The Clinton legacy and the Democratic Party

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations taught the Republicans to accept the New Deal.

In recent times, the Clinton and Obama administrations taught the Democrats to accept Reaganomics.

Democrats cannot adequately represent working people unless they free themselves from that legacy.

Thomas Frank wrote a good article in The Guardian about this:

In my younger days, the Democratic party seemed always to be grappling with its identity, arguing over who they were and what they stood for all through the 1970s, the 1980s and into the 1990s.

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton

What Democrats had to turn away from, reformers of all stripes said in those days, was the supposedly obsolete legacy of the New Deal, with its fixation on working-class people.

What had to be embraced, the party’s reformers agreed, was the emerging post-industrial economy and in particular the winners of this new order: the highly educated professionals who populated its clean and innovative knowledge industries.

The figure that brought triumphant closure to that last internecine war was President Bill Clinton, who installed a new kind of Democratic administration in Washington.

Rather than paying homage to the politics of Franklin Roosevelt, Clinton passed trade deals that defied and even injured the labor movement, once his party’s leading constituency; he signed off on a measure that basically ended the federal welfare program; and he performed singular favors for the financial industry, the New Deal’s great nemesis.

Source: Thomas Frank | The Guardian

In the Reagan era, I thought that since the Republican Party had become an ideological party of the right, the Democratic Party would become an ideological party of the left, and this would result in meaningful choice for voters.

Instead the Clinton administration, and the Obama administration after it, sought to position the Democrats as more effective and sensible conservatives than the Republicans.  Thomas Frank noted how this played out in the Obama years:

Consider the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street, which drew so much public outrage in the early days of the Obama administration … or the revolving door between Washington and Silicon Valley, which has been turning briskly in recent years without much public notice at all. 

Or the deal the pharmaceutical companies got as a result of the Obamacare negotiations. 

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

Or the startlingly different ways in which Obama’s Treasury Department treated beleaguered bankers and underwater homeowners. 

Or the amazing double standard his Justice Department seems to have erected for dishonest mortgage financiers and dishonest mortgage borrowers. 

Or the way office-holding Democrats of nearly every rank throw money at the people they call “innovators” while telling working-class Americans that little can be done about their ruined lives.

The reason Democrats treat these professionals so respectfully in everything from trade deals to urban bike paths is because that is simply who the Democrats are today.

Read through the party’s favorite works of political theory from the last few decades and you repeatedly encounter the same message: the highly credentialed experts and innovators at the top of the nation’s hierarchy of achievement belong there by virtue of their brilliance.

That these people also happen to be colleagues and classmates of leading Democrats only reinforces the party’s identification with them.

Liberals love to mock the One Percent and their self-serving ideology, but they themselves serve the needs of the top 10% just as blindly.

In truth, our affluent, establishment Democrats can no more be budged from their core dogmas – that education is the solution to all problems, that professionals deserve to lead, that the downfall of the working class is the inevitable price we pay for globalization – than creationists can be wooed away from the tenets of “intelligent design”.

Source: Thomas Frank | The Guardian

Hillary Clinton stands for the same things her husband did and President Obama did.  That’s why Wall Street and the rest of the economic elite support her and her campaign.

HIllary Clinton

HIllary Clinton

She has challenged her critics to point out one thing that she voted for because she got a big campaign contribution or lecture fee from a particular donor.

I can’t point to any such thing.  The direction of cause and effect runs the other way.  I don’t think she ever voted against her convictions in order to get big contributions from moneyed interests.  She gets big contributions from moneyed interests because of the convictions that motivate her votes.

Back during the George W. Bush administration, Thomas Frank wrote a book entitled What’s the Matter With Kansas? which looked into why Kansans, which in the late 19th and early 20th century, were predominantly radical left-wing populists, had become predominantly Tea Party Republicans.

Most reviewers missed the point of Frank’s book, which was not that white working people in Kansas were too stupid to vote in their own economic interests.

It was that their interests were not represented by yuppie Democratic politicians either in Topeka or Washington, and, since there was not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties on economic policy, there was no reason not choose between candidates based on, say, very real differences in their views on school prayer.

Now it is possible that that a of majority socially conservative voters think social issues are more important than economic issues.  They might think the fight to protect the unborn is more important than the fight for child welfare.

Frank’s point was that they had not been offered that choice, so we don’t know.  The significance of the Bernie Sanders campaign is that he does offer that choice.


The issue is not Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street links, but her party’s core dogmas by Thomas Frank for The Guardian.

The Democrats Are Republicans by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

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