Thursday, November 6, 2014

Did Dem Neoliberalism Contribute To The Rout?

"For the Democratic Party is not a collection of diverse interests brought together only to win elections. We are united instead by a common history and heritage--by a respect for the deeds of the past and a recognition of the needs of the future."   -- John F. Kennedy

This header embodies  the central question put forward in a provocative blog post by Arun Gupta on, actually written a day before the mid-term election. It is something we may all need to consider - those left of center - especially since 63% of voters in exit polls asserted the "system is rigged in favor of the richest" (which begs the question of why so many voted in the party of the rich and business class). This is also why we must not avoid the painful history Gupta recalls. It is also something I have discussed a number of time on this blog: how the insidious poison of Neoliberalism is poisoning both parties.

See, for example, my April 14 blog post wherein I observed:

The problem with the Neoliberal, pro -free market idiom is that it denies the most basic security for the majority of citizens. In this way it feeds economic inequality while it rewards the speculator and banker class. It also helps to corrupt the political class via unregulated campaign contributions.

I then cited a segment of a 1997 piece on Neoliberalism by Jay Bookman aptly entitled 'The New World Disorder Evident Here, Abroad', in The Baltimore Sun, December 15, 1997):

"The global economy has been constructed on the premise that government guarantees of security and protection must be avoided at all costs, because they discourage personal initiative. In times of crisis, however, that premise cannot be sustained politically. In times of trouble it is human nature to seek security and protection and to be drawn toward those who promise to provide it. That is how men such as Adolf Hitler, and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin came to power, with disastrous consequences."

In other posts I referenced the invasion of many Democratic policies by Neoliberal ideology, priorities and memes , for example as referenced by SC blogger Richard Eskow, e.g.:


As for the president and his supporters, it is clear that the chained CPI is well-liked by both the White House's key economic players -- and by many of the commentators who support them. That's unfortunate, because it is inaccurate, unjust, and economically unwise. But like it, they do.

It appears that both the Republicans and the White House like it, but neither wants such a politically unpopular measure hung around their neck -- especially in an election year.”

Does that mean they might cooperate on resurrecting this abomination as a sign of "mutual cooperation" like they did after the 2010 Dem drubbing? Possibly!  Further perspective is provided by Robert McChesney in his excellent book, The Problem of the Media, Monthly Review Press, 2004, p. 49:

"With the election of Ronald Reagan, the neoliberal movement had commenced. Neoliberal ideology became hegemonic not only among Republicans but also in the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Joseph Liebermann. Differences remained on timing and specifics, but on core issues both parties agreed that business was the rightful ruler over society"

If all this is true, and all the authors present plenty of facts to support it, then it would seem the Democrats are their own worst enemies - seeking to advance a misbegotten, pro-business agenda even at the expense of losing many of their base - or at least turning them off to come out in mid-term elections (though I still believe political immaturity is at least a partial factor). 

What about Gupta's claims? He writes:

"Now, neoliberalism is often thought of as synonymous with privatization, deregulation, and trade and capital liberalization, but the state will discard these policies for corporate handouts the instant elites get into a self-inflicted mess, as with the Wall Street crash.

This has left the Democratic Party in a bind. It relies on votes from social groups like women, union members, Blacks, Latinos, and environmentalists who favor redistributive policies like gender equity in income, a higher minimum wage, lower healthcare costs, more environmental protection, and stronger immigrant rights. 

At the same time, Democrats need billions of dollars to run elections and their party machinery. They go hat in hand to corporations and promise more tax breaks and corporate welfare in return. But Democrats can never be as committed to the free-market ideology as Republicans. Democrats need to satisfy some needs of their social base while Republicans can move the goalposts further right and wait for the Democrats to play catch up."

This is born out by the corporate funding disparity relative to each party, and the fact the Rs always grab slightly more, because - well-  they aren't as dependent on the social groups that rely on redistributive policies. So the Ds can't be as committed to free market nonsense else they'd be the same as the Repubs. 

