The 2016 Election Was Lost in 1992

Bill Clinton - Not Much of a Friend of WorkersSince the election, it’s been hard for me to blame the voters. I don’t have the highest opinion of them anyway. And I certainly don’t expect them to follow politics the way that I do. But I do blame the Democratic Party. The issue isn’t that Hillary Clinton had bad policy ideas. I’m sure if you sat down the average voter and went through her policies, you would find that they liked them. But in a very real way, Hillary Clinton is paying for the sins of her husband. And by sins, I certainly do not mean Bill’s dalliances. I’m referring to Bill Clinton as the first and most “successful” New Democrat.

We all know the standard narrative. The Democratic Party was dying. It had lost three presidential elections in a row! Yet it had held the Senate since 1987. It held the House of Representatives that entire time. The same holds true of governorships. There was no need to panic. Nominating Bill Clinton in 1992 was very much like the Republicans nominating Bernie Sanders in 2016. The Republicans didn’t do that, of course. They did the reasonable thing: full steam ahead. And they won. Quelle surprise!

Voters Didn’t Want New Democrats

Of course, I don’t think that Bill Clinton became president in 1993 because Democratic voters were screaming for Republican Party Lite. There were power players in the Democratic Party who wanted the party to take a hard right turn on economic issues. Oh, the social issues? Who cares! Rare is the billionaire who hates the LGBT community. Just ask Peter Thiel! The people at the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) wanted to make sure that the whole nation was safe for the wealthy. Vote Republican or vote Democratic — it didn’t matter. Taxes would still stay low. Regulations would be minor. The Democrats are now like the Republicans used to be. The DLC just managed to make what used to be (righly) seen as crazy seem “liberal.”

And just as the Republicans had long before lost the working class, the Democrats now set out to lose the working class. But the Republicans had an advantage. They had other issues that could pull the working class toward them. They had racism! That’s what abortion is all about. But even if you don’t want to believe that, abortion was still a huge issue for the Republicans. There were far more single-issue abortion voters who were Republican than were Democrat. So the New Democrats’ turn to the right on economic issues might have helped the party in the very short term, but in the long term it was a catastrophe.

New Democrats Lost Workers

Howard Dean - Not Much of a Friend of WorkersIn the long term, it led to what we face today. The truth is that things are not good for American workers. And the Republicans deserve a great deal of blame for that. But it is an arguable point as to whether the Republicans are more responsible for that over the last 25 years. And in that case, is it any wonder that people just vote with their guts?

If the Democratic Party over the last two and half decades had been filled with Bernie Sanders types who were focused on what the working class was going through, then there would be a real fight. A bigot might feel the pull of a demagogue, but think, “The Democrats have been the ones fighting for workers like me.” Instead, the Democratic Party isn’t so clearly a friend of the worker. And so there really was no contest.

None of this is to say that the Democratic Party hasn’t been a friend of the workers. That’s why I’m a Democrat. Workers who vote Republican are fools. But it is unquestionably true that the Democratic Party isn’t a really good or close friend of workers. In fact, the Democratic Party seems to be just as good a friend of workers as Wall Street will allow it to be.

Liberals Have to Take Back the Democratic Party

And that’s a huge problem. A billionaire con man was able to make the case that a Democrat who spent most of her life in public service was too close to Wall Street. That wasn’t because she was too close to Wall Street (although she was). It was because that’s a big part of the Democratic Party brand.

We, the liberals, must wrest control of the Democratic Party from the remnants of the New Democrats. Even now, I know all the elites are thinking, “We lost this election because the people just don’t understand what a boon NAFTA has been for the American worker.” We need to get rid of these people. And I’m afraid that as much as I like Howard Dean as a pit bull, allowing someone with his New Democratic beliefs to lead the DNC would signal the end of the Democratic Party. It’s time to move on. It’s time to make a hard left turn.

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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.

34 thoughts on “The 2016 Election Was Lost in 1992

  1. My Dad was a lifelong Catholic. He left the church forever in 1984 because of one sermon. The priest was talking about the election, about how the Bible calls us to defend the weak against harm. And the priest said “there are people in this congregation who would vote for Genghis Khan if he was against abortion.”

