By Matt Stoller, who writes for Salon and has contributed to Politico, Alternet, The Nation and Reuters. You can reach him at stoller (at) gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @matthewstoller. Originally published at Medium
A book review of “The New Democrats and the Return to Power” by Al From
There is no end to the whining from Democratic activists after a rotten election, and no end to finger pointing after legislative defeats on contentious questions. This story in the Washington Post is the tell-all of the 2014 wipe-out, featuring the standard recriminations between the President and Congress. In it, the chief of staff of the Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, David Krone, attacks the White House. “We were never going to get on the same page… We were beating our heads against the wall.” The litany of excuses is long. Democratic candidates were arrogant. The White House failed to transfer money, or stump effectively. The GOP caught up in the technology race, or the GOP recruited excellent disciplined candidates.
Everything is put on the table, except the main course — policy. Did the Democrats run the government well? Are the lives of voters better? Are you as a political party credible when you say you’ll do something?
This question is never asked, because Democratic elites — ensconced in the law firms, foundations, banks, and media executive suites where the real decisions are made — basically agree with each other about organizing governance around the needs of high technology and high finance. The only time the question even comes up now is in an inverted corroded form, when a liberal activist gnashes his or her teeth and wonders — why can’t Democrats run elections around populist themes and policies? This is still the wrong question, because it assumes the wrong causality. Parties don’t poll for good ideas, run races on them, and then govern. They have ideas, poll to find out how to sell those ideas, and run races and recruit candidates based on the polling. It’s ideas first, then the sales pitch. If the sales pitch is bad, it’s often the best of what can be made of an unpopular stew of ideas.
Still, you’d think that someone, somewhere would have populist ideas. And a few — like Zephyr Teachout and Elizabeth Warren — do. But why does every other candidate not? I don’t actually know, but a book just came out that might answer this question. The theory in this book is simple. The current generation of Democratic policymakers were organized and put in power by people that don’t think that a renewed populist agenda centered on antagonism towards centralized economic power is a good idea.
The book, however, is not written by a populist liberal reformer. It’s written by one of the guys who put the current system in place. And it’s a really good and important story. The New Democrats and the Return to Power is the book, and Al From is the man who wrote it. From was one of the key organizers of this anti-populist movement, and he lays out his in detail his multi-decade organizing strategy and his reasons for what he did.
Now, of course it’s an exaggeration to say that Al From created the culture of the governing class in the modern Democratic Party. But not by much. Don’t take it from me, take it from Bill Clinton. In 2000, at Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s Hyde Park residence, Clinton said of From, “It would be hard to think of a single American citizen who, as a private citizen, has had a more positive impact on the progress of American life in the last 25 years than Al From.” Clinton overdoes the rhetoric sometimes, but not in this case. From helped put Clinton in the White House.
So who is Al From?
Most people who consider themselves good Democrats don’t know the name Al From, though political insiders certainly do. He was never a cabinet member. He worked in the White House, but in the 1970s, for as a junior staffer for Jimmy Carter’s flailing campaign to stop inflation. He’s never written a famous tell-all book. He hasn’t ever held an elected office, his most high-profile role was as a manager of the domestic policy transition for the White House in 1992, which took just a few months. He doesn’t even have a graduate degree. From fits into that awkward space in American politics, of doer, organizer, activist, convener, a P.T. Barnum of wonks and hacks. Such are the vagaries of American political power, that those who are famous are not always those are the actual architects of power. Because From, a nice, genial, and idealistic business-friendly man, is the structural engineer behind today’s Democratic Party.
To give you a sense of how sprawling From’s legacy actually is, consider the following. Bill Clinton chaired the From’s organization, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and used it as a platform to ascend to the Presidency in 1992. His wife Hillary is a DLC proponent. Al Gore and Joe Biden were DLCers. Barack Obama is quietly an adherent to the “New Democrat” philosophy crafted by From, so are most of the people in his cabinet, and the bulk of the Senate Democrats and House Democratic leaders. From 2007–2011, the New Democrats were the swing bloc in the U.S. House of Representatives, authoring legislation on bailouts and financial regulation of derivatives. And given how Democrats still revere Clinton, so are most Democratic voters, at this point. The DLC no longer exists, but has been folded into the Clinton’s mega-foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, a convening point for the world’s global elite that wants to, or purports to want to, do good. In other words, it’s Al From’s Democratic Party, we just live here.
So From has done us all a favor by writing his memoirs. Unlike most political biopics, which are often of the ‘kiss and tell’ variety and designed to sell books and settle scores, this book seems written by a man who cares more about ideas than personalities. He doesn’t pull punches, because he’s not a particularly high-profile figure. I spent some time with From, and while he still has strong feelings towards the Democratic Party, he seems to have no particular interest in the current President. In other words, the story he tells is believable. So if you want to know why America is governed the way it is, this story matters.
The book is loosely divided into three parts, which mirror the shift in the Democratic party itself as baby boomers gradually reorganized it into what it is today. The first was From’s formative political years, from the late 1960s civil rights era to the 1970s inflationary failure of liberal governance. It then moves into the Democrats in the 1980s, when the political eddies of baby boom youth leadership solidified into a clear set of policy elites bent on wielding power. And finally, Bill Clinton took office in 1992, and completed From’s revolution.
Like most great political operatives, From is an idealist, and his formative experience as a young man, like most of the baby boomers he helped boost to power, was the Civil Rights movement in the South. His view of government comes from his experience working in Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs, programs that inspired him to reject New Deal policies (while retaining what he saw as its spirit of innovation) and reorganize the Democratic Party. It is surprising, and perhaps not believable in today’s Piketty-infused political economy, that business-friendly Democrats were descendants of the civil rights struggle. But it’s true. Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign absorbed Jesse Jackson’s “Rainbow Coalition” model of multi-cultural organizing, and was the first Presidential candidate to talk to gay rights in serious way. Clinton himself notes in the forward to the book that the founding of From’s organization, the DLC, happened in 1985 because of “young Democrats” who were “inspired by the Civil Rights Movement.” Drawn into politics through the Great Society and the 1972 McGovern campaign, these officials had experienced the campaigns of 1972, 1980, and 1984, Presidential elections in which Democrats lost 49 states. The combination of the campaigns for desegregation, and the brutal electoral shellacking of the political party associated with them, birthed this New Democrat philosophy.
In his first job in 1966, From himself worked for Sargent Shriver in the Office of Economic Opportunity program in the Deep South, the states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. Of his early lessons in welfare, From wrote, “Contrary to the conventional wisdom today, the War on Poverty was not a big welfare program. Just the opposite: it was an empowerment program. We hated welfare. In the Deep South, welfare was the tool of a controlling and detested white power structure.” For From, welfare, and eventually most government spending, meant injustice and dependency on the government dole. He relays examples, like Sunflower County, Mississippi, where he was supposed to investigate two competing Head Start programs. From reported back to his boss Shriver that the one with Federal funding was controlled by the white power structure, while the other was run on a volunteer basis by local blacks led by Fannie Lou Hamer. Shriver merged the two programs, forever changing the balance of power in that county. In Lowndes County, Alabama, From witnessed how anti-poverty programs created political power for blacks. He told a story of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee leader John Hulett being elected sheriff of the county just three years later after the Great Society came to their county, and how even George Wallace then courted him.
The anti-racist origins of the New Democrat philosophy matter because of what happened later. One of the key enemies of From’s rise in the 1980s was Jesse Jackson, and the DLC was often castigated as a Southern white men’s caucus because of their use of code words like ‘special interests’ when reflecting on party factions. But the stories From tells about the civil rights era have to do with the rise of black economic and political power as exemplified through a new class of black elected officials. His political organization in the 1980s included African-American politicians like Mississippi Congressman Mike Espy, who became the Secretary of Agriculture under Clinton, and Barbara Jordan, who had become famous for her work investigating Nixon. From told me that Barack Obama was identified early in his state legislative career as a rising star, though his record, From said, was that of a cipher. All of which is to say that the civil rights era birthed modern neoliberalism, not in the sense that it was an inevitable succession to it but in that those who run our neoliberal institutions got their inspiration from it. Clinton’s welfare reform in the 1990s was not a rejection of the civil rights movement, or at least Clinton and From don’t see it that way. It was a continuation of it.
This formative experience as a government-paid social organizer in the late 1960s then transitioned into the 1970s, and then into a confusing decade of policy experiments. From joined the staff of Senator Ed Muskie, the VP candidate in 1968 and a failed Presidential candidate in 1972. Muskie, From argues persuasively, was the political progenitor of Bill Clinton. In 1975, Muskie delivered a harsh rebuke to liberals, saying that “to preserve progressive governance, we had to reform liberalism.” Or less gently, “what’s so damn liberal about wasting money?” For three years, From worked for Muskie as he presented three key legislative proposals that became “important underpinnings of the New Democrat movement.”
