Well well well, what have we here?
It’s a jeremiad by Democrat Bill Curry about how his party has abandoned its soul for the sweet smell of Wall Street crony capitalist dollars.
Democrats hooked on corporate cash and consultants with long lists of corporate clients were less attuned to Nader’s issues.
Democrats today defend the triage liberalism of social service spending but limit their populism to hollow phrase mongering (fighting for working families, Main Street not Wall Street). The rank and file seem oblivious to the party’s long Wall Street tryst. Obama’s economic appointees are the most conservative of any Democratic president since Grover Cleveland but few Democrats seem to notice, or if they notice, to care.
These days, says Curry, Democrats “don’t believe in ideas because they don’t believe in people” and calls for a Nader-esque populism. (Indeed, Nader’s latest book seems to provide the spine for his piece.)
Curry actually sees the populist Tea Party energy on the right and laments its absence on his side of the aisle. “If there’s a true populist revolt on the left it is as yet invisible to the naked eye.” (Though I note one very hot populist issue, widespread opposition to the Democratic Party’s push for illegal alien amnesty, is conspicuous by its absence from his piece.)
“Democratic elites are always up for compromise, but on the wrong issues. Rather than back GOP culture wars, as some do, or foreign wars, as many do, or big business, as nearly all do, they should back libertarians on privacy, small business on credit and middle-class families on taxes.”
This advice is far from the worst Democrats have received, but they are congenitally unable to follow it for numerous reasons:
As a party, Democrats are all in on Big Government. Access to the Gravy Train and charging a transaction fee on robbing Peter to pay Paul are the only thing that holds their coalition together. Likewise, to say Democrats are unenthusiastic about cutting taxes is to vastly understate the case.
Democrats can’t embrace populism because both the political and cultural soul of the party is rooted in elitism. The people who run the party in D.C. are absolutely certain that they and their brethren can run peoples’ lives better than they can run their own. And the party’s biggest supporters in blue bastions like New York City, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco are convinced that they are manifestly smarter, more moral, and above all more sophisticated than those gun-toting redneck freaks of JesusLand. Asking them to embrace real populism (as opposed to candidates making meaningless promises every 2 or 4 years) is almost certainly futile.
A significant fraction of their supporters in those blue bastions benefit directly from the crony capitalism Currey decries.
There are also numerous areas where Curry appears unable to shed his blue-colored glasses:
When he says “Oddly, the one system working relatively well, public education, is the object of our only sustained reform effort,” he’s ignoring the huge problems in teacher union controlled schools and curricula as documented everywhere from Waiting for Superman to Vergara vs. California. And in his conclusion, the very first member of his potential future coalition mentioned is “unions,” pointedly ignoring the populist revolt against fat cat public sector unions that have helped bankrupt Detroit and numerous California cities.
The plight of American workers pushed out of jobs by illegal aliens, and the popular revolt against busing them to communities across the country and amnesty? No mention.
He seems equally enthused about small business and fighting “global warming,” with nary a mention about how the EPA’s power grab thanks to the latter is crushing small business left and right, nor how many “green” firms are riding the crony capitalist gravy train.
Other populist “small ball” issues that never get mentioned: cheap light bulbs that work and toilets that flush. Though Shalt Not Question Washington’s Mandates.
Agribusiness subsidies, crony capitalism in almost its purest form? Not mentioned.
The Democratic Party faithful are never, ever, ever going to reengage with Nader, because their hatred for George W. Bush is far stronger and more visceral than their theoretical attachment to populist economic policies.
Of course, since it’s Salon, the piece has more than one inside-the-blue-bubble howler:
“Nader’s belief in convergence isn’t the same as Obama’s naïve pursuit of the holy grail of bipartisanship.” Obama has pursued “bipartisanship” with much the same fervor the late Amy Winehouse pursued “sobriety.”
“Republicans can talk values even while defending a corrupt status quo because, recent Tea Party convulsions aside, defending the status quo is their job. The Democrats’ job is to challenge the status quo; when they don’t do it, nothing they say sounds sincere. ” Republicans certainly defend many cultural status quos, but it is the Democratic Party that has consistently defended the status quo of the lumbering monstrosity that is Big Government.
When he says that until 1996, congress “had not enacted any major social or economic reforms since the historic environmental laws of the early ’70s,” he’s flat out lying. (Kemp-Roth was certainly reform.) What he actual means is “No reforms that far left economic populists like myself approve of.”
In the next paragraph he decries the deregulation of the airline, trucking and phone industries, missing the point that these were not only reforms, but populist reforms that ended monopoly profits by entrenched special interests, and ones which radically brought down prices for consumers.
“But Nader always hit hard; you don’t get to be the world’s most famous shopper by making allowances or pulling punches.” I would venture to guess that the world’s most famous “shopper” is probably someone like Paris Hilton, which is probably not the image he wanted to convey…
“Liberals have spent the intervening years debating macroeconomic theory.” Have they? As far as I can tell, the only debate in the ideological vineyards of the Democratic Party is over how much Keynesian vs. how much Marxism.
“Democrats must also learn to argue history. They chortle when Michele Bachmann credits the founders with ending slavery or Sarah Palin forgets who Paul Revere rode to warn.” Tiny little problem: By and large Sarah Palin got Paul Revere’s story right, no matter how much liberals might insist otherwise.
“The best template of populism remains the career of William Jennings Bryan.” Well, it’s not that Curry is necessarily wrong per se, but one must view with a certain jaundiced eye the idea that current electoral models can be found in a man who probably peaked in 1896.
Indeed, when you get right down to it, Curry’s piece could be boiled down to “Talk vaguely about populism while pushing the same Big Government, redistributionist schemes liberals always push.” Maybe the Nader book itself is bolder (and if someone wants to pay me to review it, I’d happily give it a go), but Curry’s piece is very old and undistinguished wine decanted into a slightly shinier bottle.
No matter how many times liberals declare “This is it! I’m finally fed up with the Democratic Party!”, the party’s fat cats know the truth. Come November 8, 2016, they’ll remember they loathe Republicans far more than they love reform, and pull the (D) lever no matter how many jeremiads Bill Curry and his ilk pen.
We’ve seen this movie before, and we know exactly how it ends.