  2. I’m all for a left turn on Wall Street and inequality. The Dems need to come out strong in favor of a renewed Glass-Steagall and antitrust action to break up the “too big to fail” banks. We need to hike the FICA limit and reinstate the sort of marginal rates that existed in Goldwater’s day. We need to reintroduce the death tax to where it was prior to Obama. We need to make the case for all of those as fighting oligarchy and the end of middle-class and working-class America. We need the “I welcome their hatred” FDR-sort of Democrats of the New Deal.

    My concern, though, is that without strong, and I mean punitively strong, legislation and regulation to prevent capital flight I don’t see how we fight “economic anxiety”…especially if the voters can be won over by such a transparently obvious con as Trump’s “I’ll bring back millions of jobs” transparently obvious con. And I’m not sure how in the hell you fight automation at all.

    You can make the case that infrastructure and green energy projects will replace some of these jobs…but for how long? Eventually you run out of bridges and wind farms…what then? That’s what worries me; I’m not sure we’ve thought through – or CAN find – a solution to the deindustrialization of labor…

    • “Eventually you run out of bridges and wind farms”
      True, but not for a while. There’s also large potential in environmental cleanup projects, reforestation, repairing landscapes destroyed by resource extraction, carbon sequestration, and water works. Especially water projects. The West is going to need that big time if it’s going to be livable.

      And people need time to discover what is possible. One of the feature-not-bug aspects of neoliberalism is that if you constantly make everything shitty people develop learned helplessness. So here’s the new WPA. Everybody go to work. That’s a start.

      You are quite correct that capital mobility is going to require some pretty heavy handed solutions. We couldn’t lead with that even if we had the votes. Look up the election map for 18 to 25 year olds. Even Frank Luntz knows the sand is running out of the glass.

    • I’m actually more focused on unions. Obama got a lot of great organizing from unions in 2008 and then promptly abandoned them after he was elected. There are no easy political answers to our economic problems. (There are lots of easy economic answers!) But when the Democratic Party tells the nation that this newest “free trade” deal is the one that’s going to turn things around for us, it loses credibility. The US has a hard right political party. It doesn’t even have a center left political party. Here I’m just talking tactics. We need to take the party back from the DNC types. But sadly, it seems that there are a lot of people who like the DNC types. Wasn’t Clinton’s welfare reform and crime bill super keen? It really gave the Democrats the room to pass important liberal legislation like… Well, I can’t think of any at the moment.

      • Based on the primary, apparently everyone hated the bills so much that even though Sanders voted for one of them, the woman who had no ability to do anything about either bill legislatively needed to be blamed 100%.

        And the “necessary liberal legislation” was the tax increase that Bill Clinton threw his majority away on. Just like the ACA was what Obama threw his majority away on. Had Obama thrown the majority away on a pro-union bill like card check, we might be in a different position. I don’t know. But neither Bill Clinton nor Obama had long term majorities to use for truly liberal legislation. The only one thing I can think of is the tax increase, the right wing ACA, and the Lily Ledbetter Act.

        Should either of them had made an effort to repeal Taft Hartley or have a new version of the NLRA passed? Probably. I don’t know why Obama didn’t focus on that but I know that Clinton probably didn’t because frankly, he didn’t get how important it is to increase union membership coming from an anti-union state. I do know there was little pressure from the unions to do either thing on Congress or the White House. Perhaps that should be where we start?

        • I find these exchanges tiresome. You think I’m attacking Hillary Clinton and I’m not. I don’t remember exactly, but I think HRC lead the fight against the welfare bill in the White House. I always found it bizarre that people criticized her for the sins of her husband — including his having an affair! But that’s not even what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the way that people perceive the party itself.

          I also disagree with you on how you see politics working. I don’t think the Dems lost in 1994 because Bill Clinton raised taxes. Thinking that way gives voters far too much credit for voting rationally. If they did that, would voters in Pennsylvania not have voted for HRC? People have vague feelings about things. And Obama continuing to push the TPP didn’t say to voters, “We care about workers!”

          As for Bill and Barack not doing much for unions, I think it’s very simple: they don’t care much for unions. I think HRC would have done (or tried to) much more for unions because I think she is much more liberal on domestic policy than either of them.

