Two recent headlines can perhaps help answer that question, when it comes to identifying the real nature of the Democratic Party USA.
First, the headline from a Vox report (June 20): Why Jon Ossoff’s loss is bad news for Democrats’ 2018 hopes. The other headline is from the Business Insider (June 21): The US is ‘flatlining’ in social progress compared to countries like Canada and Germany.
First, Ossoff’s loss. Naturally the Democratic Party leaders would point to the historically Republican roots of the seat Ossoff was running for. However, as the Vox article points out, “A basic fact of the race … is that this was a district that looked prepared to revolt against President Trump.” The article mentions that although Hillary Clinton lost the district in the 2016 presidential election, she did so by only one point. Considering what a week candidate Clinton was, it was therefore not impossible to flip the district.
Even as Trump’s overall approval ratings have been sinking steadily, Trump’s vocal and active support for Ossoff’s opponent did not translate into more votes for Ossoff, as Democratic Party leaders had expected. Proof positive that you can’t just be against Trump; you really do have to produce a positive platform that attracts enough voters.
People are not stupid; we are overly busy trying to make a living, shopping for necessities, running errands, cleaning, commuting to work and back, working ten hour days, supporting a family, keeping our kids fed and in school, thinking of ways to save more, making sure to have enough to pay our rents or mortgages (which is basically paying rent to a bank) on time, and keeping the tank full of gas so we can get to work or school, or the grocery store or the hospital. So, if as a political organization, your barrage of political ads sound like the same old same old, people just tune you out.
Ever since the rise of Trump as the presidential nominee back in 2016, and even more so now that Trump is the president, despite all manner of facts telling them to go for a radical left economic platform in order to get back a congressional majority, the Democrats’ strategy has become one of moving further to the right in order to woo ‘disaffected’ opulent Republican voters, while emphasizing to their traditional constituents that they, Democrats, are the only ones who care about women’s issues, LGBTQ issues, minority issues, and so on.
Class-economic issues, though, are stubbornly off Democrat’s campaign promises and platforms. As pointed out by Waleed Shahid elsewhere, Ossoff “declared opposition to raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires and declined to support healthcare as a right for all Americans,” (see, The “Panera strategy” didn’t work for Ossoff; It won’t work for Dems nationally).
The Real Political Obstacle
Could it be that the Democrats are just not paying attention to the things they should be paying attention to so as to learn how to become more popular? Their opposition looks as outrageously diabolical as it could possibly get, starting from the surface features and running all the way down to the most fundamentals of their ideology. And still, the Democrats can’t get a handle on this?
Democratic Party leaders have seen Corbyn’s success in England, thanks to his radical platform of anti-austerity, taxing the rich, increasing funding for the healthcare system and public services, re-nationalization of major infrastructure, an end to privatization drives, and free higher education. Did Democrats such as Ossoff take a leaf out of that victory and put forward a radical agenda boldly proposing to raise the tax rates of the rich and the corporations? Of course not. They know who pays for their campaigns and that’s all they care to know.
Sanders is, at this point, willfully draining millions of hours worth of youthful energy and creativity down the political gutter called Democratic Party USA. The real political function of Democrats has been, and continues to be, diverting the genuine opposition and choking it. Any function they may have once preformed legislating policies beneficial to the working people is long gone.
The Democratic Party presents the biggest organizational quandary for the American left today. The current state of the Democrat’s standing with the voters would not be a problem for the left in general if the likes of Sen. Sanders did not spend all their political energy spreading the illusion that the party can be re-oriented. A lot of honest progressives inside the Democratic Party work with sincere intent that’s channeling the energies of millions of the youth mesmerized by radical-sounding rhetoric. But the enthusiastic youth must pay attention to the Democrat’s history. As generations of radical American leftists have observed and lamented, the Democratic Party is the biggest obstacle to the creation of a nationwide political party of the left.
Consider one economic factor that involves the lives of the people of all colors, religions and genders who have to work to make a living: federal minimum wage. People’s most fundamental interests include basic living wages, and people need that right now. Not tiny, incremental increases by nickels and dimes per every six months until the minimum wage reaches $15 an hour in 2024, based on Democrats’ best available latest proposals. By then $15/h will be mostly nullified by inflation, and another round of struggles for living wages will have to be launched again. The fight for $15/h minimum wage, remember, started some years back, and back then, the initiators of the movement certainly hoped to have reached their goal by now.
From just that one example, it can be seen how, even when they finally get moving on an issue of import to tens of millions of wage earners, the Democrats are fighting a rear guard fight aimed at lowering people’s expectations and dampening their militancy, while their Republican brethren launch openly frontal attacks on the poor and working people.
Some still insist that Democrats are just a bunch of useless idiots who simply cannot learn. But is that really what they are?
The Three Pressure Points
I have always found great explanatory value in Immanuel Wallerstein’s observation that there are three secular trends putting pressure on the world capitalist system causing the current crisis stage of the system. The three pressures are: 1) worldwide rise in wages, 2) diminishing possibilities for externalizing costs, and 3) increased taxation (see, The Decline of American Power, 2003; see particularly Chapter 3).
