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Before You Blame Bernie…

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by Josh Chernila

Ronald Reagan’s Greatest Achievement Was Bill Clinton

Loyal Democratic liberals have been broken-hearted and enraged by recent claims, spurred on by Hillary Clinton, that somehow Bernie Sanders gave the White House to Donald Trump.

First of all, it is clear that low voter turnout for Hillary lost the 2016 election. As many as 9.2 million Obama voters went Trump in 2016. Spin it as Russia or Comey or voter suppression as you like, an inspirational candidate would have overwhelmed the idiot, bigot, sociopath in the White House.

If Obama were running again, he would have destroyed Trump. If a Democrat without Hillary’s negatives had been the nominee, Trump would have lost HUUUUUGE.  Hillary was a particularly bad candidate.  Clearly, she was the only candidate bad enough to have a chance of losing to him.  But this all obscures the real problem for the Democratic party, the central question of this American crisis is much bigger.

What has happened to the Democrats in the past decade and why are we foundering?

Since 2008 Democrats have lost over 1000 elected offices nationwide. Republicans dominate the states. They own 66 of 99 state legislatures, 33 governorships and have absolute control of 25 of the 50 states. Republicans own the House and Senate, White House and Supreme Court.

Democrats are foundering everywhere, and the question is, WHY?

Hillary lost because she is a terrible and unpopular candidate, but no more than the Democratic party as a whole. Even with this depraved narcissistic hatemonger in the White House, even as people flee the Republican party, they aren’t overwhelming the Democrats with additional support. Democrats are losing support in every demographic including 10% among their most loyal constituency, Black women, this year alone.

We should be winning everywhere, but DEMOCRATS KEEP LOSING!  So, what is it about the Democratic party that is so reprehensible to the American people?

There is clearly a difference between Democrats and Republicans in questions of social justice. Republicans use racial, sexual, nativist, and bigoted arguments ubiquitously, where Democrats strive for the opposite. Clearly, there is a difference between the parties, but in terms of economic justice there explicitly is not.

The greatest achievement of Ronald Reagan wasn’t the fall of the Berlin wall or the USSR. It wasn’t the destruction of the Amerian middle class, as his supporters consistently rejoice. It wasn’t even the destruction of unions.

Ronald Reagan’s greatest achievement was Bill Clinton.

Bill and the center-leftism he empowered within the Democratic party (“Socially liberal, Fiscally conservative”), made corporate power the American aristocracy. We don’t credit Ronald Reagan with the corporate-written trade deal known as NAFTA, although it was he and Vincente Fox. We give that credit to Bill Clinton. It was he and the center-left (aka, neoliberals) who capitulated to Republicans on economic injustice plans from welfare reform to the drug war to the largest military buildup in the history of the world.

Democrats are complicit in the destruction of the American middle class and the corporate takeover of American democracy. As a result of deregulation, privatization, increasingly regressive taxation, and in a death by a thousand cuts, many of them massive, American democracy died and as of 2014.  America is no longer a representative republic. The war on American democracy that began in 1971 with the Powell Memo, consolidated itself under Ronald Reagan, gained control under Bill Clinton and the NEOliberalism of his DLC.

That war was official won by the commercial class.  Thanks to NEOliberal capitulation to the conservative agenda to dominate society with an aristocracy, the American experiment in liberty is officially over.  Where Democrats should have been fighting for economic justice, they instead opened the floodgates for the conservative agenda of the domination of our society by corporate wealth.

Throughout this time period, center-left Democrats have counted on the reprehensible bigotry of Republicans to drive liberal voting turnout.

President Obama was elected in a massive landslide, partially because of his social justice inspiration, but also because he was perceived to be someone who could address some real economic hardships in the country. In this, he failed abjectly. He failed to prosecute a single banker responsible for the crash of 2008 but allowed 9 million more homeowners to suffer foreclosure. His great promise was to transform the abominable and murderous, for-profit healthcare system. What unfolded in the creation of the ACA was dispiriting to the whole country, but disastrous to the unsteady peace between True Justice liberals and social justice neoliberals.

