The Democratic Party’s two faces


“The real struggle within the Democratic Party is where you stand on income inequality and whether the government needs to be a part of fixing that problem. The demographics that the Democratic Party must attract are the people who need responsive government.” —Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus

I know quite a few progressive Democrats who say they won’t vote for Gov. John Hickenlooper when he runs for re-election.

The main issue is his aggressive promotion of fracking.

He also recently opposed a bill in the state legislature giving firefighters the right to collective bargaining.

It’s indicative of national tension within the Democratic Party. Progressive Dems are upset by President Barack Obama’s willingness to cut Social Security, Medicare and other elements of the social safety net. This is a national problem. AFL-CIO political director Michael Podhorzer notes: “There’s no denying that there are two Democratic parties. One that has a fair amount of allegiance to Wall Street and to the notion that it’s no big deal to raise the retirement age or cut benefits. They see the Democratic coalition of the future being more upscale. But there’s a big part of the party that still sees Democrats as still being anchored by downscale.”

Political scientist Thomas Ferguson looked at the results of the national election and found that something significant had changed since 2008. The split between Democrats and Republicans along income lines has grown. He says: “Obama’s vote percentage declines in straight-line fashion as income rises. He got 63 percent of the votes of Americans making less than $30,000 and 57 percent of those making between $30,000 and $50,000. Above $50,000, the Other America kicks in. Romney won 53 percent of the votes of Americans making between $50,000 and $100,000 and 54 percent of the votes of Americans making above $100,000.”

By contrast, in 2008, the Democrats were basically even with the Republicans among Americans making not only more than $50,000, but more than $100,000. Among Americans making less than $50,000, the Democratic percentages of the vote were high in 2008, but not as lopsided as they were last year.

Obama presented a positive vision of government helping workers, consumers and the down-and-out. He decided to attack Romney on Bain Capital and other Wall Street issues, against the advice of bigwigs like Cory Booker and Bill Clinton. On Election Day, Latinos became a new dynamic political bloc and African Americans were solidly behind him. The labor movement was crucial in turnout drives. Feminists (outraged by jaw-dropping sexism by the Republicans) revived as a force. The LGBT community became important and no longer isolated from “normal” politics.

Clearly, Obama has a progressive mandate. But his top priority is a deal with the Republicans to reduce the deficit. This is self-defeating. The economy will not get moving again unless we have massive government spending to create jobs so that people can buy stuff.

Well, there is another way to grow the economy. Economist Jeff Faux says: “The president’s Council of Economic Advisers will not admit it, but their default strategy for growth is to let American wages drop far enough to undercut foreign competition. That is the only possible policy rationale for Obama’s enthusiasm for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a further deregulation of trade that will strip away the last protections for American workers against a brutal global marketplace of dog-eat-dog.”

We want to hear good news — that without too much effort on our part, political leaders will eventually do the right thing. Given the influence of the rich and powerful on our politics, this is a fairy tale. If living standards continue to decline, there will be nasty social and political consequences.

We need prosperity by way of government investment in such areas as infrastructure, research, education, improved economic and environmental security for working families, limits on corporate political power and more widespread unionization. These measures will provide stronger, more equitably shared economic growth that wipes out budget deficits.

We need a big coalition for economic justice, stronger democracy and environmental sustainability that kicks ass and engages in non-violent social disruption.

We won’t get big change through normal channels.


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