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.
I really don’t think demonizing one of the wings of our party, a wing that has had a lot of success, is the way to go. I’d rather NOT become the party of overt class warfare that says that business doesn’t matter.
You’re personal ideological preferences are no longer related to popular electability. You may find the more radically populist messsage of Sanders less palatable to the wonky centrism of Clinton-but the voters respond to one a lot more positively than the other. Focus groups from the right (Frank Luntz) and left (American Prospect) confirm this.
The single biggest mistake the center left can make in this era is to defend business at the expense of the worker. The fact that the party of Roosevelt is having such a hard time with this shows how badly we’ve veered away from our roots as a populist party.
Bloomberg admitted on 60 minutes there is no constituency for his mix of views anymore in the body politic (if there ever was). Time to adapt and what was the center in 1984 has now moved sharply to the left on trade, government intervention in the economy, and regulating business and sharply to the right on immigration. Mainly since it’s perceived as part of a broader corporate agenda against the middle class.
I agree that more traditional centrist candidates like Ossoff are a better fit for the suburban Romney Republican districts Clinton carried. But the populist wing should also be given the opportunity to run candidates and have its agenda heard as well. The fact that you say “I don’t want overt class warfare or to attack business” belies favoring the corporate wing over the populist one. We will need some centrists to win back the House and Senate-but nominating a populist nominee is the only way to win the electoral college.
The working class has been under attack for the past 50 years and we’ve lost every year with Republicans AND Democrats in the White House. Sure, business “matters”, but only as it serves the citizens of the nation. That has not been the case for the past 50 years. Businesses (rare exceptions noted) exist for the benefit of the shareholders and the shareholders are a powerful minority in the USA.
I agree with you that the DLC was a disaster. And look at its legacy — we had much more power in 1984 than we do today.
But I think it’s too soon to write off this group, and for the moment I’m inclined to err on the side of Big Tent, to mix a metaphor.
…and only did a bit better in 1988. Mondale and Dukakis were straight up liberals. It’s no wonder we wanted to try something different in 1992, and it worked both politically and economically. Times and needs change, but I refuse to fault the party for the direction we took in the 1990s.
DLC had some short-term successes, notably Bill Clinton. But that didn’t translate to Al Gore, and their legacy (welfare reform, for example) damaged us.
Mondale was a traditional Democrat. Dukakis was a moderate in his time. Both had uphill battles. A lot of people (not me) believe Clinton would have lost if Ross Perot didn’t run. But anyway — no DLC presidents since, and massive losses at state levels.
…seems to be getting shafted by the Electoral College. Like Hillary, Al Gore WON the popular vote even with the disputed FL results. At the time some welfare reform was needed, but Clinton pushed back at least twice before signing one. I’m starting to feel like we are back to people not remembering how politics worked in the 80s and 90s.
The policies and politics of that era no longer fit the needs or desires or the country’s electorate. We had a great depression level event and you’re still arguing for Republican lite centrism? If there was ever a time to revive the principles of the Roosevelt Democrats its this time. You’re overeducated and underemployed like I am-and you still want the hedge managers to get a tax cut and face time with the last President?
Because that’s the way politics works? It doesn’t work like that anymore-look who’s in the White House and ask yourself why. The center of the 80s and 90s doesn’t exist anymore-the new center is angry about trade and immigration and we have to propose constructive alternatives to assuage that anger. Doubling down on trickle down lite ain’t it.
…but what i’m pushing back against is the temptation to second-guess a previous era. I hate to pull rank, but I believe I have about 10 years on you. I have been politically conscious going back at least to the year you were born and know there is no way we would have seen any success then with the agenda you propose now. I still see huge differences between market idol-worship of the actual Republican Party and using the market in a way that is regulated and can work for everyone. That’s not even mutually exclusive from my New Deal streak, and I never advocated a tax cut for hedge managers, though I still can’t get worked up over paying a retired POTUS a speaking fee.
I’m 62. I graduated from high school in 1973, the year that most economists agree was the last year that America’s middle class was growing.
Since then, the working class has experienced full frontal attacks by Republicans and crippling sniper attacks by Democrats.
I can get worked up over a $400,000 “tribute” handed to a former president by a Wall Street monster that does so with the intent to maintain the status quo at best, and completely eliminate the Middle Class at worse.
There is no way we would have had success then with the agenda I am proposing now, I also believe we haven’t had success now following the same agenda from back then. This is what I am arguing.
My point regarding Modale and Dukakis is that they were in fact far less liberal than popular imagination remembers on economic issues. Few progressives in Massachusetts remember Dukakis as a liberal firebrand. Read Barnett franks book-he backed a liberal challenger against the Governor in 78′. Part of the reason he lost to King from his right is that he had Ackerman to his left. Also our party nominated King in MA-which voted for Reagan twice. We had a far more conservative electorate back then.
Let’s not pretend Hart or Hollings would’ve beaten Reagan or Gore would’ve beaten Bush. Or that McGovern in 84 or Paul Simon in 88 would’ve won it from the left. It was a far more conservative electorate. Nixon and Reagan were pretty unbeatable in their re-elections.
Scoop Jackson 76′ is an interesting road not traveled since he was a liberal on single payer and civil rights but a hawk on Russia. So he’d have been far more effective at Carter at using the majorities to pass progressive economic legislation while far less ineffective on managing foreign affairs. But the post-Vietnam post-Watergate electorate didn’t want a hawish insider. Similar currents doomed Clinton in both of her runs. 2004 was the best year for her and she would’ve beaten Bush.
Andrei Radulescu-Banu says
> Few progressives in Massachusetts remember Dukakis as a liberal firebrand.
This just goes to prove that ideological purity is in the eye of the beholder. A centrist can be a progressive, and a progressive can be centrist.
