The art of the possible


Politics is the art of the possible.

It’s not enough for Democrats to simply oppose the policies of Donald Trump, they need to offer alternatives. And, while the marches and protests organized by the DNC and supporting NGO’s are great, there needs to be a series of proposals articulating progressive economic and social policies.

Former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, wrote an essay recently where he made a similar point.

“Democrats have to fight like hell against the regressive policies Trump wants to put in place, but Democrats also need to fight for a bold vision of what the nation must achieve—like expanding Social Security, and financing the expansion by raising the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes; Medicare for all; and world-class free public education for all. And Democrats must diligently seek to establish countervailing power—stronger trade unions, community banks, more incentives for employee ownership and small businesses, and electoral reforms that get big money out of politics and expand the right to vote.”

In articulating a bold new vision we should acknowledge Modern Monetary Theory(MMT), where the US, as a sovereign issuer of its own currency, can afford to fund progressive policies, like infrastructure spending, without being constrained by taxes or deficits. For a much more detailed explanation of MMT, see this talk by Stephanie Kelton at New Economic Perspectives. (Warning! It will blow your mind.)

One of the most infuriating statements by President Obama was his insistence that the US was like a household and must tighten its belt during hard times. The opposite is true, and the statement belied his actions when it came time to bail out the banks. To test this hypothesis ask yourself a question. Where did the money, that Obama used to bail out Wall Street, come from?

To hide the fact that they have embraced capital and abandoned labor, the Democrats have substituted identity politics. Until the disastrous campaign of Hillary Clinton, this bait-and-switch has succeeded brilliantly. Millions of liberals have completely bought the story that “social justice” campaigns on behalf of marginalized social groups were the defining feature of liberalism and consequently, the Democratic Party.

The darkly humorous aspect of US politics is the inevitable blowback that accompanies devious schemes. According to writer John Michael Greer, identity politics perversely helped birth the alt-right movement.

“The Alt-Right scene that’s attracted so much belated attention from politicians and pundits over the last year is in large part a straightforward reaction to the identity politics of the left. Without too much inaccuracy, the Alt-Right can be seen as a network of young white men who’ve noticed that every other identity group in the country is being encouraged to band together to further its own interests at their expense, and responded by saying, “Okay, we can play that game too.”

In my opinion, the politics of identity are a dead end, allowing our bi-partisan political elite to divide and rule, while the masters of the universe laugh all the way to Davos.

Meanwhile, the reason that Bernie Sanders campaign elicited such an outpouring of support among young people is that he offered up concrete policies to make their lives better. Alternatively, the reason for the Democrats recent travails, is that they have, since Carter, abandoned labor and embraced neoliberalism, which is effectively capital. For an overview of this, see Thomas Frank’s, Listen Liberal.

Sanders failed political campaign offers a template for progressive economic policies that will improve Americans lives. Good policies make good politics. If Democrats want to regain power they will need to offer up authentic, universal policies instead of warmed over neoliberalism and identity politics.

Reich ends his essay on the Democrats shortcomings with a warning.

“The Party must change from being a giant fundraising machine to a movement. It needs to unite the poor, working class, and middle class, black and white—who haven’t had a raise in 30 years, and who feel angry, powerless, and disenfranchised. If the Party doesn’t understand these seven truths and fails to do what’s needed, a third party will emerge to fill the void. Third parties usually fail because they tend to draw votes away from the dominant party closest to them, ideologically. But if the Democratic Party creates a large enough void, a third party won’t draw away votes. It will pull people into politics. And drawing more people into politics is the only hope going forward.”

Let’s get busy.

Update: There is enormous opportunity for organization at the state and local level. Voter registration should be a key area of concern. Since Obama won his first term in 2008 the Democrats have lost 1,030 seats across the board. This includes seats in state’s houses and senates, governorships, and Congress.

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