Perhaps hoping to curry favor with the conservative movement that saw him as an illegitimate usurper because of the color of his skin, the President adopted the most conservative plan available, that envisioned by right-wing think tanks and implemented only by conservative politicians. He started out offering the opposition everything and left out the potential for single-payer or even an option to buy into public plans.

This led to the disastrous rout of 2010. Demoralized liberals stayed home. Conservatives were driven to the polls by deranged propaganda from the far right that blamed President Obama for the limitations of their own plan. They overwhelmed the polls in a critical census year, took over congress and the states, and won the right to gerrymander the potential for a democratic congress out of existence for a decade. They continued to pass regressive policies nationwide, creating such disasters as the failed state of Kansas, and the murder of Flint, Michigan, all while Democrats praised themselves for their magnanimous work for “social justice”.

For 25 years, Democrats have demanded that liberals hew to their cause, because of how awful the Republicans are.  Democrats have not learned anything from recent losses.  Their attempt to savage liberals who are sick of social justice without economic justice may be the last straw.

This neoliberalism as practiced by Republicans and supported whole-heartedly by center-left Democrats has ended our democracy. Where the Party of Jefferson should have been defending liberty, social and economic liberty, they have been capitulating to the conservative agenda and the corporate takeover of American democracy.

Like the military, capitalism is critical to modern society, but like the military, it needs to exist in service to the common good. Democrats have abysmally failed to protect America from the excesses of vulture capitalism, and this corporate coup is every bit as destructive to American freedom as any military coup could be.

Hillary Clinton, not because she is a woman, and not because she is a liberal, but because she is a Clinton, a DLC, corporatist, center-left, NEOliberal.  This center-leftism is a purely a-moral effort.  It is tactical.  It is designed to trade away the soul for short-term gain.  It is not inspiring to the human psyche because we as a species are motivated either by great fear, hate, and greed or by a higher, MORAL calling, something greater than ourselves. Hillary and the Democrats cannot lead the nation and cannot build a lasting, long-term coalition because what they practice is not leadership.  They set no vision for the nation, craft no narrative of who we are as a people, set no direction for a national life worth living.  Their offering is not immoral, as the intentional destruction of American freedom and democracy that is the Republican/conservative agenda:  the strong do as they will and the weak suffer as they must.  The center-left agenda is simply without a moral center, and thus it is incapable of direction, inspiration, or leadership.

As I cast about through history or through literature, it is hard to identify stories of those who deeply fail to protect those in their care by abandoning the call to higher purpose.  I believe this is largely because those who fail so egregiously ultimately lose, and history is written by the winners.  Perhaps those who have allowed misery to fester deeply enough for revolution to result, like the Czars of Russia or the headless Monarchs of France, the degenerate last Roman or Chinese Emperors may give some indication.  Perhaps the best image from literature and most accessible to American readers may be the glorious case of King

Austerity economics has been identified as a slow growth philosophy even by it’s largest practitioner the IMF.

Theoden from JRR Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings”.  He fell under the influence of great evil in the form of a craven advisor, just as Democrats have fallen under the influence of failed and destructive economic theories like austerity, privatization, and “free” trade.

 

 

Imagine what a renewed Democratic party, dedicated to defending democracy and the common good could mean.

Perhaps I am attracted to this example, because Theoden recovers from the madness and the spell of the craven advisor “Greemer Wormtongue”. He goes on to lead his people to victory and freedom.   That’s hopeful, but I don’t know that hope for the Democratic party will be found until they, like Theoden, can be freed from the spell of hate, greed, and fear that is conservative economic theory and the belief that social justice can be achieved without economic justice.

 

Since 2016, center-left Democrats have been working overtime to blame True Justice Liberals for their failures. It wasn’t Bernie Sanders who lost 2010, the states, the Congress, the Senate, and the Supreme Court for the Democrats. It was center-leftism, NEOliberalism itself as practiced by Democrats nationwide, by Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton herself.

