It Will Take More Than a Few Candidates to Challenge the Neoliberal Democrat Establishment

by lizard

Montana and New York have something in common: candidates fighting over the remnants of the old Democratic coalition where labor interests were actually paid more than lip-service to. Also, the conventional wisdom is that both campaigns are doomed.

In New York it’s a primary challenge aimed at Cuomo that has Democrats tired of the neoliberal agenda not totally depressed about what Democrats actually do once in office. Here is an excerpt from Peter Lavenia’s piece at Counterpunch, titled The Limitations of the Liberal Class:

Here in New York, the blogosphere has been awash in stories about the Democratic Party primary challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo by Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout, due to have its denouement this coming Tuesday. Teachout is running as an alternative to the neoliberal Andrew Cuomo, whose time in office has seen him embrace austerity measures, budget cutting for social programs and the expansion – quite literally – of casino capitalism across the state. Teachout will almost certainly lose, though her running mate Tim Wu apparently has a chance of capturing the nearly-useless position of Lieutenant Governor on the Democratic ticket from Cuomo’s fellow neoliberal, Kathy Hochul. Like Bill DeBlasio last year, Teachout is being touted as a part of a great liberal revival, part of a narrative produced by some in the Democratic Party and media that the party has a soul that must be fought to preserve (though somewhat ironically, DeBlasio is a Cuomo endorser).

Yet a Teachout, or even Wu, victory would not be the triumph of resurgent, New Deal, social-democratic-style liberalism: it would simply be a rearguard holding action made by embattled members of what remains of the labor bureaucracy, a layer of staff at middle class civic activist groups, and an increasingly marginalized group of academic legal scholars, of whom Teachout and Wu are perfect examples. These groups have been increasingly squeezed out of the Democratic Party since the early 1970s, when structural pressures within the capitalist world-system caused the growth of the financial sector as a response to declining, and less lucrative, rates of profit in the non-financialized area of core nations’ economies. Starting in the 1980s, a gusher of cash from the finance and real estate sectors (FIRE) allowed the Democratic Party to slowly detach itself from the constituency cemented together by Franklin Roosevelt in his first two presidential election campaigns, usually called the New Deal coalition, between labor and certain sectors of capital. Because labor had long ago abandoned the idea of its own party, and had fled from vibrant Socialist and Communist Parties of the pre-war era, it was increasingly tied to a Democratic Party that only needed it for votes. As American labor unions are now practically nonexistent outside the public sector, neoliberals like Cuomo no longer need them for voter mobilization. Cuomo has even gone so far as to support anti-union charter schools, which has a quiet logic to it as the Democratic Party establishment would now like to actively purge the last remnants of the New Deal coalition.

In Montana we have Amanda Curtis, the labor-savvy math teacher who was selected after the establishment’s choice, John Walsh, imploded. At the Flathead Memo, James Conner suggests that Curtis should run a guerilla campaign that makes her interesting:

What should be more important to Amanda Curtis’ campaign? Enforcing message discipline? Or, making her as interesting as possible?

Her campaign staff’s answer is obvious: message discipline. Keep her on her talking points, deflect or flat out refuse to answer uncomfortable questions, post as little as possible on her website and Facebook page, and block trackers even if that makes her staff look like bullies and diverts them from signing-up volunteers.

That’s how conventional big campaigns are run. They’re advertising exercises, with the candidate serving as the soap or beer. Curtis’ public relations chief, Les Braswell, comes from that background. And of course, this is nothing new. Readers who are my contemporaries will remember Joel McGinniss’ classic about the 1968 Presidential campaign, The $elling of the President.

Curtis, however, has no time to run a conventional campaign. Early voting begins in a month. If she’s going to excite rank and file Democrats, generate enthusiasm among 18–29-year-old-voters, and by example lead young single women and mothers to the polls, she needs to run a guerilla campaign — a campaign that makes her as interesting as possible.

The problem, of course, is that a few challenges here and there to the establishment won’t reverse a trend that has been happening for decades, one that was accelerated by Bill Clinton and now has totally metastasized under Obama to the point that his apparent successor, Hillary Clinton, can openly praise Henry Kissinger and his new book without much concern for the backlash. Here are Clinton’s actual words:

Kissinger is a friend, and I relied on his counsel when I served as secretary of state. He checked in with me regularly, sharing astute observations about foreign leaders and sending me written reports on his travels. Though we have often seen the world and some of our challenges quite differently, and advocated different responses now and in the past, what comes through clearly in this new book is a conviction that we, and President Obama, share: a belief in the indispensability of continued American leadership in service of a just and liberal order.

Hillary and Henry, holding hands and skipping down a road lined with corpses. This is what the Democrat establishment offers us as a choice supposedly distinct from Republicans. The parrots of lesser-evilism agree.


  1. If she wins, what has she got? She has no base of support but rather a loose coalition of mostly inattentive voters. She’s in a position to be crushed by power and to accomplish nothing.

    This is the problem with the “win them elections” set, that once the election is over, they tune out.

  2. Turner

    I’m puzzled over the term “neo-liberal.” It seems to me we’re talking about “pseudo-liberals.” And that means especially Hillary Clinton.

    I consider myself a liberal but find most Democrats and no Republicans represent me. And no libertarians, either.

    I’m a big supporter of Amanda Curtis because she comes closer to being what I consider a Democrat than anyone I’ve seen in years. If she wins she won’t be “crushed by power,” whatever that means. She’ll show that there’s still some meager hope for representative democracy.

