Written for Writer Beat:
Mario da Cruz, one of the new kids on the Writer Beat block, has just written an article
about "unity" within the Democratic party. It's a pretty good one and
gives a brief history of the present internal party conflict between
liberals and "neoliberals," whom he calls "Establishment Democrats." I
was writing a response to it, it ran a bit long and decided to make it
an article in itself.
it must be said there's one standout flaw in Mario's analysis. In
context, it's really only a side-issue but it is worthy of note. In
discussing whether liberals should break away from the Democrats and
form a third party, he writes:
easier and more effective to take over one of the two mainstream
parties, as the Tea Party has been doing over the last six years,
culminating in the election of President Donald Trump."
The "Tea Party" never took over the GOP. The "Tea Party" was never
anything more than an astroturf project and, in effect, hasn't even
existed as a thing for years now. It, in fact, never really existed
in the way it was portrayed. The point of astroturf is to project the
phantom of a grassroots movement where there isn't really one. The
biggest success of the "Tea Party" was in getting journalists and
commentators to use the label as a shorthand for disaffected
reactionaries. The ascent of Trump has to do with a number of other
factors having to do with the degradation of a large segment of the
American right, under the lash of the right-wing Rage Machine, into a
form of protofascism. As a consequence, conservatism is virtually
without a public voice in the U.S. now. The teabaggers were just a
manifestation of this decadence; they were never driving it.
reactionaries have now made the Republican party apparatus and its
elected officials so extreme, they're now well to the right of even most
of the party's own voters. They hold grossly disproportionate power,
which is an effect of things like gaming the system--the House is held
by Repubs solely because of extensive gerrymandering in several blue
states--and the two-party system itself--when it comes to expressing
dissatisfaction with the party in the White House, they're the only game
The crisis presently faced by the
Democrats--the central focus of Mario's article--is entirely different.
Their problem is that the party apparatus and its top elected officials
don't represent the party itself, the people who actually vote
Democratic. The "neoliberals" combine socially liberal policies, favored
by both Democrats and, in general, the overwhelming majority of
Americans, with rightist pro-business policies, adopted to attract Big
Money donors. Typically, they also hold rightist war-hawk views on
foreign policy, which is often an extension of that same pro-business
alignment. There's no real public support for these rightist policies
and the real constituency of the "neoliberals" is that Big Money donor
class. The progressives are currently attempting to break the
"neoliberals'" hold on power and bring the Democratic party in line with
its own voters.
"neoliberals" are fighting back. So far, they've managed to hold on to
their leadership positions in the party. In congress, the Democratic
leadership is the same tired old faces, the retiring Harry Reid yielding
to Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi
continuing to run the House Demos. When it looked like the
liberal-backed Keith Ellison would ascend to the chairmanship of the
Democratic National Committee, the "neos" recruited
former Labor Secretary Tom Perez for no other reason than to prevent
that from happening. After they dumped on the press a pile of scurrilous
opposition research against Ellison, Perez was elected absent any real
platform and the triumphant "neos" voted not to reinstate
the Obama-era ban on corporate PAC donations to the party, which had
been lifted during the 2016 cycle at the insistence of the Clintonites.
big problem with "unity," to return to Mario's argument, is that the
"neos'" notion of it has always been for the progressives to simply sit
down, shut up and fall in behind whatever corporate shill they cough up.
That approach just led to a disastrous defeat at the hands of the most
despised presidential candidate in the history of polling, a loss that,
in a sane world, would have entirely discredited the "neos" for the
foreseeable future. A strong sentiment among the progressives is that
the "neos" had their chance and blew it, and given the present state of
the party under their stewardship--the number of party officeholders at
perhaps an historic low--it's just about impossible to make any case to
the contrary. There really isn't any public support for the items that
set the "neos" apart.
Bernie Sanders, the progressives' most prominent voice in the capitol,
was given a purely ceremonial position in the Senate leadership in an
effort to coopt him and is treated poorly by the "neoliberals" but he's the most popular politician in the U.S. and his major policy proposals are supported by
huge majorities of the party and of the general public, including, in
many instances, even majorities of Republicans. In last year's
Democratic presidential primary, he captured the youth vote by
overwhelming numbers. They're the future of the party, which can either
embrace them or be swept aside by them. That shouldn't be read as making
it sound easy. The "neos," if they want, can put up a hell of a fight.
While the liberals have the numbers, they have massive money resources
and the corporate press on their side. Any "victory" in such a war would
be purely pyrrhic though. The most likely course for the "neos" is the one upon which they've already embarked--trying to coopt the left.
How this plays out will be one of the most interesting political stories of the next few years.