The first was the Budget Act, which created the modern way that Congress spends money. Prior to the Budget Act, the Appropriations Committees simply spent a bunch of money, and the revenue committees (Ways and Means in the House, Finance in the Senate) brought in a bunch of tax revenue, with no overall planning to match up the two numbers or set priorities. The Budget Act created a Budget Committee, which forced the two committees to work together under broad government-wide caps. This institutional change made it harder to spend money on social programs, and has been used to implemented austerity policies for decades. Muskie reformed the process by which the government spent money, and in doing so, plugged up the mechanism that had been used by liberals to finance their government programs. It was a straight anti-New Deal institutional innovation.
The second and third bills, though politically significant, never became law. These were the Sunset Act, which would have forced every government program to end after four years unless Congress affirmatively renewed it, and the Countercyclical Revenue Sharing. This act would have automatically sent money to cities in times of recession, and automatically cut it in boom times. It was similar to the Federal Reserve in moving fiscal policy out of the realm of politics, though not as drastically. Both suggested aspects of what was to come — a government which would have to justify every penny of spending, and power moved out of democratic and into the technocratic realms.
From then joined the Carter administration working under deregulation czar Alfred E. Kahn. He describes the White House as something of a horror show in terms of its approach to inflation and the failure of productivity growth in the American economy. One story illustrates the incompetence of Carter’s regime. “I went to Alfonso McDonald, the White House staff director, to urge him to have the president publicly call out Mobil Oil as John Kennedy had blasted the leaders of the steel industry for raising their prices against the public interest in 1962,” he writes. “McDonald told me that I was plain wrong. Instead, he said, we should bend the guidelines to find Mobil Oil in compliance. “That way,” he said, “people will know the president’s program is working.” “You’re out of your mind,” I responded, “all people have to do is to fill up their tank and they’ll know the president’s program is not working.”
This experience convinced From, and many others in the Democratic Party, that “the Democrats had run out of ideas,” an experience confirmed by the 1980 election which turned Jimmy Carter out of office and wrecked the Democratic establishment. Though he did not support or like Reagan’s policies, this political shift suited From’s career, as he continued to expand his network of politicians who thought that the Democrats were in trouble and in need of reinvention.
From was then recruited by an old Louisiana politician, Gillis Long, as the executive director of the House Democratic Caucus. A conservative Southerner with strong partisan instincts, Long “was, in many ways, the godfather of the New Democrat movement.” From drove caucus strategy for a group of House Democrats who were scared in the face of a Reagan administration with deeply reactionary ideas, wounded by horrible election results, and confused by a country they did not understand. A group of young spitfires, “led by Tim Wirth and Dick Gephardt, and including Al Gore, Geraldine Ferraro, Martin Frost, Les Aspin, Tony Coelho, and many others,” got what was going on and began a crusade to resurrect the party. They formed the “Committee on Party Effectiveness”, producing reports for the Democratic caucus centered on repositioning Democratic Party’s vision of political economy. Government would focus on economic growth, fostering the private sector, and would no longer try to pick winners and losers. Antagonism towards business power would be replaced by public-private partnerships, rhetoric about opportunity, and a focus on high technology entrepreneurship. This group, sometimes known as “Atari Democrats” was influential — in 1984, Mondale sent his campaign chairman, Jim Johnson (who later ran Fannie Mae, sat on Goldman’s board, and organized Obama’s VP search committee), as well as his campaign manager Bob Beckel (yes, the Fox News guy), to learn about this new political agenda Gillis Long had put together.
But Mondale was never sold, and the way From tells it, he was too wedded to the ‘special interests’ in the party to challenge Reagan among voters tired of brittle bureaucratic redistributionist pro-government Democrats. Gary Hart, though more of a DLC type politician, lost the primary to Mondale. And thus the Democrats suffered another crushing defeat, and another signal they needed to ditch the New Deal. After the 1984 election, the group of politicians and operatives convinced From that he had to organize an independent policy and political arm dedicated to resurrecting the Democratic Party. The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) was born.
Ironically, for a Democrat who believed in reducing the power of government, From had always worked as a public servant. But once he filed the incorporation papers for the DLC (with Bob Bauer, later White House Counsel for Obama), he was on his own. Still, as an idealist, From says he “made sure that only our true believers set the agenda, not financial contributors or even the politicians who joined for political cover.”
The DLC was controversial from the start, both because it was competitive with existing party institutions and because the existing party establishment did not agree with this new agenda. The DLC was called the “southern white boys’ caucus”, and Jesse Jackson and populist Senator Howard Metzenbaum, both called it the “Democrats for the Leisure Class.” From mediated this anger by appointing a man with a conciliatory personality, Dick Gephart, as the DLC’s first chairman. While controversial, the DLC was also spectacularly successful at placing itself in the center of the party. Groups of DLC politicians dubbed “the cavalry” traveled around the country to talk to reporters, activists, and operatives about what they were doing and what the Democrats needed to do to be successful. Their message was, well, “change and hope.” Arizona Governor and later Clinton cabinet member Bruce Babbitt explained it as such. “We’re revolutionaries. We believe the Democratic Party in the last several decades has been complacent. . . . We’re out to refresh, revitalize, regenerate, carry on the revolutionary tradition.” It was immediately successful among media elites — the Washington Post’s David Broder headlined his column: “A Welcome Attack of Sanity Has Hit Washington.”
Over the course of the late 1980s, the DLC continued its attack on the orthodoxy of the populism that had residual power in the party. The DLC’s Chairman, Virginia Senator Chuck Robb, said it clearly in an influential speech during this period. “The New Deal consensus which dominated American politics for 50 years has run its course.” Economic growth, not redistribution or getting in the way of corporate power, was now on the menu. The DLC attacked all facets of policymaking, setting up a think tank called the Progressive Policy Institute (because From was tired of being called conservative) and hosting forums on poverty, welfare and crime with liberals like New York Governor Mario Cuomo. PPI and the DLC pushed globalization, the shareholder revolution, and reforms in entitlements like Social Security and Medicare (initially pressing to link their growth to productivity growth).
The DLC group is sometimes portrayed as a pro-Wall Street set of lobbyists. And From did recruit hedge fund legends like Michael Steinhardt to fund his movement. But to argue these people were corrupt or motivated by a pay to play form of politics is wrong. From is clearly a reformer and an ideologue, and his colleagues believed they were serving the public interest. “Make no mistake about it,” wrote From in a memo about his organization’s strategy, “what we hope to accomplish with the DLC is a bloodless revolution in our party. It is not unlike what the conservatives accomplished in the Republican Party during the 1960s and 1970s.”
One of the foundational policy pushes of the DLC was a national service program that would allow young people to pay for college — a watered down version of this became Americorps. The idea was to inspire a sense of the common good, and mutual and reciprocal obligation. Today we may see a financialized economy, but that should not obscure that this was a reformist movement.
In 1988, Democrats suffered yet another defeat as the bloodless Michael Dukakis once again led the party off a cliff. Throughout the 1980s, in both the 1984 and 1988 Presidential race, From relays how Jesse Jackson’s primary campaign efforts caused huge problems for the Democrats. DLC allies like Barbara Jordan tried to warn Jackson to hold off, but he would not. Jackson ran a strong and under-appreciated campaign in 1988, a strong voice for what From saw as “the old liberalism” in the Democratic Party.
In 1992, From finally had the candidate he had long sought in Bill Clinton, and Clinton managed to overcome the challenge of Jackson by co-opting him. And finally, with Bill Clinton taking the helm of the DLC, From had his winner.
What attracted From to Clinton was his charm, ability, and willingness as Governor of Arkansas to take on the powerful Arkansas Education Association through policies like school choice. From liked attacking liberal sacred cows, and he pursued politicians willing to do so. As just one example, he talked about how the DLC’s think tank, the PPI, released its first paper criticizing the minimum wage in favor of the Earned Income Tax Credit. From saw this as a revolution against orthodoxy, and in Clinton found a partner willing to lead his top-down revolution into the White House.
The dry seduction of Bill Clinton by From was an interesting aside, because it speaks to Hillary Clinton’s recent gaffe of arguing the couple was dead broke after leaving the White House. When Bill Clinton first discussed leading the DLC, he was trying to figure out if he could chair the organization while Arkansas Governor. That office was the lowest paid Governorship in the country, at $35,000 a year in salary. After deferring the decision of whether to chair the DLC, he finally told From, “If I don’t run for reelection, then I’m going to have to make at least $100,000 a year.” From offered to pay it, and the deal was done. Personal wealth, and the opportunity cost of politics, was apparently never far from his mind.
