If progressive policies that benefit masses of working and poor Americans are the key to re-establishing political dominance for the Democratic Party, then why doesn’t the Party just decisively go that way?
It is because there are major obstacles to Progressivism both outside and inside the Democratic Party. Also, the image and purpose of the party has changed since its Progressive “glory days” of FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, and will need to change again, in order for it to overcome the obstacles, and offer America a truly positive populist program for America’s renewal.
The Outside Obstacles -The GOP and Most of Corporate America, and the Philosophy They Sell
For many decades now, the American political conversation has lacked counter-arguments to two primary Conservative talking points, with a cowardly dearth of response by Democrats and the so-called “liberal” class.
The 1st, to summarize, is basically, “Government is bad“.
None less than President Reagan himself pushed this idea repeatedly, and famously on the occasion when he joked, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’ ”
This is an incredibly ironic statement to be coming from a President, the Government’s top official, and belies a corrosive cynicism about governance in general.
But all it got at the time were laughs, and no Democratic response.
The 2nd key conservative talking point to not have to suffer significant counter-argument is, basically, the absurdly blunt, “taxes are bad“.
Repeated over and over, these 2 talking points have become saturated into the American political psyche, almost as if they were absolute, unquestioned truths, and not just conservative propaganda.
These 2 talking points must be countered in coming years with a new conversation about the role of government in the economy and other aspects of everday life, in order for progressive ideas to advance.
The Key -Changing the Conversation
Cynicism about government and taxation is an enemy. But perhaps this cynicism can be countered by new policy ideas such as reforming government itself, and greatly increasing government transparency, as well as citizen participation, possibly as watchdogs or monitors of government activities from the inside.
Progressives have always been, at heart, reformers. So such reforms would seem a natural outgrowth of progressive thought.
Lobbying rules could be made far tighter and government contracting could be forced into the public sphere (imagine a C-Span type channel with government contract negotiations on view and laid bare for all to see).
New rules could be established, making capture of regulatory agencies by industry far more difficult, and corporate-financial infiltration of government departments much harder to achieve.
The tax conversation has to acknowledge that it is 40+ years of tax-cutting policies that has sent college tuition out of reach. These waves of cuts have led to the disintegration of much of our American infrastructure, from roads and bridges to electrical grids and wireless systems.
America’s water systems are decaying and putting millions of people at risk, as in Flint, Michigan and Kentucky, where yellowish syrup flows from faucets. There are many thousands of locations where this is happening, and these locations are increasing as time passes and work is not done. If taxes are not to fix problems like this, then we must ask, what are taxes for?
But Who Will Pay for It?
After the massive transfer-of-wealth in America from middle and bottom to the top, that has occurred since the late 70s, it is easy to identify who now possesses the ability to pay for most of a progressive policy program –the top 1 or 2% who have reaped the disproportional benefits of these pro-corporate policies, even as wages for the masses have stagnated. Some charts shows this trend clearly. Trump’s tax-cut has made it even worse.
Where else is most of the money to come from, but from those Americans who still have money to spare, and plenty of it, too –the top 1 to 2%.
The Democratic Party must follow Bernie Sanders‘ lead and demand that the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes and basically, rescue the rest of America.
That will take guts, and will surely chase many corporate and elite donors out of the party. But those donors’ influence and leverage will also leave, along with their money. The party will be freer to push for people-friendly policies that can rejuvenate the party, as it so desperately needs.
GOP Ideas Must Not Just Be Opposed, They Must Be Ridiculed
Besides pushing-back against these long unopposed talking points, Progressive Democrats have to be ready to counter, and also laugh loudly at the GOP’s shrill cries of “communism”, or, because progressives dare to want to help ordinary people survive economically, cries of “Progressives want to turn America into Cuba”, or “The government will ruin everything”, etc.
Progressive politicians can shatter the effect of 40+ years of hysterical “broken-record” conservative rhetoric by sitting down with real working Americans of all ethnicities and colors and having the basic real-world “kitchen-table conversation”, with the family bills all spread out, and the checkbook handy.
