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Old Blue Dogs Don’t Learn New Tricks
Did you fall for the narrative that “hey one good silver lining to the 2016 elections is that the total ass-kicking the dismal neoliberal Democrats got will show them that they have no choice but to make themselves over as a progressive champion of working people against the wealthy Few”? What were you thinking? The new Democratic Party Senate Minority Leader isn’t a liberal or progressive Democrat like Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, or Bernie Sanders. It’s the arch-neoliberal Wall Street Charles Schumer (D-NY).
The House Minority Leader continues to be the decrepit, Botox-faced and dollar-drenched San Francisco pro-war corporate Democrat Nancy Pelosi, endorsed by the pathetic AFL-CIO over the longtime pro-union and heartland progressive Democrat Tim Ryan (D-OH) – a stark statement on the persistence of the old neoliberal regime atop the not-leftmost of the two major parties.
Why Not Rahm?
I know that the Sanders-affiliated Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) is considered a top contender for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). But don’t be surprised if that falls through. He’s getting slammed for past association with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and for making some “anti-Israel” and anti-Zionist comments as a law student in the 1980s. Ellison’s ascendancy to the job of party chairman could cost the Democrats big money. CNN recently quoted one of the party’s biggest donors, Haim Saban, as saying that Ellison as “clearly an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel person.”
A better candidate for DNC chair is the right-wing arch-neoliberal pro-war Democrat, celebrated uber-asshole, and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel. He’s dying to get out of his current position atop a savagely unequal and murder-ravaged city that has gotten sick of his arrogant, tone-deaf, and authoritarian police-state corporatism. Besides being an open Zionist strongly linked to Israel, Emmanuel has a prior track record as a successful corporate fundraiser for Bill Clinton and former Chicago Mayor Richie Daley. While serving in Congress, he headed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and was seen as the “brains and brawn” behind the Democrats’ take-back of the U.S. House in 2006. “Rhambo” funneled boatloads of cash to right-wing “Blue Dog” and pro-war Democrats, making sure that antiwar progressives in the party were defeated in the primaries. Three years later, as Obama’s Chief of Staff, he used legendary verbal abuse and threats of political retaliation to keep progressive Democrats and activists on board with the militantly neoliberal and imperial trajectory of the Obama administration.
For Emmanuel, the main enemy has always been those to his left, not the Republicans. Keeping even slightly progressive, mildly left-leaning sorts down and out has always been one of his top priorities.
“The Inauthentic Opposition”
Surprised at the ease and grace with which Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and other top Dems have been eager to hand power over to the noxious, quasi-fascist white nationalist and sexist bigot Donald Trump? You shouldn’t be. Near the end of the George W. Bush presidency, the left political scientist Sheldon Wolin captured the depressing nothingness of the dismal dollar Dems in the neoliberal era:
“The Democrats’ politics might be described as inauthentic opposition in the era of Superpower. Having fended off its reformist elements and disclaimed the label of liberal, it is trapped by new rules of the game which dictate that a party exists to win elections rather than to promote a vision of the good society…Should Democrats somehow be elected, corporate sponsors make it politically impossible for the new officeholders to alter significantly the direction of society. At best Democrats might repair some of the damage done to environmental safeguards or to Medicare without substantially reversing the drift rightwards. By fostering an illusion among the powerless classes that the party can make their interests a priority, it pacifies and thereby defines the style of an opposition party in an inverted totalitarian system…While the Republican party is ever vigilant about the care and feeding of its zealots, the Democratic Party is equally concerned to discourage its democrats…The timidity of a Democratic Party mesmerized by centrist precepts points to the crucial fact that for the poor, minorities, the working class, anticorporatists there is no opposition party working on their behalf…By ignoring dissent and assuming that the dissenters have no alternative, the party serves an important…stabilizing function and in effect marginalizes any possible threat to the corporate allies of the Republicans.”
