Macabe Keliher is editor and co-founder of the Democratic Alternative.

Three Futures for the Democratic Party: The Party Beyond Hillary and Bernie

The electoral defeat of the Democratic Party last November, coupled with a lackluster resistance to Trump and the Republican agenda, has exposed a political party long in decay. Having lost nearly one thousand seats in local and national elections over the past eight years, and then the presidency, the Democratic Party now finds itself in its weakest position in the House since 1928, and the states since 1925. This has not only led to a decline in party influence and agenda-setting power, but, very concretely, in an all-out assault on American democratic institutions in the form of Republican gerrymandering, draconian voter ID laws, the weakening of unions, a curtailing of reproductive rights, continued attacks on women’s health, and the rollback of environmental protections.

The realization of this situation has energized millions politically, from filling the streets of Washington at the Women’s March to airport protests against the travel ban. While many within the Democratic Party have tried to direct this energy towards the next electoral horizon, a progressive wing led by Bernie Sanders is pushing a broader agenda that challenges the establishment. This has become a struggle to determine the direction of the Democratic Party.

Three futures are now possible: a neoliberal-centrist future, a social-democratic future, and a producerist future.

Read the rest of this article at Public Seminar here

The Obama-Clinton Democrats and the Future of the Democratic Party

The policies and electoral strategy of President Obama and Hillary and Bill Clinton have failed. While many look to outside forces to justify political acts and explain defeat, a more significant problem must be addressed: centrist policies and an eagerness to tack right have hollowed out the Democratic Party and its principles. The minimalism of the last eight years coupled with consistent electoral losses have led the Democratic Party into the political wilderness, where it wanders without a compass.

To advance the interests and ideals of Americans and win elections again, the Party needs a new direction. This direction should supplement the cultural and economic equality policies of the mainstream left with a push towards a position of empowering ordinary men and women combined with a commitment to institutional experimentation and transformation. Continue reading “The Obama-Clinton Democrats and the Future of the Democratic Party”

The poverty of Obama’s coalition

Obama’s coalition of minority and northern white working class voters has been exposed as an impoverished electoral strategy. It is not the foundation of a Party, but the building up of a single charismatic individual. Obama drew on his political and personal skills to capture such voters in his presidential bids, and relied on his personal appeal to turn out African-American voters. Clinton expected to do the same thing–Obama and the Party establishment expected her to do the same thing–but, as a recent voter analysis by the NYT shows, she failed to do so.

The problem is that rather than focusing on core issues and constructing a program that would speak to Americans, the Obama-Clinton Democrats sold themselves as the anti-Republicans. Things are better for you under our watch, they say, yet fail to enact immigration reform, promote women’s issues, or address inner city collapse. The Republicans will be much worse, they cry, even as they oversee a spike in police violence on minority communities and continue to incarcerate black men at an alarming rate. The other party is the party of big business and will imperil workers, they declare, but then do not push to allow unions to freely organize, and design trade agreements inimical to worker interests.

Voter analysis from the past election shows that Trump was winning, and eventually did win, more support among a longtime core Democratic constituency: working class white males. At the same time, Clinton did not have the same support as Obama among African-American voters. This double loss of working class and minority voters is a direct result of the position of the Obama-Clinton Democrats, and it finally doomed the Clinton campaign. Ironically, this is the first time in recent electoral history that Democrats did better among affluent voters, while the Republicans cleaned up among working class whites.

All this is to say that the Dems need to drop the mythical coalition of the ascendent and abandon the professional class. They need to put together a platform that will work in the interest of ordinary men and women. The Dems need a program that not only addresses fundamental issues such as healthcare, education, minimum wage, minority voices, and global warming, but more so, one that empowers individuals and communities so that all can pursue a life of greatness.

“We need a fundamental transformation of the Democratic Party”

In New York the other day, Bernie Sanders spoke truth: “We need a fundamental transformation of the Democratic Party.”

He recognized that the Party’s approach has failed, and he called for an entirely “new direction,” with “new organizing” strategies and goals, and a “new vision.”