The original meaning of the name, ‘progressive’, in the 1900s, was that of a movement to remove the politics out of politics – in favor of encouraging good governance, open process, informed by experts, and considering each issue on the merits.
People forget this. Mondale’s opening line about raising taxes was all about the balanced budget amendment he supporter thanks to his advisor Al drom. Picking Ferraro, the other mistake, was an attempt to link the party to upwardly mobile professional women on abortion and her hawkishness on the Contras. His advisors included future neocons like Charles Krauthammmer and liberal hawks like Madeline Albright.
Dukakis ran as a centrist technocrat who balanced budgets, cut deficits, and replaced factory jobs with information ones with the “Massachusetts Miracle”. He wasn’t a flaming liberal until Lee Atwater lied about his record and turned him into one.
Sorry, was supposed to be an up vote.
Also, “Don’t Blame Us” by Lily Geismer is a good book about suburban liberalism in Massachusetts, including Dukakis’ place in that ecosystem.
Maybe as a book club. Too many liberals here are like the ones in her book.
As an aside, great idea. Pick a book, a month later start a thread specifically about the book.
(If this reply turns out weird, it’s because I’m still trying to figure out the new comment system).
I’m down for a book club, I’ve already been working on a Mass. political history reading list.
He said so himself toward the end, too late to undo the Atwater damage by really owning it. Mondale was cut from the same cloth as fellow Minnesotan Hubert Humphrey and was put on the ticket by Carter to balance HIS centrism. I’m not sure how much Mondale could have helped himself. Ferraro was a deliberate attempt to make a splash by tapping a woman, and Mondale’s enthusiastic acknowledgement of his plan to raise taxes, while maybe fiscally responsible, played to stereotype perfectly.
Andrei Radulescu-Banu says
Where is the evidence that Moulton is a big business stooge? And that he moves the party to the right?
More accurately, this is a movement against the gerontocracy heading the Dem party in the US House and Senate.
It’s new kids on the block against the old timers. The old timers get just as much if not more money from big businesses.
The work with the New Dem coalition is some evidence.
I thought this was funny from wiki on the Senate version of the New Dem Coalition:
Not exactly the progressive caucus.
Other evidence includes some recent votes in which he broke with the party (and almost entirely with the MA delegation) on some amendments related to weakening investor protections in the JOBS Act, he supported the Investment Advisors Modernization Act, which allows PE and Hedge funds to avoid some disclosures, and supported the Mortgage Choice Act of 2015, which weakened some aspects of Dodd-Frank.
He is heavily funded by Wall St money and charter school backers, including enough to make the “Fab Five” list for being one of the five people in Congress most reliant on Wall Street money. He also claimed to be “a pretty centrist guy” before running.
He’s strong on some issues, but he does not lean in on consumer protection or worker concerns.
I was on the Moulton bandwagon for a while but it was getting to be an uncomfortable ride. Seeing him as the star attraction of this event was a bump in the road that got me off the wagon.
I even received a cheerful email from his office,inviting me to attend. I replied that the cost of $1,100 for reception and dinner was about equal to a month’s take home pay for me. I asked how they could expect me to pay so much?
A comment regarding the Middle Class From the web site of the New Dem Pac :
Industrial-era policies won’t work in an office economy – that’s why we support policies that will equip Americans with the skills and resources they will need to adapt and thrive in an economy filled with fierce competition from all corners of the globe.
I emailed Moulton’s office and asked what, specifically, were the “policies”that worked for labor in a factory but cannot work in an office? In addition, I pointed out that the Middle Class is alive and well in Canada, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries. They are on the same globe as the American working class – why are they thriving while we are not?
Mr. Moulton’s office did not respond.
Where is the evidence that Moulton is a big business stooge? Follow the money, as always, follow the money.
The working class in the USA is not doing poorly because of the “fierce competition from all corners of the globe”. It is doing poorly because of the policies put in place by our government over the past 50 years, policies put in place by most Republicans and far too many Democrats like Mr. Moulton.
Andrei Radulescu-Banu says
I strongly dislike political events with $1000 reception and dinner fees. The announcement, however, says that $1000 is a suggested (not required) contribution.
The best way to check is to show up uninvited.
I am not sure about Moulton being against consumer protection. He seems to speak common sense to issues. And he’s got a track record of being a straight shooter.
The assertion that Moulton is a big business, anti-consumer stooge rings hollow to me.
After telling him I could not afford it, his office could have reached out and told me “That’s okay, come anyway and give what you can.” I’ve had this happen very often since I lost my job 18 months ago. Not this time.
I don’t know about his stand on consumer protection, but he is part of this New Dem Pac and they are silent on using the power of the government to distribute the wealth in more equitable way, silent on a living wage, silent on health care as a right, silent on workers rights. They rely on the tried and failed neo-liberal stuff.
Been there, done that. It does not work.
He has at least four votes in which he broke with the party (sometimes only being one of 15 or so Dems) to weaken consumer protections. I wouldn’t say he is anti consumer protection, but there is little in his record to indicate that he would in anyway be considered a champion on these issues – certainly not like Warren, and not even like Capuano, McGovern, or Clark.
In his young career (also, remember that he had floated running as a centrist independent in the election before he ran) he seems to be exactly the DLC or New Dem type – “pro-growth” and moderate on economic issues and progressive on social issues. It’s not my favorite brand of Democrat but I’m fine with it being part of the Big Tent. I’m not fine with looking to that strain of Democrat to be leading the path forward. For example, I LOVE Booker when he speaks on social justice issues. He is incredible. On Wall Street or pharma – Nah.
If only people like Booker (and Democrats in general) realized that they can win elections by having a strong message and not a lot of money to spend.
I’d like to call every Democrat running for office and remind them that Trump spent half of what Clinton spent and he won. He spent half.