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