The dynamics of the 1992 occupy a good chunk of the book. In Clinton’s last year as Chairman of the DLC, he had scheduled a dinner with Ross Perot, where Perot made it clear he could not support George H.W. Bush. But Perot, who was so straight laced he fired employees for “wearing tasseled shoes,” would not support Clinton. The narrative of the race, and then Clinton’s Presidency, was that Clinton would veer towards the hated special interests on the Democratic left, and begin to suffer. Then From would step in with a memo, or advice, and Clinton would proceed to reclaim the mantle of reform. This happened during the race, and it happened after the Republicans took Congress in 1994.
From had three formal positions with Clinton. He was Clinton’s personal representative to the platform committee in 1992, he headed the domestic policy transition team, and he was a lobbyist for NAFTA in 1993 (his only time as a registered lobbyist). At the platform committee, From wrote a platform that called for a “revolution in government to take power away from entrenched bureaucracies and narrow interests in Washington and put it back in the hands of ordinary people by making government more decentralized, flexible, and accountable and by offering more choices in public services.” Clinton’s campaign was run on this theme, along with a dialogue on race, which had been injected into politics because of the Rodney King trial and the riots in Los Angeles. How NAFTA played in the race in 1992 was conspicuously absent from the book.
When Clinton took office, he did seek change, but did not at first succeed. “For his first two years,” wrote From, “he would be defined by the congressional Democrats he came to Washington to change.” That is, with one exception — the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. As From wrote in a memo to Clinton in his first term, “Of all the opportunities you have this fall, NAFTA presents the greatest. Passing NAFTA can make your presidency. NAFTA presents both an economic and political opportunity….I can’t tell you how much better it would make your life and how much it would strengthen your presidency for you to beat [David] Bonior and organized labor on NAFTA. That would reestablish presidential leadership in the Democratic Party, something that hasn’t happened since 1966.”
From had an institutionalist perspective on NAFTA. He believed in free trade, but he also believed in Presidential primacy over the legislature. “Politically, a victory on NAFTA would assert your leadership over your own party by making it clear that you, not the Democratic leadership in Congress or the interest groups, set the Democratic Party’s agenda on matters of real national importance.” You can hear echoes of Obama, and the broad Democratic party, in its collective disdain towards Congress. That is one consequence of From’s revolution, a shift of legitimacy away from the legislature.
From worked with Bob Rubin, Bill Daley, and Rahm Emanuel to run a campaign to pass NAFTA. Since rolling labor and crushing the left was his favorite activity, From jumped into this feet first. He registered as a lobbyist, talked to members on the Hill, and traveled nationwide to do public and media events on behalf of the agreement. It worked, and in his view, set the stage for the rest of Clinton’s term.
The Democrats lost Congress in 1994, a result of insufficient hewing to the DLC’s policy ideas by Bill Clinton and members in Congress. The American public punished Democrats for pushing gays in the military, a health care bill, lack of welfare reform, insufficient attention to crime, and a lack of spending cuts. But despite the loss, Clinton at a DLC gala argued that “more of the DLC agenda was enacted into law and will make a difference in the lives of the American people than almost any political movement in any similar time period in the history of the United States.” From agreed — “DLC ideas — national service, community policing, and the expanded earned income tax credit — had become law. He had pushed reinventing government against opposition inside his administration and Congress, and he had rolled over the congressional Democrats on NAFTA.”
It was not a main focus of the book, but Clinton also used DLC ideas earlier pushed by Chuck Robb to change the view of the Democratic Party towards corporate power. The role of government was to help corporations — “we will support your efforts to increase your profits — they’re good” said Clinton, while asserting he would hold them accountable for being good corporate citizens. It was a vision of political economy at odds with a more traditional populist orientation.
Towards the end of Clinton’s Presidency, as more and more DLC ideas were enacted into law, the organization went global. Third war leaders from around the world, from Britain’s Tony Blair to “Germany’s Schroeder, Chile’s Lagos, and South Africa’s Mbeki” worked to create a “progressive manifesto defining their common progressive approach to governance.” The New Democrat philosophy was everywhere, the true legacy of the New Democrat movement.
After Clinton’s time in office, Al From gradually receded from political influence. The 2000s were a time of Republican dominance, and new DLC type groups like Third Way took over his organizational duties. I got the sense that From considers his work done. From is now a consultant for business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and he hews to aggressive policy ideas. He believes, for example, that “we need to follow the New Orleans model in every major city and make every school a charter school or charter-like school. Rather than have schools run by overstaffed, costly, and sclerotic school administrations, every school should be put on a five-year charter or performance contract.” But these ideas are not new, they are what has animated his entire life.
As he put it, “The harsh reality of the New Deal era — the nine elections between Roosevelt’s in 1932 and Johnson’s in 1964 — was that it was the anomaly, not the norm.” Economist Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” makes a similar claim about these years. From saw himself as an engineer of a Democratic electoral coalition that could live outside these exceptional circumstances.
Today, From’s and Clinton’s political children are everywhere. To pick a random state, Rhode Island, financier Gina Raimondo is now Governor, and Clinton advisor Ira Magaziner’s son Seth Magaziner is now the state Treasurer. Most senior advisors in the Obama White House were trained in the Clinton White House. Institutionally, the party is dominated by a DLC approach to the legislature where the Presidency is utterly dominant. Even when the Democrats won majorities in the House and Senate from 2007–2011, they looked almost entirely to leadership from the White House. This is in stark contrast to the New Deal era, when legislative initiatives often came from Congress (as did oversight). The DLC approach to governing, which leads to concentrations of economic power in the private sector and concentrations of power in the White House, is simply what the American public now thinks is the system. There is no organized competition to the DLC, which is why its political heirs still hold power domestically and globally despite bailouts and corruption. That is the strength of the architecture From helped create.
In 2000, Bill Clinton spoke of the massive influence of this single private citizen. The President, while certainly willing to grant rhetorical flourishes to those who do not deserve them, was in this case not exaggerating. The two men — From and Clinton — really have carved out the political, financial, and rhetorical space in which most elected Democrats flourish. And that’s where they are still flourishing.
The book is not complete. I did not quite buy how From describes the leadership of old liberals such as Jesse Jackson. Jackson was just as much a baby boomer and in some ways a neoliberal as well. He and Coretta Scott King had actually fought over political ideology in the 1970s, with King arguing Jackson was too much of a ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ individualist. Jackson changed throughout the 1980s as the new reality of the political economy of Reagan’s America took shape, and the contours of that shift are not described. Throughout the book, in fact, From conflates different opponents into a vague generalized ‘special interests’ type moniker, without ever really defining what he opposed except for electoral defeat. From seems mostly guided by electoral success, as perhaps someone who cares about political rhetoric would. Even so, there are important deals left out of the narrative. The DLC emerged into a favorable atmosphere. There were bitter labor protests in the early 1980s against Reagan’s cuts and his aggressive campaigns against unions, but these are not mentioned at all. And as described in the important book Right Turn, the DNC Chairman from 1981–1984, superlawyer Charles Manatt, cut a deal with business elites and the waning labor movement to change the financing of the Democratic Party. Democratic caucus Chairman Gillis Long also was the mentor for Tony Coelho, who according to the seminal 1980s book Honest Graft was a key engineer for constructing the current business-friendly approach to fundraising and candidate recruitment. Ralph Nader pins the change in the party on Coelho alone.
I also felt there was never a good definition of the old ideology From was opposing. This is a very common problem in slippery New Democrat rhetoric. It’s reformist rhetoric, but without explicitly stating that it seeks to centralize economic power and organize itself around technocratic and anti-democratic structures. Still, it’s an important book and an important story. If you want to know why the Democratic Party behaves the way it does, recognize that behind its habits, customs, beliefs, and culture are organizers with strong beliefs, a rich history, and ideas. We’re just starting to learn the history of that period when the party really changed. What’s fascinating is how the anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements, commonly seen as exertions of left-wing political power, turned into the modern Democratic Party elite of bankers, venture capitalists, and technology entrepreneurs talking about the need for revolutionary and disruptive change. And they got their revolution.
Democrats faced a shellacking in 2010. They were just defeated, again, up and down the ticket. It happened again in 2014. And while you might think that occupying the White House is some sort of palliative (and it is), recognize that the Republicans today occupy two thirds of state legislative seats. This is a country governed at a local and legislative level by deep conservatives. But if you expect changes in philosophy and behavior due to these losses, you’re going to have to do what Al From did. Which is, organize. And don’t just organize to put Democrats in power, organize around ideas the way that Al From did. From’s ideas were incredibly consequential, and they are today the basis for how the West is run.
