By Jim Miller
To the surprise of many over the last couple of weeks, San Diego’s Labor Council, the San Diego Democratic Party, San Diego Democrats for Equality, Progressive San Diego, the Environmental Health and Justice Campaign, and a host of other local progressives have all lined up to endorse David Alvarez for Mayor. Even as the Gonzalez/Forrester/Jacobs/et al camp has pulled out all the stops in their effort to force-feed Fletcher to local progressives, Nathan just hasn’t gone down that well.
As one person who was being courted by Fletcher before the Democratic Central Committee’s endorsement vote reported, an exasperated Fletcher complained to them about having to work so hard to line up votes. I guess his friends on the inside said it was going to be easy.
Unfortunately for Fletcher, he has had to work hard but it hasn’t paid off. And all this has some folks in the “everybody knows” crowd a bit rattled.
Consequently, a couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being called out as the “Tea Party of the left” by my mild-mannered colleague, Carl Luna, the champion of civility and “restoring respect” in San Diego politics. Specifically, Luna re-tweeted my column “Fletcher Versus Alvarez: the Battle for the Soul of San Diego’s Democratic Party” with the tag line: “At Last! SD Democrats have a clear road map to irrelevance: become the Tea Party of the left! Kucinich in 2016!” Et tu, Carl?
Later, when the Democratic Party sided with Alvarez, Luna’s perplexed Twitter outrage continued with this missive: “Dems pull a Fletcher: (v) To endorse the ideological candidate and not the moderate one more likely to win.”
From there, after alerting his fan base that he would be the political analyst for the local Fox News affiliate, he went on to re-tweet Restoring Respect’s congratulations of Nathan Fletcher: “Restoring Respect applauds for making pledge not to attack his opponents. Will the other candidates pledge civility too?” And with that, the challenge was laid down to the dastardly ideologues (never mind that minutes after Fletcher made this pledge he went on to attack his rivals at a public forum).
This kind of silliness brings to mind the response I had the last time I was accused of being the “Tea Party of the left” when I critiqued the corporate orientation of New Democrat Scott Peters:
Alas, ideology, like bad breath, is always something the other guy has. The reality is that we all have an ideology but some people like to pretend they are somehow outside its sway in a happy place unsullied by the sordid fray of competing ideas and interests. The problem with this position is that it doesn’t hold water. Nobody writes or thinks outside of ideology so condemning someone for having ideology is like condemning someone for breathing. It’s a red herring that distracts from actually discussing the history and issues at hand.
Why does history matter? Understanding the financial and ideological evolution of the Democratic Party is centrally important to the kind of deep analysis that moves one beyond the superficial discussion of the politics of personality to the real structural and institutional bases of power. Such an analysis illuminates how power actually works in America. If you don’t do this, you are just skimming the surface.
Thus Luna’s distinction between an “ideological candidate” and a “moderate” is a specious one that really serves as a form of ad hominem, albeit an eminently civil one. At base, such reasoning just isn’t intellectually serious but that doesn’t prevent it from airing regularly on Fox News or appearing on Twitter, in a very respectful manner of course.
What Luna labeled as left “Tea Party” in my column was the argument that the Democrats should endorse Alvarez because he actually represents values and principles that the party should embody and a new direction for the future.
Specifically, I cited an article by Peter Beinart who noted that:
The argument between the children of Reagan and the children of Clinton is fierce, but ideologically, it tilts toward the right. Even after the financial crisis, the Clinton Democrats who lead their party don’t want to nationalize the banks, institute a single-payer health-care system, raise the top tax rate back to its pre-Reagan high, stop negotiating free-trade deals, launch a war on poverty, or appoint labor leaders rather than Wall Streeters to top economic posts. They want to regulate capitalism modestly.
Their Reaganite Republican adversaries, by contrast, want to deregulate it radically. By pre-Reagan standards, the economic debate is taking place on the conservative side of the field. But — and this is the key point–- there’s reason to believe that America’s next political generation will challenge those limits in ways that cause the leaders of both parties fits.
From there I went on to argue that, “the hope for the future is that the next political generation will not just challenge ‘Reaganite orthodoxy’ but also ‘Clintonite orthodoxy’ and bring us a truly progressive Democratic politics that rejects the compromised corporatism of the ‘New Democrats’ with their love of neoliberalism and austerity lite.”
Thus the choice the San Diego Democrats were making in their endorsement process was, “a battle between those who want to put the party on a ‘New (read: corporate) Democrat’ track and those who want the party to stand for all San Diegans. Nathan Fletcher has the ‘New Democrats’ and the 1% crowd in his corner and David Alvarez is the best hope of the progressives.”
This distinction between corporate Democrats and progressives is not some ideological fiction created by extremists; it is an unassailable historical fact. It’s rooted in the history of the Democratic Leadership Council in the 1990s. As Pro Publica has documented:
The New Democrat Coalition was formed as a House caucus in 1997, following in the footsteps of the Democratic Leadership Council [DLC] and President Bill Clinton’s “third way” policies designed to make Democrats and their platform more business friendly. When launched, the group lacked a fundraising PAC and had no legislative staffers. However, they did have allies at the highest levels of the Democratic Party and access to the party’s political and fundraising machine.
The New Democrats were as pro-business then as they are now. Many of the group’s members, including Kind and Crowley, supported the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed marquee financial legislation passed after the Great Depression and paved the way for financial institutions to become “too big to fail.” A year later, many also voted for the Commodities Futures Modernization Act, which curtailed regulation of financial derivatives, including the products that played a major role in the collapse of energy firm Enron in 2001 and helped to bring the world economy to the brink of disaster in 2008.
