Is Hillary Clinton The Future Of The Democratic Party? (A Serious Question-- Not A Joke)
Michael Lind's NY Times assertion a few days ago that Trumpism and Clintonism are the future will be looked back on as one of the silliest and most just plain wrong statements of the 2016 election cycle. Both isms are political dead ends, no matter how loudly he insists "Trumpism represents the future of the Republicans and Clintonism the future of the Democrats." If Trumpism is the future of the Republican Party, the party will be as dead as the Whigs-- which thrived during the 1830s, '40s and '50s and elected 4 presidents-- in 2 or 3 cycles. The 4 colossally failed Whig presidents were William Henry Harrison, John Tyler-- who later served in the Confederate Congress-- Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore. Lind's pitiful analysis is the worst I've read in years and made me wonder if the Times even pretends to have editors any longer. There is almost nothing correct about Lind's column, at least as far as the Democrats go.
Today’s Democratic base is, to simplify somewhat, an alliance of Northern, Midwestern and West Coast whites from the old Rockefeller Republican tradition with blacks and Latinos. To give one telling example, former Senator Jim Webb, the candidate who most fully represented the white Southern working-class base of the F.D.R.-to-L.B.J. Democrats, abandoned his campaign after receiving little support in a party that bears ever less resemblance to the New Deal Democrats.Lind is beyond clueless when it comes to understanding what's going on inside the Democratic Party. I'd suggest he steep himself in Thomas Frank's newest book, Listen Liberal: What Ever Happened To The Party Of The People, before he show his ignorance on the pages of the Times again. We'll come back to that book in a moment but first let me quote from a better informed analysis by Matt Karp considerably to the left of Lind's, comparing the Bernie model of change and the Hillary model of status quo politics. "The Bernie Sanders model of change has all the subtlety of an index finger raised high above a debate podium. Lay out a bold, unapologetic vision of reform that speaks directly to people’s basic needs. Connect that vision to existing popular struggles, while mobilizing a broad and passionate coalition to support it (#NotMeUs). Ride this wave of democratic energy to overwhelm right-wing opposition and enact major structural reforms. The Hillary Clinton model of change, on the other hand, begins not with policy or people but with a politician. Choose an experienced, practical leader who explicitly rejects unrealistic goals. Rally around that leader’s personal qualifications, while defending past achievements and stressing the value of party loyalty (#ImWithHer). Draw on the leader’s expertise to grind away at Congress and accumulate incremental victories that add up to significant reform. For most of the Left, Clinton-style 'incrementalism' is just a code word to disguise what is effectively a right-wing retrenchment. Nevertheless many self-identified progressives have backed Clinton’s 'theory of politics' as the most realistic path to achieve Sanders’s objectives... But they struggle to identify a major progressive victory that Clinton-style incrementalism has won in the past half-century."
...[N]otwithstanding the enthusiasm of the young for Bernie Sanders, the major tension is not between Mr. Sanders and Hillary Clinton. It is between Hillary Clinton and the legacy of Bill Clinton.
President Bill Clinton, as we have seen, was still trying to appeal both to the so-called rising American electorate of minorities, single women and progressives and to white working-class remnants of the old Roosevelt coalition. Looking back, many progressives today blame the Clinton administration for appealing to white voters by contributing to mass incarceration. Likewise, many progressives resent President Clinton’s support of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and the discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule in the United States military.
Today the country and the Democratic Party are more liberal on gay rights. Thanks to the Supreme Court, gay marriage is the law of the land, and the integration of gays and lesbians into the military is official policy, something inconceivable as recently as a decade ago.
At the same time, the success of the Democrats in winning the popular vote for the presidency in every election since 1992 except 2004 has convinced most Democratic strategists that they don’t need socially conservative, economically liberal Reagan or Wallace Democrats any more. Many Democrats hope that the long-term growth of the Obama coalition, caused chiefly by the growth of the Latino share of the electorate, will create an all but inevitable Democratic majority in the executive branch and perhaps eventually in the government as a whole. The Clintonian synthesis of pro-business, finance-friendly economics with social and racial liberalism no longer needs to be diluted, as it was in the 1990s, by opportunistic appeals to working-class white voters.
