The fight for the soul of the Democratic Party
The fight for the soul of the Democratic Party
So who are these Democratic factions? A brief guide:
[The centrist establishment] Last week, 12 Democrats (and one independent) in the Senate joined with 13 Republicans in co-sponsoring a bill to weaken the Dodd-Frank banking regulations passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. That was a quintessentially centrist and neoliberal move, demonstrating that a significant faction of the party continues to place its faith in markets and deregulation. This same faction has also been loudest in denouncing President Trump’s proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum.
[The economic populists] This faction is led by Bernie Sanders, but it also includes Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the latter of whom has made headlines in recent days by coming out in favor of Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. The economic populists hope to win back the white working-class voters across the Rust Belt who ditched the Democrats (or just stayed home) in droves during the Trump-Clinton presidential matchup.
[The multicultural populists] Concentrated in deep-blue California and Democratic strongholds in cities, wealthy suburbs, and college towns, this third Democratic faction views a range of issues — rights for women, blacks, immigrants, Muslims, the disabled, homosexuals, and transgender people; the environment; gun control — through a culture-war lens. It hopes to win the battle over these issues with heavy doses of identity politics, mobilizing various demographic factions to fight for the soul of the country, proving to themselves and the world that the deplorably racist, sexist, and ignorant Trump voters who are most vocal on the other side of these issues represent a final, dying gasp of atavistic prejudice on the part of the formerly hegemonic white American majority.
I can’t speak to the structure of the Democratic Party, but if you extend this critique to what’s considered the American “left”, I have to take exception with this characterization.
The biggest bone to pick is the separation of economic populists from “multicultural” populists, which I would recharacterize as economic and social justice. In spite of the media portrayal in 2015/2016, the left is mobilized for both economic and social justice; the idea that one is pitted against the other in some faction is an faulty diagnosis.
On the other hand, there is definitely a neoliberal faction in the Democratic party – a core actually. The Democratic Party is the party of neoliberalism. While there are blue dog democrats who are not interested in social justice, the one thing that defines the neoliberals in the democratic party is the willingness to cloak a platform of economic injustice in one of social justice.
The left has been consistent in calling for economic justice (fair trade, single payer health care, government funded education to the collegiate level, progressive taxation, etc.) while also calling for social justice (marriage equality, women’s rights, transgender rights, community policing, etc). The notion that there is a sizable faction on the left that is for economic justice but against social justice was a marketing ploy by the neoliberal establishment. We saw this time and again during the 2015 Democratic Primary. When the Sanders faction would question trade policy or push for a $15 an hour minimum wage, the response from the Clinton surrogates was to claim Sanders had a problem with people of color and women.
To be clear, while the neoliberals are better than the Republicans on social justice, they don’t have the best track record. What neoliberals do have is a history of deploying social justice issues as an attack against the left which advocates for both economic and social justice.
From my point of view, there is really only one core to the Democratic Party – the neoliberals. They’ve been ascendant since Carter and fully took control with the election of Bill Clinton. You can further divide the neoliberals into a smaller group that unabashedly doesn’t care about social justice and the majority that do (as compared to the GOP).
Then, you have a very small collection of Democrats and a large number of people on the outside (activists, Greens, DSA, etc.) that care about both economic justice and social justice.
If you’re looking for the cleavage point, it’s neoliberals vs the left; both sides advocate for social justice, and I would contend that the left is more serious about it than the neoliberals who have no problems wielding social justice issues to fight economic justice.
With regard to the larger voting population, I do think it’s a fair assessment to say that there’s a large group of voters, probably more white (though perhaps not more male based on polling) who voted for Barack Obama then switched to Trump in 2016. It’s hard not to see this shift as mostly about economics.
One of the core fights playing out in the commentariat is whether or not the neoliberals need to bend on economic justice, or simply ignore the part of the voting population that puts economic justice as a higher priority than social justice. The commentariat is pushing hard for neoliberals to continue to ignore these votes, and to continue to use social justice as a bludgeon to quell the left while doing so.
On the other hand, you have candidates of the left such as Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein who aren’t compromising on social justice, but are more than willing to court economic justice voters (i.e. the losers of globalization) on the notion that those voters will join a coalition that espouses liberal social values if it comes packaged with economic security.
The truth is that economic justice and social justice are inexorably linked. It’s not possible to offer one without the other. The neoliberals have been trying to play one off the other because they don’t care about an economy that works for working people.
The TLDR – the Democratic Party has no soul. It is the party of neoliberalism. To the extent that it contains neoliberals who are for social justice – at best social justice without a platform of economic justice is doomed to fail, and at worse neoliberal appeals to social justice is welded as a weapon against the left and to disguise an economic agenda that serves the 1%.pa28, snot, slay and 16 othersGo Vols, WillyT, MistaP, Pam, ravensong, GloriaMundi, Betty Karlson, Rozinante, Doremus Jessup, BillZBubb, jwirr, Phlem, daleanime, djean111, mmonk, joentokyo like this
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