For the most part, the only people who go into politics are sociopaths. I don’t think its possible to elect “better” sociopaths…
Well, at some point, maybe some of us non-sociopaths are going to have to fight back against the sociopaths (although Stoller probably wouldn’t characterize them that way). We need an army of public servants–i.e. people like Alayne Fleischmann and Edward Snowden–to start a political revolution. We need more people willing to say, “F*** it, the country is more important than whatever I’m doing with my individual life right now,” and take the leap into the cesspool of politics.
What we need is not pessimistic cynicism (says the eternal cynic), but agitation and truth telling. As Jim Hightower puts it, “The agitator is the thing in the washing machine that gets the dirt out.”
Speaking of…Matt, brother, where and when are you running for office? You’ve already got a base among your readers here and across the web…
On the like Snowden piece, I’ve been struck by how pro-system he is overall. Yes, he’s a whistleblower and he believes the government crossed the line but when I’ve listened to him, I often come away with is that he believes in the machine but its calibration is off. Recalibrate and he’d be absolutely fine with the machine.
Well, at some point, maybe some of us non-sociopaths are going to have to fight back against the sociopaths (although Stoller probably wouldn’t characterize them that way).
The ever confusing riddle of what motivates….
:-) Indeed, who can know for sure. But you didn’t answer my question, which I ask in earnest: any plans on running? Or, barring that, any ideas for organizing? Specifically, is the Dem party salvageable (my feeling is no).
i don’t think so, either. and it’s hard for me to credit the idealism of people who get so much money from the billionaires.
Actually, Stoller did characterize obama that way: I think it’s in this article http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/06/back-obama-the-cool-self-aware-irony-drenched-con-artist.html
Well worth reading.
yes, well worth a look back…from the post:
“But there is another narrative, a real narrative…Obama is the ultimate cynic, a dishonest, highly reactionary social and corporate ladder climbing con artist. Obama is the guy who calls a female reporter “sweety”, who plays poker with the guys, and who thinks that his senior advisor’s decision to cash out after making a “modest” salary of $172,000 at the White House is just natural. He’s the guy who used the rationale that he’s a father of two girls as to why he doesn’t want young women to have access to Plan B….He runs on populism with a worse record than George W. Bush on income inequality. His narcissism, and the post-modern ironic sense of self-awareness of how his narrative is put together and tended, is his defining character trait. It’s not just that he’s a liar. Lyndon Johnson was a liar, but LBJ lied us into a war in Vietnam as well as a war on poverty. FDR lied all the time, for good and ill. Obama’s entire edifice is based on lying almost entirely to help sustain his image, with almost no interest in sound policy-making. Obama understands the threat of climate change, but like the exceptional con artist he is, what happens to others he does not know, or what happens in the future, is irrelevant to him. He understands banking, and war, and women’s issues, and corruption and Citizens United. Like a great con artist, he has studied his mark, the American voter, and specifically the Democratic voter, and he understands which buttons to push.”
I see the same thing with Greenwald as well. Reforms, tweaks, but nothing ‘revolutionary’, if you please. :(
Yes, he’s a whistleblower and he believes the government crossed the line but when I’ve listened to him, I often come away with is that he believes in the machine but its calibration is off. Recalibrate and he’d be absolutely fine with the machine.
I think that’s where we’re at now. Can the machine be adjusted, does it need a major overhaul, or does it need to be replaced altogether? I’m in the latter camp.
I’m with you on this one, James.
Best i can tell, Snowden didn’t really get fired up until he discovered that the NSA was spying on the elite as well as the common Joe. While he may not be an out and out sociopath, he still seems to be enamored to the “American dream”.
Your army of non-sociopaths needs funding in order to get into the public eye and therein lies the problem. The money to mount a modern day campaign (millions of dollars) only comes from those who are deeply vested in continuation of the existing system and/or tweaking the existing system to create government controlled monopolies.
The People are not willing to fund political campaigns out of their own pockets, so The Owners of Capital are free to do so and get their preferred candidates elected.
This is a terrific background piece on how “the Democratic elites ensconced in the law firms, foundations, banks, and media executive suites” moved to dismantle the social and regulatory reforms of the New Deal and previous Democratic Party administrations under the tutelage of a consummate insider, Al From.
Like so many accounts of political change, however, Stoller’s review of From’s memoir attributes too much to the role of individuals without taking into account that construction of the new ideological framework and party structures – not only within the DP but also in European social democratic parties – was mostly owing to the decades-long decline in the economic weight and political influence of the trade unions resulting from globalization, tech change, and other factors.
The greatly altered balance of forces between capital and labour was inevitably reflected at the political level in these left-centre parties in the emergence of the Clintons, Blairs, Schroders, and Hollandes and their full abandonment of a shrinking trade union base in favour of an increasingly dominant professional and corporate wing out of whose ranks they emerged.
In large part, at least in Europe, because those “representing” labor do not have a background from a labor community.
I partly agree and partly disagree. I think that many others besides sociopaths enter politics, but that the sociopaths are more likely to win and will rise higher in the political hierarchies. The same is true of success at the high levels of big business and big religion.
Yes it is interesting from an evolutionary point of view. Obviously human societies would not work at all if most people were psychopaths. However as long as the percentage of a population who are psychopaths is fairly small psychopaths often do very well. Histroy shows that psychopaths tend to dominate leadership positions.
Psychopathy is an interesting example of an individual trait which is subject to positive selection as long as it is fairly uncommon but is subject to negative selection once it becomes sufficedntly common to collapse society. The expected pattern here would be to have long periods of psychopathy steadily increasing from an intial small amount to the point where it collapses society whereupon it decreases.
Bullshit. Very few sociopaths go into politics and some people in politics are absolutely dedicated saints (e.g. Lloyd Doggett).
Until you stop demonizing them, you are out of touch with reality. Politicians, even the awful ones, are people like the rest of us.
Yes and no. Robert Hare, an internationally renowned expert on the psychology of psychopaths (as far as I know, “psychopath” is a synonym for “sociopath”), estimates that 1% of the general population are psychopaths. He further estimates that about 4% of high level corporate executives are psychopaths. Probably a similar estimate could be made for high level politicians. However, I think that the apparent percentage of psychopaths at high levels in politics and big business would be higher than 4%, since non-psychopaths who observe the success of actual psychopaths will emulate some of the behaviors of the genuine psychopaths. Of course, that’s just speculation on my part.
Wall Street Psychopaths
Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy
A Blog about Evil, which hasn’t been updated for a while
“..behind its habits, customs, beliefs, and culture are organizers with strong beliefs, a rich history, and ideas.”
I suppose some kind of beliefs and ideology are necessary, but what happened to the grade school idea of checking your work. If you implement something like NAFTA, at some point it should become obvious that something went wrong – and maybe some of those strong beliefs need to be revised.
The Democratic Party has spent about 40 years refusing to look at the consequences of its policies. When they found out that something wasn’t working – like welfare – they fixed it by introducing the “man in the house” rule, destroying what had been a strong black reverence for marriage and family.
Over those same 40 years, Democratic policies like affirmative action made it possible for a few black entrepreneurs to make a buck as front men for white businessmen. The white guys that got frozen out of contracts by affirmative action learned to hate both blacks and Democrats. (If they didn’t already.)
And then we hear the echo: “why do they vote against their own interests”?
And the damn fool DLC types never make the connection. A Republican will screw you in the process of advancing his own interests. You can work with that. At least you know what he is trying to accomplish.
A Democrat will screw you while thinking he is doing you good.
I dare say, your view on affirmative action is a textbook example of why Dems are losing lower middle class non-minority voters.
Back in the days when I thought I was a progressive Democrat, I was in favor of affirmative action. After a while, I noticed that a lot of small businessmen refused to accept responsibility for other peoples problems, especially when the DLC apparatchiks were passing laws that required everyone else to pay prices they were unwilling to pay themselves. The guys who lost business haven’t forgotten – and their children haven’t forgotten. The only ones who forgot were the Democrats.
“And then we hear the echo: “why do they vote against their own interests”?
And the damn fool DLC types never make the connection. A Republican will screw you in the process of advancing his own interests. You can work with that. At least you know what he is trying to accomplish.
A Democrat will screw you while thinking he is doing you good.”
Yes, absolutely, Gerard. My own version of this, admittedly more crude:
The Republicans tell you they’re going to f**k you over, and then they f**k you over. The Democrats tell you they’re going to help you, and then they f**k you over.
Eventually, no matter who they are, you see it coming.
I wonder about this myself, even moreso with the “School Choice Movement” who have so far refused to recognize that their promises of educational panacea have not been bourne out. Indeed it is the height of sick irony to hear that From considers New Orleans a model since their shift was made overnight while most people were out and is in fact the opposite of a democratic decision and one that, since it took place, has not yielded any appreciable performance benefits.
