Since last November’s election, there has been a lot of discussion about the path forward for the Democratic Party. Given the loss of the presidency and countless governorships legislative offices countrywide, how does the party need to change — and does it need to change — to gain back power?
On Monday, Seth Moulton (MA-06) had friends from the New Democrat Coalition — Jim Himes (CT-04), Kathleen Rice (NY-04), Terri Sewell (AL-07), Ron Kind (WI-03), Ami Bera (CA-07), Annie Kuster (NH-02), and Stacey Plaskett (VI-AL) — in town here in Boston for a pair of fundraisers for the New Democrat Coalition’s affiliated PAC to talk about the future of the party.
So what is the future of the party being advocated here? The fact that Helen Milby & Company, which coordinated the events, is in the business of arranging meetings between Members of Congress and corporate lobbyists and executives can give a clue. But first to some background.
Similar questions about the future and direction of the party loomed large twenty years ago after a disastrous loss to Ronald Reagan. And when there are questions, corporate interests are always ready to provide answers. The Democratic Leadership Council formed in this period as a way to purge the Democratic Party of the influence of 1960s and 1970s progressive social movement influence. People like DLC founder Al From believed that the Democratic Party had lost in 1980 and 1984 because it had moved too far to the left (a conclusion systematically debunked by Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers in their must-read Right Turn: The Decline of the Democrats and the Future of American Politics). From and DLC allies routinely critiqued the Democratic Party as being overly subservient to liberal interest groups — while they were pushing it to be more subservient to corporate interests, especially finance. The solution to the Democrats’ woes was, effectively, to become Republican lite.
Although the DLC itself closed up shop in 2011, its legacy lives on in the form of the Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank that is decidedly not progressive in its policy prescriptions, and the New Democrat Coalition, which formed in 1997 as a Congressional Caucus analog to the DLC.
If you read the New Democrat Coalition’s “American Prosperity Agenda,” released last year, it’s clear that the target audience is exactly the corporate lobbyists and executives in attendance on Monday, not working- or middle-class voters. The language is filled with corporate buzzwords, and the concrete policy proposals are all about reducing business regulations or creating/expanding tax credits or tax incentives. Their vision of “prosperity,” of course, also includes support for corporate-written trade deals that put environmental and public health regulations at risk and redistribute wealth upward. And the New Democrats’ focus on debts an deficits shows a clear preference for the investor class over those who suffer from the impacts of austerity.
What’s perhaps most striking about the “American Prosperity Agenda” is what’s missing. Talk of unions or labor protections more broadly. Minimum wage increases. Robust climate action. Any concept of universal and equitable public goods (single payer? more equitable education funding?). A shift away from an austerity framework beyond just targeted investments in business-preferred sectors. Attention to the systemic injustices that create and exacerbate racial income/wealth gaps — and the need for comprehensive criminal justice reform. In other words, the “American Prosperity Agenda” may increase the total wealth of the United States, but it is by no means a shared prosperity agenda. It sits in striking contrast to the bills and budgets advocated by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Seth Moulton is beloved by many Democrats in Massachusetts because of his tendency to pick high-profile fights with Donald Trump on issues like the refugee ban. And he is to be commended for that (his media team, too). But the vision he and his New Democrat peers are advocating is no solution to the Democratic Party’s woes. The Democratic Party didn’t lose the election last year because it didn’t raise enough corporate money or cater to the business class enough. The Democratic Party lost because of a failure to inspire enough voters to come out to vote. And a new round of corporate tax incentives won’t fix that.