By Jim Miller
Recently I noted how movements like the Fight for $15 and the insurgent Bernie Sanders campaign have revealed a widespread thirst for an overtly left politics that makes the battle against the billionaire class a central rallying cry. Indeed, Sanders has continued to force Hillary Clinton to tack to the left on multiple issues, and he has had a genuinely transformative impact on the national political discourse by unashamedly bringing democratic socialism to the stage.
This is why Harold Meyerson argues that the Sanders’s campaign represents “the largest specifically left mobilization—and by ‘specifically left’ I mean it demands major changes in the distribution of income and wealth and major reforms to U.S. capitalism—that the nation has seen in at least half a century.”
Last week, Sanders himself defined what such a movement should be based on in a speech in which he defined his version of “Democratic Socialism” by linking his political vision to FDR’s Second Bill of Rights and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s proposition that “true freedom does not occur without economic security”:
If we are serious about transforming our country, if we are serious about rebuilding the middle class, if we are serious about reinvigorating our democracy, we need to develop a political movement which, once again, is prepared to take on and defeat a ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation. The billionaire class cannot have it all. Our government belongs to all of us, and not just the one percent.
We need to create a culture which, as Pope Francis reminds us, cannot just be based on the worship of money. We must not accept a nation in which billionaires compete as to the size of their super-yachts while children in America go hungry and veterans sleep out on the streets.
While this might be inspiring to progressives yearning for a real opposition party not wedded to the same old neoliberal policies that the national Democratic Party has frequently promoted since the inception of the Clinton era, there are plenty of people on the other side of this intraparty divide who are far from sanguine about the new populism.
As Richard (RJ) Escrow reports in “The New Democrats Meet the New Reality” in the Huffington Post, the corporate Democrats are not just worried about the impact of Sanders’s populism, they are actively seeking to undermine it:
Now they’re fighting back. A Wall Street-funded Democratic think tank called Third Way has released a lengthy report which argues that an inequality-based, populist theme will doom Democrats. Its board member, former White House Chief of Staff (and JPMorgan Chase executive) Bill Daley, even insisted to HuffPost’s Stein that Sanders’ political positions are “a recipe for disaster.”
The Third Way report is available online. It introduces a number of catchphrases, often paired in threes: the Hopscotch Workforce, the Nickel-and-Dimed Workforce, and the Asset-Starved Workforce; Stalling Schools, the College Well, and Adult Atrophy; the Upside-Down Economy, the Anywhere Economy, and the Malnourished Economy.
Sadly, most of the content amounts to Misleading Minutiae, Gimmicky Wordplay, and Downright Deception . . .
Third Way’s argument against inequality as a leading source of our current economic woes puts them directly at odds with leading economists, including Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz. “Politicians typically talk about rising inequality and the sluggish recovery as separate phenomena,” Stiglitz wrote in 2013, “when they are in fact intertwined. Inequality stifles, restrains and holds back our growth.”
So while the largely superficial coverage of the presidential race in the national corporate media will continue to focus on horserace and personality politics, anyone who knows the recent history of the Democratic Party understands that the Sanders campaign represents the deepest progressive challenge to the neoliberal direction of the party since the formation of the Democratic Leadership Council that helped bring us Bill Clinton’s “Third Way” presidency and the Democratic Party establishment’s embrace of market-driven policy decades ago.
That’s why a Wall Street-funded Democratic think tank is taking cheap shots at the Sanders campaign. It’s the fear of a real progressive leader asking the troubling questions about our economy and the distribution of wealth that Clinton will never push too far.
Instead, this last week the neoliberal camp has started pushing in the other direction as the Huffington post reports in “Hillary Clinton Attacks Sanders’ Progressive Agenda,” Clinton proxies have taken a page out of the Republican playbook and gone after Sanders on taxes:
[T]he Clinton campaign has made a conscious decision here. It is not merely criticizing Sanders for suspicious math. It is suggesting the test for any proposed initiative is what taxes it imposes, regardless of what benefits it might bring.
This is the kind of argument that conservatives make. It might or might not help Clinton win in November. It’s hard to see how it can help progressives win in the long run.
Thus, however much Hillary Clinton positions herself to the left tactically, there should be no illusions about the real direction of her economic policies, which, if history is our guide, will continue to be thoroughly neoliberal with the same kinds of small ball nods to working people and progressives (mostly on social issues) that we got from the first Clinton administration.
The Wrecking Crew, Part II
But it’s not just the corporate Democrats who can’t think past the nineties. On the other side of the aisle, the Clinton-obsessed Republicans are salivating to get back to the good old days as well.
Yes, as Bloomberg recently reported, the new hard-right House Freedom Caucus is looking to bring back the Contract with America:
Members of the House Freedom Caucus are preparing a “Contract With America II” that would call for House votes in the first 100 days of 2016 on replacing Obamacare, overhauling entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, and repealing the estate tax.
An early draft of the plan obtained by Bloomberg News also calls for legislation to slash government regulations by 20 percent, cut corporate tax rates and expand offshore oil drilling. Efforts are still under way to finalize contents of the “contract,” which lawmakers say they hope will become the basis of House Republicans’ 2016 agenda . . .
The draft of the Freedom Caucus contract calls for House floor votes on proposals to require a balanced federal budget, repeal the estate tax, replace Obamacare, and cut dependence on foreign oil 20 percent by 2025. The military should receive enough funding to be able to fight two separate wars in different parts of the world, it says, and government regulations should be cut 20 percent across the board.
The proposal calls for closing corporate tax “loopholes” and cutting the top corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent; banning federal funds for Planned Parenthood and other groups that perform abortions; overhauling entitlement programs and enacting measures “to promote workfare, not welfare.”
So just as the corporatists in the Third Way want to make sure that the era of “big government” stays gone in Democratic circles, the folks on the hard right are working diligently to drown it in a bathtub as they continue to lavish gifts on the plutocrats and drill us toward the end of the world.
If all the terribly serious people are correct and Clinton wins the White House but the Republicans hold Congress, we may just get to go back to the nineties after all and watch the New Democrats save us by triangulating with the hard right.
I think I’ve seen this movie before and it doesn’t end well, but at least I don’t live in Denmark.