This realignment within the Democratic Party requires Hillary Clinton to distance herself from many of the policies of her husband’s administration and to adopt policies favored by her party’s core constituencies. On issues from criminal justice to immigration enforcement, that is precisely what she has done. Even if she had not been challenged by Mr. Sanders, she probably would have done this anyway, because with the departure of the Reagan Democrats, the Democratic coalition has shifted to the left.
What, then, explains the appeal of Bernie Sanders? Part of the explanation, no doubt, is that, as she herself acknowledges, Mrs. Clinton is less charismatic a candidate than Barack Obama or her husband was, despite their similar policies and backers. Part of it is simply generational. Remember, many young people were as enthusiastic about Mr. Obama in 2008 as their counterparts are about Mr. Sanders today.
But on the social and racial issues that are important to today’s Democratic base, it is Mr. Sanders, not Mrs. Clinton, who has had to modify his message. At the beginning of his campaign, Mr. Sanders the democratic socialist focused in the manner of a single issue candidate almost exclusively on themes of class, inequality and political corruption. But because he is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, he has had to put greater emphasis on other issues, including racial disparity in policing and sentencing and the environment and immigration.
...[I]t would be a serious mistake to assume that the growing sympathy of many of today’s millennials for the concept of democratic socialism as embodied by Mr. Sanders will translate into a social democratic America in the 2030s or 2050s. Half a century ago, as the Age of Aquarius gave way to the Age of Reagan, many of the hippies of the ’60s became, in effect, the yuppies of the ’80s-- still socially liberal, but with new concerns about government spending, now that they were paying taxes and mortgages.
For all of these reasons, it is likely that the future of the Democrats will be Clintonism-- Hillary Clintonism, that is, a slightly more progressive version of neoliberalism freed of the strategic concessions to white working-class voters associated with Bill Clintonism.
Now back to Thomas Frank's new book and his unpleasant truth about the similarities the elites of both parties are steeped in. Which right-wing asshole of a Republican said this about rising income inequality? "One of the challenges in our society is that the truth is a kind of disequalizer. One of the reasons that inequality has probably gone up in our society is that people are being treated closer to the way that they’re supposed to be treated." Was that Ted Cruz? Too abstract for a Bush but what about Cheney or Romney, Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin? As a matter of fact... Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers neatly summed up Democratic elite economic policy with that statement.
An apt personification of what's gone wrong with the Democratic Party
Clinton’s eight-year term in the Senate produced bills to regulate video game violence and flag burning, both of which died in committee.
Bill Clinton’s eight-year term in the White House gave us an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit and a small children’s health insurance program-- but also NAFTA, the 1994 crime bill, welfare reform, the Defense of Marriage Act, financial deregulation, and a grand bargain to gut Social Security that was only thwarted by a timely sex scandal.
The pragmatic, piecemeal, and irreproachably moderate achievements of Jimmy Carter are still more dispiriting. Even judged by the charitable standards of American liberalism, the forty-year balance sheet of “incremental progress” is decidedly negative.
Beltway pundits scoff at Sanders’s model of change, meanwhile, as if the Vermont senator thinks he can defeat a Republican Congress by getting a few hundred protestors to yell slogans outside Capitol Hill.
They naturally fail to mention that as a matter of historical record, the Sanders model happened to produce Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, and Medicaid.
The simple truth is that virtually every significant and lasting progressive achievement of the past hundred years was achieved not by patient, responsible gradualism, but through brief flurries of bold action. The Second New Deal in 1935–36 and Civil Rights and the Great Society in 1964–65 are the outstanding examples, but the more ambiguous victories of the Obama era fit the pattern, too.
These reforms came in a larger political environment characterized by intense popular mobilization-- the more intense the mobilization, the more meaningful the reform. And each of them was overseen by an unapologetically liberal president who hawked a sweeping agenda and rode it all the way to a landslide victory against a weakened right-wing opposition.
