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No, Dr. Dean, Democrats Do Need to Fight It Out

Howard Dean speaks at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in July. (Photo: ABC/Ida Mae Astute/flickr/cc)

While he was bowing out of the contest to head up the Democratic National Party, Howard Dean said the election of the next chair should not become a fight between Hillary supporters and Bernie supporters.  

With all due respect to Dr. Dean, the selection of the next chair is all about resolving that fight.

In fact, Democrats’ fortunes have been declining for three decades now, precisely because the Party’s neoliberal elite have done everything they can to stave off the battle.

And the costs to the Party and the people have been devastating. 

What Neoliberalism has done to the Party. What folks haven’t picked up on yet, is that this commitment to neoliberalism has been eroding the Party’s prospects for more than three decades. For example, back in the 60's, half of all potential voters in the US identified as Democrats. Currently, 29% do.  If one tracks the losses, it appears that the more the Party moved to the center and beyond, the more the people abandoned the Party.   

Republicans now control both Houses of Congress, and the Presidency. In fact, since 1980, the nation has had three conservative Republican Presidents and one middle of the road Democrat, and one who was conservative in deed,  if not in language. And now Trump. 

At the state level, the situation is even more skewed. Republicans control both legislatures and the governorship in 25 states, while Democrats control all three institutions in just 6 states. Nebraska, which has a unicameral, non-partisan  legislature, isn’t counted in this total.

Republicans control both legislative bodies in 32 states while Democrats do in just 13. And they’re picking up momentum. In 1978, Democrats controlled both legislative branches in 31 states, while Republicans had majorities in only 11.   

Currently 34 states have a Republican governor, while only 15 are headed by a Democrat, and one – Alaska – is headed by an Independent. 

What Neoliberalism has done to the people. The US now ranks about the same as such luminaries as Cameroon, Uganda and Rwanda in measures of income inequality, and Americans are increasingly trapped in this pathetic state – income mobility in the US lags behind most other developed nations.

"Neoliberalism and Republican orthodoxy have literally ripped money and wealth out of the hands of low income and middle-class Americans and given it to the über rich."How did this happen?

Well, there’s a remarkable overlap between the neoliberals’ dogma – tax cuts are always good; privatization is better; deregulation is great; and trade agreements and the free movement of capital are wonderful – and the Republican’s destructive economic myths -- supply side-job creators, tickle down economics, and deregulation.  The thing is, these ideas have never worked, but they’ve been harder to kill than a zombie vampire black cat in a coal mine at midnight.  Nine lives?  That’s for pikers. These myths have survived so many run-ins with reality it’s beyond astounding.  

Neoliberalism and Republican orthodoxy have literally ripped money and wealth out of the hands of low income and middle-class Americans and given it to the über rich. 

The reason these destructive myths survive is because they’re rarely confronted, and that’s because the neoliberal Democrats essentially buy into the conservative’s myths. Oh, the rhetoric is different, particularly around election time. And the Parties differ on social issues. But at the end of the day, Democrats’ embrace of neoliberalism, with its laissez-faire, market uber-alles policies closely mirrors conservative dogma. 

Doubt that?  The fact is, Bill Clinton and his DLC crowd accomplished more for the conservative cause than Reagan did.  

As Thomas Frank noted in an interview with Mark Carlin recently:

Clinton had five major achievements as president: NAFTA, the Crime Bill of 1994, welfare reform, the deregulation of banks and telecoms, and the balanced budget. All of them -- every single one -- were longstanding Republican objectives. 

The Telecommunications Act of 1996, in particular, was a free marketeer’s wet dream. Not only did it give away airwaves for free, but it also removed the few remaining meaningful constraints on the media designed to assure that it met its First Amendment responsibilities. 

The Democrats had a choice in this election: go with Hillary Clinton – a neoliberal in good standing – or Bernie Sanders, a progressive populist who called the neoliberal and conservative dogma what it is: a rigged system.  

They chose wrong, and the DNC – which supported Clinton and worked to undermine Sanders -- was a big reason they did.

Neoliberals are chasing the mythical center – and losing. The justification for moving to the center (and often well beyond to the right of center) by the neoliberals is ostensibly to capture the independent swing voters. In reality, swing voters have always been a small portion of the independent voter bloc. Since 1960 they’ve comprised at most only 15% of self-identified independents, and currently they make up about 5% of independents. It turns out, more independents lean left, which suggests the growth in independents comes, at least in part, from disaffected progressives leaving the Democratic Party. 

The reality is, the vast majority of Americans are politically left of center on an issue-by-issue basis, and they have been for some time, and the Democratic Party has abandoned them. 

That showed up in spades this election.  

"If the Democrats continue to embrace neoliberalism, they will continue to lose."

Trumps’ use of trade agreements and job loss during the campaign shows why his victory was as much about what the neoliberal Democrats and the DNC failed to do, as it was about appeals to racism, jingoism, or any of the other “isms” we’re reading about in the pundit’s post-election ruminations. 

On Thursday, Trump delivered – at least partially -- on his promise to the Carrier workers even before he was elected, saving 1000 of the 2100 jobs at risk in two factories.  As Sanders pointed out, it was a costly “victory” that essentially made it open season for any corporation wanting to extract tax cuts from the government. Carrier walks away with $7 million in tax breaks, and this runs the risk of becoming our de facto policy on job retention. 

Trump won for two reasons. First, because the DLC Democrats, in thrall to the neoliberal consensus, had been silent on the issue for decades. And that included Obama and Hillary. While Trump and Sanders talked about jobs and trade, what did you hear from the DLC Dems? Crickets. And second, because the DNC made sure the candidate talking about jobs didn’t get the nomination.   

The Nightmare Scenario if Neoliberalism isn’t confronted.  Thanks to the Carrier agreement we now have Trump, the savior of jobs. Meanwhile, manufacturing jobs increased five years in a row under Obama before flat-lining the last two years.  It should be noted those are new jobs, not saved jobs.  Moreover, the stimulus program and the auto bailout are credited with saving or creating more than 3.5 million jobs.  And economic indicators suggest domestic manufacturing is  poised to continue strong growth in the future despite the strong dollar. 

With Carrier, Trump has just scored a PR victory, and he’s inheriting a strong economy that created manufacturing jobs at a near record pace for 5 of the last 7 years and looks like it’s about to take off again. 

So here’s the bottom line, Dr. Dean. If the Democrats continue to embrace neoliberalism, they will continue to lose.  Worse, Trump would likely be a two-term President with complete control of Congress and the Supreme Court.  Imagine what this would mean for climate change policy; or the cause of science; or the place that reason, tolerance, equity and justice have in our society … 

In the 2004 presidential primary race, Dean asked why anyone would vote for Republican-lite when they could have the real thing.  Well, the answer has come in. 

Yes, Dr. Dean, the Party – and the country – need to have this battle.  The alternative is watching a reactionary populist walk off with the voters who could, should, and would embrace a progressive agenda and a progressive Democratic Party.  

Bottom line: in the end, Trump didn’t win – the Democrats lost, and they lost because they became the Party of the Oligarchy, not the Party of the people.  That has to change.

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John Atcheson

John Atcheson

screen_shot_2017-07-26_at_9.09.47_pm.pngJohn Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track, both available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson

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