This new vision and direction called for by Sanders includes an expansion of basic entitlements, financial reforms, and a narrowing of the wealth gap. He advocates single payer health care, free college, and enlarging social security. He calls to address wealth inequality by collapsing the gulf between CEO and worker pay, and curbing the excesses of Wall St. He has a program for climate change and civil rights, and wants greater care for veterans.

The Democratic Alternative seconds all these proposals, but unlike Sanders, we take them as means, not ends. They are minimalist programs that can be employed to address some of the immediate needs of ordinary Americans. Unlike Sanders, however, we do couch the programs in the language of rights, for these particular programs are not our ideal. We are not wed to any particular institutional form or program. Rather, we advocate the use of any program that will open up greater economic and educational opportunities to people, that will democratize markets, expand civil engagement, and raise the temperature of politics. We do not want universal health care simply because the state ought to ensure coverage for all people as a basic human right, or because all other rich world countries do so; we want universal health care because it will alleviate people from both physical pain and worry so that they can pursue other tasks and live a greater life. We do not want social security or universal income simply in order to guarantee a greater share of wealth and comfort, but rather because it will free people to experiment and explore. We do not want free education as a means to address student debt, but rather to enable each individual to continue to improve his or her mind so as to resist uniformity and reproduction.

We want each man and women to be able to achieve full potential and live a greater life. In order to do so, we subordinate the goal of equality to the greater vision of empowering humanity. When this goal is combined with a commitment to structural change, then we have arrived at what it means to be a progressive!

Electoral politics and a Party platform

At a campaign rally tonight for the DNC chair, Keith Ellison said something that at once would expand the electoral representation of the Democratic Party and at the same time help build a comprehensive program. He called for the Democratic Party to become a home for activists. We need to be a Party, he said, where those fighting for issues such as climate change, raising the minimum wage, and racial equality can have their voices heard and their issues turned into an electoral program.

The reality now is that the Party places them on the fringes, giving them nod when convenient but largely keeping them at arm’s length, as Pete previously pointed out. Activists have no place in the Party and very little role. Every four years the Dems might come around and speak to their issues and promise to act if elected, but then fail to take up the fight once in office. Such a phenomenon has forced activists to turn to the courts over electoral politics, placing their hope in an idealized form of law where the dead rule over the living.

The Democratic Alternative has long called for the inclusion of different voices and movements in the building of a comprehensive program. We have advocated incorporating candidates and activists with single issues into our broad movement, and inviting them to not only help expand our platform, but also to see how their issues connect with others, and to build a consistent movement across political, economic, and social spheres.

The problem with the Democratic Party today

What’s the matter with the Democratic Party? Where is the backbone? Where is the fight? Why haven’t Dems taken a principled stand on issues of national importance that have been undermined since Trump’s declared electoral victory?

A blistering opinion piece in today’s New York Times accuses the Dems of rolling over in the face of Republican opposition. The Party could have sued over voting irregularities, supported recount movements in key states, and taken up the charge for electors to do their constitutional duty and not cast their electoral votes for Trump. More so, the Dems should be reminding us every hour of the illegitimacy of Trump’s election. He lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes, and evidence continues to mount that foreign interference swung the election in Trump’s favor.

Such apathy and inaction has characterized the Party for decades now. We let Republicans blindside us in the 2000 recount, and then graciously conceded the election to Bush. We took the White House and both Houses in 2008, yet squandered the victory trying to appease our most ardent detractors and allowed them set the message. Obama’s landslide in 2012 was used to try to build bipartisan bridges, which only hardened opposition. As the authors of this op-ed put it, even when we win an election, “Republicans behave as if they won while Democrats behave as if they lost.”

The problem with this generation of Democrats is that their belief in existing American political institutions overwhelms any commitment they have to a program for change. Unlike Republicans, who adhere blindly to an ideology of small government and low taxes, politics for Democrat leaders is merely a matter of best practices and proper management. If we can just get the right people into office, they say, then the economy will grow, jobs will be created, and the environment saved. If we happen to lose an election, they declare, then we can just wait patiently for the next one without the fear that too much will change because our political institutions are strong and checks and balances secure. Obama’s metaphor of the US government as an aircraft carrier not a speedboat sums up this position.

