Why we need a new Democratic party
It is time for a new Democratic Party.
The old Democratic Party has become a giant fundraising machine, too often reflecting the goals and values of the moneyed interests.
It has been taken over by Washington-based bundlers, analysts and pollsters who have focused on raising campaign money from corporate and Wall Street executives, and getting votes from upper-middle-class households in “swing” suburbs.
The election of 2016 has repudiated the old Democratic Party.
What happened on Election Day should not be seen as a victory for hatefulness over decency. It is more accurately understood as a rejection of the American power structure.
At the start of the 2016 election cycle, this power structure proclaimed Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush shoo-ins for the nominations of the Democratic and Republican parties. After all, both had deep bases of funders, well-established networks of political insiders, experienced political advisers and all the political name recognition any candidate could possibly want.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the White House. The presidency was won by Donald Trump, who has never held elective office or had anything to do with the Republican Party. Hillary Clinton narrowly won the popular vote, but not enough of the states and their electors to secure a victory.
Clinton’s defeat is all the more remarkable in that her campaign vastly outspent the Trump campaign on television and radio advertisements and get-out-the-vote efforts.
Moreover, her campaign had the support in the general election not only of the kingpins of the Democratic Party but also many leading Republicans, including most of the politically active denizens of Wall Street and the top executives of America’s largest corporations, and even former Republican President George H.W. Bush. Her campaign team was run by seasoned professionals who knew the ropes. She had the visible and forceful backing of President Barack Obama, whose popularity has soared in recent months, and his popular wife. And, of course, Clinton had her husband.
Trump, by contrast, was shunned by the power structure. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, actively worked against Trump’s nomination. Many senior Republicans refused to endorse him or even give him their support. The Republican National Committee did not raise money for Trump to the extent it had for other Republican presidential candidates.
There had been hints of the political earthquake to come. Trump had won the Republican primaries, after all. More tellingly, Clinton had been challenged in the Democratic primaries by the unlikeliest of candidates — a 74-year-old Jewish senator from Vermont who described himself as a democratic socialist and who was not even a Democrat. Bernie Sanders went on to win 22 states and 43 percent of the vote in those primaries. Sanders’ major theme was that the country’s political and economic system was rigged in favor of big corporations, Wall Street and the very wealthy.
The power structure of America wrote off Sanders as an aberration, and, until recently, didn’t take Trump seriously. A respected political insider recently told me most Americans were largely content with the status quo. “The economy is in good shape,” he said. “Most Americans are better off than they’ve been in years.”
Wrong. Recent economic indicators may be up, but those indicators don’t reflect the insecurity most Americans continue to feel, nor the seeming arbitrariness and unfairness they experience.
Nor do the major indicators show the linkages many Americans see between wealth and power, stagnant or declining real wages, soaring CEO pay and the undermining of democracy by big money.
Median family income is lower now than it was 16 years ago, adjusted for inflation. Workers without college degrees — the old working class — have fallen furthest.
Most economic gains, meanwhile, have gone to top.
These gains have translated into political power to elicit bank bailouts, corporate subsidies, special tax loopholes, favorable trade deals and increasing market power without interference by anti-monopoly enforcement — all of which have further reduced wages and pulled up profits.
Wealth, power and crony capitalism fit together. Americans know a takeover has occurred, and they blame the establishment for it.
The power structure is shocked by the outcome of the 2016 election because it has cut itself off from the lives of most Americans.
Perhaps it also doesn’t wish to understand, because that would mean acknowledging its role in enabling the presidency of Donald Trump.
We need a new Democratic Party that will help Americans resist what is about to occur, and rebuild our future.
Robert Reich is a former U.S. Secretary of Labor,