All three bursts of reform, of course, were shaped by the need to deal with opponents in Congress-- including conservative Democrats-- who imposed their own conditions. And even the New Deal and the Great Society, of course, were profoundly compromised in ways that no one on the Left is likely to forget.
Nevertheless these were real victories. None of them was won in the name of moderation, incrementalism, or the sober-minded rejection of ambitious goals.
At the 1936 Democratic convention, Franklin Roosevelt famously called for a “rendezvous with destiny,” not a rendezvous with tax credits for small businesses. Roosevelt took it as his duty to push against the boundaries of the politically possible, not surrender to them: “Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place.”
“There are those timid souls who say this battle cannot be won; that we are condemned to a soulless wealth,” declared Lyndon Johnson in 1964. “I do not agree. We have the power to shape the civilization that we want.”
Compare that to our current Democratic front-runner, whose most impassioned moment on the 2016 campaign trail came when she denounced single-payer health care as an idea “that will never, ever come to pass.”
How totally does this sound like the premises behind Hillary's campaign? "The Democrats posture as 'the party of the people' even as they dedicate themselves ever more resolutely to serving and glorifying the professional class. Worse: they combine self-righteousness and class privilege in a way that Americans find stomach-turning. And every two years, they simply assume that being non-Republican is sufficient to rally the voters of the nation to their standard. This cannot go on." I've been referring to that approach as lesser of two evils politics, all the Democratic elites have left. Hillary's only argument-- aside from being a woman-- is that Trump or Cruz is worse than she is.
Jim Swearingen's review of Frank's book for the National Book Review is worth looking out until Amazon delivers the book itself.
This is an important book, an engaging and skeptical analysis of where the Democratic Party’s politics and policies have been headed for some time. One of Frank’s great themes is the party’s abandonment of the working class, whose votes fueled the egalitarian New Deal juggernaut, to embrace a new “creative class,” whose money bankrolls the socially liberal-- and economically more conservative--policies of a new generation of American technocrats.Soon after, the National Book Review published a Q and A Swearingen did with Frank, Thomas Frank On The Democrats' Disgrace: Abandoning Working-Class Americans. A couple of those questions and answers go directly to Lind's stupidity and are worth taking a look at and pondering for a moment:
This new generation of Democrat, as Frank describes it, holds graduate school degrees, often from prestigious universities; pursues professional careers, usually requiring high levels of expertise; supports social causes, predominately identified with the left; and advocates economic policies traditionally associated with cloth-coat Republicans. This creative class represents the top 10%, a Talented Tenth of the nation’s population.
In a gradual demographic shift over the past several decades, this smart set has come to dominate and refurbish a Democratic Party that fits their socially enlightened, scientifically grounded, aesthetically sophisticated tastes. But Frank is not celebrating. This well-matriculated class of Democrats is, in his view, a self-congratulatory, nepotistic bunch that admires its own handsome credentials and professional status a little too much.
They have, he charges, the smug self-satisfaction of people who have won the lottery and attribute it entirely to their own inherent worth. Among this righteous new meritocracy, an attitude of social Darwinism has resurfaced, one that credits the fortunate for their ingenuity and faults the destitute for their lack of initiative. Their good fortune has left them without humility or any empathy for the masses of Americans who didn’t get to go to the college of their choice, or to college at all.
As the pages of the book fly by, the reader gets more than a whiff of the smart set’s haughty distaste for the unemployed, the uneducated, and the underprivileged. Frank argues that the Democratic Party, in absorbing legions of self-satisfied professionals, has shed its New Deal mantle and come to disdain the manual class for its inability-- or worse, unwillingness-- to adapt to a new economy built on education, technological innovation, professional associations, and disposable capital.
The creative class’s philosophical convictions include a hazy, Utopian fantasy of all technical and economic problems magically solved. This is a very different idealized future from the class-less, poverty-abolishing dreams of the old-school New Deal Democrats.