          There was one really telling bit in some of the leaked information. HRC said that becoming rich made her less in touch with ordinary working people. Now the Republicans used this to claim that she was just some sellout. To me it said this was a woman who got it — who was self-aware enough to compensate. Can you imagine our president-elect saying such a thing? Of course not! Because he thinks he is the “common man.” And that means that he will do all he can for the “common man,” like pass huge tax cuts for billionaires.

          • You don’t see what I see and I don’t see what you see. That is why these exchanges don’t work.

            Hillary Clinton always got that she was advantaged. She was reminded again and again in her life even as she went to the top of the pile. After all, she was constantly verbally slapped for ever stepping out of her narrowly prescribed role. It started when a man told her off for even applying for law school and it ended when the grossly unqualified man got in on a technicality.

            That may be why she didn’t fight even though there are plenty of reasons to demand at least an audit of the four states that mysteriously have a one percent margin in Trump’s favor. At some point you just give up and accept it. Plus of course, she isn’t much of a hypocrite.

            • Indeed. You didn’t address what I wrote. And the part about HRC I wrote about was laudatory, but you didn’t seem to see that.

  3. I agree. And I’ve read analysis along these lines elsewhere today. I would add that the handling of the 2008 financial crisis in a way that made banks whole and left homeowners with properties they couldn’t sell made this happen. More directly, it is what cost the Democrats the 2010 midterms. And That cost President Obama his ability to advance a legislative agenda for the rest of his time in office. And that, in turn, gave the Republicans six years of throwing sand in the gears. A Supreme Court nomination stolen from a sitting President adds insult to injury.

    • Eric Holder on “Real Time” almost admitted this, saying that the reactions by the administration to the financial crisis were not strong enough, including possibly some the reactions by his Justice Department.

      And he’s right. Some people from Citywide and Goldman and the others should have gone to jail. It would have sent a huge message. But Obama’s advisors warned that this could have made international markets worried. Essentially, the banks were too big to jail. Only to fine, which impressed nobody.

      Well, now Dodd/Frank is toast. As is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. So the cautious liberal reforms are all wiped out, and the banks have more power than ever before. Another plan that seemed to make sense at the time backfired terribly. We’re all going to miss the Obamas’ grace and charm, but history I think will see them like the Kennedys. Symbolically important, legislatively less so.

      The capital flight you two mentioned is very important. It’s largely why the Arab Spring fizzled out. Most people were protesting for better pay and lower food prices (and less thuggish secret police!) But it simply wasn’t anything any of the governments could deliver. You empower labor unions, you throw out the greedy companies that run privatized social services (like water), and foreign bond investors would flee.

      That’s one thing a more liberal American government could support. When a country undertakes democratic reforms that worry bond investors, we could buy a gazillion bonds. Stabilizing the fall of the prices. Telling investors we believe those reforms will improve that nation’s economy in the long run. And building alliances to boot!

      Here is a different story. I think if we can make more of our politics grassroots, we can change our economy for the better on the local level, changes on the national level won’t spook investors as much. But that’s a long project!

      • Yes! Now that Holder is back to being a corporate lawyer he can admit what would have been done had Obama not put a corporate lawyer in charge of going after corporations!

    • Yep. And all that sand was blamed on the president, as it always is. This is why this talk of Democrats to work with Trump is madness. The good done will be overwhelmed by the bad done. But the good done will make it far more likely we are stuck with him for 8 years.

    • And I am going to say again that this is not what I said in this article.

      Either I’ve suddenly become a really unclear writer or everyone is so upset about the election that they can’t help but read their own thoughts into what I write.

    • That was magnificent. I sent a thank-you email to his office. And I’ll forward the video to my brother in Ireland. Far-right parties are on the rise there, too. Thankfully not in charge yet. This is a major problem in the entire Western world.

      • No-because i don’t agree with your conclusion that the Democratic Party needs to go full in on something they are already in on.

        Now you can talk about how individual elected members in leadership are not part of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and you would be right. However the party’s own policy statement was well to the left of anything they have put out in decades. And Hillary never pivoted from that. She campaigned on it and gave plenty of speeches on economic reforms.

        Problem was that no one in the fourth estate could be arsed to pay attention to it.

