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Kansas, continued from page 11 and why the United States veered from left to right during the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. He followed up in 1996 with They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate the Next Political Era. \(He had already announced in his first book “that conservatism has reached a stage of intellectual and political exhaustion.” Now, in Stand Up Fight Back, Dionne looks back at the end of the Clinton years and seeks to explain “the strange and very disturbing turn American politics has taken” since George W. Bush came to power. Dionne writes with a partisan heart and a critical mind. He’s an unabashed liberal who understands as well as anyone why liberalism has lost its appeal to so many Americans. So while he excoriates the Bush style of conservatism \(he governs as a manipulator, cratic and liberal opponents of Bush for missed opportunities, mixed messages, and a style of accommodation that has allowed the nation’s center to move way to the right. Thus, Dionne avoids the simple logical error Thomas Frank makes in his book. Where Frank assumes into existence a Democratic Party that stands for working-class Americans, Dionne knows there are reasons most wouldbe Democratic voters haven’t perceived a clear alternative to the Republicans. “Democrats are obsessed with telling people who they are not. As a result, no one knows who they are,” Dionne writes. Indeed, this is where the real answer to Frank’s “preeminent question” is to be found. If people are given a choice between a fighting party and a weakkneed party, why would they choose the latter? In Dionne’s view, Democrats haven’t been tough enoughthey “forgot how to fight back.” Ah, but what to fight for? Dionne imagines a strong, principled alternative to Republicanism, but he doesn’t equate that with “moving to the left.” As he has argued previously, he writes here that “Americans are, on the whole, moderate.” Moderation “is a great and honorable American disposition,” he says. It looks for balance between public needs and the private sector, between individualism and the common good. The key point is, moderates alone cannot win the country back, just as liberals and progressives can’t. “The first task of politics now is to prevent a sharp turn to the right. That requires an alliance between the center and the left, which means, in turn, giving up some of the rote disputes between center and left that are no longer relevant.” The United States “is not naturally a right-wing nation,” Dionne insists. The “careful mix of populism and centrism” associated with Bill Clintonbalanced budgets, new programs to help the poor, social tolerancecan work. And a sensible progressive program in the hands of bold and articulate leaders can win, Dionne says. “In fact, forging a patriotic liberalismor as I would call it, a progressive patriotismis precisely what this moment calls for,” he writes. At the end of his book, Dionne offers specifics about what such a program would look like. Reading through it, what comes across most is the idea of balance. Stop the slide to the rightin foreign policy, in the judiciary, in giving too much power to the corporate sector and in entrusting too much to the market. Assert instead the ability of government to defend the nation and improve its social health without running huge deficits. Another thing comes through. The progressive era that both Dionne and Frank yearn for requires more than half the electorate to take a leap of faiththey must suspend their anger and distrust of the federal government. Why should this be hard? One theory is that fear of higher taxes is still the central issue in domestic politics. No writer has explained this better than Dionne himself in Why Americans Hate Politics. In the 1960s, the New Left laid the groundwork in the argument against government. By the 1970s and ’80s, all kinds of anti-Washington rhetoric resonated with the middle class. “The New Deal had taught that government was the middle class’s friend,” Dionne wrote. “The inflation-tax surge of the 1970s taught that government was the enemy.” Reagan consolidated the victory and Bush has extended it. It may seem like a “derangement” to Frank that people who should be clamoring for government programs are attracted to the anti-government argument. But much has changed since the populist and progressive ferment of a century ago. There was simply no federal income tax burden on ordinary citizens in those days. No IRS. No extensive regulation. No reason to believe that big government was something to worry about. Of course it’s absurd for workingclass Americans to support Republican tax policies that shift burdens away from the rich and onto them. But antitax rhetoric easily wins out over liberal promises of expensive new programs, which are always promoted without mention of tax increases. “The revolt of the middle class against a growing tax burden was not an expression of selfishness but a reaction to the difficulties of maintaining a middleclass standard of living,” Dionne wrote in his first book. In his latest effort he says, “Instead of cowering before the tax issue, progressives need to go on the offensive.” They should propose comprehensive tax reform that would spread the burdens more fairly. Still, Dionne speaks against “the current push to starve the public realm of funds” and uses such catchphrases as “a will to use public resources.” Are people crazy to hear in such language the prospect of higher taxes and to believe that, given the realities of how Washington works, they are likely to feel it? Dionne offers the label “progressive patriotism” in the hopes it could work the kind of magic for Democrats that “compassionate conservativism” worked for Bush. In the last election, voters were willing to accept the conservatism, knowing the “compassion” wasn’t going to cost them very much. This time around I suspect voters would be happy to rally to a new style of patriotism. But might they be wondering how much that progressivism is going to cost? Dave Denison, a native Hoosier, is a former editor of The Texas Observer. 40 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 8/13/04