The 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination race accelerated a process that has been underway for a decade or more. The ability of the Democratic Party to more tightly control electoral outcomes and leadership races within its own yard, but its inability to win races on the macro level. For me personally, I do not like these sorts of internal games the party consistently plays to crush dissent, but better Biden than Bloomberg whom I feared would be the choice of the party elite. But we must remember that between 2010 and 2016, Democrats lost over 1,000 seats the party previously held across the nation and fell to its lowest level in terms of percentage of elected official representation nationally since 1926. This happened for various reasons but one big one was because the Democratic Party in the Obama years began to abandon its long-held ideology of economic empowerment and justice.
The last time the Democrats had so few elected officials as a percentage nationally had been after the disastrous 1924 Election where the Democrats ran to the right with nominee John W. Davis creating a conservative consensus on economics. The result was a third party candidacy of Robert LaFollete, a Republican progressive from Wisconsin. The Democrats won only 28% of the national popular vote, very little of it outside the then solid south. The Democrats had rejected a platform amendment criticizing the Ku Klux Klan at their convention and therefore retained strong southern support.
As I sat yesterday watching one prominent Republican tied to the Bush years after another tweet support for Joe Biden, I realized that at least at the national party level, being a true progressive or liberal is done for – progressives certainly can control local parties and maybe some state ones, but at the national level, the Democrats and their media allies obsession with Trump and whitewashing of any critiques from the Obama years has led to a consensus among the establishments of the two main parties on economics.
As someone who likes and respects Joe Biden, and considers him a traditional liberal, it has stunned me the effectiveness of Bush Republicans and conservatives to unite behind him after their efforts to have the Democrats anoint Mike Bloomberg, Rudy Giuliani Republican successor as New York Mayor, failed miserably. My hope is Biden reverses the trend of the party to the right on economics but given the general thrust of the party and the influences it seems to be controlled most tightly by, it’s hard to be terribly optimistic.
On social issues, particularly those around racial or gender identity, the Democrats remain true to liberal principles. However, on foreign affairs, I would argue the Democrats are now to the right of Trump’s GOP and do not think it is an accident so many neoconservative leaders are now comfortable in openly identifying with the Democrats.
The Bill Kristol’s, David Brook’s, David Frum’s and Jennifer Rubin’s of the world want a world where the United States is constantly intervening in conflicts abroad, ostracizing Russia and China, embracing right-wing military juntas while not talking to dictators of the left anywhere in the world. Despite President Obama’s important opening to Cuba and deal with Iran, this group has decided their interests and their agenda is better represented by a Democratic White House than a Republican one – this is very telling. It makes sense when you consider the number and level of military interventions under Obama vs those under Trump.
More on foreign affairs in a little bit.
The Democratic Party is made up of disparate groups and clinging to identity politics and de-emphasizing economics has become the party’s way to try and remain united. The Democrats appear on the surface to rhetorically champion the plight of anyone who aren’t beneficiaries of “white privilege.” But the reality is the party does not champion much of anyone economically these days. In that respect they are completely without, ethnic color and gender bias.
This explains why the emergence of a new wave of young leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represent a massive threat to a party’s establishment that feeds on identity politics and personality-based marketing. Ocasio-Cortez, being a Latino female should just be happy the Democratic Party exists to represent her and give her access to the process is the thinking, Her ideology should be based on that identity and nothing else…unfortunately Democrats often fail to realize economic justice and social justice are inextricably linked. Ocasio-Cortez and her ilk are the one real hope the party has of being what it should and needs to be for the American people.
But why do they not realize this?
The Democrats today are mostly led by feckless political insiders, living in a bubble where they attend cocktail parties with Republicans and media members, and shape perceptions and opinions based on that bubble. They are then advised by consultants, many of whom have day jobs as corporate lobbyists in Republican-oriented shops.
These same types then moonlight as Democratic operatives and kingmakers – given where they draw much or most of their income from they are much more likely to advocate a pro-corporate, pro-insurance, pro-tech company or pro-pharmaceutical giant perspective than they are likely to align with Ocasio-Cortez’s of the world. People like her do not exist in their world. People like her being in public office especially as Democrats are a threat to the people who pay them the big bucks. Those who control much of the party’s machinery have far less respect for progressives than they do for Republicans and corporate executives. This did not just happen in 2020, but has been the case for at least a decade or more. We experienced it first hand in Florida during the 2010 US Senate race.
