Over the last 25 years, it’s gotten harder to remember why I once felt so comfortable calling myself a Democrat. But if I try to remember a time I was excited about the Party, it was because Republicans like then President George Bush seemed firmly to believe it wasn’t government’s role to help people. That was the whole point of Bush’s 1000 Points of Light rhetoric—the notion that only private individuals and charities should care for those in need. It was a phrase he used more than once to let Americans know that if they needed protection from the abuses of capitalism, don’t look to government or Corporate America. And we liberals laughed and laughed and played with our Koosh Balls while watching Murphy Brown, confident that we were better than such a soulless leader beholden to corporations instead of constituents.
But it seems things changed over time. We put away our Ray-Ban sunglasses and MC Hammer pants, and the Democratic party slowly started putting away the notion that change can occur through government action or even the governmental curbing of corporate action. If you look around at rhetoric being put forth by the Democratic party and popular liberals today, Democrats are starting to sound more and more like followers of Bush’s 1,000 points of light.
Let’s take an issue like global warming. Something that affects everyone on this planet and should be beyond politics, as science overwhelmingly agrees that climate change is due in large part to greenhouse gases caused by things such the use of petroleum, aerosols, and the manufacturing of cement. Any good Democrat from my childhood would feel voters have every right to believe that government has a role to play in this literally life-threatening phenomenon by policing responsible corporations. Indeed, that’s the whole point of something like the Paris Agreements that Trump pulled out of — that governments must be responsible for their country’s greenhouse emissions.
So why at a time when the United States government is shirking its responsibility to safeguard the future of the planet by enforcing emissions standards upon its corporations would an outlet like The Guardian or a good liberal like Jill Filipovic take the focus off them and put it on you? Pimping out a Guardian article entitled Want to Fight Climate Change? Have Fewer Children. Jill tweets “Having Children Is One of the Worst Things You Can Do For The Planet.”
Apparently, global warming is real and private citizens better do something about it with their procreative choices! Of course, personal responsibility is a wonderful thing, but this bizarre focus on individuals over factories is like fixing a hospital inundated with patients killed due to malpractice by telling people to avoid getting sick. Although Ms. Filipovic might have a point, because if we all stop having kids, there will be no one around in 100 years to care that the Earth is completely under water. Problem solved! Have Jill and the rest of the liberals given up? Is social change only possible on a personal level because they believe Corporations can never be reined in? It’s perfectly acceptable to preach “be the change you want to see in the word,” but that presupposes the world is actually going to continue existing.
Even as the Democrats slowly realize that perhaps, “America is already great,” is not a great motto for a country that no longer has a middle class, their intentions are not clear. Although plan specifics are still forthcoming, Dems recently unveiled a new slogan: A Better Deal, Better Skills, Better Jobs. But even parroting FDR’s “New Deal” language, it is uncertain if Dems have any real intention of following in the footsteps of its party’s most popular President by championing social programs. Parsing the language, you’ll see an implication that better skills will lead to better jobs. It’s on you, you unskilled voter. Get better! I suppose we’ll see what it really means, but it certainly seems to imply anyone suffering in our current economy, where only 1% are thriving, simply lacks the skills to succeed. It certainly seems to ignore the millions of highly educated skilled people being crushed by student loan debt in the current marketplace where Fortune 500 CEOs have never done comparatively better.
It seems, at best, we’re in store for promises of another ACA-type solution — well intentioned government programs that actually enrich corporate America more than they assist those in need. No liberal-minded person would argue against the goal of providing health insurance to more Americans. Indeed, one of the reasons Progressives now stand firmly to the left of the current Democratic Party is because we firmly believe in a single payer system providing quality health insurance to all. In 2017, Democrats finally acknowledge the flaws of ACA, but when they do it’s almost always about leaving 27 million people uninsured with only a passing mention of “rising deductibles.” There seems to be a real inability to acknowledge that high deductibles also mean effectively living without coverage. Meanwhile, under the ACA solution, insurance companies have had record profits since its induction.
So the modern Democratic fix for insuring more people was making corporations richer while actually hurting millions of Americans through skyrocketing deductibles that limited access to care. The assistance to the uninsured didn’t come from government investment long dreamed of by Harry Truman who wanted Medicare for all, or by management of the private sector in the form of reduced profits. Instead it came from the people themselves. Each person who labors under increased medical costs is a star — a shining point of light to the concept of insuring more people.
Of course, solutions can only come from the sacrifice and contributions of private citizens when addressing social ills through government spending and corporate management have become verboten under a neoliberal mindset of laissez-faire economics. Want to end global warming? We can’t ask anything of corporations, but control your procreative choices. Want a better economy? We can’t stop making trade deals that send jobs overseas, address the student loan crisis, or interfere with unfettered corporate greed, but get better skills. Want health care for all? Make insurers richer while you have less and still leave millions uninsured. Yes, personal responsibility is a good thing, but there are millions of personally responsible good people who don’t want to die from melted ice caps, poverty, or lack of access to medical care. Yet the Democratic Party seems stuck in a mindset that speaks to helping struggling Americans only under the express understanding that corporations not be regulated or the expanse between the 1% and the rest altered. And that sounds just like George Bush’s talking points from the late 1980s. With rhetoric like that, how can anyone deny the Democrats’ clear economic move to the right, or fail to understand why millions of progressives and people in need see no place for themselves in the modern Democratic Party.
Gladstone is the author of the Internet Apocalypse Trilogy of novels on Thomas Dunne Books. He has written for publications including Cracked, Slate, and Thrillist.