaservice: Shall we say.
Elaine Kamarck: …shall we say, which kind of made the last two years of the administration ineffective, because he couldn’t get much done.
Geoff Kabaservice: I believe you first crossed paths with Bill Clinton, the candidate, because you had written, as you said, your dissertation about the presidential nominating process. I should add that that eventually did come out as Primary Politics: How Presidential Candidates Have Shaped the Modern Nominating Process, which has now, as you say, gone through three editions. But you hadn’t yet published that dissertation, so how did Clinton know that you were the expert in this area?
Elaine Kamarck: I had been on the Compliance Review Commission, I’d been the head of it in the Democratic Party for 1980 and then into 1984. So I had established that I knew this part of the political world. There’s a subgroup of the political world called rules junkies, and we know all these obscure things. Some of my favorite Republican friends are rules junkies on the Republican side. So that’s how I got to know Clinton.
Geoff Kabaservice: You came into the Clinton administration in 1993, and you created and managed the Clinton administration’s National Performance Review, the NPR, which also was known as the Reinventing Government Initiative. Can you just tell me something about how that appointment came to be?
Elaine Kamarck: Well, Clinton had run on sort of three areas, right, that he wanted to do, two of which were very much part of the New Democratic mantra. One was, of course, reinventing government, one was welfare reform, and one was healthcare. And basically, one of these Al Gore was going to get and one of these the First Lady was going to get. There were three power centers in that administration, and it was definitely the Vice President and the First Lady — who was quite a person to be contended with, as we now know. So Hillary got healthcare, which meant that there was then welfare reform and reinventing government to go. Because healthcare and welfare reform both were in HHS, in Health and Human Services, you couldn’t really take away both of them from the very talented Secretary there, Donna Shalala. So in order to sort of buy peace in the administration, HHS got to run welfare reform, Hillary did this huge task force on healthcare, and Al Gore got reinventing government. So that was how the assignments shook out.
Geoff Kabaservice: If memory serves, you had actually got on the wrong side of Hillary Clinton because of a piece you had written advising her not to play this overweening role as the co-president or whatever.
Elaine Kamarck: Yeah. That was not… it was not a high point in our relationship, but I wrote a column for Newsday and I just said that… At one point during the early campaign in New Hampshire, she was being introduced as the co-president, and people were like, “No, no, no, no. We don’t do that in America. We don’t have royal families. We have one person that you vote for.” It was incredibly unpopular. And so I said it, so I was, for a time, incredibly unpopular. But I think we have gotten over that.
Geoff Kabaservice: So in historical retrospect, how much did the Reinventing Government Initiative accomplish, and what would you look back on today as some of the lessons from your time leading this project?
Elaine Kamarck: Well, many. I mean the government, I think, was fundamentally transformed. Our luck was in timing as well, because essentially the internet comes online in 1996; it’s not until 1996 that America is really starting to use this new thing. And rather than the federal government being 10 years behind the private sector, through Reinventing Government we jumped on this, and we basically brought the federal government online, through work at GSA and through envisioning doing government online. So now everybody takes for granted that you can go sign up for Social Security online, you can do your Medicare stuff online. In states, you can get your driver’s license renewed online. We all take that for granted. Well, that was not the case in 1993 when Clinton became president.
A lot of this was a sort of melding of Al Gore’s two passions: reinventing government and of course the internet. So the big thing we did is we put the federal government… We got all of government, because of course what we were doing at the federal level trickled down to the states. We put all of government online and got it ready for the internet age. And that was the big thing. There were other things that fell out of that. Once you were computerizing your record-keeping functions, you didn’t need this army of clerks that the federal government had had. So we were able to really, really, really pare down the size of the federal workforce, which did turn out to be very popular politically.
And then there were other things that were… It’s one of these funny initiatives that… In the macro, it was incredibly popular. In the micro, oh my God, it was like a pain in the neck every single day for the White House. So I remember one Christmas getting a call from Bill Clinton saying, “Elaine, why are you getting rid of Ted Kennedy’s Social Security office in Boston, huh?” And we were getting rid of regional offices. We had just determined that regional offices, a lot of them, were obsolete. They really didn’t have a function anymore. But Ted Kennedy didn’t think so, and he liked his Boston regional office.
So anyway, a lot of the little things were very problematic. But overall, in 1996, Clinton was able to run and say two things: 21 million new jobs and the smallest government since Jack Kennedy was president. And those two things were in every single stump speech and were very popular.