Then again From is focused on elections. His goal as noted above is to form a solid party that can withstand unpopularity and, more importantly I suspect, finance itself for the campaigns. Seen in that light NAFTA and “School Choice” (not much of a choice if it is imposed on you) are winning strategies not because they improve lives but becuase they bring in the campaign dollars.
Until the party leaders either step down or rediscover who they are and why they should matter, all the messaging, technology and money in the world won’t translate into any meaningful “victories.”
Here’s an idea for the New New Democrats: tell the truth about why the ACA is rabidly the target of conservatives. It is the target of such vitriol because it eliminates job lock. Freedom of employment always has been an anathema to so-called “job creators” whose dirty secret is that talent is difficult to find and hire. The ACA leaves salary as the only bargaining chip in their arsenal for hiring and retaining talent. Their best employees will be tempted to leave, start their own companies, and compete with them in return. Instead, repeal of the ACA would keep employees dependent on a company’s insurance, afraid to leave for fear of their families and children losing coverage, and unable to start competing businesses that usually operate without income for the first couple years (and unable to pay the old private market extortionate health insurance rates or be denied for pre-existing conditions). A frontal, populist assault in favor of the ACA is needed to push back this hidden agenda.
I hate to burst your bubble, but the ACA is an absolute nightmare for self employed people or for people who have swings in their pay due to unemployment or a decline in hours, or variable and unpredictable hours. It presumes you can predict your income. I sure can’t.
And I personally know many people who are having to pay vastly more since the law changed, and these are mainly OLDER people who supposedly are being subsidized by younger people. If I didn’t have a grandfathered policy, I would have to leave NYC. I would not be able to afford the increases.
I’ve also spoken with people who have family members with pre-exisiting conditions and bought insurance, but are extremely ambivalent and almost didn’t, again because they found it to be so pricey that even with extensive number crunching, they weren’t sure they would come out ahead, even in a bad-case scenario (as in their specialists might not be covered, or if they went to the hospital, the facility would slip in someone not in their network, which happens often, and they’d not be covered for those charges). By contrast, I have yet to meet a single person who has told me they are happy with Obamacare.
All the people giving me these reports skew left in their political orientation.
Let me give you one example of how Obamacare is an exercise in looting. The US is the only advanced economy that recommends colonoscopies for everyone over 50. We do not have lower death rates from colon cancer to show for it. Why? For people who don’t have a risk factor (say family history), a cheap test, an annual occult fecal blood test, is just as good a diagnostic, and a ton less risky and invasive (did you know 15+% of endoscopes aren’t cleaned properly, for starters? And you do have the risk of bowel perforation)
So Obamacare gives you a free colonoscopy. Isn’t that great? Actually, no. If they find nothing in the test, it is indeed free. But it is standard practice in colonoscopies to snip any polyps they see. Most people have polyps. So that supposedly free colonoscopy winds up costing hundreds of dollars, often close to $1000. Obamacare deductibles are generally WAY over $1000, so that is all on your dime.
Yves, I asked Lambert in another thread: should we all therefore be rooting for the Republicans and their vows to “repeal Obamacare”? There’s no question re how awful the program is, and I can’t imagine “tweaks” that will improve it. Is letting the Republicans “succeed” the answer?
Didn’t the ACA finally take the form the (in)vested parties wanted in terms of financial flows? Both the D and R sheep herders basically got what they wanted didn’t they?
It’s just the rank & file of the two ideological ethers that come up short but still feel they have mutual opposing organizing themes to conflict about –the D sheep have something they generously label Affordable Care that they in candid moments concede maybe has just a few “operational issues” to sort out, and the R sheep can rally against it but never unwind because their ideological masters were ” in the fix”, as we say in Chicago, on how the monies go up.
The whole ACA political/legislative charade kinda reminded me of the old joke about the girl that allowed the boy to chase her until she finally caught him. Pubilc Option was the ablative shield that was consumed as this bit of legislative sausage entered the atmosphere at the wrong angle on it’s way to a hard landing with a DOA package.
It depends on your philosophical point of view towards the value of life. Republicans believe that human life only has value at the embryonic stage or when it creates revenue for owners of capital.
If you believe otherwise, then you have to continue to fight for the universal single-payer system that we should have gotten except that the ACA was the only politically feasible solution at this time. The people profiting from the health care industry are not going to simply lie down and let anyone disrupt their business model, they have too much money at stake. The ACA only got us halfway there, the rest of the trip will only be possible when enough of the country believes that all lives have value, not just the ones that are “productive”.
I never said the ACA was perfect. Indeed, universal coverage would have been preferable IMHO. Healthcare is not like buying other consumer items (but health insurance coverage could be in a fair market to agree with other replies). I am very disappointed, however, that no one addressed my main point that keeps getting buried in the story: the old system (which the GOP actually wants to go back to IMHO) supports job lock for all the reasons I stated. This is why the GOP hates the ACA. They want to repeal all of it (or deal it a fatal blow by “tweaking” it). Then they can get back to diddling and twiddling about so-called reforming healthcare with no movement whatsoever year, after year, after year… At least the Dems tried a constructive, progressive move forward, previously promoted by the right in a spirit of compromise. But we see where compromise gets you in the 21st century… Romney the Leaderless couldn’t even acknowledge his past accomplishment in this area.
Well it’s my understanding most employer “provided” plans are still better plans for less money, than most of the ACA plans, and this is more so the older you get (so that 60 year old isn’t necessarily going to retire even if they’ve done pretty well for themselves and otherwise could). And what if they earn a GOOD INCOME at their employer? If they manage to duplicate this as an entrepreneur they’ll be at lower end of ACA subsidies if not totally outside them. So it’s still economically rational in many ways to stay with the employer.
So purely on economic comparisons the being an employee often comes out ahead. Most probably don’t leave because they’re really not natural entrepreneurs, it’s a very risky path, with a very high risk of failure.
A tough reality check is most people make shtty entrepreneurs for a myriad of reasons. Just like everyone cant be a clarinet player.
The ones that actually try typically underestimate some fatal aspect of the rubiks cube of requirements to pull it off successfully . The failure rate doesn’t even reflect people that don’t get past fantasizing about being an entrepreneur.
1.) the perception of “job security”: A truism on this perception of risk abatement is that the only difference between permanent employees and temps is that the permanent employees don’t realize they are temps;
2.) The entrepreneurial types from the trades and professionals I observe that successfully strike out and achieve solidly successful ongoing enterprises are for the most part the people that would be able to secure a replacement job otherwise. So risk is heavily skewed towards those that fail as entrepreneurs then have to reenter the employment scene.
“supports job lock for all the reasons I stated”
Please explain why the GOP might have any concern about “job lock” when there is an excess laborpool in the market and their are endlessly simple ways to terminate long tenured employees when desired?
Seems to me contemporary corporate strategy in fact is to cull out long term employees, I see it regularly in my peer group that clung onto corporate jobs for there perceived “security”. The only people concerned about preserving “job lock” as far as I can tell are the long term employees , particularly the one’s with pre-existing conditions. I surely don’t see ACA as a solution here!
ACA is better tooled to capturing people that currently don’t have health insurance to pay up into an ineffective system rather than being cost center burdens in the emergency care infrastructure.
BTW, PM.. the graveyard is full of irreplaceable corporate talent.
I think it’s a great point about “job lock”. Thanks!
I am in no way admitting that I do this myself, however about the cost bizarre and gouging price structure of Obamacare: many people I know work under the table for most of their income and apply for as many government benefit programs as they can get on.
I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the concept that anyone would be dumb enough to actually pay for insurance or medical care, but I suppose that’s a result from growing up in a family where having enough money for food and rent at the end of the month was noteworthy achievement.
(sarcasm on) Let’s stamp out ALL fraud and abuse of the system regardless of their insignificant levels. Include corporate and farm welfare abuse while you’re at it. (sarcasm off) Another non-reponse to my salient point about job lock and the ACA.
By the way, the immigration debate: its not about illegals. It’s about the abuse of the H1-B visa that allow companies their cheap, talent from overseas. Silicon Valley just got caught with their hand in the cookie jar on this one but nothing but crickets from the media.
Yves, I like listening to you on Harry Shearer, but your failure to address the real reasons that conservatives hate the ACA is astounding.
You’re fears of job lock are beside the point. Most people, once they’ve got ANY full-time job, are not real keen to leave it, in this economic atmosphere. Universal health care would completely alleviate any “job-lock” problems. Single-payer isn’t “just as good” as mandated (crap) insurance, it’s far superior.
Failure to predict your income never stopped the mortgage market….