The actual reasons for American familiies’ economic woes (low wages, massive college debt, high healthcare and housing costs, etc.), must be addressed. Meanwhile, the GOP’s long-established, reality-challenged talking points must be mocked and ridiculed as being out-of-touch and needlessly favoring wealthy elites while harming most Americans, as they have measurably done.
By forcefully changing the conversation, and focusing on the everyday needs of regular people, progressive Democrats can push-back against the GOP’s, and corporate-conservative America’s predictable talking points. Progressives must never forget -The policies themselves, and the relief they will provide to the masses, are the selling-points.
Outside Corporate Institutions Will Push Hard Against Progressivism, as Expected
Fearing the advancement of single-payer healthcare after a “blue wave” election, corporate interests and others are joining forces to squelch the idea, just as the general public is warming-up to the concept. More corporate and GOP-led efforts against Single-Payer and other progressive policies will surely emerge in the near-future, in the wake of November’s “blue wave” election.
The Inside Obstacles to the Democratic Party’s Progressive Policies Are Huge, and Include the Party’s Corporate-Centrists and Their Big Corporate Donors
Perhaps the most daunting blocks to progressives are actually inside the Democratic Party. These include long-established elected officials, donors and fund-raisers, and other experienced consultants and operatives who comprise the so-called centrist “mainstream” of the party. This wing is large, and dominated by Clinton allies and those most sympathetic to corporate interests. It is awash in corporate and Wall Street money.
This section of the party is not generally receptive to Single-Payer healthcare and prefers a profit-based system. On economic issues, generally they are much more like traditional moderate Republicans than the social-justice-type Democrats of past decades.
President Bill Clinton’s Hollow Victories and Reversal of Democratic Party Policies Hurt America and His Party
The Democratic Party adopted this brand of corporate centrism in the early 1990s with the Clintons and his policies, which included the corporate-friendly NAFTA in 1994, the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the 1995 Crime Bill, and the deregulation of the Financial sector in 1999, as well as other polices.
And the party has stayed that course ever since. Progressives now feel that course must change again.
There are pictures of President Clinton joyously celebrating the passage of some of these bills with the GOP leadership. Indeed, in the minds of increasing numbers of progressive Democrats, Bill Clinton, who was proud of his capitulations to the GOP in his promotion of the GOP policies listed above, is now increasingly seen as a Democratic party version of Neville Chamberlain.
Chamberlain was the tragic UK Prime Minister, who, in 1939, victoriously waved his compromise document with Hitler in the air, even as the opposing forces of nazism were helped to advance more quickly as a result of his weakness.
Author/activist Normon Solomon writes eloquently about this unfortunate Democratic Party capitulation in the 1990s to the interests of corporate interests and the wealthy.
The Dangers of “Centrism”
As it turns out, centrism always favors corporate interests and the top 1%, and helps fascist/rightist interests rise, because centrist policies cause dissatisfaction and suffering among the masses.
In actuality, even the term, “centrism” is false and deceptive, in that it suggests a “balance” between right and left, which is never achieved.
There is nothing populist or “leftist” about NAFTA and other big trade deals, permitting media monopolies, un-regulating Wall street, or promoting the Drug War with its mass incarceration of citizens, often locked-up in for-profit prisons.
These policies were sold with false assurances that average workers and citizens would not be hurt and benefits would be shared, and that deregulation polices would be good for everybody. In actuality it was the wealthy elites who were the main beneficiaries, again and again.
These elite-favoring policies helped create most of the popular unhappiness that enabled Donald Trump to ride that anger into the White House in 2016.
On the other hand, nowadays, progressive ideas and policies poll consistently well with a majority of the American people.
On what is perhaps the signature issue among Progressives, even 52% of Republicans are now in favor if Single-Payer healthcare, along with a much higher number of Democrats and independents.