The Democratic Party’s current leaders are in the grip of an uncharacteristically anti-government fever. They favor tax and trade policies that foster technological innovation and business start-ups that will, they believe, establish a spectacular meritorious economy with jobs for all-- all, that is, who are adequately prepared to fill them.
Their idea that this rising tide of technological innovation will lift all boats generally goes unquestioned. But Frank peels away the fatuous Platonic sales talk to reveal that this is just the latest rationalization of capitalists trying to dismantle a system that imposes regulations and taxes on them.
In putting all their chips on “inno,” this cadre of Ivy Leaguers and Silicon Valley gurus seems indifferent to its unfortunate consequences: few low-skilled, full-time, livable-wage jobs for legions of non-college graduates. The result is a top-heavy hierarchy of all chiefs and no Indians. This new economy has left behind the lunch-bucket clock-punchers who once made their livelihoods doing the heavy lifting in an industrial economy.
Frank describes the impatience of this ostensibly liberal educated class with traditional federal limits on business. The innovation explosion, which sounds so inspiring on its surface, so quintessentially American, seeks to circumvent lumbering and obsolescent social, political, and economic structures-- including restrictions on free trade-- with rapid and inventive work-arounds.
Those antiquated, quasi-Socialist, government structures, however, were designed to stabilize a nation-state, to protect often unsuspecting and defenseless workers, consumers, and borrowers from reckless capitalists.
The book moves methodically through the Clinton and Obama administrations-- as well as anticipating, through forensic political evidence, what a Hillary Clinton administration would look like-- to lay the blame for destructive financial deregulation, tax cuts for the affluent, and free trade job dislocation squarely on their abandonment of traditional liberal concerns. Though the creative class frames these policy developments as inevitable, Frank disputes that any of this had to happen.
His solution to the puzzle of why two ostensibly progressive Democratic Presidents like Clinton and Obama would cozy up so warmly to Wall St. and Silicon Valley comes out of his central thesis: these well-connected policy wonks with Ivy League pedigrees gravitated toward helping fellow members of their own smart set, even going so far as to insulate them from prosecution for their reckless mistakes. Their loyalty to classmates-- both in an academic and an economic sense-- has superseded their fealty to the liberal mission they both claimed to embrace.
Does Bernie Sanders’ campaign bring you any sense of renewed hope in the ability-- or willingness-- of the Democratic Party to tackle income inequality?THE DEMOCRATS have. The progressives haven't. Let's help elect more of them, especially replacing garden variety corporate Dems like Debbie Wasserman Schultz (with Tim Canova), Donald Norcross (with Alex Law), Lacy Clay (with Maria Chappelle-Nadal), and Kurt Schrader (with Dave McTeague). And they're all on one handy page:
FRANK: Very much so. Not because anyone thinks he'd be able to put his proposals into effect right away if he became president, but because he's putting ideas on the table that more conventional Democrats abandoned many years ago. These happen to be very popular ideas, and now we're remembering why. Sanders has also shown us the weak point in the armor of the plutocracy-- the way in which a traditional liberal politician can indeed compete in this age of mega-donors.
...As the Democrats seem ready to nominate a Wall St.-friendly Hillary Clinton and Republicans to nominate an anti-free-trade Donald Trump, could we be witnessing a seismic party role reversal such as happened with Democrats shifting from a segregationist to a civil rights party? Could the GOP end up, when this upheaval is over, as the Party of the Oppressed?
FRANK: It seems unlikely, but everything about Donald Trump is unlikely. Craziest of all is the idea of the white working class turning for a savior to a guy who had a TV show in which you got to watch him firing people.
I will say this, however: The Republicans are going to have a hard time getting the Trump phenomenon back in its box. Regardless of what happens, four years from now you're going to have another Trump, probably one who doesn't insult and offend so many different groups. If you get a Trump minus the bigotry-- a Trump minus Trump-- I will be ready to start looking at the GOP again.
And just think of what we're acknowledging about the Democrats! I spent the last year working on this book about how they've abandoned the working class-- a highly controversial subject!-- and now it's not even in question any more.