The New York Times editorial section seems determined to convince us of — let’s be fair; acquaint us with — the arguments in favor of centrism as the proper strategy for the Democratic Party. On August 27, I commented on one opinion piece to that effect, which had appeared on July 6. The October 18 issue of The Times presented another, entitled "Why Democrats Need Wall Street."
According to the author, Douglas Schoen, "a pollster and senior political adviser to President Bill Clinton from 1994 to 2000," President Clinton "acknowledged the limits of government and protected the essential programs that make up the social safety net." However, Clinton did not so much acknowledge, as declare, those limits: "the era of big government is over."
Mr. Schoen praises Clinton for "moving the party away from a reflexive anti-Wall Street posture," but dismantling big government and cozying up to Wall Street resulted in the repeal of the Glass-Stiegel Act, allowing Wall Street to become larger, more dangerous, vulnerable, damaging to homeowners, and expensive to the taxpayer. This, however, is his fantasy of that episode: "the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 removed regulations placed on financial institutions by bureaucrats and expanded opportunities for Wall Street to engage in mergers and acquisitions, adding wealth to the retirement accounts and other investment portfolios of millions of middle-class Americans."
As to the safety net, Clinton fulfilled his 1992 election-campaign pledge to "end welfare as we know it" by cutting back on benefits. All this Mr. Schoen describes as "the program of the party’s traditional center-left coalition." If so, we need less of that supposed coalition.
Schoen thinks that "Hillary Clinton’s lurch to the left probably cost her key Midwestern states that Barack Obama had won twice . . . ." No such lurch was detectable, and her loss of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and therefore of the election, had more to do with her campaign’s failure to address voters’ economic concerns: a failure to articulate a liberal position which would help people of ordinary means. It is significant that about 12% of those who voted for Senator Sanders — certainly a liberal — in the primaries, voted for Trump in the final. They wanted a candidate who would recognize their needs, not one identified with the elite, with money. Schoen acknowledges that "the American people are certainly hostile to and suspicious of Wall Street," but does not draw the obvious conclusion. Perhaps it is ironic that many voters saw Mrs. Clinton, not Trump, as allied with monied interests, but that appears to be the fact, and it refutes the author’s argument.
He wants laissez-faire on both ends of the equation: "the Democrats have simply had an ineffective, negative and coercive economic message. Advocacy of a $15 minimum wage and further banking regulation does not constitute a positive, proactive agenda."
"Democrats,: Mr. Schoen asserts, "should keep ties with Wall Street for several reasons." Of his reasons one, sadly, one makes sense: "The first is an ugly fact of politics: money. Maintaining ties to Wall Street makes economic sense for Democrats and keeps their coffers full." There stands an excellent reason to overturn Citizens United.
Otherwise, his argument is simply that Democrats should become Republicans, and we have enough of those.