After last Novembers elections, the GOP had a bit of a revelation. Once they had gained control of the congress, bipartisanship suddenly became the mature and necessary thing to do. The people spoke, after all, and had given the go ahead for Republican’s to push through their ideology, and it was now the responsibility of the Democrats to play along. “Serious adults are in charge here and we intend to make progress,” said Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, with an air of superiority. Yes, this is the same fellow who made the following remark a few years back: “Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.” It is also the same party that has fought bitterly against nearly every policy that President Obama has advocated, like health care reform, the economic stimulus, immigration reform, etc.
Of course its all nonsense. The GOP is about as interested in bipartisanship as Reagan was interested in a balanced budget. They say one thing, and do something entirely different. They are politicians, this is what they do.
But still, this does lead to a different question that has been floating around lately, which is whether the Democratic Party should be embracing the liberal movement, led by people like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, or falling back to a more centrist plan that Bill Clinton embraced back in the '90s. This question seems legitimate, but it actually is not.
In reality, it is a question that is subtly being posed by the right wing and Wall Street Democrats, in the hope of slowing down a movement that is quickly becoming a true force in American politics. Former speechwriter for George W. Bush, Peter Wehner, wrote quite an embarrassing piece last week in the New York Times that argued that the Democratic party has indeed gone too far to the left, saying that “Democrats believe that they are riding a tide of presidential inevitability. They may want to rethink that. They are placing a very risky bet that there are virtually no limits to how far left they can go.”
I have discussed the article previously in more detail, but the gist of his argument is based on comparing the views of modern Obama with '90s-era Clinton, as if we have nothing to learn from time and evidence, lamely ignoring changes that have occurred over the past three decades, like the increasing scientific evidence of climate change, the skyrocketing rate of inequality, and the complete disaster that is the war on drugs.
These arguments for centrism are just red herrings cloaked as pragmatic advice, designed to distract people from real problems, like the fact the GOP is actually a dying breed, while the rise of the modern liberal movement is overwhelmingly associated with the millennial generation.
Indeed, the largest base for conservatism today will be, quite literally, dying off in the near future. The Republican party is the old white party, which is not a very good survival strategy, as white people will cease to be a majority in about three decades, and todays elderly will be dead. This seems to be a much more significant problem than the Democratic party going too far to the left, which is actually a wise strategy for the future, if we are to believe the data suggesting the millennial generation is the most liberal yet. In fact, a few years ago, a Pew poll suggested that millennials (18-29) view socialism more favorably than capitalism, which is quite astonishing for the United States.
Elizabeth Warren and the rising liberal movement have created a real fear within the Republican party and Wall Street. Certain right wing pundits paint Warren as nothing less than a radical socialist, aiming to overthrow the capitalist system. This is fear. Fear that the new liberal movement is not just a fad, and that the future is moving leftward.
The argument for centrism within the Democratic party is a distraction, but also a tactic. After all, what does centrism really mean in Washington? It means corporatism. It means the neoliberal alliance between Wall Street and D.C. that we have seen wreak havoc over the past 30 years. It means the Clinton administration signing financial deregulation into law, and refusing to regulate derivatives. It means the promotion of corporatist trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP.
Centrism also means “easily bought,” and funded by the 1 percent. Take the “centrist” think tank, “Third Way,” which was founded by former Clinton staffers. This organization has aggressively gone after Elizabeth Warren and the liberal movement, saying in a Wall Street Journal editorial:
“If you talk to leading progressives these days, you'll be sure to hear this message: The Democratic Party should embrace the economic populism of New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Such economic populism, they argue, should be the guiding star for Democrats heading into 2016. Nothing would be more disastrous for Democrats.”
Its the same argument that Wehner made, this time from so-called (Clinton) Democrats. It may seem like they are stuck in the nineties, but it is more likely a result of their funding and history. Third Way’s board of trustees is made up almost entirely of investment bankers and CEOs, and it is funded by the banking community.
So, is this group simply a DINO (Democrat in name only) organization? That wouldn’t be entirely fair, as the Democratic party contains different factions, and neoliberal Democrats still exist -- just look at Andrew Cuomo (and even Obama in some cases). The fact is, Wall Street is afraid of modern liberalism, and is working hard to kill it from within with the same arguments that were made in the eighties and nineties. The only difference is, today, we know just how bad neoliberalism has been for the majority of people, and how good it has been for folks on Wall Street.
The financial crisis and the current inequality we face discredits the neoliberal ideology of the past thirty years. Centrism tends to be promoted as pragmatism, and the only way to win national elections. This may have been true in 1992, but today it is false. Centrism is a wolf in sheep’s clothing; a strategy for corporatism, to stop progress with a slogan of practicality. But giving in to the crony-capitalist status quo is not a practical move for the middle class, just the one-percent.