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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (C), Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (L), Vice Chair of the Conference Elizabeth Warren (2-L) and Chair of Outreach Bernie Sanders (R) talk following a press conference. (Photo: Shawn Thew/EPA-EFE/Rex)

The War for the Democratic Party Continues

The only way Democrats could lose their 2018 momentum in 2020 is to return to the same old neoliberal, corporate-friendly policies that sunk the party in 2016

John Atcheson

Elizabeth Warren just threw her hat in the ring for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. If the Democrats were smart, they’d get in line behind her, or Bernie Sanders.

Unfortunately, Pelosi, Schumer and Hoyer are doing everything in their power to keep the progressive insurgency in check, and keep their neoliberal/corporate money machine in power.  Beyond the many moral and ethical problems with this, it’s just plain stupid politics.  About the only way Democrats could lose their 2018 momentum in 2020 is to return to the same old neoliberal, corporate-friendly policies that lost them the election in 2016.

They’re being supported by most of the mainstream media, many of the pundits who’ve been the architects of the Democratic Party’s precipitous decline over the last few decades, and a robust and well-funded neoliberal infrastructure composed of not-for-profits, many unions, foundations, and public interest groups, who’ve gone into overdrive on their anti-Bernie campaign. It was this neoliberal mafia that helped deliver the nomination to Hillary Clinton in 2016, which in turn depressed turnout to the point that Trump was able to win the election with just over 26 percent of eligible voters.

If the shock of 2016 wasn’t enough to convince the neoliberals that they were on the wrong side of history, the lessons from 2018 should have. Specifically, turnout is critical for Democrats, and a progressive platform is critical for getting a good turnout.

"Turnout is critical for Democrats, and a progressive platform is critical for getting a good turnout. But the neoliberal establishment is still marching, lemming-like, for the cliff."

But the neoliberal establishment is still marching, lemming-like, for the cliff.  The names being proffered for the 2020 election include Joe Biden, Bet O’Rourke, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, and an assortment of other neoliberals. Most of them are feigning left since 2018, but the other lesson from 2016 is that folks are tired of the Democrats’ tendency to spout progressive rhetoric around election time, then spring back into the neoliberal corporate party that has left most of America behind. Since the days of the DLC and triangulation, Democrats have consistently backed policies that favored the rich at the expense of the rest of us, and people are wise to it.

Biden, O’Rourke, Booker, Gillebrand, and others in the crew are dragging around a record—like the chains of Jacob Marely’s ghost—that features campaign contributions from the usual suspects, positions that favor corporations, and tax and trade policies that screwed the middle class. Trump and the Republicans used Hillary’s hypocrisy to defeat her in 2016, and they’d likely try to do the same in 2020 – assuming Trump isn’t impeached or indicted by then.  But the Republican brand can survive the loss of a single candidate. In fact, a less obviously odious GOP candidate than Trump could be an advantage to the party.

Kamala Harris remains a mixed bag; she’s sought funding from some of Hillary Clinton’s elite funders, but she’s embraced a progressive agenda. She’ll have to decide whether she wants to represent the people or the elites before she tries to launch a campaign for the presidency.

Meanwhile, the party and its neoliberal enablers are gathering against the two genuine progressives—Sanders and Warren—in a confederacy of dunces, just as they did in 2016. The result of these efforts, should they successfully block a real progressive from winning the nomination, is likely to be another November defeat to the GOP.

Pelosi’s rejected the progressive's call for a strong Green New Deal, instead setting up a committee without subpoena power, populated by members who are allowed to take contributions from fossil fuel interests, and without goals for a massive mobilization of economic measures needed to address climate change, create jobs, and foster economic equality.  Worse, Pelosi appointed Rep. Kathy Castor to head up the committee. Among Castor’s chief campaign funders is one of those split-the-difference PACs that have funded corporate-friendly lawmakers like Orrin Hatch, Claire McCaskill, and Joe Donnelly.  Both McCaskill and Donnelly were voted out of office in the 2018 mid-terms, and both have issued warnings about the Democrats moving too far to the left. 

But progressive ballot measures did well in McCaskill’s Missouri, suggesting that the state is more progressive than it seems. Indeed, progressive ballot measures did well across the country, winning in blue states, purple states, and deep red states.

The fact is, on an issue-by-issue basis, Americans overwhelmingly poll progressive.  They favor a living minimum wage, aggressive action on climate, Medicare for All, marijuana reform, more regulation on Wall Street and big banks, a fairer tax code, a more tolerant foreign policy, prison reform, gun control … on and on it goes.  And this is true even in red states.

This poses a conundrum.  Why don’t people who back progressive issues consider themselves progressives?  The answer is that a decades-long coup has successfully wielded hate, fear, jingoism, money and skilled rhetoric to brand “liberal” and government as negative things.  No longer is government the agent of the New Deal, an entity that leveled the playing field, represented the little guy, created world class infrastructure and an educational system that was the envy of the world while fostering research and development that made the U.S. a leader in science and gave it an economy that was prosperous, fair, and just. Instead, it became an incompetent agent that took our money, limited our freedoms, and championed “them” … you know, the others.

What’s needed is a people’s revolution and a radical insurgency that restores government to the governed. The reason the coup’s propaganda stuck is because it was essentially true.  Republicans starved government even as they discredited it, but Democrats did little to counter the myth.  Indeed, neoliberals embrace much of the conservative mantra that holds that markets will deliver all good things by pure serendipity, if we would only get government out of the way. The resulting government of, by and for the rich and corporations left the vast majority of Americans out of the economic growth we’ve enjoyed since 1980. Between 1980 and 2015, the top .01 percent saw their income rise by 322 percent, while income for the bottom 90 percent rose by just .03 percent. No wonder people are angry.

Neoliberals and centrists like Pelosi et. al. hope they can win by telling us all how bad Trump is, rather than what they stand for.  They also rely on identity politics to tell us who they purport to represent, again, often at the expense of backing a positive agenda for change that would actually help the various constituencies Democrats are claiming to support. And that might win an election or two, but it won’t solve our problems, and it won’t restore sanity to our political process, and ultimately, it will assure that Democrats are not a majority party.

As long as a third of us are angry, disenfranchised, and left out of the economy, we will continue to get demagogues, hatemongers and bullies elected into office.  And as long as Democrats embrace neoliberalism, the justifiably angry and disgruntled third will have a better shot at getting their demagogues elected, as real progressives stay home, justifiably filled with cynicism.

The thing about power, is that it is relinquished reluctantly, it becomes an end in and of itself, and it builds an infrastructure that is often impervious to the public will.  The neoliberals controlling the Democratic Party have done just that. Their network of donors, their not-for-profits, their press and media and pundits, will continue to back the neoliberal tenets they’ve been embracing for decades now – not because it’s worked.  The free market/small government prescription has failed utterly and miserably for all the but the wealthiest and most powerful. But this system is their ticket to their elite status, and they won’t abandon it willingly.

What’s needed is a people’s revolution and a radical insurgency that restores government to the governed.  Nothing short of that will prevent future Trumps, or solve our very real problems.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "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". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a California car accident in January 2020.

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