Geoff Kabaservice: I have seen a quote attributed to you: “The business of government reform has no friends.”
Elaine Kamarck: It really doesn’t. It only has friends in the macro, because every time you start cutting… By the way, Republicans don’t get it about cutting government. There’s lots of waste in the government, but it is like the fat in a good piece of steak: it is marbled in. So what the Republicans do, especially since a lot of Republicans hate the government, they just want to lop it off. Well, they always end up with egg on their face when they do that, right? So you want to cut the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration? Hmm, okay, go ahead. Do a top cut, which they did a couple years ago — and all of a sudden nobody’s planes can land and all the flights are canceled, and America goes nuts and gets mad. And then what do they do? The Republicans had to go back to Congress and they had to have a special session, special appropriation. They had to undo all their cuts, as opposed to saying: What is it at the FAA? Do we really need the Rural Airport Construction program?
I mean, there is a lot of fat in this thing, but it’s a very tedious business. And when you get down to the cutting, you’re always cutting into somebody’s special interest. There is always something there that is… They come out of the woodwork. I’ll tell you the big one: Social Security disability lawyers. It’s a huge bar, a huge number of people. When we tried to streamline that process, they weren’t particularly crazy about that. So no matter where you look, when you’re trying to do reinventing government, you’re stepping on somebody’s toes.
Geoff Kabaservice: If memory serves, the disability lawyers got paid for delays. So by cutting delays in processing these claims, you were taking away their bread and butter.
Elaine Kamarck: Oh, yeah. You were cutting into their income.
Geoff Kabaservice: Since you mentioned the FAA, though… The FAA at that time was running on basically vacuum tubes in their computer system.
Elaine Kamarck: That’s right.
Geoff Kabaservice: And that meant that they actually were having to call in planes from public payphones at that time. So some of what you were doing was actually increasing the budgets in areas like IT across government agencies.
Elaine Kamarck: Yeah. And we were also trying to shorten the IT acquisition time. Because the IT world moves so quickly that what was happening was that the government would have these long, long, long [acquisition period] — 18 months to two years — and by this time what they had bought was obsolete. And so this was a real mess, and it was really tough too.
I think the work at the Reinventing Government Initiative helped Bill Clinton to balance the federal budget.
Elaine Kamarck: Oh, absolutely.
Geoff Kabaservice: But at the same time, not in a scorched-earth kind of way. Like I said, to some extent you were modernizing the systems you looked at as well.
Elaine Kamarck: Yeah. We were really modernizing the systems. And we were very lucky that we were doing this as people were beginning to understand the potential of the internet.
Geoff Kabaservice: But is the fact that healthcare came under Hillary Clinton’s fiefdom, as opposed to Al Gore’s, part of the explanation why we don’t even now have effective electronic medical records?
Elaine Kamarck: I think what it is, is that… I mean, here was the situation at the time. We didn’t spend a lot of time on healthcare — which is a huge part of the federal government — in Reinventing Government. We spent a lot of time on the Defense Department and other pieces, but not on healthcare. There was a rational reason at the time. Had Hillary succeeded, then the healthcare architecture of the government would have been different, so it didn’t make much sense for us to try and reinvent something that might then disappear. But it took two years, two full years, for that to fall apart, for her healthcare architecture to not get anywhere. By that time, we were full into reinventing government. We had built up no expertise in healthcare. We got into it a little bit, we did some things at CMS. My particular group never really took on healthcare in the way that it needed to be taken on.
Geoff Kabaservice: I don’t ask this question enough… But at the time that you were doing this work in the Clinton White House, I believe you had three school-aged children?
Elaine Kamarck: I did, yeah.
Geoff Kabaservice: What kind of constraints were there on women in government as you experienced it? What kind of disadvantages did you face?
Elaine Kamarck: My kids, they’re all grown up now, but they still complain. They still throw this back in my face whenever they get a chance: “You were never home, mom.” They still play the guilt card with me as often as they can.
Geoff Kabaservice: They should be grateful that you didn’t work on the campaign end of things, or you never would have been home.
Elaine Kamarck: I know, I know. And, you know, it was before cell phones. It was before… Life was very, it was very hard. I mean, I remember trying to get home for bedtime. I rarely got home for dinner. I was trying to get home in time to put the youngest ones to bed, and that was about as well as I could do. And I remember being eternally grateful to Tipper Gore, because Al Gore had children about the same age, and so as Al was sitting there going on and on and on, and it was seven o’clock at night, Tipper would call and yell at him to come home. And I thought, “Yes, Tipper! Go Tipper! I can get out of here, so I can get home too.”