    • “if she wins”

      Big “if”, down by 16 points.

      • Same is true of either side. There are very few coalitions, other than Social Security recipients and gun owners, that can focus their power on elected officials. However, the money backers, the people who finance the campaigns, are very organized and expert at focusing their power. That’s why, “if she wins'” she gets crushed anyway, as no one on the ground has her back. Same with Daines.

  3. JC

    “the indispensability of continued American leadership in service of a just and liberal order.”

    Well, Kissinger penned an important oped recently. Seems he thinks the “New World Order” he worked so hard to put together in his life is disintegrating:

    “But vast regions of the world have never shared and only acquiesced in the Western concept of order. These reservations are now becoming explicit, for example, in the Ukraine crisis and the South China Sea. The order established and proclaimed by the West stands at a turning point.”

    Guess we must work harder to keep the indispensable nation at the forefront of the neo-world order, 21st century style… and I guess Clinton is to be the torch bearer.

  4. steve kelly

    I am not aware of any campaign talk, or position, from Curtis that would indicate that she is not an establishment candidate. Am I missing something?

    • Turner

      What’s your definition of “establishment”? Curtis has plans to reduce student debt and protect social safety net programs. Her opponent, because he’s strictly for the rich and has disdain for those who aren’t rich, supports the Ryan budget that would punish poor and middle-class people.

      Are you suggesting that these aren’t significant differences — that they’re both “establishment”?

      Unless you want to discuss specifics, an abstraction such as “establishment” has little or no meaning.

      • Is she backed by a national organized movement of students to reform student loans? If not, it’s just campaign talk.

  5. steve kelly

    Sure, Turner.

    Does she want to repeal NAFTA, GATT, WTO, or oppose any of the secretly negotiated pending “trade” agreements?

    Does she support IMF/World Bank financial war against Ukraine? http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/09/michael-hudson-losing-credibility-imfs-new-cold-war-loan-ukraine.html

    What about “The Patriot Act,” okay, no problem? Or NSA meta-data spying, or NDAA destruction of the Bill of Rights?

    Why does she not support congressional wilderness designation for the 6.4 million acres of public roadless lands in Montana, protected in 1999 by Wm. J. Clinton — “the Clinton Roadless Rule?” Her answer (I’m paraphrasing here) : “I’m a mountain biker.”

    The establishment is global, neoliberal/neocon, corrupt, and criminal. I haven’t heard a peep, have you? Until I hear otherwise from the candidate, she is not challenging the establishment, and missing a golden opportunity to educate Montanans about the most pressing issues of our day.

    • Turner

      Well, her critics are accusing her of being a communist, so they don’t consider her any sort of insider. Your list of other-than-establishment positions probably wouldn’t be objectionable to her. I doubt, for example, that she’s on the side of NSA spying.

      But to assume that because you haven’t heard her positions on various issues and therefore that she doesn’t have any is wrong. Drop her a line; she might even be open to taking your suggestions.

  6. steve kelly

    We’ve certainly come a long way, baby. You’ve got it backwards, or upside down, or both. Candidates lure voters, not the other way around. Her website is devoid of any substance. If mystery is her strategy, well, I’ll simply have no reason to support her.

    As I said above, on wilderness she is clueless. FYI it’s the 50th anniversary of passage of The Wilderness Act.

  7. Eric

    You guys are too much – you gotta tell me, do you actually consider her a ‘real’ candidate, or can you admit the Dem party has given her up as someone they don’t mind sacrificing?

    If this were a football game, you would see Daines on the dirty end of the field, three touchdown lead, no time outs left for Curtis, 2 minute warning. His camp will continue running the ads portraying him as a nice guy while he runs out the clock.

    So tell me guys – real candidate or no ?

    • Turner

      Can you envision a “real candidate” who isn’t backed by the super-rich and who is on the side of ordinary working people? Probably not. For you and other Republicans, it’s all about worshipping those with a lot money and crapping on those who don’t have a lot of money.

      You’re the party of bullies, cowards, and liars. Besides racism, it’s all you’ve got.

      • Eric

        You mean real candidates like Jon Tester, Max Baucus, and John Walsh? Guys who are selling sweet corn at roadside stands because the insiders won’t send them money – Ha Ha. –

        You’re getting riled up over nothing Turner – first of all, I’m not a party, and I haven’t sent a check to a single candidate this cycle – the only ones I’m supporting has been the NRA.

        When I think of ‘Bullies’ I think of the militant gays, and their bullhorns downtown trying to bully our City Council to pass an illegal NDO ordinance.

        When I think of ‘Cowards’ John Walsh comes to mind – as he wasn’t man enough to stay in the race and take his beating.

        As far as liars go, there’s lots of examples in the Obama administration. As far as racism goes, it wasn’t the GOP to have elected KKK members in Congress, and it hasn’t been the GOP keeping minorities look to the Govt for dependence, making them a permanent underclass.

  8. steve kelly

    Settle down you two, none of that matters to those in charge.

    “While the two party lines have many differences, in order to keep the two cults separated, they in fact share basic essentials in common. They both sustain the myth that state policy is a response to public sentiment, and they blame the other cult for providing support for the ‘bad’ policies. In fact US policy is made outside of government, by financial elites, and the state aims to control public sentiment, not respond to it.” http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article39612.htm

    • Thank you! Great article.




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