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Obituary of the Democratic Party

Ordinarily I detest alliteration as the contrived deliberate mind-numbing of critical sensibilities, but here it works—and deserves usage. “Pusillanimous”—my trusty Webster’s Ninth Collegiate—is defined as, “lacking courage and resolution: marked by contemptible timidity” (1586), akin to cowardliness, itself opening a definitional Pandora’s box: “COWARDLY, PUSILLANIMOUS, CRAVEN, DASTARDLY mean having or showing a lack of courage. Cowardly implies a weak or ignoble lack of courage; pusillanimous suggests a contemptible lack of courage; craven suggests complete extreme defeatism and complete lack of resistance; dastardly implies behavior that is both cowardly and treacherous or skulking or outrageous.” Take your pick. Lack of courage: weak or ignoble; contemptible; defeatism; treacherous, skulking. I zeroed in on contemptible, but all equally apply and in fact make up a sound descriptive unit, while Pandora’s box (1579), though grounded in false consciousness, and therefore forbidden to be opened lest the world see the ugliness of its contents, was finally opened by Hillary, now leaving no mistake, which had—again Webster’s—“loosed a swarm of evils on mankind.”

As bad as all that? I think worse. Weak, craven, treacherous, what better characterize a party that uses liberalism to paper over its support for the underlying reality, embedded in a one-dimensional political culture carried forward through a two-party system of unified singular ideological sameness, based on militarism, corporatism, and the psychological triad of xenophobia, ethnocentrism, and protestations of exceptionalism. A heady systemic brew Democrats have been fully complicit (indeed proud of their role) in constructing. In truth, even during the New Deal, the period I often go back to in drawing comparisons with the present, and my (still beloved, grievous faults and all) exemplar of presidential leadership, FDR, we find truly humane, socially conscious Democrats fighting an uphill battle in their own party. For each Henry Wallace, still a pale shadow of his 1948 run as the candidate of the Progressive Party, there was a Hugh Johnson whose ear was attuned to the needs of the big industrialists. This is not the place to argue about, be for or against, the New Deal as a total historical context (for saving capitalism was still political-historical priority #1), but please don’t forget the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the likes of Rex Tugwell and Harry Hopkins, in which working people and especially the unemployed were given back their dignity, nourishment, a clean place to sleep.

That is what is altogether missing in America today, a genuine PUBLIC SECTOR and the idealization of the term “public” to stand for the people’s needs trumping private interests, a sense of commonwealth and community even seen in the artistic, theatrical, and literary realms, yes an authentic spirit of renaissance in the face of massive deprivation and suffering. If I were of age, I could have identified with Democrats of the time, affirming the Wagner Act, unashamedly addressing strangers as brothers and sisters, taking pleasure in watching the Other Party snarl, weave, curse, insinuate Franklin’s syphilitic condition. All for naught in the Republican quest for power. But that was then. This is now.

Or in fact, even by 1946 you saw in the Democratic party the fear, near-paralysis, of being labeled “Red” or fellow-traveler, the obsequious, deferential attitude shown toward patriotism, conformity, translated into selling-out the working class, unions, radicals (as a youngster while visiting Washington I attended committee hearings, a bipartisan spewing of hatred directed against all things remotely radical) with the Democrats frequently in the forefront of denunciation. And certainly by the late-‘forties, as with Scoop Jackson of Washington State, the party was squarely positioned to advance the Arms Race, fuel the Cold War, and commence the process of war, intervention, regime change—a continuity of Reaction, always with gold-plated (i.e. surface) liberalism, humanitarianism, democracy as smokescreens, growing ever more normalized in the creation of the National Security State. One does not have to recite chapter and verse on Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, JFK, LBJ, etc. etc. to recognize the war/armaments/counterrevolutionary posture contribution made by the Democrats to American global hegemony then till now, indeed, the life-blood of the party’s status, appeal to the electorate, inner workings of self-identity. For the record is there for all to see.

Instead, let’s turn to the present, to Hillary, whom I discussed previously in CounterPunch, “The ‘Convenience’ of Untruth: Hillary and the Democrats,” (March 11), but today, who, in her presidential candidacy, sheds light on her party by the way it has battened down the hatches in support, shows the retrograde, monolithic, and craven/treacherous/contemptible place it now earns in the pages of history. Of course, when I speak of the Democratic party’s obituary I am not to be taken literally, or rather the death notice is meant in only a special sense. Putrefaction is normally a long-term matter, especially, in politics, when the party has demonstrated capability as a servant of power. This party is more useful to ruling groups (here read military and financial elites) than were its ample funding to be cut off and its placeholders sent out to pasture. By special sense, I mean then not party organization and structure, but inner spirit and former (for a time) self. What has died is the public sense, dedication to the people foremost as the moral obligation of government. Hillary isn’t St. George of the Right who slays the dragon of democratic governance, merely the final straw, following her husband and Obama’s own destructive policies of intervention, deregulation, trade expansion, great-powers’ confrontation, and drone assassination—to all of which she can hardly be said to dissent, as she hammers the final nails into a coffin which long ago should have been lost at sea.