Yves: Glad that you mentioned the burden on the self-employed, who are too few in the USA to begin with. My plan was reformed into something that meant that many of us were thrown off. Many self-employed folks who I know were getting letters that their plans were canceled. So this business of “keep your plan, keep your doctors” was a load of crap. Further, the deductibles in the new plans are outrageous–and as commenters all over the place have been pointing out, once people figured out the deductibles and the large required out-of-pocket year year, they have been mightily annoyed, as they should be.
And wouldn’t it be great if everybody could be as lucky as you!
You may find your plan and network to be satisfactory, but I would not. As a fellow woman in her 50s, a tax attorney (as in high income, high tolerance for complexity and also a patient shopper) wrote, and I’ve heard similar comments from people over 40:
“You must be joking. In NY, all single people got shoved into networks. I pay $500/month for a network with no doctors I would ever use in it.”
And she’s serious about not using them. Even using a health care savings account, she estimates her medical costs per year at around $18,000, which is the $6000 for insurance she does not use, and the rest for doctors and tests at rack rates. She is probably a heavier consumer of medical services than most people but if you see an MD for a checkup and get some tests (a big blood workup and/or some heart tests), have routine dental checkups, get an annual eye exam, see an OB/GYN for a pap smear, and maybe see another specialist of sorts (I see a terrific chiropractor who is covered under my indemnity plan, she adjust all joints, not just the spine, and she would not be included in any Obamacare plan; quite a few other people see therapists or endocrinologists on a regular basis), it’s easy to get to over $6,000 of not covered expenses fast in NYC if you care about who you see. The only one on that list I might be willing to see in your network would be an eye doctor, even though my current eye doctor is terrific.
I must also point out that your COBRA’d policy probably provided for better geographic coverage too. My policy has paid for medical services in Australia (I lived there for two years), the UK, and Thailand.
Why is your lawyer friend paying the $500/month? Wouldn’t she be better off as a scofflaw?
And a question: how many people just paid the penalty? How many will next year?
Even better: how many refused to pay it? (This would require not getting a refund.)
She is on a payroll. So tell me how she can be a scofflaw. And most people prefer to be overwithheld, which means getting a refund, to being underwithheld, which means paying a penalty + interest.
And you may not have connected the dots, but at where her income is, buying the crap insurance is cheaper than the penalty.
A frontal “populist” assault to protect Obamacare??? Shirley, you jest…
Why would a populist movement demand to be forced into buying crappy health insurance (see Yves above, as to the crappyness, or check out this, or this or this)?
What we need is a concerted push to replace crappy Obamacare (which was designed by the Heritage Foundation, btw) with universal health care. Repeat after me: “health insurance is not health care.”
Health insurance is not health care.
(And I’ve been saying it since 1986.)
ACA is an abomination if you are self-employed. Anybody who has looked at an actual policy and had to use it knows as much. One of my friends was recently railroaded by it when his wife lost her job (and with it, their insurance). ACA did absolutely NOTHING to reform the rotten, bloated system we have. Sure, there are more people with insurance policies and really high deductibles, but those crappy options were already available in the marketplace for anyone who found it necessary to obtain one.
ACA is just another example of the best government money can buy.
This self-employed person agrees… although I am currently on a non-ACA COBRA plan which already is hard to afford, I was unable to find a plan on the federal exchange (I live in Florida) that was not as or more expensive premium-wise and included a deductible which made it potentially far more expensive. Staying with the COBRA was a better choice… not sure what I’m gonna do in March when it ends. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr………………………
You might want to consider the Freelancers Union. They’ve been filling this gap, fairly well, from what I can tell (at least relatively) for quite awhile now.
Best of luck.
I agree with the other comments above. The ACA is an abomination as a whole for a variety of reasons that have been well-documented here at NC in Lambert’s many reports. Having said that there are movements within the insurance industry that are attempting to develop a better system, according to a discussion I had with an HC provider friend last night. But it remains true that our system does and will keep costs much higher due to deep corruption within the system. We’ll see if they can reform themselves.
I disagree. ACA is a complete success for its designers. For Obama, a phony gold star in his “legacy.” For the AMA/hospital/insurance cabal, a way to enlarge and perpetuate the system that delivers sub-standard health care at costs 150-400% higher than other countries health care systems. The WHO ranks the US behind the recent narco-state Colombia, and only marginally better than Cuba, where per-capita incomes are only a few hundred dollars per month.
The second most expensive health care system in the world is that of the Netherlands. If the US merely emulated it, the savings would reportedly approach one trillion dollars per year.
Banger, private industries do not reform themselves, whether they are selling health insurance, pushing “legal” drugs, pedaling medical equipment, operating for-profit or “non-profit” hospitals. OR running the federal government.
The only repeal will be of the subsidies. Everything about the ACA is a corporate dream. Of course, they wrote the thing, so it had to be.
Good luck with your populist assault. My suggestion for creating your team of pitchforks would be to recruit within the insurance agencies and health care sector because they were the ones who successfully lobbied for the travesty behind closed doors while Congress put on a wonderous show. There were some “winners” in ACA. Those that were really sick and unable to get health insurance now have very expensive access. The under 26 set also got to stay on mommies and daddies plan which is good considering all the economy is creating is low wage no benefit jobs for these young adults to enter. Pretty much everyone else though has seen their health care coverage get worse. Those with no deductibles, saw the arrival of deductibles on top of premiums. Those with deductibles already saw higher deductibles on top of high premiums. The administration even admits that it’s goal isn’t to provide health care coverage with its “waiver” for the really poor. The goal was to provide insurance. Unfortunately affordable insurance does not equal affordable care. You can’t blame people for being angry when they find out that their $500 premium entitles them to almost nothing throughout the year because they’ve got a $6000 deductible(that’s an additional $500 a month of out of pocket that an individual would need to come up with hypothetically to actually cover CARE, not the maintenance of a bean counters job or an insurance execs padded income.) So NO, I don’t consider ACA a very good populist program.
This is great. Thank you.
Puts me in mind of the old saw about the Friends: They came to America to do good and ended up doing well.
It’s all about the lies. We were all lied to about Obamacare. We have all been lied to about the “economic recovery”. Even the low-information crowd are seeing through the BS now.
When the ruling class can not count on the respect of the ruled for compliance, then they will result to force. The respect is nearly gone.
And the force has already begun.
Net neutrality is the eventuality of that force. Eliminate channels of communication for people, and it becomes far easier to keep wool over the eyes.
What this article says to me is that anyone who says that certain people vote against their own interests is just nuts.Voting Democrat is hardly a pancrea.is also against most people’s own interests. Heck, on a certain level, voting Republican might actually more closely align depending on what individuals think those interests are.
After reading enough articles here, it seems to me that voting Democrat might even be worse as many ideas which are not in the 99.99% interest seem to start on the Democratic side of the aisle and then be used and amplified by the Republican side of the aisle. In other words, Democrats sow the seeds and tend the soil while they wait for Republicans to harvest the crop.
Wow. Just wow…
“From’s ideas were incredibly consequential…” and yet Stoller chooses, essentially, to ignore those consequences in favor of a “how to get elected” embrace of the loathsome author’s self-importance. From does not dare address honestly the results of his pernicious influence, outside the occasional electoral successes, for fear of landing squarely in the territory of its failure to secure anything resembling “important” advances in social justice or economic equality and Stoller, somewhat surprisingly, refuses to go there as well. Perhaps Stoller believes this is what a “review” should accomplish – a detached retelling of the book’s content and purported message absent a critical eye toward what is left untold. I beg to differ. Indeed, such a “review” is no different from the disastrous results of Big Media’s insistence that bad ideas and good ideas (likewise bad art and good art – see Jeff Koons) deserve equal time and equal respect. For Stoller, insidiously more so than even From (who at least has the self respect to have disappeared himself from politics), the optics are everything, the end all and be all.
“And don’t just organize to put Democrats in power, organize around (good) ideas the way that Al From did (not). From’s ideas were (perniciously) consequential, and they are today the basis for how the West is run (into the ground).” There, I fixed it for you, Matt…
And please don’t point to gay marriage or gay soldiers or the ascendance of women and minorities as legislators and leaders to back up the absurd idea of advancements in social justice. Gay weddings (and I am a gay man) have not queered the institution of marriage, rather, the institution of marriage has status-quoed, through triangulation, the gay rights movement away from standing for the basic human and economic rights (there can be no social justice without economic justice) that everyone, gay or straight, should enjoy. The “right to serve” has secured nothing more than a gay person’s ability to kill and be killed in our wars of choice and aggression (except, perhaps, for Chelsea Manning and look what happened to her, at the hands of a female jurist in uniform). And when it comes to women’s ascendance to the halls of power, well… Madeline (dead children are “worth it”) Albright, Diane (“my husband and I have made millions making and selling killing machines for our guys in the MIC”) Feinstein, Hillary (another dead-children-are “worth it” apologist for the Pentagon) Clinton, Nancy (“embrace the suck, impeachment is off the table, we need to pass the ACA to find out what’s in it, I can live with cuts to Social Security”) Pelosi (nevermind the newbee elected Republican and defeated Democratic women and what they stand for) which doesn’t even touch upon their international counterparts Angela “more austerity, bitte” Merkel, Marie “my daddy is a Nazi” LePen or precursors like Golda “there’s no such thing as Palestinians” Meir, Margaret “there’s no such thing as society” Thatcher, or even Imelda “I need more shoes” Marcos. It’s a long and devastating list. And whereas Yves proves time and time again that there are many brilliant women speaking truth to power, it remains a sad fact that speaking truth to power is the best way to be sidelined from it. As for minorities, well… Barack Obama and Eric Holder… ’nuff said.