Gupta goes on:

"Obama and likely 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton say we will manage trickle-down economics more efficiently. This will increase taxes for modest market-based redistribution in the form of healthcare, housing and higher education subsidies, and tax breaks for the working poor. It’s the same role many traditional left parties play in other countries. Democrats offer a bit more funding, miniscule compared to military spending and corporate welfare, for food stamps, homelessness, and energy assistance. But the commitment to neoliberalism leaves the programs vulnerable. Obama readily cut tens of billions of dollars in social welfare to appease Republicans complaining about a $17.9 tillion national debt. Obamacare is part of this framework. While it did extend coverage to uninsured millions, the goal was to reduce costs through intensified neoliberal restructuring, which is reducing overall quality of healthcare."

Which also makes sense and is all verifiable. I have written before about the cuts - including to food stamp programs - back in December, 2013. Again, Democratic Neoliberalism emerges as a malignant cancer eating away at the parties innards. 

Gupta cites the historical background of the Clinton years in embracing Neoliberal policies:

"Lacking a progressive vision, Democrats follow the GOP on economic policy, pushing the center rightward. Most media outlets have little interest in unpacking historical conditions that shape politics, preferring gossip about the personality, values, tastes and lineages of candidates. Yet it’s the historical contradiction Democrats are trapped in that explains how and why Bill Clinton and Obama pursued a neoliberal agenda that dashed the hopes of their supporters, resulting in the biggest midterm losses in Congress of any president in the modern era. It also explains why the Democrats will likely lose the U.S. Senate in November 2014.

Bill Clinton campaigned as a “New Democrat”: tough on crime, fiscally responsible, and stern with welfare recipients. Clinton effectively fulfilled the Reagan Revolution by gutting welfare, passing NAFTA, deregulating telecommunications and the finance sector, and ramping up government spying, policing, and immigrant detention. Clinton could grant the right-wing’s wish list because the Democratic base was conditioned to supporting any deal no matter how bad because the Republicans would supposedly be worse. Yet Clinton needed Republicans to pass NAFTA because the Democrats controlled Congress. He threw millions of poor women and children off welfare to shore up his right flank in advance of the 1996 election. But that cynical calculation was unnecessary Clinton trounced the feeble Republican nominee, Bob Dole in a race that was never in doubt. And deregulation happened in Clinton’s second term when he was freed from election concerns."

The last paragraph, especially, speaks to the perils of 'lesser of two evils'  thinking- thus the base accepting Clinton's travesties because the Repukes under Dole would be worse. (In fact, the odds of Dole getting elected were slim and none but most of the base didn't know that at the time).

So there we are. The Demos have moved progressively rightward economically under the lash of the Neoliberal global imperative. Voters either keep putting them in because  there is no compelling third party alternative, or they reactively toss them out  in droves (including by apathy)  - as the case Tuesday night - to vent their frustrations.

At root, the reason for this perversion is the influx of money into our political system - to buy politicians and parties. The abominable meme of "money as speech", validated by the atrocity of 'Citizens United',  has only reinforced the corrupted landscape - so no wonder so many voters see the system as rigged. Of course it is, for those with the money to buy Senators and whole parties! 

Justice Stephen Brier pointed out that along with the Citizens United decision, the more recent one (last year)  "eviscerates our nation's campaign finance laws leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve."

Sen. Bernie Sanders has it exactly correct when he said, in response to the ruling:

Freedom of speech, in my view, does not mean the freedom to buy the United States government,” 

Alas, that is what has happened and why citizens, many voters, are willing now to say more often than not, "A pox on both their houses!"

In effect, Neoliberalism and its attendant cancer of campaign cash  has engendered an inherent instability in our political system - also fed by polarization-  which is unlikely to abate soon. Perhaps the Dems, as they puzzle over these recent losses, need to take a long, hard look at JFK's quoted words at the top of this post.

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