We Must Make the Democratic Party Better

Jeffrey SachsI’m afraid that we liberals are upset about Tuesday’s election because we have had our expectations lowered far too much. The sad truth of modern America is that on economic issues, there is a razor thin difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. Are we really upset that Mark Pryor did not get elected? It’s not like he really worked for the people of Arkansas, even if he was far better than Tom Cotton. The Democrats and the Republicans are both the parties of big business. And they have been since the mid-1970s. As a result, many young people probably don’t even know what real liberalism looks like. If the Reagan of 1980 ran today, he would make many Democrats look like conservatives. And don’t get me started on Richard “I created the EPA” Nixon.

Jeffrey Sachs wrote an excellent article about this over at Huffington Post this morning, Understanding and Overcoming America’s Plutocracy. He noted, “History shows the wreckage of democracies killed from within.” And I’m not sure if we are seeing democracy killed in the United States, or if we are simply viewing its rotting corpse. The beauty of the modern plutocracy is that it doesn’t look like a plutocracy. Sachs put it well:

Money works in election campaigns. It pays for attack ads that flood the media, and it pays for elaborate and sophisticated get-out-the-vote efforts that target households at the micro level to manipulate who does and does not go to the polls.

I am very pragmatic about politics. That’s why I’m a Democrat. It is still the only party that considers evidence. The Republican Party has turned into a revolutionary group where ideological purity is all that matters. What’s interesting is that most Americans share my pragmatism. But most Americans don’t vote. And Democrats normally only offer one reason to vote for them, “We’re not (quite) as bad as the Republicans!”

But even among those who do vote, we saw the minimum wage win in a big way on Tuesday. In four red states — Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota — where the people voted for very conservative candidates, they voted to increase the minimum wage. Think about that for a moment. These people are voting for candidates who are generally against having any minimum wage at all, yet they voted to increase theirs. How does that happen?

I don’t think it is cognitive dissonance. I think it is quite rational. Democrats have started to talk about raising the minimum wage. But they are only recently to the issue. Certainly when Congress was owned by the Democrats, they did not think it was important enough an issue. In fact, I think it is fair to say that the Democratic Party has approached the minimum wage the same way it approached same sex marriage: as a follower. As always, the usual caveat: much better the Democratic Party that follows public opinion than the Republican Party that fights against it. But I suspect that the voters of Arkansas figured that it didn’t matter that Tom Cotton voted against raising the minimum wage in the past; neither Cotton nor Pryor were actually going to do anything about it in Congress.

Yesterday, Jonathan Bernstein wrote a disheartening article, Win the White House, Lose the Midterms. It is about how people blame the president for everything. So when the Democrats have a situation like they had in 2009, they need to use it. The problem is that we elect terrible Democrats whose first loyalty is to big business. That’s why single payer healthcare was never seriously considered. Bank nationalization was never seriously considered. No truly liberal policy was considered when the Democrats had the White House, House of Representatives, and a super-majority in the Senate. We were offered the same old neoliberal policies — the usual “not as bad as what the Republicans want” policies. Although sadly, what Obama got behind in policy terms was actually more conservative than what John McCain had run on. Think about that.

Sachs made a really upsetting observation:

Think of it this way. If government were turned over to the CEOs of ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, Bechtel, and Health Corporation of America, they would have very little to change of current policies, which already cater to the four mega-lobbies: Big Oil, Wall Street, defense contractors, and medical care giants.

The solution? I think we have to start with a grander vision. The neoliberalism of the the Clinton and Obama administrations have been a catastrophe for liberalism. After that, it is just a lot of work at the local level. The most important thing is to get money out of politics. But that is a very heavy lift since the Supreme Court decided that money doesn’t distort the political process — a decision that started with the conclusion. But we can succeed. It is just that it is all on us. Sachs noted that we have pushed back against plutocracy before: “notably in the Progressive Era from 1890-1914, the New Deal from 1933-1940, and the Great Society from 1961-1969.” But that it wasn’t done by Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and Kennedy/Johnson, “[I]n all of those cases, the mass public led and the great leaders followed the cause.” We have to start leading.

Afterword

This video is self-congratulatory — not that I mind. But I do think that Wolf-PAC is a good group and they are worth supporting.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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