I wish I had the patience to detail the failures resulting from the Democratic Party’s embrace of neo-liberalism, which seems to get Stoller’s nod of approval as well, but this blog has catalogued those “consequential” effects for a long time and more preaching to the choir would only be redundant.
Nothing in Stoller’s “review” reflects those facts on the ground so I can’t help but call bullshit, regardless of the many effective insight’s Stoller has shared in the past.
I think that’s a fair criticism. The problems were masked to a lot of people by the Clinton administration’s use of an equity bubble to juice economic growth. It’s only become broadly understood what the consequences are relatively recently, and From doesn’t take responsibility for the Obama administration.
Honestly, I did not expect agreement on your part and am humbly gratified. So If it wasn’t clear (sometimes seeing red reduces my ability to be less ornery)… I have greatly admired and learned a lot from your writings, especially given your “insider” bona fides (and that’s not a backhanded compliment). Thanks Matt.
Great comment! Just as the right used cultural issues to garner support of disaffected groups in its neighborhood so the DP used cultural issues like gay marriage and women’s rights to secure for itself a stranglehold on politics and, frankly, it worked! Gay people and women did fall for it. I have an old feminist friend who was a revolutionary back in the day,and has the scars to prove it, who will not consider doing anything against the DP because she fears that abortion will be aborted. There are women who will vote for Hilary because she is a woman–ignoring the neoliberalism and imperialism she espouses that as made life miserable for women–who still have to work two jobs–one at work and one at home. Somehow the corporate establishment happily made two-income household’s a necessity and women we see that as “progress.”
Agreed. And I appreciated Matt’s reply too. I still see the issue more in terms of our cultural embrace of liberalism in the form of personal freedom, and the abandonment of any sort of public life. This looked great to the children of the new middle class who went to college in the ’70s, and even many of their Greatest Generation parents who were enjoying their lifestyles, but it was always a dead end. We’re getting there now.
Democrats, Republicans – it’s all good cop, bad cop. And which one is good and the other bad depends upon your own perspective. If you can see past the theatre, neither is your friend and they are double teaming you to have their way / do you harm.
Agreed. And how do you defeat good cop/bad cop? Eliminate one and focus on the other.
There is no Democratic platform plank for Gay Marriage. Obama was not for it. You know, evolving. As for Gays in the military, they are already there and the real driving force is removal of this behavior as a source of blackmail by anyone, especially foreign services. The don’t ask don’t tell preceded Obama by decades and again, they are there already, and most people already in the service know who’s doing what to who. It’s not always a deep dark secret until someone wants to use it against you for some careerist reason or someone from outside the military wants to turn you into something useful for espionage. But all of that is to focus too narrowly on what it means to be Gay or female in this society.
We are all mortal, we need to live some where, and work somewhere in order to pay the rent, put food on the table and clothes on your back. Gay people can be denied housing by landlords because they are Gay in many localities. Passing fair housing laws is ultimately more important than all of the national attention paid to some soldier who is Gay. Passing these laws is hardly the bamboozling of America by offering identity politics instead of structural reforms to capitalism. Society at large created these social distinctions of transgressions, not some political adviser to democratic candidates looking for votes from feeble minded citizens. If the pressures and prejudices and obstacles constructed by society at large against various transgressive social identities did not exist, there would be little agitation over their rights in the first place. Denied housing, jobs, rights to benefits that everyone else gets or even paying extra high taxes in life and death due to inability to arrange for a simple marriage contract on file with city hall, and oh yeah, the regular beatings because you’re a fag or lezbo and won’t put out and on and on, military service is the least of any problem for Gays or females.
Feminism has a whole lot of political problems that stem from a lack of respect for older, read patriarchal, political analysis. The cultural problems of Barbie Dolls may deserve some attention, but maybe after waitresses get the minimum wage, as small as it is. Servers live on tips which is ridiculous and are paid about $2/hr. Household help, cooking and cleaning and childcare are again, not a part of any protected job category by minimum wage and are almost entirely filled by women. These domestic help workers are among the most exploited, abused and raped. Even Arnold Sch-whatever screwed his maid and fathered a child!! Instead of the national fixation upon military service with Gays, it’s the glass ceiling this, and lean forward that for women, all rich people’s problems compared to the vast majority of working women who make so much less, even less than the minimum wage. Let me know when Meg Whitman or Hillary comes out in favor of Universal Minimum Wages, with no carve outs for agriculture, domestic servants, waitresses etc etc etc.
Identity politics is stratified by class and the pain of being placed into a special transgressive group is much worse at below the national level where there are few Ivy League competitors, no one is thinking about trade pacts, or the repatriation of offshore profits with tax deductions for investment in he good ole USA. Identity politics may have people voting for Dems for what seems like small potatoes to you, but then, when was the last time you were told you couldn’t have something that everyone else around you seems to get with no effort at all? Just the everyday things like a job, an apartment or car loan or marriage license? That has more to do with Dems getting those votes than national issues.
the damage done to gays and women by the Democratic Party’s embrace of neo-liberal economics outflanks, by magnitudes, any relief experienced by the Democrats tepid support for right to marry or the right to serve and it ain’t just waitresses who need a raise in the minimum wage. your Democrat’s idea of 13$ or 15$/hr is bupkiss, a bandaid on a much bigger problem. and by your own admission, the repeal of DADT only secured gay “rights” to serve as long as someone doesn’t want to end your career by outing you, which still happens. the optics of an identity politics which you champion are pyrrhic by design. it may allow the oppressed masses to “feel better” about themselves (though that is certainly not the rhetoric used… whatever happened to “Gay and Proud” despite one’s social class?) but it does nothing to pay the bills. I repeat – there can be no social justice without economic justice.
The Democrats cynical use of identity politics is shameful. That poor gays, minorities and women continue to vote for them is hardly surprising, however ineffectual.
Excellent comment from Paul Tioxon. Although I would carry it farther and posit that the Democrats, particularly of the middle, centrist, and squeamish type (like Obama), quickly perceived women and gayfolk as a source of campaign contributions. Much as blacks have been seen mainly as reliable Democratic Party voters. In a way, though, I’m leery of the term “identity politics,” because as Paul Tioxon points out, these very large groups of people have to have some mooring in the political economy. Fifty years ago, blacks were somewhat split, looking for someone to carry on the revolution that Lincoln, a Republican, started. Women barely had a voice. Gayfolk were hidden away (certainly, there, but mainly reading Gore Vidal novels to find kindred spirits). The Democrats did adopt these groups, but the powerful have decided to exact a heavy price. Each of these groups has been commodified, and their demands have been fit into the DLC realm. Conversely, the unions, which might have been great places for women, gays, and black people to gain expertise in organization and a chance to exercise power, have been degraded and destroyed (with the help of DLC politics).
Um…a little off-base, imo. I, for one, am happy to have someone summarize the contents of a book I won’t ever find the time (or the stomach) to read myself. And while Stoller’s piece does focus mainly on From’s ideology and methodology, as opposed to the fall-out from those things, he by no means ignores the effects. He explains, albeit briefly, the pernicious effects of the Budget Act, and includes this sentence right at the top:
The implication is clear: the Dems and their DLC policies have not improved most people’s lives. Sure, Matt could spend a little more space on how the DLC playbook has caused so much suffering—spell it out a bit more directly—but he might also be assuming that anyone reading probably already knows that NAFTA was a shafta, that welfare reform was cruel, etc., etc., etc.
And you know, it’s funny, when I read the last bit about “not just trying to elect more Dems…,” I read it as “stop wasting time trying to elect Dems and instead…,” whereas you obviously understood, “keep trying to elect Dems and…” I believe that’s called confirmation bias, at least for my part…reading what I want him to be saying and not necessarily what he is saying.