Elaine Kamarck: So that made it somewhat manageable. And Air Force Two made it somewhat manageable too, because when we traveled, we didn’t have to wait for the last flight or whatever. We just got back to Andrews Air Force Base and got home. And that made it a little easier. But basically very long hours, and it was tough on my family.
Geoff Kabaservice: I remember an interview I saw with you a long time ago, where you gave the earliest explanation or description of a phenomenon I have heard a lot more about since, which is that there’s a bunch of men and you in a meeting, and you say something to the chair that the male chair doesn’t hear. Then one of your male colleagues says the exact same thing, and the chair says, “Oh, what an extremely insightful point.”
Elaine Kamarck: Yup. That happened. That happened to all of us of a certain age, and apparently still happens. That’s what’s amazing is that many years later, this apparently still happens to women in meetings — although I think it’s a little bit better because I think there are more women in the meetings. I also used to go to political meetings where people actually — this is going to be amazing — smoked cigars. And I would come home with my curly hair smelling like cigars because I would be the only woman in the room, or maybe there would be two of us in the room.
Geoff Kabaservice: Although I think you have also said that Bill Clinton himself actually didn’t mind being challenged by strong women, didn’t mind going head-to-head with women in authority.
Elaine Kamarck: Bill Clinton was great in that respect. Look who he was married to, right? He was used to being challenged by women. This didn’t bother him at all. He was absolutely happy. There were many times where I said directly to him or through somebody else, I said, “Tell the President, Elaine doesn’t agree with that,” or “Elaine thinks that’s a bad idea.” And there was never any blowback or anything like that. You didn’t get frozen out. He was really, really good, especially at that time. He was just great for a woman to work for.
Geoff Kabaservice: So let’s try to connect these two “politics of evasion” papers. Bill Clinton seemingly showed Democrats how they could win, even in a center-right country. And yet, here we are 33 years later, and it seems like a lot of those lessons have been forgotten, which is why you had to come out with this new updated version of the paper. In very broad strokes, what has been the dynamic that has brought the Democratic Party back to this similar situation?
Elaine Kamarck: Now, that’s an interesting question, which we touch on a little in the paper, but we don’t really fully explore. But my sense is that in the 33 years between the two papers, the country got very polarized by geography as well as by party. And what that means is that there is a new generation of people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, who have come into politics, and on the left and on the right, they have come in in their bubbles. So you have got people like activists from New York State, from particularly New York City and all the massive suburbs around there. For them, the center of the Democratic Party looks like the right wing. And people on the left are free to talk about democratic socialism, they’re free to sort of have banners saying “Defund the police” or “Abolish ICE.” I mean, they are thousands of miles away from the border, so they can say “Abolish ICE.” Bad idea — ICE being the immigration border protection.
So I think part of it is that there is a generational change. On the Republican side, it’s the same thing, right? You have got a generation of activists that have grown up in deeply red places, and they are the people who man the barricades in elections and do all the stuff, and who are junior in congressional offices and Senate offices and in the White House. And I think that they don’t know how complex the country is and how incredibly differently people see things.
And this pulling apart of the party, on the left and on the right, is killing us. And I often say, “Where the hell are the grownups?” Why isn’t somebody saying to them, “You cannot say this”? Why didn’t somebody say, “‘Defund the police’ is a surefire way to get us killed” — literally and politically, right? Nobody was watching this. And I think there is crazy stuff that goes on the right as well. I mean, look at Tucker Carlson giving aid and comfort to Vladimir Putin. That’s pretty crazy too. So it’s a problem, and I think it’s a reflection of the polarization that we have endured for the last several decades.
Geoff Kabaservice: This isn’t really an easily answerable question, but going to college used to predispose one to vote Republican. And someone like George H. W. Bush had, for example, a huge margin among college-educated voters. Why is it that going to college now seems to make one much more inclined to be a Democrat?
Elaine Kamarck: Yeah, it’s an interesting question. Part of it is that the Democratic Party has become the party of urban global elites, so you get into that mindset. And you go to work in New York City, you go to work in Chicago — or even parts of Houston, parts of Dallas, certainly California — where all the growth is. And one of the most interesting statistics of the last two elections is how both Hillary and then especially Joe Biden did exceedingly well in the counties in America that surpass the American GDP. So the growth counties, the rich counties in America, are overwhelmingly Democratic these days, not Republican. And Trump, of course, did well in poorer counties, rural counties, et cetera.