The flip side to the above observation by Wallerstein is the push by the radical right to counter those three pressure points by an offensive of their own. On the wage front, since the dawn of neo-liberalism, launched by the Reagan-Thatcher duo, capital’s right wing has successfully driven down the real wages of the working people. A telling figure comes from a January 2017 report by the Pew Research Center: “Adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage peaked in 1968 at $8.68 (in 2016 dollars).” From the same report, here is another telling figure: “Since it was last raised in 2009, to the current $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum has lost about 9.6% of its purchasing power to inflation.” That’s about a ten percent loss in purchasing power in eight years. Is that a standard rate of erosion of purchasing power? If so, what does that mean for the ‘Fight for 15’ activists?
Here is another way of looking at the war on working people’s incomes: according to a Zero Hedge report back in 2013, “Using the inflation calculator that the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides, $1.60 [which was the minimum wage in 1968] is equivalent to $10.74 [in 2013].” The same CPI (consumer price index) inflation calculator shows $1.60 in 1968 to be equal to $11.48 now, in 2017. In other words, 1968 minimum wage would buy you way more goods and services than the minimum wage now.
On the other two fronts, taxation and externalization of costs, the right wing has been busy there, too. It is clear that any reforms requiring the implementation of environmental and workplace safety regulations, for the capitalists, translate into higher costs of production, which cut into profit margins. So, one of the planks of the rightwing platform has consistently and ceaselessly targeted those regulations. Currently we are witnessing in Trump’s administration the climax of a forty-year counter-regulatory list of achievements by the right wing (for Trump’s list of regulations to kill, see, Inside Trump’s war on regulations, Politico, 5/28/2017).
As for taxation, for the past fifty years the tax burden of the top earners and corporations has steadily declined, while the taxes paid by the rest of us has stayed pretty steady. So, proportionately, we the regular taxpayers pay an increasingly heavier share of the total taxes and receive the fewest benefits from the system, while the rich and corporations pay the lease amount of taxes and receive the hugest share of the wealth created in the U.S.
The Deteriorating Social Conditions
That brings us to the second article mentioned in the introduction, which lists some of the ways in which the US is declining in social progress compared to a lot of other rich countries. But of course, we must have expected that. When the people who can afford it most pay the least amount of taxes, increasingly more social services will have to be cut, and the services that get cut are those that affect the poor the most.
On all three key fronts of class battles for the last forty years, the Democrats have fought to advance the interests of capital. On the question of taxation, they have been somewhat better than the Republicans, of course, but they have never exhibited a wholehearted effort to roll back tax cuts for the rich implemented by the Republicans, nor have they ever proposed substantially raising taxes of higher income earners or corporations. Even when the Democrats have had the legislative majority and power to implement serious tax increases on the rich, they have not done so. The only exception in recent history is the tax increases they implemented to fund some of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.
On the question of attacking people’s real incomes and wages, Bill Clinton’s signing of the welfare reform act attacked the most vulnerable in our society. That may not be a direct attack on people’s incomes at first glimpse. However, taking away money and benefits from the most needy is not only a cruel testament to the depravity of ruling priorities, but more importantly when you attack the most vulnerable, you lower the floor for everybody. Together with the welfare reform, the NAFTA trade deal, which Clinton signed into law in December 1993, further eroded the standard of living of the American (and Mexican) workers.
On the question of regulations, the Democrats may not have been as rabid as the Republicans in destroying regulations protecting safe drinking water or clean air, nor as militant at starving such regulations of funds, but their crown achievement was to work with the Republics keen on deregulating the key industry of interest to the top 1%: the financial industry.
By helping to destroy Glass-Steagall, Democrats helped to bring about the biggest financial disaster in many a generation, the largest total destruction of wealth among the lower classes since the Great Depression. As a result of the 2008 financial meltdown, millions of people lost their jobs, millions lost homes as their only source of wealth, and many millions are still reeling from that financial attack on the poor. Again, when you kick the most downtrodden, you lower the floor for everybody.
The structural problems that negatively affect millions of ordinary citizens still persist. The only way to get to a better place is to focus our energies on those three areas that are key to the survival of late, morbid capitalism, as it exists today, and to push aggressively for higher wages, more regulations and a radically different system of taxation. On none of these three fronts have the Democrats placed themselves on the left. So, let us once and for all stop deluding ourselves about the possibilities of reawakening some social justice neural network among the Democratic Party leaders.
The first and most urgent task for the American left is to create a nationwide political party of the socialist left, independent of the Democrats. Call it the Party of Reform of Regulations, Wages & Taxes (or something less cumbersome to pronounce). Such a political party can come about organically out of the further development of the current social movements in our society. Organically, however, doesn’t mean it will happen all by itself; the creation of such an organization will require conscious and consistent effort of tens of thousands of people, in order to bring all the current social justice movements together to create a pluralistic organizational body, nationwide, with a platform that represents the demands of all those movements.
Let’s not allow the Democrats to dictate the limits of audacity and political imagination; a state of affairs that designates the Democrats as the outer limits of the possible is a situation of political suicide for the masses. Look to Corbyn’s victory in England for a lesson. Look at Ossoff’s defeat in Georgia for a lesson.
Neo-liberalism is dying. What will replace it is either something more vicious or something more egalitarian. The choice is clear.