1. “Rich Girl”
I have no use for Howard Schultz. He’s from the “New Democrat” wing of the party that accreted around Bill Clinton as he transformed from a liberal by word into a “centrist” by deed. Like both Clintons, Schultz is in league with post-New Deal, corporate Democrats who want the truly liberal among us to believe that “centrist” is synonymous with “moderate.” I call it the neoliberal hustle. It’s perhaps the biggest deception in American politics.
“Moderate” is a political temperament that values negotiation, compromise, pragmatism, and middle of the road solutions more than one-size fits all ideologies. “Centrism” is a set of policies and theories of governance ultimately driven by the logic of the market. There have always been moderates. Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson were moderates by today’s standards, if only because in their time Congressional rules and customs incentivized building consensus.
Centrists began their ascent in the mid 1970s as the economy deindustrialized, unions lost power and influence, and “big government” seemed more bloated and less effective. While they come in right and left-leaning flavors, since the 1980s centrists have pushed the Democratic Party rightward as the Republican Party and large swaths of the American electorate have grown increasingly conservative. It’s hardly a coincidence that all Democratic presidential nominees who’ve lost since 1972 were/are centrists. (Yes, even Jimmy Carter.)
The centrist toolbox includes globalization, internationalism, financialization, deregulation, privatization, austerity, regime change, technocracy, and (at a meta-level) governmentality (the ways in which citizens are taught how to be governed.) When someone like Schultz describes himself as “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” we should understand that he affirms at least some of these ideas and tactics not simply because they work for a particular time and problem, but because they’re based on assumptions and principles that are right in virtually every circumstance. The concepts in the centrist toolbox are expressions of how the world works and are therefore the best possible solutions. Of these new tools for governing and social organization Margaret Thatcher (as Great Britain inflicted its neoliberal transformation on citizens) said “There is no alternative.” Given this, we we should also understand that while his social values may be liberal, Schultz supports only a conservative degree of “social justice” that doesn’t threaten current economic hierarchies and those who benefit most from them.
Perhaps he can in polite billionaire company, but as a presidential candidate Schultz can’t admit what his centrism really is, much in the same way that he can’t admit his fiduciary responsibility to keep Starbucks wages as low as possible. So, as president one expects he’d split his time between feel-good platitudes dripping with neoliberalism and whingeing about what social programs we can’t afford.
And yet, Democrat hysteria as Schultz contemplates running for president is just as ridiculous as his odds of winning. Some of the very same people one routinely hears in a Starbucks lamenting how broken the two-party system is now whine about how Schultz will help re-elect Trump. “He’ll steal our votes!” they cry into their macchiatos.
2. “Out Of Touch, Out Of Time”
A third of the American electorate is Democrat, while 40% is registered Independent. Neither of the two major parties can win without voters who don’t belong to either party. Thus the argument that it’s Democrats who need to “steal” Independent votes in order to win the presidency will always be compelling.
Proud Independent that I am, the party most certainly needs to steal my vote, too. The very idea that Democrats assume some non-Democrat votes are already theirs is but one of the many chinks in the party’s armor. A bigger chink is an obsessive focus on nominating a candidate who can beat Donald Trump.
Though it’s very early in the 2020 race we’re told to think of nothing but electability. Forget about an inspiring message. Nevermind the need for a new and different vision of what America can be. Ignore that a party owns no one’s vote before it’s cast. And poo-poo any credible takes on the difficulties of reinvigorating the Obama Coalition:
“The coalition that Barack Obama built in 2008 was so powerful, and so successful in Democratic primaries, that 2020 contenders are treating it as a blueprint. But in a field with a dozen or more presidential candidates, no one is a perfect match to win over all of the key constituencies that drove Obama to electoral success.
While it’s still early in the race, what appears to be happening is candidates are trying to peel away different parts of Obama’s coalition. The dynamics are similar to the philosophy that in commerce a marketplace is always in the process of either creating or undoing bundles. What’s unclear right now is who will splinter off which groups, and what the Democratic marketplace will look like as the 2020 primaries approach.”
“The 2020 Election Will Shred the Obama Coalition” | Bloomberg | Conor Sen | 01/24/2019
Lastly, don’t ever mention that Hillary Clinton (another centrist) killed the Obama Coalition of aspiring young people (the “coalition of the ascendent”), African Americans and other minorities, educated suburban women, and whites without college degrees:
“But the electoral trends that put Donald J. Trump within striking distance of victory were clear long before Mr. Comey sent his letter. They were clear before WikiLeaks published hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee. They were even clear back in early July, before Mr. Comey excoriated Mrs. Clinton for using a private email server.
It was clear from the start that Mrs. Clinton was struggling to reassemble the Obama coalition.
At every point of the race, Mr. Trump was doing better among white voters without a college degree than Mitt Romney did in 2012 — by a wide margin. Mrs. Clinton was also not matching Mr. Obama’s support among black voters.”
“How the Obama Coalition Crumbled, Leaving an Opening for Trump” | The New York Times | Nate Cohn | 12/23/2016
The Obama Coalition ain’t coming back. Its parts will be picked off by various 2020 candidates. While the black vote will be more important than ever, it will also be difficult to counter voter suppression laws and strategies as well as find the 1.5 million blacks who voted for Obama in 2012 but didn’t vote at all in 2016. Also, 2016 was a realigning election just as 1980 was. The sad truth for the Left is that Trump Democrats who voted for Obama twice are essentially Republicans now just as Reagan Democrats were then.
3. “I Can’t go For That”
Perhaps Schultz and today’s Democratic Party are symptoms of the same condition. Both the billionaire and the party with a lot of billionaires want to restore an era, a politics, and a political culture that seem increasingly foreign with each new tweet from the White House. But if all Democrats want is a candidate who can beat Trump, and if Schultz fancies himself that sort of candidate, then aren’t both really saying that they want to turn the clock back to some point in the past when the political climate and the horizon of political possibilities were better for them? In doing so, aren’t both Schultz and the Democratic Party assuming that the “norms” that lay in tatters now, shredded by Trump, were once virtuous?
Were they really? Or had we simply become used to how useless they’d become? Trumpism is morally and intellectually bankrupt, but under the old regime of centrist norms we got years of stagnant wages, eroded social safety nets, perpetual war, mass incarceration, the surveillance state, a financial crisis from which many have yet to recover, rising inequalities of wealth and income, climate change ambivalence, and a generation that probably won’t do as well as their parents.
No one in this nor the previous dispensation has solutions for these problems because they are features now, not bugs. How electable is that?