        And you are also, in my very never humble opinion, confusing what Dean would do as chair. Chairs aren’t about policy. Chairs are about party building and getting people to run for the elected positions and win. Dean had a long term plan to have the party elected officials slowly turn from where they are now to where *you* want them. It involved pouring resources into every state to get those seats filled with Democrats then those people could be primaried from the left and eventually we have something like we had in the 1940s and late 60s. It was cut short because Rahm and Dean hate each other and well we wound up going from the kicking Donkey to the corporate logo and attendant reduction in wins.

        The two things: policy and party are related but separate enough that demanding policy purity in the chair is pointless-that isn’t what they are there to do. It is up to the candidates to shape the policy and the party tags along.

        Today you posted about how with stagnant and reduced wages, this country went right wing. How the hell are we supposed to win back those supposed economically anxious voters who went right by simply being hard left? They don’t care about the economic part of it. The voters who went with Trump aren’t hurting. But they are willing to let him sell to them a false vision that included not letting “those people” get anything.

        *checks* that incoherently addresses most of my disagreements with your post. :D Go Dean, Perez or Harrison!

            • I need to get that meme of two TV characters you don’t know about and repurpose it with “The video Frank. I am talking about the video.”

              Because I am snarky. :D

              • I still don’t know what you’re talking about. But in trying to find it, I noticed that you wrote, “Today you posted about how with stagnant and reduced wages, this country went right wing. How the hell are we supposed to win back those supposed economically anxious voters who went right by simply being hard left?” I think I was clear that these people went with the Republicans because they didn’t see any difference between the parties when it came to kitchen table issues. Since they had nothing to vote on regarding their interests, they voted their prejudices. And this says nothing of the way things were but the way things appeared to people. That’s why I posted a Thomas Frank quote today where he talks about finding Clinton’s plans and platform “awesome” but how people didn’t trust her. He blames Obama. I think it’s more complex than that. But one of my main points is that the Democrats ran as liberals this time. They need to keep doing it for 20 years and then maybe the people will start to believe. That’s why I blamed the 2016 loss on the 1992 win.

                • So we should lose for 20 years in the hopes of possibly one day winning?

                  Because Americans don’t want liberalism. If they did, they would have voted in Russ Feingold. Zephyr Teachout would have won. And lots of other places with people who take the label of liberal and wear it proudly.

                  • And we don’t need to argue about this. It is my view and your view and they aren’t the same.

                    We can save it for the podcast.

                  • Moving to the right never made the Dems win. They only won when they would have won anyway. What I’m saying is that the populists who vote Republican need years to become Democratic voters. You are just accepting the standard centrist line that if Democrats run as liberals they will lose. There is no data to back that up. That’s just believed because conservatives have pushed it because they want to win even when the DP wins.

        • The Democratic Party is probably more divided than the Republican Party. The trend in the DP is good. But we are a long way from becoming a liberal party. Look at the Senate leadership. I realize, we can’t just shoot Chuck Schumer. But it isn’t clear to me why. They shoot horses, don’t they? I mean: when they aren’t useful anymore?

          Wouldn’t Dean, in his position have a great deal of power as to who to give money to? And isn’t that a big problem with the Democratic Party? That it is convinced that the people are more conservative than they are? I think everyone in the Democratic Party should be forced to see what’s gone on with the Labour Party in the UK. It’s showing signs of life because the elites are finally doing what the base wants.

          I’m happy with the direction that the Democratic Party is taking. But don’t expect me to cheer everything they do. If we don’t continue to push the party leftward, it will go back to where it was because there are a lot of people who are paid to do that. A lot of them are our representatives.

          • The Labour Party also got destroyed in the last elections. Not really a good argument to make unless you want us to become a permanent minority with the way Republicans act while in power.

            Yes, Dean would have power to decide where to put money and he decides sensibly to put it in each state to let each state build up their political machines to win. Which is why I pointed out it was a difference between the policy and party things the Dems as a whole have to consider. It is letting the local parties make the decisions on who to ask to run but give them the structure to actually run. I know you get that someone in Alabama is going to be a great to the right on most things than someone from California but the point is to get that person to win as a Democrat THEN yank them left via primaries.

