Quite recently, as the race for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination heats up Hillary Clinton has been attacking Bernie Sanders for not really being a four square member of the Democratic Party. People like myself, someone who has been a registered Democrat and has overwhelmingly voted Democratic Party candidates for more than 50 years, are presumably supposed to therefore shun that interloper, Bernie Sanders. As the vituperation between the two Democratic Party candidates reaches a boiling point, the charges and counter-charges have led me to think about what it means to be a Democratic Party voter. While these thoughts focus on American Presidential politics, I think they are relevant to the whole idea of what a political party is and how much loyalty its nominal adherents should have towards the political party of their choice.
Much of my writing has been about my past childhood and the fact that my parents were very left wing radical for their time. They were both in their early 20’s when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected in the midst of the Great Depression. In my childhood home, my brother and I were raised the politics of FDR’s “New Deal” and we were encouraged to closely follow the politics of the Democratic Party, which was the political home of the “New Deal” philosophy. This was how my “loyalty” to the Democratic Party began and remained with me. My “loyalty” is expressed in quotes because I have never been loyal to the Democratic Party per se, but to what I saw as the guiding principles of that Party. The principles that I’m loyal to are my own as defined in
and not to any political party. To my mind this represents rational political behavior, as opposed to blind loyalty to what is essentially a brand name.
However, my guiding principles are quite congruent to FDR’s “New Deal” and up until the complete defeat of George McGovern in 1972, this was the ideology that governed the Democratic Party. McGovern’s defeat had less to do with his Left wing politics, than it did with Nixon’s incumbency in the middle of a war. However, a new faction began to spring up into the Democratic Party, that saw McGovern’s defeat as the death knell of New Deal politics. This faction, later to coalesce as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), rejected the coalitions built in FDR’s time and began to present a new vision of the Democratic Party. While they at first used the outward memes that all Democratic voters responded to, such as income inequality; opposition to racism and a strong social safety net; they began to morph them into a whole new philosophy, represented by “new” Democratic candidates like Jimmy Carter and bill Clinton.
This DLC faction took over the Democratic Party, my party, and gradually changed it into something for which I have distaste. Yet in the American two party system, with one of those Party’s representing a backward, morally repugnant corporate view of America, which party is someone like me supposed to vote for? The homogenization of elective politics into a media driven horse race, devoid of issues, is the oligarch’s wet dream. Voting is being reduced to the same level as rooting for ones’ favorite football team, with all the mindlessness of blind loyalty that “rooting” entails. Let’s explore this line of thought further.
“[T]he Democratic Party’s more-or-less official response to its waning fortunes. The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the organization that produced such figures as Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, and Terry McAuliffe, has long been pushing the party to forget blue-collar voters and concentrate instead on recruiting affluent, white-collar professionals who are liberal on social issues. The larger interests that the DLC wants desperately to court are corporations, capable of generating campaign contributions far outweighing anything raised by organized labor. The way to collect the votes and — more important — the money of these coveted constituencies, “New Democrats” think, is to stand rock-solid on, say, the pro-choice position while making endless concessions on economic issues, on welfare, NAFTA, Social Security, labor law, privatization, deregulation, and the rest of it. Such Democrats explicitly rule out what they deride as “class warfare” and take great pains to emphasize their friendliness to business interests. Like the conservatives, they take economic issues off the table. As for the working-class voters who were until recently the party’s very backbone, the DLC figures they will have nowhere else to go; Democrats will always be marginally better on economic issues than Republicans. Besides, what politician in this success-worshiping country really wants to be the voice of poor people? Where’s the soft money in that?
This is, in drastic miniature, the criminally stupid strategy that has dominated Democratic thinking off and on ever since the “New Politics” days of the early seventies. Over the years it has enjoyed a few successes, but, as political writer E. J. Dionne has pointed out, the larger result was that both parties have become “vehicles for upper-middle-class interests” and the old class-based language of the left quickly disappeared from the universe of the respectable. The Republicans, meanwhile, were industriously fabricating their own class-based language of the right, and while they made their populist appeal to blue-collar voters, Democrats were giving those same voters — their traditional base — the big brush-off, ousting their representatives from positions within the party and consigning their issues, with a laugh and a sneer, to the dustbin of history. A more ruinous strategy for Democrats would be difficult to invent. And the ruination just keeps on coming. However desperately they triangulate and accommodate, the losses keep mounting.
