Oh dear. I come across an article written by Al From, one of the leaders of the Democratic Leadership Council, entitled ‘Don’t be fooled. Populism won’t help Democrats win again.’
Sigh. I’m sorry. But who is this idiot? He says, in his new even-tempered, all-embracing approach to political discourse. I mean. I know who he is. But. Double sigh.
This article is typical of what has been and continues to be wrong with the Democratic Party. Bad analysis. Misplaced prescription. All based upon a reluctance actually to engage with those we are supposed to represent because, I dunno, they don’t like foie gras?
To begin with. No. The populism of this immediate past Presidential election was not ‘built on a message of anger against the one percent.’ A one-percenter was elected.
And so. While I’m pretty sure ‘conventional wisdom’ among the author’s friends who are ‘pundits and Democratic strategists’ is ‘to offer a populist agenda – associated with senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – that rails against the wealthy,’ they would be wrong.
This past election was about ordinary working people who want jobs. Who are sick and tired of being told that social engineering ideals will bring them nirvana by indirect means. Whether that be tax cuts, stimulus spending, globalism, free trade, free college education, equality of opportunity, education vouchers, Obamacare or its replacement.
They just want jobs for their kids.
They don’t, with respect, give a crap (in my opinion) about this author’s (and the Democratic Leadership Council’s) focus on New Democrat/Third Way ‘opportunity, responsibility and community’, or ‘Andrew Jackson’s credo of equal opportunity for all, special privilege for none; Thomas Jefferson’s belief in individual liberty and the capacity for self-government; John F Kennedy’s ethic of civic responsibility; Harry Truman’s tough-minded internationalism; Franklin Roosevelt’s thirst for innovation and Lyndon Johnson’s quest for social justice.’
They just want bloody jobs.
And they don’t want more democratic socialism. More identity politics. They don’t care for lectures about economic growth, redistribution, upward mobility, hating corporations, taxing the wealthy, promoting civic responsibility, building community, or reducing inequality and poverty.
Working Americans have bought those messages for thirty years, They’ve had enough. They just want jobs.
Yes. This author is correct in saying that a reactionary shift to redistributive democratic socialism is not the answer. Mind you, it is equal nonsense to suggest that doubling down on Clintonism is the solution, either.
But no. The author is wrong when he says that populism will not help Democrats win again. Folks are ready for a new Democratic Populism. Just not one the author has foreseen. Nor one that he is prepared to write about.
It is a Democratic Populism that, for sure, lives and dies by what Paul Tsongas said: “The problem with the Democratic party is that we spend so much time worrying about passing out the golden eggs that we forget to worry about the health of the goose.”
‘Simply put, redistribution doesn’t work if there is nothing to redistribute.’ Agreed. But. ‘This economic growth can only be generated by a robust private sector, generating high-skill, high-wage jobs and programs that equip every American with the opportunities and skills that he or she needs to get ahead.’ Crap.
Right there is what has plagued the Democratic Party for thirty years. This rock-solid, Land-Rover progressive belief that every working American wants and is able to aspire to a high-skill, high-wage job, powered by a college degree.
No. Many of them do not want to go to college. They just want a job in a local mill. An auto plant. An oil refinery. A farm. A shop that ain’t WalMart. That would be enough for them.
But all of the Merlot Democrats combine to sneer at such ambitions, and attempt time and again, as this author does, to replace those genuine aspirations with a design of their own making. For no reason other than the fact that Democratic leaders just don’t like working people.
Step one is for Democrats to get out of the ivory towers. Step two is actually to talk to working people. And accept them for who they are. Step three is then to listen to working folk define the prescriptions that actually matter to them.
At least for the short term, if we want to disarm elemental Trumpism, we’re going to have to shift subsidies from enabling programs to one-on-one job creation. Finding creative ways to save, if only temporarily, otherwise uneconomic jobs.
This can likely only be achieved, as a short-term measure, if there is some element of trade protectionism and foreign policy isolationism. We shift our attention from nation-building abroad to nation-building at home. We build a short-term economic cocoon, in which we pursue creative programs that give working people the breathing space in which to adapt themselves, their children and their communities, on their terms, to the realities of a more globalist economy.
The true lesson of the past thirty years is not that ‘progress’ has been ‘wrong.’ It has been that it has been taking place too fast for too many ordinary Americans to absorb.
A new Democratic Populism, on every front, should craft a new set of polices that allows everyday Americans to adapt to national and international imperatives and requirements at a pace that works for them.
In conditions that are less pressurized. And which includes the financial and educative support that empowers them to understand new realities in ways that are truly meaningful for them. And that permits them sometimes to say ‘no; that doesn’t work for me.’
That’s what is going to have impact with working Americans right now. And that is what will wean them away from the more unedifying aspects of Trumpism. Those aspects which call on decent Americans to hate people, rather than offering them real hope for themselves and their children.
I’m going to continue writing and advocating along these lines. Especially when I move to the heart of Trumpland – i.e. Seneca, SC – later this month. And you will be able to read all about the progress I’m making with ordinary working folk on this Democratic Populism blog.