I doubt anyone who reads DWT with any kind of regularity would disagree with the premise that, in Robert Reich’s words, the Republican party is terrible. In fact, he went beyond merely "terrible" to “treacherous and treasonous.” In today’s Guardian he asked, with those descriptions in mind, why are Democrats likely to lose to them in this year's midterm elections?
I bet you’ve spent at least some time thinking about that too. Reich, a former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, describes himself as “a loyal Democrat for some 70 years.” And it pains him, he says, to write that “the Democratic party has lost its way… The real failure of the Democratic party is its loss of the American working class. As Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg concluded after the 2016 election: ‘Democrats don’t have a white working-class problem. They have a working-class problem, which progressives have been reluctant to address honestly or boldly. The fact is that Democrats have lost support with all working-class voters across the electorate.’ The working class used to be the bedrock of the Democratic party. What,” asks the former Secretary of Labor, “happened?” And he answered his own question, In short, the Democrats “allowed the middle class to hollow out and the working class to sink.”
Clinton passed free trade agreements without providing millions of blue-collar workers who consequently lost their jobs a means of getting new ones that paid at least as well.
His North American Free Trade Agreement and plan for China to join the World Trade Organization undermined the wages and economic security of manufacturing workers across America, hollowing out vast swaths of the Rust Belt.
Clinton also deregulated Wall Street. This led to the financial crisis of 2008– in which Obama bailed out the biggest banks and bankers but did nothing for homeowners, many of whom owed more on their homes than their homes were worth.
Obama didn’t demand as a condition for the bailout that banks refrain from foreclosing on underwater homeowners. Nor did Obama demand an overhaul of the banking system. Instead, he allowed Wall Street to water down attempts at re-regulation.
Both Clinton and Obama stood by as corporations hammered trade unions. They failed to reform labor laws to allow workers to form unions with a simple up-or-down majority vote, or even to impose meaningful penalties on companies that violated labor protections.
Biden has supported labor law reform but hasn’t fought for it, leaving the Protecting the Right to Organize (Pro) Act to die inside his ill-fated Build Back Better Act.
Clinton and Obama allowed antitrust enforcement to ossify, enabling large corporations to grow far larger and major industries to become more concentrated. Biden is trying to revive antitrust enforcement but hasn’t made it a centerpiece of his administration.
Both Clinton and Obama depended on big money from corporations and the wealthy. Both turned their backs on campaign finance reform.
Obama was the first presidential nominee since Richard Nixon to reject public financing in his primary and general election campaigns, and he never followed up on his re-election promise to pursue a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United vs FEC, the 2010 supreme court opinion opening the floodgates to big money in politics.
Joe Biden has tried to regain the trust of the working class, but Democratic lawmakers (most obviously and conspicuously, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema) have blocked measures that would have lowered the costs of childcare, eldercare, prescription drugs, healthcare, and education. They’ve blocked a higher minimum wage and paid family leave.
Yet neither Manchin nor Sinema nor any other Democrat who has failed to support Biden’s agenda has suffered any consequences.
Why hasn’t Biden done more to rally the working class and build a coalition to grab back power from the emerging oligarchy? Presumably for the same reasons Clinton and Obama didn’t: the Democratic party continues to prioritize the votes of “suburban swing voters” who supposedly determine electoral outcomes, and it still depends on money from big corporations and the wealthy.
The most powerful force in American politics today is anti-establishment fury at a rigged system. There is no longer a left or right. There is no longer a moderate “center.” The real choice is either Republican authoritarian populism or Democratic progressive populism.
Democrats cannot defeat authoritarian populism without an agenda of radical democratic reform– a pro-democracy, anti-establishment movement. Democrats must stand squarely on the side of working people against oligarchy. They must form a unified coalition of people of all races, genders, and classes to unrig the system.
Trumpism is not the cause of our divided nation. It is the symptom of a rigged system that was already dividing us.
Oregon progressive Jamie McLeod-Skinner just defeated an anti-working class DINO, Blue Dog Kurt Schrader, the last Democrat in the House to have voted against raising the minimum wage. Now she has to face an even more reactionary Republican. "There's only one way to get back the voters who don't think they've been served well by the Democratic Party: Address the issues us working people are talking about at the kitchen table and show that we have got a plan to fight for our interests. That's been the laser-focus of our campaign from the beginning, and that’s what I’ll do in Congress on behalf of working people and our families.”
Mark Neumann has a strong prescription, one he’s running on in the district for an open seat in western Wisconsin and one that he hopes the Democratic Party establishment is paying attention to. “No matter where we live— urban or rural, what color our skin, or how much money we have in our wallets, when it comes to our health, we all want to make sure we can prevent, treat, and recover from injury or illness without going broke. But today, lobbyists and politicians they pay for have sold our health to the highest bidder. They help insurance corporations, hospital chain monopolies, and big pharma make record profits. All the while they divide us against each other based on what we look like, where we’re from, how much money we have, or how sick we are. By coming together to elect leaders that will demand a public healthcare payment system, we can ensure we all get the care we deserve, when we need it, and without the hassle. It is time that we enact Medicare For All. I am most certainly not a single issue candidate but our shared human need to care for each other when we are sick or injured is something that we all experience. Democrats need to get on board without failing common folk once again. Push forward Medicare For All and stop protecting the profiteers that have commoditized our essential human need while ignoring common folk of all classes, gender and race.”
Tom Nelson is the working man’s candidate in the Wisconsin Senate election. He means to take on anti-union fanatic Ron Johnson. Today, after reading The Guardian article, he told me that “As the saying goes— good policy is good politics. Reich comes pretty close to driving that point home but misses one important fact. The real shift in Democratic voters has not been in the city or the suburbs but in the small towns. In Wisconsin, between the Presidential elections of 2012 and 2020 Democrats lost 258,000 votes in those communities alone compared to 35,000 in suburbs. Democratic support among so-called Reagan Democrats cratered between 1976 and 1984. How many more times will Democrats screw up before they get the message, change their tune and start providing real change?” Take a look at this clip and then consider contributing to Tom's campaign.