Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Democratic Party "Unity" & Its Discontents

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.

Up front, 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:

"It’s 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.

Disaffected 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 in town.

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.

The Clintonite "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.

The 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.

Sen. 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.


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