Is the Democratic Party still the “lesser evil”? If so, in what sense?
To answer these questions, we have to look at the policies of the Obama 2.0 Democratic Party through three separate lenses:
■ How are they on “identity issues” like minority rights, women’s rights, immigration, and so on?
■ How are they on economic policies — wages, the fast-growing wealth and income inequalities, the loss of manufacturing, the loss of union jobs, and so on?
■ How are they on war, the military, the national security state and the militarization of civil police forces?
I maintain we cannot see the Democratic Party clearly — including the brand new Obama Democratic Party — without looking carefully — and separately — at all three questions.
That was then and this is now — Obama 2.0
During the last election there was a lot of conflict between progressive voters on the question — “Should we vote for Democrats?”
On one side were those who basically said, “Democrats do what Republicans do, only slower, so why bother?” On the other side were those who argued, “Well, Democrats may be the Lesser Evil, but that’s still something. For one thing, it keeps the Greater Evil out of power.”
Now the election is over, the fiscal bargain has been struck and signed, Obama has given his Inaugural Address — to rousing acclaim on the left — and his campaign organization OFA (which went from “Obama for America” to “Organizing for America” to “Organizing for Action“) is leading the charge — among progressives — to “enlist his supporters to fight for his policy agenda.”
And to my eyes, many progressives, especially progressive activists are responding positively. Especially compelling was the rousing progressivism in his Inaugural Address, for example:
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
Great stuff, widely praised, and rightly so. And because of stuff like this, speeches and real policy changes, there’s a new optimism about Obama and Democrats in general. As a result, it looks like we — progressives and Democrats — are entering a new era in our dealings with each other. Many progressives are giving Obama and the core Democratic leadership a new chance, a second bite at the progressive apple. And it also seems that Obama and his administration are preaching progressive values instead of trashing-talking those who hold them.
We’ll see if the truce holds. But there does appear to be a mutual seduction going on, a mutual second date. So let’s look at this with fresh eyes ourselves. In light of the three parameters listed at the top, how does Obama 2.0 measure up? Are they still the lesser evil?
Don’t conflate Democratic social policies with Democratic economic policies
On Identity Issues, the elected officials in the two political parties are now poles apart. Top Democratic office-holders — Including Obama, candidates lower on the totem pole, and even a great many of the corporatists — have discovered that being full-throated in support of minority rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights and other rights issues for identity groups is not a hindrance to electoral success, but an asset. Even gun advocacy is turning into a rights-type issue — the right not to be killed at school — here too, Dems are coming on board.
At the level of elected officials in leadership positions, this is fairly recent, but it’s a significant change. In fact, it’s not only safe for a Democrat to be “rights” advocate, it’s almost required. The wind of public approval is so strong at the back of candidates who embrace and voice these values, that now there’s no reason for elected Democrats not to embrace them.
At one time, remember, only Democratic voters and some elected Democrats held those views.
Two examples of how drastic this societal change has been should suffice. First, recall that as recently as 2004 it was still possible for Republicans to use anti-gay ballot measures to gain electoral advantages. Today the president can conflate Stonewall and Selma to huge acclaim and no damage. Second, in 2012 the issue of women’s rights has turned so toxic for Republicans that they are now giving each other “sensitivity training” sessions. It’s truly a new day in the country and in the leadership of the Democrat party on these issues.
But on economic issues elected Democrats are still Rubinites. There has been no repudiation, no change at all. Obama still wants to cut the safety net. The party as a whole is still billionaire-driven — it’s just that Dem billionaires are saner on social issues. No banker has or will be harmed by this Democratic administration. The party still want free-trade rules that benefit only capital. They still want low wages so their billionaires can make U.S. workers compete with Asians. And I swear Obama still wants Keystone.
He did say some nice thing about the climate lately, but we’ll see. Climate is an economic issue — it threatens billionaire wealth and profits. So watch the Keystone pipeline. If it’s approved, Obama goes on the Climate Criminal list.
What about foreign policy?
Those are domestic issues listed above. On foreign policy, militarism, the kill list and the national security state, I think the evidence is clear — Obama is still to the right of Bush.
Not that that comparisons matter. If Bush were somehow given a third term starting in 2017, he’d be to the right of Obama. On foreign policy and the military state, it’s pretty safe to say that almost every president has been to the right of the last one. Even Carter is tarred — do some research on East Timor sometime.
So is the Democratic Party still the lesser evil?
I think if you are swept up in the identity-politics and rights-policy goodness (and it’s genuine goodness), you’re probably inclined to cut the Dems a bigger break than you may have been a year ago.
And trust me, the Democrats know that and are using it. How do you know I’m right? Look at how they’re now selling themselves — as kings and queens of “we care about the disadvantaged” — in other words, on rights-issues only. Or simply read the Inaugural speech again — but this time, look for references to labor — to “Lowell, Pullman, Flint, Memphis” along side Selma and Stonewall. That list has gone missing. I didn’t see EFCA (the unions’ big care-about in 2008) passed, addressed, or even mentioned.
Labor and wages are economic issues. Neoliberal Democrats like Obama (and most of the others in leadership positions) are for unemployment benefits, but not higher wages. As near as I can tell, the only use Democrats as a party have for unions is at GOTV time.
Yes, that’s harsh. But yes, it’s also right.
And yes, if you look past “rights” issues at the whole suite of others, Democrats are still the lesser evil — and “lesser” only because of those genuinely good “rights issue” positions. They’re also not Republicans, but that’s a mighty low bar for “lesser evil.”
What’s the bottom line? Your call, but be careful. Me, I’m just trying not to be confused and lost in the fog. Hope you’re doing the same.
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