Posted by: Doug Henwood | May 18, 2016

Dems in a pickle

I’ve written before about how the Hillary Democrats are running against hope, and how the Sanders campaign have outed them as frank corporate shills and enemies of even mild social democracy. But now even nominal liberals, or progressives, or whatever we’re calling them these days have gotten in on the act. Not content with merely saying “No!” to new programs like single-payer health insurance and free college, they’re highlighting the worst aspects of the New Deal in an effort to…well, what exactly? Promote Hillary? Fight Trump? It’s hard to tell.

A few days ago, Jamelle Bouie, “chief political correspondent for Slate Magazine and a political analyst for CBS News,” tweeted this remarkable observation (since deleted):

Bouie on 1930s

Actually, that working class movement had a lot to do with the Communist Party, which was an antiracist organization with a large black membership. Not only did it organize auto workers in Flint, it organized black farmers in the South and black urbanites in Harlem. But saying nice things about the CPUSA is not the way to keep a job with CBS News.

Not long after Bouie’s ridiculous tweet came a longer instance of 1930s-bashing from Bryce Covert, “economic policy editor at ThinkProgress and a contributor to The Nation.” Covert identifies Donald Trump’s pledge to “make America great again” as appealing to whites, especially men, longing for the days before the civil rights movement and feminism ruined things for them. That’s not a controversial point; it may be incomplete, but it’s not untrue. Covert’s innovation is to locate much of that appeal in New Deal programs like Social Security and unemployment insurance, and postwar successors like the G.I. Bill.

This is rather odd, given the holy place that the New Deal once had in Democratic discourse. Covert’s beef is that to get the votes of racist Southern Congressmen, FDR had to craft his programs to exclude black workers. This is both true and awful, though it’s not clear how they would have gotten through Congress otherwise. But instead of saying that the New Deal was a good partial model, something that should be built upon—probably the only period in American history when a sense of the collective, and not competitive individualism, dominated our political thought—she emphasizes only the exclusions, and identifies them as the source of the nostalgias that Donald Trump, not previously known as a friend of social programs, has been basing his campaign on.

Neither Bouie’s tweet nor Covert’s op-ed makes any sense unless they’re trying to discredit an ambitious social agenda. That is precisely what the Hillary Democrats are doing to fight off the persistent Sanders threat that just won’t go away. (That despite the fact that, as Gallup recently reported, a majority of Americans support a single-payer system. The least popular option is Hillary’s position, keeping Obamacare largely as is.) But how is this going to play once she wins the nomination? At first it seemed like the rightward, anti-social-democratic tilt was intended to lure moderate suburban voters who might have voted for a sane Republican (not that there was one among the initial Gang of 17) but can’t bring themselves to vote for Trump. Bernie’s voters were expected either to shut up and fall in line or just go to hell.

But that strategy might not pan out. As Dave Weigel reports in the Washington Post, Trump is winning over a lot of those suburbanites that Dem strategists were, just a few weeks ago, hoping to harvest in November. As former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell put it less than two months ago:

For every one of those blue-collar Democrats [Trump] picks up, he will lose to Hillary two socially moderate Republicans and independents in suburban Cleveland, suburban Columbus, suburban Cincinnati, suburban Philadelphia, suburban Pittsburgh, places like that.

Now it looks like that might not happen. But that’s no cause for worry. The endlessly creative Rendell revealed a new strategy to Weigel:

Will [Trump] have some appeal to working-class Dems in Levittown or Bristol? Sure…. For every one he’ll lose 1½ , two Republican women. Trump’s comments like ‘You can’t be a 10 if you’re flat-chested,’ that’ll come back to haunt him. There are probably more ugly women in America than attractive women. People take that stuff personally.

Rendell and the centrist Dems do deserve a moment of sympathy. When you have nothing positive to sell voters, you have to get creative. Trolling for votes by calling your potential supporters “ugly” is seriously creative.

 

 

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Responses

  1. Thank you for noting that last comment from Ed Rendell! Wow! It reminds me of Trump’s remark after one of the primaries about his appreciation for the “poorly educated” voters who favored him. But somehow that was endearing — at least comparatively.

    As for Bouie’s and Covert’s thoughts, one could almost see that meme coming ’round the bend. Neolibs have failed to get what they want by subterfuge, so demonization is the next logical step.

  2. The function of the Democratic Party is to act as a null placeholder to block the formation of a party in opposition to the avowed party of the right.

    The Democratic Party markets itself as the party of the left but objects to left participation, blocking that participation by setting roadblocks such as Super Delegates.

    The Left does not have a political home.

    The Democratic Party coordinated the removal of Occupy Wall Street encampments, treating them as criminal in their calls for justice, while funding the bailouts and bonuses of Wall Street criminals.

    The Left does not have a political home so the Left must exist where it is not welcome. Therefore I support the occupation of the Democratic Convention (where the Left is not welcome) by Sanders supporters.

    I have never supported Sanders as a Savior. I support the issues he invokes, issues he did not invent, and issues that will not disappear when he disappears from his candidacy. I have never believed that Sanders would be able to overcome the real nature of the corporatist Democratic Party even if he were to win election. I recognize Sanders’ failure to provide opposition to many corporatist issues, but the effectively conservative position of ignoring and suppressing the party’s dividing wedge issues at the convention is unacceptable.

    I don’t find the fate of the Democratic Party of any concern if it cannot represent the pressing issues of the demos.

  3. Just to expand on my earlier thoughts and add to what Glenn says:

    The left talks about Sanders changing the political discussion. But how does the other side see matters? Changing the debate is not the same as changing the party’s stripes, and I don’t see that happening.

    Given these latest emissions from Bouie and Covert, I’d say maybe the pay-to-play side of the party sees a golden opportunity to finally flush out and marginalize the New Deal segment through various procedural instruments it controls as well as with rhetorical flourishes from its many media sympathizers. Demonize Bernie, demonize the white-trash working class and ramp up the identity politics while relentlessly pulling the levers at the state level to make certain these leftist yahoos can’t get any institutional traction. That’s the ticket.

    The Dem leadership has noted well what happened with the Tea Party and Trumpistas. Now they’re moving on all fronts to corral and contain the Sandernistas before they get out of hand — and in so doing they get the added bonus of wider access to corporate and banking campaign coffers as the moneyed interests recoil from the prospect of a possibly uncontrollable Trump presidency.

    So it’s a double win for the top-dog Dems.


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