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Charting a path for a Democratic victory in 2020

In the Democratic debates Joe Biden was accused by Cory Booker and Julian Castro of taking credit for Obama’s successes while distancing himself from the former president’s unpopular decisions. Focusing on immigration and health care policies, respectively, Booker and Castro were in the right church but the wrong pew. Their accusations reflect a rift within the party over Obama’s legacy but only scratch the surface.

In 2014, Bill Curry, former Bill Clinton advisor, wrote a prescient article for Salon Magazine titled: “My Party Has Lost Its Soul.” He warned Democrats they cannot win elections running on the failed neoliberal legacy of Clinton and Obama. Characterized by free market trade, financial deregulation, privatization, and a shift away from “entitlements,” neoliberalism is the mistaken belief that all of our problems are solved by laissez-faire capitalism. It was the Democrats’ “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” response to Reaganism. Abandoning unions and working families, the backbone of the Democratic Party since FDR, these “Third Way” Democrats embraced Wall Street and the financialization of the economy. Clinton deregulated telecommunications, a huge giveaway of public airwaves resulting in concentration of ownership into five major media outlets, abetting the polarization we have today. Clinton repealed Glass-Steagall, the firewall between investment and commercial banking. Flush with cash, banks were all too willing to provide risky mortgages to those pursuing the American Dream. They peddled home equity loans to underpaid, working-class homeowners desperate, after Reagan’s union busting, to maintain their standard of living. Approving NAFTA and other trade deals, Clinton oversaw the outsourcing of millions of jobs and the off-shoring of thousands of factories. After the

2008 economic crash newly elected Obama, riding a progressive wave of “hope and change,” provided instead a personal firewall between an outraged public and bank CEOs who participated in the Ponzi scheme. “I’m the only one standing between you and the pitchforks,” he famously told them. Outraged by bank bailouts and what they called “crony capitalism,” insurgent “tea party” Republicans flipped Congress in 2010. Neither that nor Trump’s pseudo-populist revolt in 2016 did more than rearrange the deck chairs on our neoliberal Titanic.

Today, Trump’s supporters embrace nationalism and racism, contenting themselves with scapegoating immigrants (“welfare queens” evidently outworn) for their economic woes. Meanwhile, “moderate” liberals focus on all things not Trump and stubbornly resist understanding the failed neoliberal agenda. Not unlike Trump’s base, they unwittingly support the elites in their chosen party. Not yet personally suffering, they practice cognitive dissonance when it comes to any discussion of the failure of neoliberalism. With corporate media providing the blinders, “moderates” convince themselves that support from some undefinable, mythical “center” will mitigate any political damage from their abandonment of the working class. In this timidity they co-dependently support Republican “free marketers.” That dysfunctional love affair has seen the greatest upward redistribution of wealth in over a century, hollowing out our middle class and propelling downward mobility. Meanwhile, capital moves freely across the globe while labor remains homebound, and the financial windfall from artificial intelligence and automation accrues to those at the top. Elites in both parties, via their corporate media mouthpieces, intentionally use identity politics (race, ethnicity, gender, etc.) to keep everyone at each other’s throats, even as we all suffer economically.

Political writer Thomas Frank recently asked, “How do Democrats change course without sounding like they’re criticizing Obama or the Clintons — or by extension, the neoliberal fantasy that has sustained the party since the nineties?” The answer is, of course, that they can’t. What Democrats can do is stop mortgaging their children’s future by denying wealth and resource extractors the right to oppress them with unsustainable college debt and an uninhabitable planet. They can insist their party leaders stop rigging primary elections by their blackballing of insurgent candidates who dare challenge incumbents. They can stop promoting the illusion that the path to victory is Republican-lite appeasement of voters. They can boldly repudiate neoliberalism and demand that their state, local and national parties embrace a new, New Deal, specifically the Green New Deal, which connects economic, social, racial and environmental issues and charts a fearless, egalitarian path to victory.

Andy Seles of Ashland is chair of Our Revolution Southern Oregon.