Elaine Kamack: So there is something about globalization that’s going on here. There is something about an openness to different people and diversity that many of the Democrats are very supportive of. You can’t go into a high-tech business without seeing people of all different colors and backgrounds and accents there. That’s just because we do recruit globally and we get the best people. I mean, one of our strengths as a nation is we get the best people from all around the world, so that’s great.
So I think that there is a sort of… It’s a class thing, really. I mean, it’s a social class thing. Plus then, if you’re in college and you’re upwardly mobile and you’re going to get a good job when you get out of college, you don’t really worry about illegal immigrants taking your jobs. You’re not competing with them, right? You’re not competing with people who sneak across the border for economic reasons and then end up living in that marginal economy. That’s not your competition. Whereas for other people, that is their competition. So I think it’s pretty complicated, but I do think it’s, in some ways, a reflection of the way the economy has changed.
Geoff Kabaservice: A week ago, as we’re talking, Dan Balz wrote a piece in the Washington Post that put the spotlight on this new paper that you and Bill Galston wrote. And he mentions and quotes from the paper in which you’re talking about the three persistent myths that lead Democrats astray nowadays. These are the myths that people of color think and act in the same way, as you said earlier; that economics always trumps culture; and that a progressive majority is emerging.
And he says that “Their analysis is a centrist critique of a party that they fear has moved too far to the left and in the process increasingly has lost touch with the swing voters who still have the power to decide elections.” To what extent was the Virginia gubernatorial election something of a wake-up call for you and other Democrats for that matter?
Elaine Kamarck: It was a big wake-up call, for sure, because you had here a guy who stylistically was not Trumpian, right? He was kind of polite. He was kind of respectful of others. I mean, he…
Geoff Kabaservice: Glenn Youngkin doesn’t come across as Trumpy, and he strategically kept his distance, at least after he had won the primary.
Elaine Kamarck: That’s right. He kept his distance. So therefore it allowed Democrats or marginal swing voters, who were very frustrated particularly with the way the school district had handled the schools, to say, “Hey, we can go over there. We can vote for them because he’s not that guy, Trump.” And what it said to me, which I think by the way some research I’m doing now on the Texas primaries may bear out, is that the Republican Party is figuring out how to pursue some Trump goals without necessarily tying itself closely to Donald Trump, who is a problem: he’s undisciplined, he’s a bully. Women don’t like him. I mean, a lot of women don’t like him because he’s a bully; we don’t like bullies. I think that Virginia was a real wake-up call, which is that Trump may not be successful in the future, but Trumpism and real conservatism is still very much alive and well in America.
Geoff Kabaservice: But again, just through the fortune of timing, your paper came out just after the San Francisco school board had had a recall election that had three very woke school board members recalled. Again, is there anything building on the Democratic side, do you think, to which your paper might contribute that would reevaluate how far is too far on the cultural side?
Elaine Kamarck: Oh yeah, I think so. I think that a couple things happened. The House Democratic caucus had a briefing by pollsters about a week or two before our paper came out, basically saying that “Defund the police” could have cost them as many as 14 seats. And that was a real wake-up call to them that things had gone too far.
I don’t know how this has happened, but it’s probably something the Democratic leadership can’t control, but Rashida Tlaib, the Congresswoman from I think Minnesota [Michigan], is delivering a counter to Biden’s State of the Union from the Working Families Party. I mean, that’s just… Boy, that’s guaranteed to hurt the Democrats. It’s a crazy thing to do. But she’s going to do it, apparently, and I guess get coverage for it since a reporter called me about it today.
And the other thing is that San Francisco recall election — San Francisco is an extraordinarily liberal city. It doesn’t mean they’re going to go vote for Republicans, it means that there’s an opening here for centrist Democrats to say, “We got it. We’re not going to spend our time renaming the school that’s named after Abraham Lincoln. We hear what you’re saying about quality schools and preserving the schools.”
And of course, there’s the Asian parents who are most concerned about getting rid of the high-performing school. And that I think… These school board things are going to play out all over the place, sometimes to the benefit of Republicans — I know a lot of the house races in Texas are talking about the school issue — but in other places like New York and San Francisco, they’re not going to end up in the hands of the Republicans. They’ll end up in the hands of more centrist Democrats.