Democratic “centrists” may want to condemn progressives for abandoning their responsibility to American freedom, but they would be better off taking a long look in the mirror.  It is not the fault of the American people for not being inspired by their amoral movement.  At least the immoral conservative movement of the Republican party gives people something to believe in. This, more than anything, more than Comey or the Russians, or voter suppression is a cognitive explanation for the rise of GoP dominance and the election of Donald Trump.

It has been the responsibility of the Democratic party, since its inception, to protect and nurture a healthy, wealthy, powerful and well-informed American middle class as the only force that can oppose the tyranny of aggregated wealth and power. For 25 years they have abandoned that responsibility.

It is not the fault of the discarded and abused “base”, economic justice Democrats, working-class Democrats, blacks, Hispanics, and Millennials to fain inspiration at an uninspiring, rudderless, amoral party. It is the responsibility of the party to connect with its central mission and win back the American people.

When that happens, it will be a moral Democratic party with a long-term, national vision that will give America back her democracy and again lead the world.

  • Morris Meyer

    Two items that might add some clarity.

    First Stanley Greenberg’s excellent analysis of how we lost: https://www.greenbergresearch.com/his-thinking/2017/9/21/how-she-lost?ct=t%28How+She+Lost+-+Prospect+Review%29

    Second the new book “The Once and Future Liberal: Beyond Identify Politics” by Matt Lilla. http://washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/septemberoctober-2017/identity-crisis/

  • “Socially liberal, Fiscally conservative” is almost exactly Terry McAuliffe’s description for himself. I believe it’s also Mark Warner’s and many other Virginia Dems’ self descriptions. Wondering what you think of that…

  • woodrowfan

    except the Hillary of 2016 was not the Clinton of 1992 (or 1996). The democratic platform was the most liberal in years, and she DID campaign on the issues you think she was supposed to. Unfortunately the press was all emails all the time and the Bernie Bros apparently lost their calendars and thought it was still 1996.

    • Agreed that Clinton’s platform in 2016 was highly progressive, also excellent on the environment. Bernie was slightly to the left on a few things, but I’d argue in ways that would never have had a chance in Congress…

      • Bradley Purcell

        Clinton’s 2016 platform was, in Sanders’ own words, the most progressive Demo platform ever. Unfortunately, Clinton didn’t campaign on it, preferring to emote about “breaking down barriers,” and other social-issue code words that let everyone know that economic gains for ordinary people regardless of race were not on her agenda. Also, while Sanders dutifully campaigned for her all over the Midwest, and campaigned on the platform, too, Clinton herself stayed out of key states like Wisconsin and Michigan. Maybe it backfired with the voters in MI and WI to see that while Bernie was pushing the platform and beating the economics drum, the actual candidate was nowhere to be found in their states, and, when she appeared on TV, always talked about social issues.

  • Perseus1986

    “Bill Clinton was Reagan’s biggest victory”, just as Eisenhower was one of FDR’s greatest legacies. You’re taking macro-pendulum shifts in global political economic policy and attirbuting them to individual actors with cynical agendas. Every major developed western democracy saw a rightward shift in economic policy towards the end of the 20th century. The U.S. had Reagan. Likewise Britain had Thatcherism, and France and Australia saw rightward shifts under more leftist political parties. The reason for this in part, was that as the economy was becoming more globalized, many large industries couldn’t sustain themselves in competition with emerging and newly dominant economies such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and later China. Now we a seeing a shift in back towards the left as we have seen the consequences of grossly unregulated markets as well as recognizing that as the economy will become less likely to guarantee full-time jobs with full benefits, the state should exist to expand its roles to fill where private jobs used to provide, such as areas of health and job training.

    Yet your article’s attribution of these shifts to cynical actors betraying the people is quite simplistic. One can be moderate an more in touch with voters than a progressive, moderate fiscal policy and corporatism are one not one in the same. There is a reason why McGovern, Mondale and Dukakis got trounced in elections while moderates like Carter and Clinton won, and it doesn’t have to do with cynical, mythical “corporatists” or elites working behind the scenes to con the masses.