Junior Partner Service and “Peak Neoliberalism”
Wolin’s dark musings from early 2008 seem more than a little prophetic eight years later. Yes, milquetoast center Democrats were “somehow elected” in 2006 (the House) and 2008 (Obama in the White House and a new Democratic majority in the US. Senate). George W. Bush’s fiasco in Iraq and the onset of the financial crisis saw to that, kind of like Watergate and the great economic stagnation of the mid-1970s helped put the centrist Big Business Democrat Jimmy Carter in the White House in 1976 – and like how the recession of 1991-92 (and Ross Perot) helped put the centrist Big Business Democrat Bill Clinton in the White House in 1992. What followed presidential victories for Carter, Clinton, and Obama was the standard corporate-neoliberal manipulations of campaign populism and identity politics in service to the usual big money bankrollers and to global empire – to capitalism and its evil win imperialism (with underlying white supremacism and sexism unchallenged).
There were mild “repairs” at best as “the drift rightwards” continued. If anything, Wall Street’s takeover of Washington and the related imperial agenda of the Pentagon and the Council on Foreign Relations were advanced more effectively and extensively by Clinton and Obama than they could have been by Republican presidents.
Progressive Democrats and their lingering “vision of a good society” were kept in check as the neoliberal Democrats depressed and demobilized their party’s purported popular base. The natural consequence was that the “inauthentic opposition” party handed power back to the more openly right-wing major party (hated by most of the populace), in 1980, 2000 (with some help from the Supreme Court), and now again this year. It’s an old and pathetic story.
Obama and Hillary telling folks to “give [the ugly white nationalist ogre Donald] Trump a chance” makes perfect sense. They and other top Democrats are allied with the Republicans in the longstanding top down neoliberal class war on workers, the poor, and the even just slightly progressive left. They are counterfeit progressives by Deep State design.
The terrible and vapid 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign was an epitome of the Wolin’s “timidity of a Democratic Party mesmerized by centrist precepts.” It was a ruling class success. It defeated a progressive-reformist uprising within its own party – that of the Sandernistas, many of whom were far more left and militant than their timid and not-so “democratic socialist” hero Saint Bernard (who never really went for the jugular against the Clinton machine) Having made sure that the party remained one of “inauthentic opposition” devoid of any remotely serious “vision of the good society,” the Clintons and their DNC have helped the Democrats resume their normal neoliberal-era role as an out-of-power junior partner to the in-power radically reactionary and regressive Republicans.
The customary surrender and betrayal was executed under the fake-liberal cover of an especially noxious, classist, and vapid variant of identity politics. As Conor Lynch noted last month on Salon, “the Clinton campaign tried to make this election all about Trump’s hatefulness (‘Love Trumps Hate’) and his ‘basket of deplorables,’ while offering no real vision of progressive and populist change. And when those on the left raised legitimate concerns about Clinton’s uninspiring message or her political baggage during and after the primaries, they were ridiculously labeled sexist or racist ‘bros’ by establishment figures (even though some of Clinton’s harshest progressive critics were in fact women and people of color). In a February essay, former Salon writer Daniel Denvir described this cynical political strategy in Salon as ‘peak neoliberalism, where a distorted version of identity politics is used to defend an oligarchy and a national security state, celebrating diversity in the management of exploitation and warfare.’”
Hillary’s Hidden Success
Nobody who knows the truth about the Clintons and the other dismal, demobilizing and dollar- doused sham liberals atop the Democratic Party should doubt that Hillary’s top job was to keep the Democrats under the reign of the nation’s unelected and interrelated Deep State dictatorships of money and empire. Or that she preferred defeating Sanders and then losing the general election to Trump over losing to Sanders and Bernie then defeating Trump. Sanders would have stood a better chance of defeating Trump than Hillary but a reformist and half-progressive Sanders presidency (mild and hedged-in as it would have been) would not have pleased the Democrats’ corporate, finance-led sponsors. It was her task to prevent such an atrocity – and here she succeeded.
Sure, Mrs. Clinton would have loved to claim the presidency but it wasn’t in the cards and there was no way in Hell she was about to move as far toward “good society” reformism as would have been required – even just in campaign rhetoric – for her to defeat Trump. The arch-classist former Goldwater Girl just didn’t have that in her. It’s not who she is.
Still, she has the bragging rights on the popular vote. And she did her first job, which was to defeat the progressives and keep the Democrats a party of “inauthentic opposition.” She avoided the ultimate failure and humiliation, which would have been handing the Democratic Party over to hated progressive insurgents in its own ranks. That part of her mission was accomplished.