This belief has left us with no mantra and only a vague goal of responsible government. Rather than a program, Dems have a collection of issues that speak to different interest groups around which they form a grabbag of policies but no clear direction. We are thus content when our elected members can talk about what happens on “their watch,” as if there were natural developments that only needed a competent overseer to make sure the worst off didn’t suffer as much.

What is needed is for the Dems to develop a coherent program with clear aims, and for it to be pursued madly. Such a program must be compromised neither for electoral victory nor bipartisan cooperation, and it must be committed to structural change when existing structures and institutions no longer fulfill our ideals. We must act as if we are possessed. We must act as if we won.

The poverty of the Dems new message

In the wake of election losses, centrist Democrats are working to reshape their economic message. A story in the New York Times this weekend outlined the laments of Democratic senators over the Party’s failure to present a strong economic argument that appealed to constituents in all fifty states. In their estimation, the Party has come to focus too much on cultural issues, emphasizing coalitions of ethnic groups and cultural interests, rather than economic realities and how to address them. In this way, Hillary’s slogan “Stronger Together” characterized this loss of the Dems economic soul.

So far so good. This line of analysis and reflection aligns with those of the more progressive factions of the Party, and ought to lead towards a progressive legislative agenda, if not an outright program for addressing economic inequality, increasing opportunity, and building communities. Indeed, Bernie Sanders’ campaign brought together the gains of the social justice movement on issues like environment, racism, and inequality, with a powerful economic message.

The strategy among these Democrats, however, is not a productive agenda; it is recalcitrant. “Our role will principally be to defend the progress we have made in recent years,” Representative Xavier Becerra was quoted as saying in the NYT. Incoming senate leader Chuck Schumer spoke of defending benefits, and berated Republicans who are “gearing up for a war on seniors.”

These Dems new message appears to be the preservation of state benefits, and their new strategy to be protecting Medicare and Social Security.

Such benefits are important, to be sure, and a strong opposition in Congress is important to fight the privatization agenda of the Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell led Republicans. The work cannot stop there, however; protection of existing benefits must be but a means towards a larger progressive program to democratize the market and empower individuals and communities.

Three questions in the wake of the 2016 election

In order to understand Trump’s victory, we must analyze why Trump won and why Clinton lost. These are two different inquiries necessitating separate analysis. The first question begets an answer to the second, to be sure, but they must each be taken in turn. Doing so furthers insight into the state of contemporary American politics and society, and points towards a third question: what is to be done? Continue reading “Three questions in the wake of the 2016 election”

Encouraging entrepreneurship: First steps in the Open Economy Project

This post expands the discussion of practical first steps to the Open Economy Project. In the same way that many of the first steps for getting money out of politics and resolving congressional gridlock have been taken up by others, albeit in a minimalist context, as previously discussed, many practical economic ideas also circulate, and are even part of the political rhetoric of both parties–one need look no further than the bipartisan discourses of support for small business and the importance of entrepreneurship.

At the Democratic Alternative, we advocate the creation of more economic opportunities for more people through a democratization of the market. Towards such ends, one of our key proposals is broadening access to capital so that all citizens–not just those with connections to private equity and venture capital–have equal opportunity to invest in their ideas and move quickly and easily from conception to realization. One way of achieving this outcome is the creation of a public fund that is managed professionally, and returns and risk management kept on par with that of private venture capital funds. Such a plan would spur startups and entrepreneurial activity, giving more people more access to more markets. Continue reading “Encouraging entrepreneurship: First steps in the Open Economy Project”

Reducing the influence of money and raising the temperature of politics: Practical first steps

The Democratic Alternative is based on a vision. It is a vision to open politics to everyone, to democratize the economy, and for the empowerment of communities and citizens in the building of a freer, more just, and engaged society. This vision is often criticized as utopian. We are told that our ideas are too grandiose and vision too broad; we are told that our program is impractical in politics as it exists today. What is needed, critics say, are political managers that know how to get bills through congress, pass progressive legislation, and work with the political parties. Even if our politics are more desirable, they are deemed impractical. Such critiques have dogged radical reformers and revolutionaries throughout history, and they are critiques that we reject.

Continue reading “Reducing the influence of money and raising the temperature of politics: Practical first steps”