Geoff Kabaservice: A related point… When a Republican like myself tells the Democrats that they’ve gone too far on these cultural issues and it’s losing them elections, this counsel is always presumed to be in bad faith. But I was interested that in the paper that you and Bill Galston wrote, you basically said that articulating these positions that the party ought to move back toward the cultural center “will cause some strains within the party’s coalition, but there is no alternative.” Why do you think the progressives will take this marginalization or sidelining, if you will, even if the counsel is offered from another fellow Democrat?
Elaine Kamarck: Why do I think they’ll take it?
Geoff Kabaservice: Or will they take it? Will they just not rebel and say, “No, forget it. You’re not giving us anything. We refuse.”
Elaine Kamarck: There’s already some rumblings that they don’t agree. The problem is the math. If they can solve the math problem, then they have an argument. If they cannot however solve the math problem, that is the bottom line. And so, frankly, there’s been a lot more quiet from the left than I thought there would be because they simply can’t do that. This new emerging Democratic majority just isn’t there.
I always like to say that demographics is destiny — we just don’t know when it’s going to happen, right? I can tell you for sure it’s not going to happen in the next two years or four years. Now, maybe by the time I’m really in the nursing home, maybe there’ll be an election and I can turn my rocking chair around and say, “Hey, look at that, Texas is Democratic.” But that’s a ways away. And many, many things can happen in between there. Because we can see that wave coming, the wave of Hispanic Americans coming, because there’s so many children. And we can hope as Democrats that the Republicans keep nominating Donald Trump-type people who have this tendency to insult them, and that maybe that will help keep them in the Democratic Party. But the point of the paper is they’re not solidly in the Democratic Party. So both parties have to work for them.
Geoff Kabaservice: Yeah. And of course, we can’t fortell the future either.
Elaine Kamarck: Yeah.
Geoff Kabaservice: If we’d had this talk two weeks ago, we would not be in a situation where it actually now appears there is a real schism in the Republican Party between traditional Reaganite people who think that what Vladimir Putin is doing in Ukraine is a moral atrocity, and those like Donald Trump who think it’s great. And what you were warning about in both of your “politics of evasion” papers is Democrats handing the advantage to Republicans on issues of economics, values, and foreign policy. And now the Republicans have handed their traditional strength in foreign policy back to the Democrats.
Elaine Kamarck: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.
Geoff Kabaservice: Is there any appetite that you can discern within the Biden administration for another reinventing government initiative?
Elaine Kamarck: Not that I have seen. I mean, the OMB is leading some good-government reform efforts. The thing, though, that made Reinventing Government different was that it was not in OMB. Because what we managed to do was go deep into the government and figure out what was going wrong. If OMB goes deep into the federal government, they just obfuscate so that they don’t lose their funding. OMB goes in and everybody just protects their budgets. We went in with a very different kind of approach, and our approach was to understand… It was this typical management consultant approach: figure out how does this place work and then how can it work better? And that’s what we did.
There hasn’t been an effort since the Clinton effort to do government reform — although there have been, by the way, in the Bush administration and the Obama administration and the Biden administration, there’s been a lot of good things happening. But not in the comprehensive way that we did it. And my guess is that sometime in the next 10 years, the government will be due for another big look at the way we did.
You wouldn’t want to do what we did all the time. We did some pretty big disruption, in terms of the government, so you wouldn’t want to do that continuously. You want to let it settle down and become part of the standard operating procedures, which is very different than it was in 1993.
Geoff Kabaservice: In a curious way, Newt Gingrich and the Republican congressional victory in 1994 helped the Reinventing Government Initiative. Because suddenly the kind of reforms and modernizations and streamlinings that you could propose to agencies and outfits looked very benign in view of the Republican desire to just blow them up.
Elaine Kamarck: You bet.
Geoff Kabaservice: So there’s some of this good cop/bad cop dynamic that might play out after the 2022 midterm elections.
Elaine Kamarck: It might be. Yeah, absolutely might be. And it will certainly… If the 2022 goes as anticipated, I mean, there’s going to have to be some serious reassessment in the Biden administration of what they’re doing and how they’re approaching things to get ready for 2024.
Geoff Kabaservice: But what bothers me about the present situation as compared to the early ’90s is number one, as you’ve said, you have in the Republican Party an entity that is not in any conceivable circumstances a real partner on government reform. And number two, even with a presidentially directed government reinvention program last time around, you couldn’t crack the nut of civil service reform. Is there any reason to believe that would be any more doable today?
