Last week in the second part of my review of Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America,” I noted how the complicity of neoliberal Democrats with the aims of the Right is one of the reasons why fighting the Koch brothers of the world has been so difficult. Thinking they are reasonably compromising or engaging in a savvy war of position, these Democrats are instead simply crab walking us over a cliff.
More specifically, following MacLean’s argument, I observe that:
The key here was the embrace of privatization as the point of the spear, the starting point for their greater, unstated war on government and democracy itself. One of things that made this effective, of course, was the fact that many neoliberal Democrats were unwitting accomplices in this slow-motion demolition of democracy. MacLean again notes:
Many liberals then and since have tended to miss this strategic use of privatization to enchain democracy, at worst seeing the proposals as coming simply from dogma that preferred the private sector to the public. Those driving the train know otherwise. Privatization was a key element of the crab walk to the final, albeit gradual, revolution—the ends justify-the-means approach that allowed for using disingenuous claims to take terrain that would make the ultimate project possible.
In this way, every time a Democrat supported privatizing a public service, outsourcing, or applying “market approaches” to solving problems, they were doing the bidding of the wrecking crew. Hence, the free trade agreement-pushing, corporate education and charter school-loving, and Wall Street-abetting crew of New Democrats at all levels have really been tools of the highest order unless, of course, they knew better all along and were simply comfortable making deals with the devil. Either way, they too are responsible for the mess we are in at present.
And while I wish that our current circumstances were so extreme that it has scared even the most feckless of Democrats away from this kind of all-too-clever triangulation, it appears that some people never learn.
Locally, one need look no further than our own crab walker-in-chief, Scott Peters, to see how this works. As the Reader reported recently, Peters:
[I]s behind a new effort to divert San Diego Democrats from policies favored by the left. The New Democrat Coalition is “a group of pragmatic, problem-solving Democrats committed to pro-growth, pro-innovation, fiscally responsible policies in Congress,” said an emailed invitation to a September 17 $250-a-head fundraiser for NewDemPAC, the group’s political action committee, which is chaired by Peters. “I’m hosting this meeting with some of my colleagues — Reps. Kathleen Rice, Pete Aguilar, and Juan Vargas — to introduce San Diegans to the coalition and let them know how they can help elect like-minded leaders to join our ranks.”
The self-described aim of these New Democrats is to split the middle with the radical Right. As Peters’ fellow New Democrat, Ron Kind, puts it in a recent article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, they are:
[T]rying to develop good relations across the aisle too to get things done. It’s been a bit difficult in Washington lately with the hyperpartisan and polarized atmosphere, and that’s why a group like the New Dems is as relevant now as ever before. We try to bridge some gaps and form some coalitions to get things done and a few of the issue areas that we’ve been working on are the future of workforce given the change that’s taking place and the need for skilled labor to meet the growth demands of companies to early stage capital for startups to education reform. We lean in heavily on health care reform in the area of delivery system and payment reform figuring that’s really going to be the key to affording 21st-century health care system. This group has leaned in too when it comes to trade policy. I think when you see something happening in a bipartisan fashion, you’re typically going to see the New Dem Coalition right in the middle. We’ve also made a point to have frequent policy lunches with a group of more pragmatic House Republican members called the Tuesday Group just to get in the same room together, to talk to each other, get to know each other and by doing that, finding some areas of common ground that we can work on together and we’re planning on continuing that. I think it’s exactly what the institution needs to be doing right now, rather than all the finger pointing and back and forth.
Yes, just when you thought it was time for a thoroughgoing resistance to the most extreme right-wing regime in the contemporary history of the United States, you get these New Democrats looking to find common ground with the very folks who want to save capitalism from democracy permanently. Particularly onerous here is their desire to work together on “education reform” during the reign of Betsy DeVos.
Really? No thanks, guys.
In this same interview, Peters bemoans the loss of the Transpacific Trade Partnership (TPP), the trade deal pushed by the Obama administration that gave Trump an opening to oppose “bad trade deals” while bogusly painting himself as an economic populist and defeating the Democrat who was for it before she was against it.
More of this kind of corporate appeasement dressed up as pragmatism is precisely what Thomas Frank identifies in his seminal book, “Listen, Liberal,” as what went wrong with the party of the people. The only thing more depressing than how predictable this is is the fact that this strategy will surely bring more of the same stale policies and humiliating electoral losses for the Democrats if this faction wins the day.
And all of this in the name of “moderate” (read: failed neoliberal) politics.
Beware, dear reader.
If we let these “moderates” set the course of the future, we’ll only have more and more hell to pay on election day and a long time after that as they crab walk hand-in-in hand with the wrecking crew into a brave new world of the radical right’s making.