The Excruciating Weakness of the Democratic Party

Politics Features
The Excruciating Weakness of the Democratic Party

While stumping for presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, in Ohio, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who made a name for herself fighting against Wall Street and our broken campaign finance system, went on a tirade against presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, calling him “a small, insecure money-grubber” and “a nasty man” who would “crush you into the dirt to get whatever he wants.” She followed up by lauding Clinton as someone who knows what it takes to fight a bully: fighting back. These remarks are just the latest in a once-confounding feud between the Massachusetts Senator and Trump which made more sense once the former endorsed Clinton.

However, questions still remain. It is unclear exactly what Clinton did besides presumptively secure the nomination to earn Warren’s endorsement. Her platform is weak on Wall Street reform, and lacks any serious plan to reform campaign finance. Throughout the primary, the former Secretary of State has also been illegally coordinating with super PACs, fundraising with the same special interests Warren has dedicated her career to fighting, hobnobbing with the economic and political elite, and triangulating against her progressive opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders, for proposing policies like reintroducing a 21st Century Glass-Steagall bill to break up the banks, that Warren herself openly supports. Over her career she has made millions from Wall Street and other industry groups, giving paid speeches, the transcripts of which she has withheld from the public.

More telling is the fact that Clinton’s appointees to the Democratic Platform committee (who include influence peddlers, as The Intercept reports) have opposed such basic progressive ideas as single-payer health care and a including a plank against the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

On top of all that, Clinton’s personal choices reveal a disconnect with progressive public service — from wearing a $12,495 jacket to speak about inequality, and her $600 haircuts to her $50,000-a-week summer rental in Amagansett (“The Hamptons” to the uninitiated). Now, there is something to be said about a double standard for men and women in politics, but at a certain point there has to be some perspective: The average American minimum wage worker earns $15,080 per year, and the median household income from September 2014 was $51,939.

Warren’s unconditional endorsement of Clinton comes at a critical time in American politics when both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are playing the same broken game — illegally coordinating with super PACs, taking money from lobbyists and special interests, and becoming lobbyists in title or otherwise after leaving office (the “revolving door”). The fact that the Massachusetts Senator so readily gave her endorsement speaks volumes about the party she represents.

To paraphrase Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone in an article he wrote titled “Why Young People Are Right About Hillary Clinton,” Democrats have long assumed the moral high ground while doing little towards achieving change. Worse, they have justified their behavior with the assertion that the other side is worse. But that assumed superiority had bred complacency, and now the party which gave us Social Security and Glass-Steagall is unable to even endorse single-payer health care.

Most offensive has been the push for gun control. Last week the Democrats staged a 25-hour sit-in to force votes on two politically relevant, but ultimately minor reforms, including one to bar people on the no-fly list from purchasing firearms, and one to expand the criminal background check (which does not include a psychiatric evaluation). The previous week, in the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting, I wrote a piece titled “The Hard Reality: Gun Control Will Not Happen Without Campaign Finance Reform” in which I detailed exactly why the NRA would win the recently revived battle for gun control following the Orlando nightclub shooting. I was right. For the second time in Obama’s presidency, Democrats tried to force gun control without any efforts to reform our campaign finance system, and for a second time, the gun lobby was able to beat back popular outrage. Members of both parties opposed the measures.

So it is in American politics: wealth wins because the U.S. has essentially become an oligarchy where the demands of the wealthy elite are the best indicator of policy outcomes, while popular opinion has a negligible impact.

The sit-in was wonderful political theater. Elizabeth Warren brought Dunkin’ Donuts, and when the Democrats yielded the floor after a fundraising pitch, they were comfortably on the ‘right’ side of history.

However, this moral correctitude is belied by the fact that the Democratic establishment has not prioritized campaign finance reform — even though they’ve made a talking point out of ending overturning Citizens United.” Overturning Citizens United v. FEC would go only so far towards fixing our broken system. It would probably leave in place the rule that money is a vehicle for speech, established in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo. It would certainly leave ambiguous the definition of “social welfare,” allowing 501© nonprofits to engage in tax exempt political activity; it would leave legal the revolving door.

Still, a significant number of Democrats have lauded the sit-in. The problem with the current situation is, the party seems to have found a way to appease its donors while placating a significant portion of its base with empty promises.

Because older Democrats did not experience Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal — growing up instead, during the Civil Rights Era, and seeing the the GOP uprising and southern realignment (from Democratic stronghold to Republican), this weakness is business as usual. They’ve only really seen the Democratic Party on the decline, as Republican strongmen like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan successfully defeated ‘soft’ liberal candidates like Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern.

Their expectations were again tempered in the 90’s when the New Democrats, headed by Bill and Hillary Clinton, took over and moved the party to the right in an effort to recapture the south. That was when the Democratic Party effectively abandoned FDR’s bold progressivism. Since the Clinton Era, big ideas have been gone, and incrementalism has been in.

However, the country faces crises that require more than publicity stunts and lip service. There are 20 million people who lack adequate health care in spite of the Affordable Care Act; young people are being deterred from pursuing higher education because of the prospect of crippling debt; across the country, our infrastructure is crumbling or falling into disrepair because corporations and the wealthy avoid paying taxes thanks to loopholes, offshore accounts, and the capital gains and dividends exemptions; the middle class is shrinking; our overseas entanglements are costing us both monetarily and with the lives of our volunteer soldiers (generally the poor or minorities); our prisons are being filled with petty criminals and drug offenders; wages have stagnated in terms of spending power, for decades; an overwhelming majority of new income goes to the top one percent. Incrementalism will not solve these problems — it helped create them.

The fight over gun control serves as a warning for what will happen under a Clinton presidency: nothing will get done because the party will not address the underlying disease that is the influence of money in politics. However, it is becoming very apparent by the actions of the establishment that the party does not care — and that is a fatal mistake given the desperation of the electorate.

Americans, along with people all over the world, are fed up with the inequality resulting from the economic policies of the last 40 years. The stage is set for the rise of either progressivism or nativist populism (or both). From the rise of Justin Trudeau in Canada to the “Brexit.” to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders right here in the U.S., this is very much the beginning of a new era. The Democrats have a choice of which ideology they would like to see dominate our politics in the future because even if Clinton wins, one (or both) will.

The Democratic Party has no choice but to shift left, in spite of the heavy resistance from Clinton’s Democrats, and boldly back progressivism. The days of complacency and inefficacy must end because not listening to the 43 percent of the Democratic base that voted for for Bernie Sanders, or make some effort at reconciling with the quarter to a third of Sanders supporters who say they will not vote for Clinton in the fall (at least 3 to 4 million people), will divide the left. Even if the embattled presumptive nominee is able to secure those votes based on fear over Donald Trump, the concerns for the party, and by extension the country, are far bigger than just 2016.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin