Since the Carter administration, Democrats have inched towards the center-right on economic issues and, to a lesser but still detrimental impact, social issues. Under President Clinton, the party codified itself as as a neoliberal centrist platform that covertly adopted right-wing economics while being the opposition party to the Republicans on many social issues. This occurred while the Republicans moved much further to right, giving the illusion that by simply being the opposition party, Democrats were for the people. However, by continuing to strengthen Reagan era economic, international, and domestic policies under the neoliberal lie of “a rising tides raises all ships,” the Democratic Party has, with the exception of a few true progressives and left-leaning liberals, supported the structural problem that fuels our social, physical, and economic unrest.
While the intrinsic similarity between the Democrats and Republicans hasn’t always been apparent, it’s more than just obvious now: it’s become part of their presidential and congressional electoral strategy. Appeal to Republicans. Find common ground. And, of course, use the same silencing, lying, and smear tactics against progressive ideas as Republicans do. And to really drive home the idea that the Democrats are a party of the center, make anti-labor and anti-pro-choice John Kasich your spokesperson.
This poorly thought and ill conceived strategy is a complete erasure of the party’s progressive agenda and its progressive legends. I’m talking about FDR. JFK. Ted Kennedy. Even Ed Markey. The strategy of moving to the center-right on economic issues also snubs the millions of people who become involved with the party due to Bernie Sanders and Our Revolution. As I write this article, Amy McGrath — the candidate anointed by the DNC to take on Mitch McConnell — is still trying to mobilize Democratic voters by appealing to moderates and the mythological “moderate Republican” even after she barely won her primary against the progressive Charles Booker. In fairness, McGrath never stood much of a chance against McConnell, but it’s an embarrassment to have a candidate that can’t even mobilize or energize a majority of the base.
The Democrats, in their role as opposition to the Republicans, have closely aligned themselves with utterly fake and deceptive progressive institutions like the Center for American Progress (CAP) and the organization’s president, Neera Tanden. CAP, which can’t tell enough people too many times how progressive it is, is against a single payer healthcare system and receives substantial donations from healthcare organizations, health insurance lobbying groups, and pharmaceutical companies. These large donors constitute businesses that would stand to lose money should a single payer system emerge. Neera Tanden, perhaps only speaking for herself, has argued against a $15 minimum wage, argued for the confiscation of oil from Libya, has made disparaging statements about the Middle East, and supports a continued relationship with Saudi Arabia, a global opponent of human rights and democracy.
Then, there are the supposedly liberal Democrats who aid in corruption and are praised for it by Democratic Party leadership. High on the list is Richard Neal who chairs the House Committee on Ways and Means. The Committee on Ways and Means was part of the Democrats pitch to take back the House of Representatives. Nancy Pelosi promised the American people that, with taking back the House, the Committee on Ways and Means would unearth and expose Donald Trump’s tax records. That is, of course, until Richard Neal, a centrist, Corporate-PAC loving Democrat from Massachusetts, refused to proceed forward with Pelosi’s blessings.
As the Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, Neal sunk the bipartisan progress on The Lower Healthcare Costs Act in favor of an agreement-in-principle with Kevin Brady, a far-right Republican from Texas. Again, Neal did not receive any push back or reprimand from Democratic Leadership. But he sure did make his pharma and health insurance donors happy.
Neal also tried to prohibit tax increases on the bottom 80% of earners without a super majority in place (effectively taking the Green New Deal and other progressive agendas). And, earlier in his career, Neal proved to be a Democratic deal breaker for healthcare reform, sinking both Bill and Hillary Clinton’s efforts for fear that it would hurt insurance companies.
Neal is a Democrat. Neal pretends to be progressive. Neal is embraced by party leadership and given incredible power by them. Neal is also part of the problem facing any progress in the Democratic Party.
Unsurprisingly, Democrats have also moved further away from organized labor. Under Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama, unions shrank significantly, as did the middle class share of wealth and power. Democrats have not made labor law reform a part of their campaign despite labor unions almost always choosing to back Democrats. This distortion is compounded by trade deals specifically designated to offshore manufacturing jobs (NAFTA) while transforming America into a corporate “service economy” absent of unions. In the short term, this is great for the macroeconomic stat line. In the long-run, we can’t even domestically produce enough N95 masks for our healthcare workers.
Politically, the erosion of labor union memberships effectively means the Democrats old school “big donors” can’t donate that big. It’s also made it palpable, in some instances, for labor to align with a Trump-like candidate who, though not promising anything promising for unions, doesn’t mind cutting regulations and bureaucracy to increase job opportunities.
But when you promise to stack your presumptive administration with Wall Street insiders, shift to taking corporate money, and decide that it’s better to play with oligarchy than try and beating it, who needs unions anymore, right? The only political reason as to why a Democratic politician who claims to champion labor is because labor no longer offers the money and votes it once used to (mainly the money), especially compared to PACs and appealing to corporate interests.
Democrats have also not pushed the needle forward on student loan reform, both in terms of the percentage an individual should pay back over time, the ability to file bankruptcy to discharge those loans, and the overall cost of college. As the Senator from Delaware, Joe Biden is enthusiastically at fault for some of these crushing provisions. Then again, Joe Biden is enthusiastically at fault for many of the anti-labor, pro-corporate, faux-liberal, fake-progressive agendas the Democratic Party champions.
Need I go on? Because I could. I could go on for some time about the Democrats agreeing to bail out Wall Street but not main street during the 2008 financial calamity. I could write about how, even with the Affordable Care Act, many can’t afford co-pays or other fees required to access the insurance they were mandated to purchase. And I could have a field day writing about the Democrats being complicit in the endless wars and conflicts that destroy lives and livelihoods at home and abroad.
But I shouldn’t, I suppose, because even though the party has stuck its big, blue middle finger at its growing progressive movement, I must vote for Joe Biden. If not, I will face existential annihilation. I must vote for a candidate who pitches his presidency as “Hey, I’m not Donald Trump and I’ll bring things back to the way they were before,” even though bringing things back to the way they were created all these problems in the first place.
Trump’s election was supposed to bring resistance. Instead, it brought compliance and centrism. Trump’s presidency was supposed to be the resurgence of liberalism and the fire for the new progressive makeover of America. Democrats chose to focus on Russiagate conspiracy theories, Hatch-Act violations, and the president’s “moral character” in place of energizing the base with a policy-heavy vision of tomorrow. You know, the stuff millions of Americans with less than $300 in savings, hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, no access to affordable healthcare, and promising careers as sub-minimum-wage gig workers really care about.
The election of Donald Trump was, ultimately, supposed to be the resurgence of the left. Instead, the left got left behind.