When did the Democrats make this sharp turn? It has to be theorized that while the party began drifting right under Bill Clinton and then during the tenure of Terry McAuliffe as DNC Chair, the transformation on economics was completed during the Obama years. That is why the counter-reaction of Bernie Sanders came in 2016, just as President Obama was winding down his second term.
Make no mistake about it – I disagree with some of the liberal critiques of President Obama’s first term – we were in a recession bordering on a depression and Wall Street, big companies as well the Insurance industry needed to help us out. Our backs were against the wall and it was all hands on deck together to save the global economy.
But what I can not disagree with is that the general tenor of his administration, after the recession was over does not meet the progressive standard. It really wasn’t even close. Obama’s Administration can be easily accused of lax enforcement of antitrust laws which allowed several mega-mergers that have ultimately hurt consumers, to allow the big tech companies to meander into a bunch of different industries without proper regulation, to not do real immigration reform due to political calculations (which I still believe cost Charlie Crist the Governorship of Florida in 2014 than to lower Latino turnout), mass deportations, and to not actually forcefully push anti-gun legislation the way President Clinton had.
I thought the TPP was a good strategic move in the Pacific Rim, but the fact is most on the left strongly opposed it and Trump did as well – leaving Obama Democrats undoubtedly to the right of the Republicans on this issue.
Still I believe Obama was a good President and the right man for the times – his strong interventionist streak on foreign affairs surprised me but I understand Democrats don’t like to be accused of being weak on National Security. Nonetheless, my feeling was the Democrats having gotten through this period would embrace social and economic justice and a greater role for government in eliminating inequalities in our society. But I was dead wrong. The Democrats instead have embraced full-on corporatism and stingy bout of new Cold Warriorism.
Obama’s tenure which can be described as center-left was followed by the Democrats falling into an obsessive Trump Derangement syndrome. This syndrome has led the party to meander all over the ideological map in search of allies and policy positions. It’s led the Democrats to become increasingly hawkish on foreign affairs, identity-driven on social issues and a criticize any economic decision by Trump. The President has an inconsistent economic philosophy – a combination of government-juiced subsidy programs, tax cuts, tariff hikes, weaponizing of currency and low-income job creation measure.
So the Democrats have in fact coalesced in opposition to all these things, making the economic views of the party inconsistent. But the Democrats also have the Obama-era legacy of close alliances with the big tech and media companies – the closest things we have to monopolies in 21st Century America. While Trump may retain the support of traditional Wall Street industrialists, the Democrats have the new economic elite, and therefore really are tied to moderate or center right economic views, a repudiation of the parties post-New Deal history. The party has become so dependent at some levels on corporate money , they really don’t know any other way.
Let’s look at foreign policy. Despite heroically getting the US out of Iraq (temporarily), Obama didn’t close Guantanamo. He expanded the Afghan War, Intervened in Libya and Yemen, wanted wanted to intervene in Syria in much greater numbers than we did and ran the most odious of drone wars in Pakistan – with the help of Pakistani intelligence services but squarely against the wishes of many in that sovereign nations government.
I disdain Donald Trump’s past – a sexual predator that is so uncouth personally he could never be formally accepted into club high-end club of businessmen or billionaires. Much of what motivates Trump is the perceived slights he has experienced and inability to be part of the rich and famous club – but that is down to his personality and despicable behavior.
Trump’s positions on social and environmental matters are far to the right of the Democrats, but when it comes to foreign affairs he’s arguably to the left on many key issues.
Trump has taken a number of foreign policy positions I have had for years and consider liberal positions, like forcing NATO allies to pay their fair share, rapprochement with Russia, engagement with North Korea and winding down the Middle Eastern wars, His positions on Iran and Cuba however reverse the progress of the Obama years which I supported. He’s been largely ineffective in doing things he’s rhetorically talked about, but the question would a mainstream Democrat do better or with neoconservative support deepen the US’ imperialist instincts abroad?
So we arrive at this critical moment in time with a political party completely adrift from being a consistent values-based entity. Instead it is a collection of groups tied together by identity politics and hatred of a single man. The influence of lobbyists and consultants have driven the party toward the right on economics. Let’s hope Biden can swing it back – if not we’re in an era of conservative rule on economic issues irrespective of the party in power.