Corporate-Centrism Is a Dead-End for the Democratic Party
In the face of the poll numbers, it would seem foolish for the Democratic Party leadership to stand in the way of adopting at least several clearly progressive policy stands. But the party leaders have become obtusely dependent on the corporate donations and other perks the top 1% have given the party to guide it in a centrist direction. It has made them complacent.
Much of this corporate largesse may have to be sacrificed in order for the party to move even somewhat left, and become a party of progressive populism, that promotes things like free college tuition and college-debt forgiveness, single-payer healthcare, strengthened Social Security, higher wages, massive infrastructure spending and its accompanying job-creation, etc.
Big corporate donations have dominated US politics in recent years and have made both parties more alike. The Democratic Party has been compelled to move more to the right, policy-wise, in recent decades.
It is no wonder the American political spectrum has been shifted rightwards in recent decades, making “left” options increasingly rare. Big-money donors have essentially blocked nearly all left-leaning policies, and the whole political system has predictably moved in the only direction permitted -rightwards.
The Party Must Move Away from Corporate Donations
In response, the public is now potentially far more progressive, than either party currently is, in terms of policy desires.
Deprived of a choice of more positive populist Bernie Sanders-type solutions from either party in 2016, many dissatisfied people voted for rightist disruption, and Trump became president.
To be successful, the party must move away, in the style of Bernie Sanders, from corporate donations and towards far more donations from regular Americans to support party activities and elections.
In a real sense, it is The People who must now “buy back” the party from corporate America. This is admittedly a scary step for a party long grown soft on a steady diet of corporate money.
But Sanders showed it could be done, and the party must follow his lead, or stagnate at a crucial time in its history, which could prove fatal to its chances for popular success, and to the opportunity to roll-back dangerous GOP and Trump extremism.
Post midterm-election, the struggle for the party’s direction rages on, and will likely peak in 2020.
The Centrists Keep Pushing-Back
The recent Democratic Party post-election dispute over Nancy Pelosi’s role as Majority Leader was actually a pushback play by the most conservative wing of the party against the newly-elected progressives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others, who want the party to move farther to the populist left.
These right-centrists cleverly used the maneuver, along with others, to block the appointment of a key progressive (Barbara Lee) to a leadership position, and to leverage their bloc’s future support for Pelosi (they preferred the even more right-leaning Steny Hoyer to the centrist Pelosi).
They did this in preparation to push back against more progressive/”left” policies, which they know are coming.
Much more pushback from centrists can be expected in the coming months, starting in January when the new Democratic Majority assumes its place in The House. It could get ugly.
The Real Fight for America
In the words of Jon Favreau, former speechwriter for Obama, “A lot of people are talking about the left-right debate. I see it as top-bottom or inside-outside. The energy is outside of Washington, and it’s very much returning to a healthier progressive populism unlike the populism that Trump is promoting. … There is this energy out there and hunger for solutions and ideas. … Democrats have learned that incrementalism and small, bite-sized proposals aren’t going to cut it anymore. Clintonism [i.e. centrism] is gone.”
The real fight for America will take place in the Democratic Party. The GOP is already too far gone as a corporatist-right-wing party to ever be counted on again as a friend to America’s middle class and working people.
Trump and the GOP can only fool The People if true alternatives are not offered to them.
That’s the Democrats’ job now.
The emergence of a powerful new party to represent ordinary people in America seems remote at this time.
It is logical to conclude that if the battle to promote regular peoples’ interests is lost in the Democratic Party, it will be lost in the country as a whole, and the country will continue to regress.
Progressives have got to win the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party, or GOP-Trump right-wingism will descend upon the Nation in a new age of darkness.
D. Lockman is a retired English teacher and former part-time musician,
with a passion for politics that started before he was 10 years old.
He is honored to be informed by some of the leading progressive and
dissident voices to be found in independent media. He finds mainstream media to be insufficient at informing the active minds of
sincerely curious people in these noisy, tumultuous times.