  • Bradley Purcell

    Agree with Mr. Chernila. When Hillary Clinton says, as she said in a book interview last week, that Bernie Sander is “not a Democrat,” she conveniently forgets that until Reagan and her husband Bill came along, what Bernie stands for today was the common position of almost every Democrat, from Hubert Humphrey to LBJ to Mike Mansfield to John, Robert and Teddie Kennedy, among many others. In those days, when Democrats acted the way Bernie Sanders does today, the Dems were incontestably the majority party, and their values governed the country. (Now, they made some mistakes, as when NIxon offered the Dmes what amounted to single-payor healthcare around 1970, they turned him down to avoid giving him an accomplishment to run on.) But the great progress of those years was because of economically liberal Dems.

    Clinton’s main accomplishment was colonizing the Democratic party on behalf of neo-liberals, making it all but impossible from then onward, for Democrats to follow up political victories with meaningful policy gains that will keep them in power. If the newly-popular ACA turns out to be a long-term political winner for Dems, it will not so much validate Obama’s centrism, as show the direction in which future policy ought to go. Spending public money to improve life for ordinary people is almost always popular, especially in an age of concern over plutocracy. If the party is too much in thrall to the Clinton’s to realize that, then what good is it?

    • Perseus1986

      “Spending public money to improve life for ordinary people…” Explain to me how SCHIP, Americorps, expanding EITC, doubling the Pell Grants don’t qualify as such?

  • Kevin N

    Wow. Such utterances elsewhere would have you sacked Sir, like others who dare say Hillary was a hopeless candidate…. Aside from all her obvious flaws, she then made it clear she didn’t want or need Sanders supporters or progressives. e.g. http://bit.ly/hillarys-arrogance

  • Kindler

    Josh, I hear ya, buddy. You make a lot of good points, as Bernie did, which need to be a large part of the Democratic conversation.

    What I think you and everyone else trying to continue the Bernie vs. Hillary shouting match fails to understand is that all politics in America is coalition politics. Democrats absolutely need to be more visionary and inspiring; we also need to be smart and strategic and recognize when accepting half a loaf can be a major win.

    You give the other side of the Democratic debate basically zero credit. You didn’t even mention that Obamacare gave health care to up to 20 million more people. Those are lives saved — and yes, that is inspiring.

    We need to continue the debate within the Democratic family but then always come together in the end at the polling booth, recognizing how much we have in common vs. the monstrosity the GOP has become. The yin and yang of the different wings of the party are part of the essential process of getting to the best candidates and policies. But if we let that conflict overwhelm us, we lose — and usher in disasters like Donald’s America.

  • Quizzical

    The blame game as between Hillary and Bernie seems moot to me. Hillary said she is never going to be a candidate for office again. Bernie was born on Sept. 8, 1941. He just turned 76. I don’t know that he has said he will run for President again, but I doubt it. He is still a Senator of course, so I am not saying he is irrelevant.

    Hillary was a flawed candidate, and that was no secret from the beginning of the primaries. She was flawed because she bore the scars and the baggage from political attacks going back to when she was First Lady. She also was not a naturally charismatic orator. On the other hand, she had ability and wide experience, some good ideas, and seemed capable of being a good, steady President. Plus, she had a proven ability to raise money.

    The importance of fund-raising cannot be overstated. In my lifetime, the Republicans have always had a natural advantage in fund-raising, and that has only increased since Citizens United (a case which incidentally sprang from yet another political attack film about Hillary). Fund-raising impacts all elections from the Presidency down to local elections, and the Republican advantage is not only in the ability to surge funding for big elections like the Presidency, but in the persistence of funding that has allowed them to win key off year elections, like 2010.

    It is sobering to consider that even a young, handsome, popular and charismatic candidate like Barrack Obama, who was swept into office amidst the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, didn’t get a super majority in Congress, but only a paper thin majority – then couldn’t hold onto that, and was hamstrung for most of his Presidency.