Much of today’s Republican party is treacherous and treasonous. So why are Democrats facing midterm elections that, according to most political observers, they’re likely to lose?
Having been a loyal Democrat for some 70 years, including a stint as a cabinet secretary, it pains me to say this: the Democratic party has lost its way.
Some commentators think Democrats have moved too far to the left – too far from the so-called “center.” This is utter rubbish. Where’s the center between democracy and authoritarianism, and why would Democrats want to be there?
Others think Biden hasn’t been sufficiently angry or outraged. But what good would that do? After four years of Trump, why would anyone want more anger and outrage?
The real failure of the Democratic party is its loss of the American working class.
As Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg concluded after the 2016 election: “Democrats don’t have a ‘white working-class’ problem. They have a ‘working-class problem’, which progressives have been reluctant to address honestly or boldly. The fact is that Democrats have lost support with all working-class voters across the electorate.”
The working class used to be the bedrock of the Democratic party. What happened?
During the first two years of the Clinton, Obama, and Biden administrations, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, they scored some important victories for working families: the Affordable Care Act, an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example.
But they also allowed the middle class to hollow out and the working class to sink.
Clinton passed free trade agreements without providing millions of blue-collar workers who consequently lost their jobs a means of getting new ones that paid at least as well.
His North American Free Trade Agreement and plan for China to join the World Trade Organization undermined the wages and economic security of manufacturing workers across America, hollowing out vast swaths of the Rust Belt.
Clinton also deregulated Wall Street. This led to the financial crisis of 2008 – in which Obama bailed out the biggest banks and bankers but did nothing for homeowners, many of whom owed more on their homes than their homes were worth.
Obama didn’t demand as a condition for the bailout that banks refrain from foreclosing on underwater homeowners. Nor did Obama demand an overhaul of the banking system. Instead, he allowed Wall Street to water down attempts at re-regulation.
Both Clinton and Obama stood by as corporations hammered trade unions. They failed to reform labor laws to allow workers to form unions with a simple up-or-down majority vote, or even to impose meaningful penalties on companies that violated labor protections.
Biden has supported labor law reform but hasn’t fought for it, leaving the Protecting the Right to Organize (Pro) Act to die inside his ill-fated Build Back Better Act.
Clinton and Obama allowed antitrust enforcement to ossify, enabling large corporations to grow far larger and major industries to become more concentrated. Biden is trying to revive antitrust enforcement but hasn’t made it a centerpiece of his administration.
Both Clinton and Obama depended on big money from corporations and the wealthy. Both turned their backs on campaign finance reform.
Obama was the first presidential nominee since Richard Nixon to reject public financing in his primary and general election campaigns, and he never followed up on his re-election promise to pursue a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United vs FEC, the 2010 supreme court opinion opening the floodgates to big money in politics.
Joe Biden has tried to regain the trust of the working class, but Democratic lawmakers (most obviously and conspicuously, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema) have blocked measures that would have lowered the costs of childcare, eldercare, prescription drugs, healthcare, and education. They’ve blocked a higher minimum wage and paid family leave.
Yet neither Manchin nor Sinema nor any other Democrat who has failed to support Biden’s agenda has suffered any consequences.
Why hasn’t Biden done more to rally the working class and build a coalition to grab back power from the emerging oligarchy? Presumably for the same reasons Clinton and Obama didn’t: the Democratic party continues to prioritize the votes of “suburban swing voters” who supposedly determine electoral outcomes, and it still depends on money from big corporations and the wealthy.
The most powerful force in American politics today is anti-establishment fury at a rigged system. There is no longer a left or right. There is no longer a moderate “center”. The real choice is either Republican authoritarian populism or Democratic progressive populism.
Democrats cannot defeat authoritarian populism without an agenda of radical democratic reform – a pro-democracy, anti-establishment movement. Democrats must stand squarely on the side of working people against oligarchy. They must form a unified coalition of people of all races, genders, and classes to unrig the system.
Trumpism is not the cause of our divided nation. It is the symptom of a rigged system that was already dividing us.
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