Elaine Kamarck: No, but what we did manage to do was take… We called it “the samizdat program” after the old Soviet Union where they had their rules and then for a factory to actually perform as they requested, they had to break all the rules. We actually sent around to the agencies examples of places where they’d gotten out of Title V. And so…
Geoff Kabaservice: Can you explain for the viewers what Title V is?
Elaine Kamarck: Title V is the civil service law. And it now covers, last time I looked it covered slightly less than half of the civil service. So basically what the agencies are doing is they’re going, in their appropriations bills or in their authorization bills, they’re going to Congress and they’re saying, “This doesn’t work for us. We need this personnel system, not that one.” And they’re getting out of it. And my guess is that with a little bit of push from a White House, you would get a lot more innovation in getting out of Title V without ever having to take it on frontally.
Geoff Kabaservice: And generally speaking, what other areas do you see — although maybe this is something we’ll talk about later — where both the civil service and particularly the subcontracting that happens on such a grand scale could be productively reformed?
Elaine Kamarck: Well, the big one is information technology. That’s the big one. 30 years ago we brought the federal government into the information age. It’s there, but it isn’t there in the level of efficiency and competence that it needs to be there. And to get it there, we need some civil service reform. We need contracting reform. We need a lot of things to get it up to where it should be. I mean, with many problems stemming from it — among them, cybersecurity — we can’t hire them fast enough. And we’ve got to just cross our fingers that the Russians don’t decide to use a cyberattack against us as part of this Ukraine fight. We’re very vulnerable. It is the problem that people think of as the scariest thing in our future.
Geoff Kabaservice: Again, we’re just at the very early stages of what may be a new Cold War. But I can’t help wondering if this changed dynamic might even accelerate some of the developments you were pointing to in a piece from a few weeks ago where you asked, “Is Trump’s hold on the Republican Party getting weaker?” Donald Trump’s positions on foreign policy, leaving NATO, his positions against the intelligence agencies — you go through and name it, it’s really out of step with what a Cold War policy approach would demand from both parties.
Elaine Kamarck: That’s right. And look, just his style is not the style of a leader of a great nation in a world where there are nuclear weapons. You just can’t have someone like him. My favorite new word is “shambolic,” which — have you heard this? — apparently this is British slang for somebody who is a shambles and who’s disorganized and seat-of-the-pants kind of thing.
And that’s what Trump is. He is not fit to lead a big nation with nuclear weapons. He’s too dangerous. I mean, he’s just too nutty, frankly. And I think people realize that. I think that’s why you’re seeing this very subtle dance Republicans are doing of taking Trumpy issues like border security, for instance, but moving away from Trump himself. And I think that if that’s the future of the Republican Party, it’ll be a lot better for the nation than a Republican Party that has Trump at the top of it.
Geoff Kabaservice: As a last question, Elaine, your paper on “The New Politics of Evasion” is a sharp dose of reality — or “reality therapy,” as Al From might have put it. And a lot of it is based on a feeling that the Democrats are going in the wrong direction. How optimistic are you that the Democrats can right their course this time around — that history, to some extent, can repeat itself?
Elaine Kamarck: I don’t know the answer to that.
Geoff Kabaservice: I ask this partly because, last time around, you had the DLC. You had Al From, an incredible bureaucratic organizer. You had the Progressive Policy Institute in place. And you also had a candidate, Bill Clinton, who was both immensely talented politically and also bought-in to the New Democrat ideas. I don’t see many of those in place right now.
Elaine Kamarck: Yeah, you’re right. And that does worry me too. For the first “Politics of Evasion,” we had an infrastructure. For this one, we don’t have as much of one. On the other hand, I am hopeful that both the Biden White House and the House and Senate leadership will exert some discipline, try to keep the midterm losses at a minimum, and try to get Biden or someone elected in 2024. But you’re right, the infrastructure just isn’t there, and that worries me.
Geoff Kabaservice: Elaine Kamarck, I am sure we will have many more conversations on these subjects. Thank you so much for joining me here today.
Elaine Kamarck: Well, thank you so much, Geoff.
Geoff Kabaservice: And thank you all for listening to the Vital Center Podcast. Please subscribe and rate us on your preferred podcasting platform. And if you have any questions, comments, or other responses, please include them along with your rating or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks as always to our technical director Kristie Eshelman, our sound engineer Ray Ingegneri, and the Niskanen Center in Washington, D.C.
Photo Credit: iStock