I’ve been less than enthusiastic about the Democratic Party since the days Bill Clinton served as president. That’s an odd admission for a registered Democrat and a kid who grew up supporting the Party. What’s more, my reticence was a gut reaction initially, and nothing more.
Today I know why I reacted as I did. But the underlying reason why I felt that way years ago is still in play. America needs a strongly positioned, mainstream progressive party—a party that’s different in kind—not degree—from the Republicans.
That’s not happening. Worse yet, it hasn’t happened for decades.
Clinton’s policies on incarceration and welfare punished African Americans. Obama’s defense policies were drawn from Bush’s hymnal. And the current “resist and oppose” movement is more about Trump than about advancing progressive policies.
“There are three generations of neoliberals in play now,” a colleague wrote me recently, “the first generation of which was born in the 1960s.”
Over time, the Democratic mainstream has become more neoliberal and less progressive. Bill Clinton showed the way. Many Dems followed willingly and, since then, they’ve “kept the party going.”
He’s spot-on. Over time, the Democratic mainstream has become more neoliberal and less progressive. Bill Clinton showed the way. Many Dems followed willingly and, since then, they’ve “kept the party going.”
What I’ve just asserted is the theme of a just-published article, Ryan Cooper’s The Decline and Fall of Neoliberalism in the Democratic Party (This Week, January 8, 2018). Cooper predicts that we’re close to the end of a neoliberally-dominated Democratic Party.
In an easy-to-read style, Cooper describes neoliberalism—what it is, how it came into being, and how it has evolved—with special emphasis on its application in the Democratic Party. The treatment includes why “New Deal Democrats” fell from grace, how and why the Reagan Revolution held sway, and—very importantly—how (for the better part of the last three decades) the Democrats have moved more and more to the political center, sometimes to the center-left and (shockingly) at other times to the center-right.
For years that transition wasn’t problematic, at least as many interpreted it. Bill Clinton had economic success as president and Obama addressed the massive economic mess he inherited. But how long would it take to uncover underlying issues? “Incredibly,” Cooper writes, “over and over again during the Obama years the party elite proved itself overly sympathetic to the concerns of the market.”
That didn’t become a political liability for the Democrats because Obama was, as Cooper describes him, “a magnificent political talent, the finest national politician in raw talent since FDR.” As long as Obama remained at head of the party, Cooper asserts, “sheer charisma and moderately good policy record” got him though.
But that record was the record. By the time Obama left The White House, Cooper says, signals were flashing red. “The United States was once again a country which functions mostly on behalf of a tiny capitalist elite,” Cooper writes. “It has the same extreme inequality, the same bloated, crisis-prone financial sector, the same corruption, and the same political backlash to the status quo and rising extremist factions.”
You’d think those would be outcomes of a Republican regime. Ironically, it set the stage for one. Enter Populist Trump.
During the campaign, Hillary had trouble responding to Trump via the power of personality as Obama would have been able to do. And, worse yet, for many voters Hillary represented ills that were becoming obvious and several factors that people believed contributed to the slide. “Virtually handpicked by the party elite,” Cooper writes, “and promising to continue and build on the accomplishments of Obama — (Clinton) was the candidate of Democratic Party neoliberalism, for better and worse.”
And it was far worse.
What strikes me today is why so many Democrats still resist moving to the Progressive left. I don’t see that possibility in political terms only. I also see it as a matter of gigantic need.
I follow the OECD (Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development) analyses of the world’s 35 industrialized countries. Among those peers, America’s standing over time has moved down over time—significantly and often shockingly so. Democrats should be all over the downward trend, but they’re not—except for the Progressive few.
Consider news released just a few days ago. One headline read, “Why the United States is 'the most dangerous of wealthy nations for a child to be born into'” Why? The infant mortality rate in this country (2001-2010) was 76% higher than the rate among the 19 richest countries in the world.
That’s an intolerable outcome. The Republicans aren’t going to address it. The Democrats aren’t making it a priority, even though they should.
A Progressive Democratic Party would.