***

Here for clarification on the party’s submissive, no, for some almost ecstatic, attitude toward Hillary’s nomination, I turn to Nicholas Confessore, Jonathan Martin, and Maggie Haberman’s New York Times article, “Democrats See No Choice but Hillary Clinton in 2016,” (March 12). Forget the theory. Listen to the voices of Democrats, in this quite excellent piece. The reporters are if anything candid in discussing the party: “They [Democrats] shrug off questions about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s email habits. They roll with the attacks on her family’s foundation, the big checks from foreign governments, the torpid response to her not-yet-campaign.” (Enough, one would think, to sink her candidacy.) Too, “They have little choice: As Mrs. Clinton prepares to begin her second presidential campaign amid a froth of criticism and outrage, Democrats are not just Ready for Hillary—as supporters named one pro-Clinton ‘super PAC’—they are desperate for her.”

Did someone say, placeholders? The reporters continue: “Congressional Democrats are counting on a strong Clinton campaign to help lift them back into the majority. Party leaders at all levels want her fund-raising help and demographic appeal. And from the top of the party to its grass roots, Mrs. Clinton’s pseudo-incumbency is papering over significant disadvantages: a weak bench, a long-term House minority and white middle class defecting to the Republican Party faster than the Democrats’ hoped-for demographic future is expected to arrive.” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, especially about “demographic appeal,” but it’s clear the party is symptomatic of the American sea-change away from small “d” democratic society and government. While Confessore et. al. miss the big picture, they perhaps unwittingly put Hillary on the same rhetorical plane as JPMorganChase: “Mrs. Clinton, many Democrats say, is simply too big to fail.” Or as Sarah Kovner, “a leading Democratic donor and fund-raiser in New York,” states: “’There is no one else—she’s the whole plan. She is by far the most experienced and qualified person we could possibly nominate. Not even on the horizon but on the far horizon.’”

On the far horizon: more than the usual political encomium, this is a call to the colors, rally around the flag, no criticism, just close ranks. The reporters note: “Her party’s urgent need for her to succeed explains, in part, how Democrats have responded to revelations that Mrs. Clinton used a private email address for all of her government correspondence as secretary of state and skirted public and congressional records requests. But it also suggests the Democrats’ peril: Should Mrs. Clinton falter, the party has no easy way to replace her.” This is beginning to sound like a cult of personality, the Joseph Stalin of Chappaqua. And even when there is modest criticism, it is turned to advantage, as, referring to Hillary, when Jack Markell, governor of Delaware, says: “’Anytime you have all your eggs in one basket, it is a concern. Although if you’re going to have them all in one, this basket is a good place to be.’”

Her candidacy, the full-court press this early, is a shrewd power play vis-à-vis other possible candidates, staff defections, and big-time donors—Hillary going with the forces of wealth and privilege (mine, not the reporters), although they do note: “For two years, Mrs. Clinton has been the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination, keeping the party’s strongest alternatives on the sidelines and depriving those who remain of potential donors and staff. Senior Democrats have built a multimillion-dollar political infrastructure to pave the way for her candidacy… [and]gently tamped down concerns that the party was too heavily invested in a single flag bearer.” Whatever the ideological congruence defining both candidate and party (again, mine), the question of money is never off the table: “For House Democrats, Mrs. Clinton’s impending candidacy has figured centrally in pitches to donors, who are skeptical of their chances to win the chamber back.’ Yes, indeed, go with a winner. Steve Israel, House Democrats’ campaign leader, is excited about “between 60 and 75 truly competitive districts in the House,” riveting attention on Hillary (and telling us, in his statement, much about where the country is—i.e., support of a known war-hawk and one who places herself above the law): “’Hillary Clinton is the only Democrat I know who can go into every single one of those districts and do well—with the possible exception of her husband.’”

The account continues, as when Jason Kander, Missouri’s secretary of state, now running for the Senate, echoes the acclaim for her: “’When people bring up the presidential race to me, they bring up Secretary Clinton. I have just not had many conversations where people talk about different candidates.’” Will there even be challenges in the primaries, I wonder; will there even be primaries, particularly in light of Democratic vested wealth capable of shooting down Elizabeth Warren or other possible candidates. As the reporters conclude, “Mrs. Clinton, most Democrats believe, is the solution [to countering the vast resources of the Republicans, e.g., ‘conservative outside groups are on track to raise more than $1 billion during the 2016 cycle,’]. No other candidate combines her ties to big donors with her appeal to small ones.” She is a party-unifier, carrying it, not to the Finland Station, but to the bank vaults of Wall Street.

My New York Times Comment on the Confessore-Martin-Haberman article, same date, follows:

The Democratic party has built itself a rotten edifice made up of emulating Republicans on major policy issues and frankly deserves to go under, the total inversion of its former, New Deal, self. Hillary is its appropriate candidate, war-hawk par excellence, wedded, as has been and still is Bill, to the financial community, ready and willing to finesse every shortcoming, in sum, exhibiting the moral bankruptcy of American liberalism: Centrism degenerating into crypto-fascism.

The party’s dependence on Mrs. Clinton, and reasons thereof, reminds one of passengers on a sinking ship slashing each other’s throats in the pell-mell rush for the lifeboats. This has been a while in coming, virtually a consecutive development following World War II, each Democrat further mired in militarism and endeavors to remain unilateral global kingpin. (I wish Brecht were around to capture the opportunism/cynicism of such a crew.)

Will NYT, after exposing the Clinton email scandal, dutifully fall in line and support her, or will it keep alive the spirit of journalistic integrity and press for further exposure? The lesser-evil thesis merely capitulates to further evil. I fully expect the worst, whichever party wins in 2016; neither one has legitimate claims to honest, constitutional government. In the immediate case, let the Democratic party cease to exist, given its betrayal of the people’s trust, an ignominious cluster of time-serving politicians an affront to political-moral decency.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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