Where Are Traditional Democrats? (Neoliberal Hillary, Socialist Bernie, and The Fuzzy Middle)


RE: “Clinton Breaks From Obama, Calls Orlando Attack ‘Radical Islamism’” | Politico

Hillary Clinton’s Republican-Lite shift towards “the middle” has begun before I would’ve expected. Previously I had thought that she’d wait until July at least before she’d start right-tracking.

Although terrorism is the dominant subject in Nick Gass’ Politico article, there’s something deeper at work in it that should worry Democrats about the present and the future of their party.

First, in this political climate, there’s no “middle,” anymore, as “moderate” Democrats have been exiled. However many moderates there actually are in the electorate, no one’s paying attention to the middle because no one’s representing it in this election. (Not only was Jim Webb’s campaign embarrassingly brief, during debates he sometimes seemed like he’d mistakenly walked through the “Republican” door instead of the one marked “Democrats.”)

This means that given how far Clinton has moved leftward in her battle with Sanders, any move towards a barely visible middle is practically a move to the right.

If this is true, then holding on to the progressive wing of the party will be a much more difficult task than it’s previously been. Progressives realize Hillary for what she is, and don’t trust her. And they’ve been disappointed before by the collapse of populist/progressive Democratic campaigns. (Al Gore in 2000 and Howard Dean in 2004 come to mind.) This makes it probable that the left wing of the party will not simply grin and bear its candidate pivoting rightward as it has in the past.

So what will November look like if today’s progressives don’t succeed in pulling Hillary as far to the left as they might want and subsequently revolt by staying home in the way that black Democrats did in 1988? What if there are more Bernie Bros than anyone imagines, and they ditch the political process in substantial numbers, thinking that the country “deserves” Trump?

(I’ll confess here in print what I’ve avoided using my voice to say: because of the endless wars, the mass surveillance of citizens, and the financial crisis, the libertarian in me (which is most of me) is somewhat sympathetic to this view. The 21st century has been a bitch for people who cherish liberty. Just sayin’.)

As these possibilities sink in, I’ll pivot to my big picture worry, which is that Hillary and her supporters pulling the party rightward in a neoliberal direction, and Bernie Sanders and his supporters pulling the party leftward in a progressive direction make it hard to know what a traditional Democrat or traditional liberal looks like anymore. As examples of traditional liberals, I’m thinking of Mario Cuomo, Ted Kennedy, or Geraldine Ferraro.

A fuzzy, amorphous, barely vocal middle may make it easier to support Hillary, who in the old days would be considered a Republican, or Sanders, who right now is considered a socialist. But the distance between these two poles of the party makes what they have in common more a matter of what they’re against than what they’re for.

By contrast, ask any Republican what she believes in, and she’ll say something very much like “small government, low taxes, strong military.”

That Reagan mantra still works 30 years later. But what sort of mantra could a Democrat utter in less than five seconds? Whatever Clinton would say with such brevity wouldn’t match what Sanders would say at all, and vice versa.

The reality is that “Democrat” is really more a team name than an ideology, and I continually wonder if the party hasn’t lost something essential because of it.


IMAGE SOURCE: By Michael.worley (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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