April 14, 2016
In thinking about the state of Democratic politics, the phrase "a choice, not an echo" came to mind. Fifty years ago, it was the slogan of conservative Republicans who thought that the party had become too much like the opposition. When Barry Goldwater announced his candidacy for the presidency on January 3, 1964, he said "I will offer a choice, not an echo," and added, "This will not be an engagement of personalities. It will be in engagement of principles." The phrase also became the title of a book by Phyllis Schlafly published on May 1 of that year. My thought was that it now could be used to describe a needed reaction against the centrist-neoliberal-faux conservative form of the party once known as "the Democracy."
Oddly, Republicans and conservatives don’t seem to realize that they have dominated political discourse for some time. Mrs. Schlafly’s A Choice, Not an Echo was republished in 2014. That this reflected an ongoing angst on the right was demonstrated by a review on The New American: "In her 2014 update to the book, Schlafly demonstrates that not much has changed, as Republican candidates for president have remained nothing but an "echo" of the New Deal Democrats, rather than offering a meaningful alternative." Surely that must be an aberrant view; well, no, here’s the title of a February article on Brietbart: "Sen. Ted Cruz Offers a Choice, Not an Echo." The choice was, in that case, pandering to the Tea Party.
Whatever the delusions among Republicans, Democratic politics, especially on economic issues, has drifted rightward over the past forty years. Hillary Clinton is the favorite of the Democratic establishment, which consists of those favored by such policies and those continuing to support them. Bernie Sanders’ campaign has offered an alternative, but it has not been embraced by those in the mainstream, either in terms of the Party or the media; he still is regarded by them as a fringe candidate. On Friday, April 8, The New York Times opinion page was in aggressive center-right mode. Paul Krugman dismissed Sanders, as he had done before, and a guest editorial criticized the government for interfering with the Pfizer "inversion," its attempt to avoid taxes. The author’s solution: lower taxes.
There are, however, signs that many people, including Sanders’ enthusiastic supporters, have taken notice of the Democrats’ rightward shift.
Thomas Frank’s latest book is Listen, Liberal, or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? Referring to a supposed liberal state, he points out that the "kind of liberalism that has dominated Massachusetts for the last few decades isn’t the stuff of Franklin Roosevelt or the United Auto Workers . . . Professional-class liberals aren’t really alarmed by oversized rewards for society’s winners. On the contrary, this seems natural to them — because they are society’s winners. The liberalism of professionals just does not extend to matters of inequality; this is the area where soft hearts abruptly turn hard." That may be too strong, but the attitude he describes would justify the conservative rant about liberal elites, or would if one ignored conservative elites.
Robert Reich, in his recent book Saving Capitalism: for the Many, Not the Few, noted that, "[w]hile nonbusiness causes, such as the rights of minorities and women, continue to have better odds of success under Democratic administrations and Democratic Congresses than under Republican ones, business interests have done well under both." He has harsh words for the Clinton administration. Bill Clinton "pushed for enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement, followed by the establishment of the World Trade Organization—two items of central importance to big business." More generally, "While the Democratic Party of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal devised financial regulations to constrain Wall Street, Clinton and his allies in Congress eliminated many of those same restraints." That included repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which had separated commercial from investment banking.
Will the new awareness translate into progressive victories in November? Senator Sanders draws large crowds, and has won a string of primaries, but the betting still is on Hillary Clinton. John Nichols, writing in The Nation refers to a "new crop of progressive populists . . . winning primaries across the nation and challenging Clintonian orthodoxy." The Nation’s editor and publisher, Katrina vanden Heuvel, sees the progressive ("Warren") wing as "an ascendant force within the party, so much so that during her campaign, Clinton has moved to the left on many issues, including trade." That Clinton has moderated her views, at least for the purposes of the campaign, is clear, but whether the progressives are about to take control is less so.
Let’s hope that it works out that way. Given the stagnation in wages, growing inequality, environmental degradation, collapsing infrastructure, and loss of industry and jobs, it’s time for a genuinely liberal government.__________________________
29. Quotes are from an excerpt from the book, "How Dems Created a ‘Liberalism of the Rich’ " at http://billmoyers.com/story/the-blue-state-model/
30. Saving Capitalism, pp. 174-75.
32. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-welcome-rebellion-in-the-democratic-party/2016/04/12/ab6089d6-0010-11e6-9d36-33d198ea26c5_ story.html>