Though the driving force behind both bills was Sen. Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican who left Congress just after their passage to lobby for the Swiss bank UBS, they were pushed hard by Clinton administration officials like Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, signed into law by Clinton, and supported by congressional groups like the New Democrats.
So, as I have written before in my column about The Problem with Liberals, the DLC and its NDC offspring are part of a movement to push the Democratic Party away from economic liberalism to a business friendly cultural liberalism. Consequently, many on the Democratic side aren’t the slightest bit shy about unmooring the Democratic Party from its economic populist roots so that the mainstream of the party will all be good “Republicrats” who won’t scare away the big money that is the mother’s milk of their “soulless” and “corporatist” agenda, as Ralph Nadar has characterized it.
Sadly, it’s just as important to understand the conservative ideological and financial networks inside the contemporary Democratic Party as it is to study the right-wing think tank network that has spawned folks like Carl DeMaio. Once you make those connections, you really see what plutocracy looks like. As Dennis Keith Yergler explains, the New Democrats’ effort to move the party to the right has been well-funded by the Fortune 500 from the beginning:
Over the coming years the corporate contributors to the DLC read like a “Who’s Who” of Corporate America. As Nichols writes, “Those corporate contributors … include(d) Bank One, Citigroup, Dow Chemical, DuPont, General Electric, the Health Insurance Corporation of America, Merrill Lynch, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, the National Association of Mortgage Brokers, Occidental Petroleum, Raytheon, and much of the rest of the Fortune 500.” In the words of Ralph Nader, the DLC had become “rooted in their philosophy of turn-your-back-on-organized labor and open-your-pockets-to-corporations.” More pointedly, the author Kenneth Baer, in his book Reinventing Democrats, concluded that the DLC had become nothing more than “an elite organization funded by elite–corporate and private–donors.”
Here in San Diego, we are seeing a local version of this phenomenon and it’s equally important to follow the money.
As Doug Porter observed last week of Fletcher’s candidacy, it’s not about, “Democratic values. I see it as an expression of the growing economic power of Tech/Business types like Paul Jacobs, who is every bit as smart as his Dad and actually runs Qualcomm.”
Over at the SD Reader Matt Potter did a good job of outlining how the Fletcher versus Faulconer contest that the “everybody knows” crowd wants is very much a proxy battle between the Jacobs and Manchester interests . So if you want your local Democracy to be a plaything for the rich and corporations, root for a Faulconer versus Fletcher run-off.
An argument about whether or not this is a desirable outcome complete with historical context and actual facts about very real economic and institutional power at work in our city would be a worthy endeavor, but that’s not likely to happen. Instead, commentators like Luna and those in the Fletcher camp who want to characterize any reference to the historical record as “negative campaigning” or “ideological” are hoping we put all these uncomfortable facts down the memory hole and focus on the superficial horse race story as their handsome hero gallops to the finish line fueled by exactly the same kind of plutocratic donor base as Kevin Faulconer.
But sorry, with our Federal government currently shut down by the radical minions of Grover Norquist, it’s not dirty pool to point out that, until quite recently, Nathan Fletcher was a willing acolyte of Norquist, one who signed Norquist’s pledge with public fanfare and voted time after time after time to “starve the beast” in Sacramento just as his former friends are doing now in the nation’s capitol.
And if you want to know what kind of “Democrat” Fletcher would be if elected, watch his ally Scott Peters as he fails the core principles test by voting with the Republicans on taxes and refusing to draw the line against GOP extortion tactics during the shutdown.
And how uncomfortable was Fletcher in his wrecking crew role way back in the dark ages of a couple of years ago? If you ask his old constituents, like Poway Unified School District Board of Education member Kimberly Beatty, not very. As she noted in a message to local union leaders:
It has been particularly painful to me to see Fletcher claim to champion public education, not only because of his Grover Norquist votes (a pledge he never once violated), but because of the callousness with which he treated community members I brought with me to meetings with him. I saw him make a 90-year-old man shake with anger when Fletcher said that schools were flush with cash and teachers should take a 14% pay cut.
I saw him coldly stare when a mom tearfully described her daughter calling home crying because of headaches from a noisy, overcrowded classroom. Fletcher voted against allowing children access to drinking water during mealtimes, and I have seen plenty of schools with broken water fountains . . .
During a meeting with Mr. Fletcher in February 2012, parents poured their hearts out about the challenges their children are facing in classrooms with 35, 40 and 50 students. Heartbreaking stories were told. Mr. Fletcher’s response was to coldly insist that school funding had actually increased and teachers should take a 14% pay cut. . .
Nathan Fletcher aided and abetted in the worst financial crisis California Public Schools, from Kindergarten through University, have ever faced.
Since his election in 2008, he has never violated his Grover Norquist anti-tax pledge. The claim that he worked with the Governor to close the tax loophole favoring out of state corporations and costing the state billions is a farce. In 2009, he strongly supported this $2 billion corporate tax giveaway. When Governor Brown proposed closing the loophole in January 2011, Fletcher opposed it because the additional revenue would go to schools and to closing the budget deficit.
Only when it was crafted as revenue neutral and Jon Fleishman of the Flash Report tweeted the following, “Because the tax plan is revenue neutral, supporting it does NOT violate a no new taxes pledge,” did Fletcher support it. He has consistently blocked revenue for schools, prohibited local voters from deciding to support additional revenues, supported nonstop cuts to education and other services and funneled school property tax revenues to his developer buddies.
And whether or not Carl Luna and the Fletcher camp like it, that very real history is the narrative that hurts.