            I agree though that the Senate leadership makes the Dems look terrible. Schumer is awful and while it is illegal to shoot someone, I do think he shouldn’t have become leadership simply because it was his turn. And while you and I disagree on Sanders, he has declared where it is relevant that he is an Independent. WHY is he allowed to determine what the Democratic Party (not the senate leadership because whatever) does? He isn’t a member. So he needs to butt the fuck out over who the next chair is. If he doesn’t want to join, he doesn’t get to decide.

            • The reason the left took over the Labour Party is because New Labour got destroyed in the election. What had happened to Labour is the same thing that happened to the Democrats. What’s more, the big loss was due to the much more liberal SNP breaking off. And even with that, the remaining people in Labour wanted Jeremy Corbyn. Because just like in the Democratic Party, the elites had become corporate whores who were far more conservative than the base. But the trend in the DP is good. Hillary Clinton was the first non-DLC candidate in over 25 years. And I hope she goes down in history as the first of a long line.

              Now when it comes to US politics, I yield to you because you really are an expert. And I am totally behind a 50-state strategy. I need to look at the candidates, however. We all have our favorites and they can alter our judgement, and I know you like Dean a lot. There is a lot that I like about Dean too. And maybe he’s the right man for the job. I’m not yet in a position to argue with you about it. I need to learn more. He is the past. But do we have someone who can better do the job. I don’t want a solid liberal doing the job if they turn out to be incompetent.

              On the issue of candidates in Alabama, I am very forgiving. I don’t expect Democrats to agree on everything. I don’t even want them too. What we really need to avoid are Liebermans: conservative Democrats from liberal states and districts. This one reason I’ve always been a big fan of Barbara Boxer: a real liberal for a bright blue state. I’ve never been as keen on Feinstein, although I’ll always have a soft spot for her in how she stepped up after the assassination of George Moscone.

              I don’t think the Senate leadership is awful. I think it shows that the DP is in transition. I’m talking here about the entire leadership, not just the leader and the whip. On the question of Sanders, well, political parties are different in the US. In order to be in the Labour Party, you have to pay dues. (It’s nominal — 3 pounds, I think.) But I think that Sanders calls himself an independent for idiosyncratic reasons. He’s been an excellent DP team player. And he’s in the Senate leadership because there are millions of Democratic voters who want him there. He’s always caucused with the DP. If it were me, I’d just call myself a Democrat for the same reason I do call myself a Democrat. I find independent and third parties cop-outs. But I accept him as a Democrat (our crazy uncle Democratic — but still). And I think you should too. But I don’t want to get into a big fight about it. At the moment.

              • We are never going to agree on Sanders. I don’t want to argue about it because it is pointless. I think you are wrong and you think I am wrong. Leave it at that.

                As for Dean-I actually don’t have a problem with Perez or Harrison. Maybe more Perez then Harrison because South Carolina hasn’t been a stellar example of Democratic successes while Perez has plenty of energy and ability to tackle difficult problems and overcoming them.

                I have a serious problem with Ellison for several reasons-he won’t be a full time chair, the decision for him smacks of tokenism, it is about policy not party building for his selection, he doesn’t have a history of successfully expanding his sphere of influence outside his local district, and I don’t believe he has the national connections someone like Perez and Dean has to work on getting candidates to run.

                Dean has a history of doing a great job as chair. He has the contacts and he has lead the party when we had the hysterics over Bush. And he was ready and willing to handle the sudden reversal of the Republicans when Katrina hit and Bush imploded along with the sudden revelation that there was a pedophile in congress that had protection from Republican leadership.

                If we aren’t ready with candidates who are serious and able, we won’t be able to take back the House and Senate if there are elections in 2018. That is why I support having him as chair again. I don’t think we should go with new just for the sake of having new-there needs to be solid reasoning that Dean is incapable of handling the job he once did so well. Not “I want someone who will believe as I do and happens to be new.”

                • I’ve heard that argument against Ellison and I’m open to it. I will have to do more studying, but I haven’t had time. As for Sanders, I’m glad the DP doesn’t agree with you. We need everyone who agrees with us to join us. We don’t want to turn into Matt Breunigs, do we? :-)

  4. I agree with Frank about Bernie and Elizabeth about Dean.

    I also think Dean as the head of the DNC would have a big impact on pulling the party to the left and conveying a clear message. I also think Steve Israel must go!

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