Curiously enough, though, Democrats of the DLC variety aren’t worried. They seem to look forward to a day when their party really is what David Brooks and Ann Coulter claim it to be now: a coming-together of the rich and the self-righteous. While Republicans trick out their poisonous stereotype of the liberal elite, Democrats seem determined to live up to the libel.” Thomas Frank writing at Tom Dispatch.
To my mind, Thomas Frank is the most perceptive person writing today on American politics. The piece above came from his previous book “What’s the Matter with Kansas”. I’ve just finished reading his new book “Listen Liberal”, where he examines this sea change in Democratic Party politics. As he describes the book:
“The subject of my new book is the Democratic Party’s failure over the last few decades to do anything really meaningful about income inequality.
Indeed, they have scarcely dented the free-market consensus at all. This is not for lack of opportunity: Democrats have occupied the White House for sixteen of the last twenty-four years, and yet the decline of the middle class has only accelerated. Wall Street gets its bailouts, wages go nowhere, and the free-trade deals keep coming.
The standard explanation for the Democrats’ failure are the rise of the right, which is supposed to be in league with the devil, and the way money-in-politics works its ugly will. I have described both of these in previous books. But as explanations for the Democrats’ failure they are ultimately inadequate, as is the favorite pundit theory that our Federal government is simply incapable of making big, sweeping turns.
What I propose in this book is something else: that the Democrats are a class party in the most basic sense of the phrase, and that the socioeconomic group whose interests they represent most enthusiastically–the satisfied and prosperous professional class–simply doesn’t care all that much about income inequality.
In addition to the startling and/or obvious facts I present to support this theory, “Listen, Liberal” contains: A look back at the “New Politics” and “Neo-Liberal” movements, a searching examination of the achievements of the Clinton presidency, a visit with the “creative class,” a conjecture or two about Obama’s fascination with tech, a Clinton Foundation event MC’d by Hillary herself, and of course a trip to Martha’s Vineyard.
Taken as a whole, it is an attempt to understand the epidemic of liberal disillusionment as a genuine phenomenon rather than just to brush it off. It’s a meditation on a time in which middle America has crumbled, Wall Street has prospered, and hopeful liberals found themselves betrayed again and again and again.” Here.
The point which Frank makes so well in this book and which my own political perceptions mirror, is that these DLC Democrats felt that supporting this country’s working class was a lost cause. They believed in the rise of the well-educated technocrats, as kind of an elite leadership, entitled to rule because their magnificent educational achievements and success in the new digital economy. These “aristocrats” of the new technology are the only people qualified to lead us and have proven that by dint of their success. The working classes are to be seen as the “losers” in the game of advanced degrees and their pain is the result of their own failure to grasp educational excellence. This is why all of the leaders of the DLC movement have embraced education as a prime need for allowing those qualified to rise up in the economic technocracy that America has morphed into. These are the antagonists against Teacher’s Unions, proponents of charter schools and enemies of public education. That their positions differ little from those of the Republican Party is ignored. The fact is though that George H.W. Bush ran as the “Education President”. Bod Dole ran strongly on privatized education. George W. Bush considered “education” the bedrock of his platform, as did Mitt Romney as well. How is it that the leaders of both political Parties focus on “education” as a bedrock issue, as do the paladins of the corporatocracy like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Charles Koch? Why is it that these people all have Ivy League histories and all are for the privatization of public education?
Pretensions of Aristocracy have been a continued theme throughout human history. The aristocrats in every time and in every place, have told the masses that by dint of their birth, or by dint of their “life successes,” they are the people chosen by fortune (or God) to lead the feckless masses and uphold civilization. That their pretensions are all self serving nonsense is to be seen in the very messiness and bloodiness of World History. We, however, don’t have to look at the span of world history to understand the ridiculousness of their claims. Let us merely look back to the Administration of John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, to see the utter vapidity of this aristocratic claim of leadership. JFK’s administration considered themselves “The best and the brightest” as David Halberstram delineated in his book. Halberstram discusses how these Ivy Leaguers, with impeccable business backgrounds, entrapped America into the unnecessary and disastrous Vietnam War, killing more than 50,000 American Troops and millions of untold South East Asians.
As it was for those “geniuses” of the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, so it is for those “new Democrats” that began to take over the Democratic Party, when Jimmy Carter became President. Despite Carter’s Southern Accent, he was a brilliant man who graduated Georgia Tech and then Annapolis, becoming an officer in the U.S. Nuclear Submarine program. Carter, a child of a wealthy Georgia Farmer went back to first run the Family’s prosperous farm holdings and then to climb the rungs of political office. Jimmy Carter, a Right of Center Democratic Georgia Governor was the perfect standard bearer of those seeking to recreate the image of the Democratic Party. Carter talked a good liberal game when it came to the so-called “social issues”, but economically was far more restrained and critical of the Party’s working class base.
