The Failure of New Democrat ‘Progressivism’

Over eight years ago, I noted that what self-described progressives stood for was simply not being out of their fucking minds–and that is not enough:

  1. When trying to stop Bin Laden, you should not invade the wrong country, particularly when there is ample reason to expect the ensuing occupation to go sideways.
  2. Scientists and other experts, when presenting highly vetted and substantiated information about the reality we are confronted with, should not be denigrated (e.g., global warming).
  3. The government should not be in the forced childbirth or pregnancy-as-punishment business.
  4. Rampant corruption sucks and is harmful to the country’s interests.
  5. ‘Faith-based’, wingnuttian approaches, when unsupported or contradicted by evidence, suck and are harmful to the country’s interests.
  6. Slandering war heroes is wrong.
  7. Eliminationist rhetoric is wrong.
  8. Hating black people and interracial couples is wrong.
  9. Hating Latinos, and in particular Mexicans, is wrong.
  10. Hating gay people is wrong.
  11. The Enlightenment, overall, was a good thing.
  12. The libidophobic ‘religious’ right is idiotic, not to mention often hypocritical.
  13. Giving Paris Hilton a tax cut when there are so many unmet needs is wrong.
  14. Some kind of universal healthcare is needed (although the more conservative elements of the progressive movement might not actually agree with this point).

Other than the Paris Hilton item (which is usually couched in non-ideological terms), and universal healthcare, which was proposed in 1939, there really is no underlying philosophy in this list other than basic human decency (which, mind you, is too often in short supply). You don’t get points for holding these views in my book because it’s what any decent, rational, and sane person should do. Sadly, the Republican Party has realized there’s a lot of political advantage to be gained by advocating batshit loopy positions, but in a reasonable universe, we wouldn’t be ‘debating’ these points

Matt Stoller explains how we got here (boldface mine):

Everything is put on the table, except the main course — policy. Did the Democrats run the government well? Are the lives of voters better? Are you as a political party credible when you say you’ll do something?

This question is never asked, because Democratic elites — ensconced in the law firms, foundations, banks, and media executive suites where the real decisions are made — basically agree with each other about organizing governance around the needs of high technology and high finance. The only time the question even comes up now is in an inverted corroded form, when a liberal activist gnashes his or her teeth and wonders — why can’t Democrats run elections around populist themes and policies? This is still the wrong question, because it assumes the wrong causality. Parties don’t poll for good ideas, run races on them, and then govern. They have ideas, poll to find out how to sell those ideas, and run races and recruit candidates based on the polling. It’s ideas first, then the sales pitch. If the sales pitch is bad, it’s often the best of what can be made of an unpopular stew of ideas.

Still, you’d think that someone, somewhere would have populist ideas. And a few — like Zephyr Teachout and Elizabeth Warren — do. But why does every other candidate not? I don’t actually know, but a book just came out that might answer this question. The theory in this book is simple. The current generation of Democratic policymakers were organized and put in power by people that don’t think that a renewed populist agenda centered on antagonism towards centralized economic power is a good idea.

This is by design:

The DLC group is sometimes portrayed as a pro-Wall Street set of lobbyists. And From did recruit hedge fund legends like Michael Steinhardt to fund his movement. But to argue these people were corrupt or motivated by a pay to play form of politics is wrong. From is clearly a reformer and an ideologue, and his colleagues believed they were serving the public interest. “Make no mistake about it,” wrote From in a memo about his organization’s strategy, “what we hope to accomplish with the DLC is a bloodless revolution in our party. It is not unlike what the conservatives accomplished in the Republican Party during the 1960s and 1970s.”

So movement conservatives shifted their party to the right, and New Democrats (and Clinton is one of them) move the Democratic Party to the right, so that leaves a gaping hole on anything resembling the left. Meaning no one is dealing with the fundamental issues of our time (boldface added):

missing from this list are any proposals that would seriously alter the relationship of citizens to massed economic power. Before you say, “Oh the Mad Biologist is going off into lefty bizarro world”, keep in mind that most of the problems we face, from healthcare, to information privacy, to environmental degradation, stem in part, if not entirely, from the imbalance between capital and labor, or between capital and the individual citizen. Here’s what you don’t hear about very much in the lefty blogosphere:

  1. The necessary and morally just role of government in moving towards (if not reaching) full employment.
  2. A more progressive income tax (leaving aside the issue of how much revenue should be generated).
  3. More tax revenue from corporate sources.
  4. Raising wages, particularly of those in the service industries (which are the fastest and largest sectors of job growth, such as it is under Little Lord Pontchartrain).
  5. Affordable housing, for both homeowners and renters.

To the internet progressives’ credit, there is a recognized need for investment in technological development (this is the Internet after all). But, at its core, the internet progressive economic plan-to the extent that there is one-is the now-classic neoliberal paradigm.

I could gloat that I predicted this eight years ago, but I don’t feel like gloating since we have made very little progress in solving these problems. This is something to consider when candidates ask for your vote in 2016. With the current midterm results, we will lose another two years.

And the congregation responds: This is yet another reason why we can’t have nice things.

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