Then “Reagan Revolution”, which was a meme created by the Corporate Media, the elite’s propaganda machines and happily parroted by the Republican leadership, was offered as further proof by the DLC “new” Democrats that “class warfare” was a dead issue. The DLC candidate in 1988 was the quintessential DLC Democrat as technocrat, Michael Dukakis. As governor of Massachusetts, Dukakis “presided over a high-tech boom and a period of prosperity in Massachusetts while simultaneously earning a reputation as a ‘technocrat'”. His Republican opponents probably gave George H.W. Bush the victory by painting Dukakis soft on crime. This aspect of the Dukakis defeat resonated with the DLC wing of the party and when Bill Clinton won the Presidency in 1992, he made sure to picture himself as “tough on crime”. Bill even went as far as returning to Arkansas, in the midst of his Presidential Campaign, to preside over the execution of mentally challenged Black man to show Clinton “was tough on crime. He proved his toughness on crime during his administration by the passage of Omnibus Crime Bills that introduced mandatory minimum sentencing, escalated Nixon’s “War on Drugs” and had led to America now leading the world in prison population with its primary emphasis on people of color.
Interestingly, Bill Clinton ran on a platform that touched all the standard liberal, new deal ideals. He promised to aid the working man, obliterate economic equality and lead in social issues. Once in office though he governed like a “new Democrat”. This meant compromising with the his Republican colleagues to pass business friendly, anti-labor, legislation, passage of his aforementioned “omnibus criminal reform and in his most damaging move for those low on the economic scale, hideous “welfare reform”. Perhaps the two most damaging things Bill Clinton did though was husband the passage of the NAFTA trade agreement and advocate repeal of Glass Steagall. The former and the latter collaborated in the further decline of American Manufacturing, the deterioration of the American Labor Movement and job loss for millions of “blue collar” Americans. I wrote about the disaster of his Presidency in
and followed that up with
Barack Obama, interestingly defeated Hillary Clinton for the 2008 nomination by using Bill Clinton’s strategy of running “left and governing right”. Obama, is a quintessential DLC Democrat, even if he doesn’t admit it. He has presided as a business friendly President a backer of trade deals like the TPP, for further privatization of education and the belief that the problem with America’s blue collar workers is their lack of education. He is definitely and advocate of technocratic leadership and an extremely cautious advocate of social change. His singular achievement, the Affordable Care Act, while better than nothing, is a profit increasing sop to the health care industry and still leaves more than 30 million Americans without medical care. His Attorney General Eric Holder has made sweetheart deals with corporations guilty of fraud and he has continued stringent drug prosecutions. Barack Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan continued the disastrous policies of school privatization begun under Clinton and did nothing to alleviate the burden of student loan debt.
Obama has deported more illegal aliens than any other President. Barack Obama has proven to be militarily hawkish and seems in thrall of the Pentagon. We continue to spend the majority of the Country’s discretionary budget on our military and continue to become entrapped in morasses all around the world that are the delight of the American Foreign Policy establishments’ “great game” of globalization. Was he a better choice than McCain and Romney….absolutely. However, given those two Republicans, we are setting the bar of Presidents extremely low and therein lies my concern.
I vote for the Democratic Party, not because I am a loyal Democrat, but because it has since Jimmy Carter come to represent the lesser of two evils. My loyalty is to the ideals I’ve laid out and to an American system of government that is fair to the entire population. Right now the Presidential candidate that best represents the ideals I believe in and whose policies I think represent the best interests of ALL Americans is Bernie Sanders. This is not because I seem him in heroic terms as some may claim, but because he speaks to the same interests that I do. Furthermore, I believe that the vision he articulates is the best vision for the futures of my children and grandchildren. That said, if it comes to it, I will vote for Hillary Clinton, but it will be with a sadness for the hopes of a better America. I will vote for her though not as a sense of loyalty to the Democratic Party, but with a sense of empathy for most Americans. Let me state though, that if we must continue voting for the lesser of two evils as offered up by the Democratic Party professionals, the collapse of our country we hope to forestall with our votes will be inevitable. The biggest problem with the DLC “New” Democrats is how consistently they’ve been wrong in their policies and how much pain, death and destruction has followed in their wake.