I think you are right that Matt assumed most would understand the implied, if not stated, criticism. And his surprising reply to me was quite generous given the testy response I had to what was absent in the review. My concern was that less informed readers might interpret Matt’s essay as saying From’s contribution was essentially positive and, as I said in my response to Matt, Al From makes me see red. I’m of a quick-to-temper Greek heritage… holding it in check is a work-in-progress!
You’re not the only one with the hair trigger on the righteous indignation/anger :-) Fortunately, peeps around here are quite forgiving (else I’d have been banned long ago), and Matt seems like a real stand-up guy; he always shows up for comment sessions when he gets a post here, which is really cool, and allows for actual dialogue to take place…such a rare thing.
“He explains, albeit briefly, the pernicious effects of the Budget Act.” This is a very generous characterization of Matt Stoller’s analysis in this piece.
This is the entire discussion:
“Prior to the Budget Act, the Appropriations Committees simply spent a bunch of money, and the revenue committees (Ways and Means in the House, Finance in the Senate) brought in a bunch of tax revenue, with no overall planning to match up the two numbers or set priorities. The Budget Act created a Budget Committee, which forced the two committees to work together under broad government-wide caps. This institutional change made it harder to spend money on social programs, and has been used to implemented [sic] austerity policies for decades.”
Matt Stoller says this in the context of having just approvingly quoted Muskie “What’s so damn liberal about wasting money?” It would be very easy, given that Stoller doesn’t spend any space at all pointing out anything “pernicious” about austerity policies, to interpret his take on this as generally positive. In other words, the Budget Act rightly forced those old-fashioned, out of touch New Dealers to stop wantonly throwing money at problems and to adopt a more rational carefully planned approach to public spending.
I didn’t detect any approval of Muskie, just a quote. Using the phrase “simply spent a bunch of money” could be taken as a negative, although I didn’t read it that way, given that he points to the effects as reduced social welfare spending/austerity. Perhaps saying “…Congress spent money based on political priorities…” or something similar would have made his point better. I think this is a result of the somewhat casual style he’s trying to use. That’s my take as an editor, anyway.
Again, I think what this comment thread points to is that maybe Matt needs to make his critiques a little more direct, although he has been much more biting in other pieces (see link above re Obama the con man). But having read a good bit of his stuff and watched an interview (on UK tv, iirc), I’m 95% certain that Matt is no more a fan of Muskie et. al than you or I.
“I wish I had the patience to detail the failures resulting from the Democratic Party’s embrace of neo-liberalism.” We are all going to need more than just patience to even survive these failures!
Without getting mired in a conversation about personal motivations, sociopathy, etc. I do feel it’s important not to give the DLC operatives, as Matt Stoller does here, the vaguely positive label of “business friendly.” NAFTA wasn’t “business friendly.” It was very unfriendly to many small U.S. businesses, extremely hostile to U.S. labor, and only “friendly” to multinational corporations and the extremely wealthy.
Stoller is closer to the mark when he points out that: “The current generation of Democratic policymakers were organized and put in power by people that don’t think that a renewed populist agenda centered on antagonism towards centralized economic power is a good idea.” The two corporatist parties are indeed, profoundly anti-democratic. This might not bother people who rake in cash from think-tanks, and charge huge fees for political consulting while trading in on their Villager status. For those of us outside the Beltway, however, calling a wealthy, corrupt insider like Al From an “idealist” makes no more sense than calling Al Capone a refreshingly straightforward problem solver.
I, too, am an admirer of Matt Stoller’s writing and general analysis of the American political power structure (see other comments for reference to Stoller’s description of the ineluctable sociopathy of political elites). But it seems to me here that Stoller has left out an essential fact in this book review. He makes it seem as though the challenge for us is a battle of ideologies and organizational skills in a world untethered from the central reality: As Thomas Ferguson has been documenting for many years, ours is an electoral system in which money matters, to say the least, and in any such a system the battle becomes a relatively narrow one among moneyed investors. From’s ideology and organizing were funded by deep pockets with unencumbered self-interest and essentially in control of both parties, and that explains his success in selling ideas as much as anything like ideological conviction or determination. Our challenge is to find an answer to the power of money in a society increasingly riven by inequality and dominated by the fewer and fewer, and more and more domineering, “haves.”
Great read. Originally the impulse of people like From was idealistic–they really did believe that they were doing the “right thing” and that, for them, it really wasn’t about money and power. But, as someone who traveled in certain social circles, I know that money and power were a factor in all this and became, eventually, the main factor–it is hard to avoid corruption and I saw some of these people tell sweet lies to themselves that they would reform from inside while collecting big paychecks. Lots of hypocrisy and self-delusion–very tragic.
Aside from From’s apologetics for his movement, the fact is the DLC and related movements were an assertion of power by a class of upper-middle class technocrats. They reflected the interests and culture of their class which was to “manage” the country for the ruling elites as per Walter Lippmann’s recommendation. They understood, rightly, that power came from the currently powerful and that little could be accomplished (from their POV) unless the country were united in by the understanding that the oligarchs must make big profits which will, in turn, then trickle down to the masses. Everything would work out just fine both domestically and in foreign policy as well.
What is missing here in Stoller’s piece is the cultural context of the rise of the DLC. First, the DLC ideas were a reaction to the fact that money-raising became job-one of the DP and there was no other direction to go into other than cater to the rich–if the DLC had never materialized something like it would have had to materialize. As long as the “left” (and by the eigthies the left had become the “left”) did not question the fundamental assumptions of the MSM narrative and what is called “the Washington Consensus” there was no other possible direction to go into. The public, and in the late seventies and eighties there still was something we could call “the public” had been traumatized by the events of the 60s and 70s and wanted nothing more than go back to sleep and to normalicy and this attitude has remained to this day as “future shock” is now a permanent fixture of our lives. The MSM, by this point, had become almost totally a propaganda department of the State (broadly defined) as witnessed by the order by the Reagan Administration that the Death Squads in El Salvador was no longer “news” and therefore all the major media immediately pulled all their reporters out at the same time (now that’s governing!). I happened to know a reporter there and he resigned after that–but most of the gutless wonders we know now as “journalists” just swallowed it and moved on. With the Fourth Estate now no longer fulfilling their function the ruling elites had greater scope than ever and the DP had to go along with all this. The alternative would have been for the Democratic Party to cease being relevant—the DLC people knew that they were in a position to create a responsible society where the oligarchs would be safe in their power and would, therefore, act responsibly; the middle-classes would continue to work hard and bear most of the burden of supporting the state; and the under-class was to continue to be subject to various schemes to bring it “up” to middle-class culture and values. With the MSM spouting TINA 24/7 at all levels of the culture, with the growth of the extreme right who reacted to this new “elitism” with anger and scorn–they did not feel like adopting NPR-style cultural norms and began believing that there was something rotten in Denmark and, because scholarship was not a feature of yeoman culture, they believed their rabble-rousers and have been led by the nose by them since then.
The DLC things doesn’t work anymore. The DP needs to become that party of a small minority again–no matter your POV politically, two major conservative parties in any system creates a system that is incapable of reacting to change. We need those who are flexible and those who are rigid and conservative to be in dynamic equilibrium (in the main) for the system to remain viable. What has happened today is that the most “conservative” party is now the party of change and the party of change is becoming more rigid and conservative and we are headed for disaster eventually.
THe DP has only been effective since their transformation when in opposition. Maybe they were subconsciously just trying to find their way back home again? I think they’ve found it!
Interesting article. I’ve long been aware that the DLC was, and is, the source of many of our political problems – even more than the Ronald Reagan phenomenon which succeeded, I believe, because of its skillful use of racism, artfully using the backlash against civil rights as a fulcrum. He didn’t say it but every blue (and not so blue) collar in the country knew it and ran to the polls to applaud it. I also think that Clinton seized on From’s rationale as a tool to successfully raise the money he and the party needed to achieve power – Mohamed moved to the mountain on a Democratic cart. Yes, sociopaths make successful politicians, both Reagan and Clinton are prime examples. But what can we do about it?
This one loathsome little man and his loathsome little ideas wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without the collusion of a lot of other loathsome little men and women. It’s not one man, or one idea that we must defeat…it’s an army, well-entrenched in the field of battle.
We need an alternative party, starting from first principles. And we need to start from the ground and work upwards. That is how the Tea Party seeded and took over the GOP. Look at what fracking has done at the grassroots level, And the ACA. Pretty soon, Big Business will lose their standard GOP vehicle of oppression, and they KNOW it. They’ve known for years what a political mess they unleashed with Reagan or maybe even Nixon, letting the wildly ignorant loose, and so they started colonizing the Democratic Party, seeking fellow travelers and people who were easily bought.
Corruption isn’t rocket science; anybody with a lot of money can do it. But to systematically take over one needs a plan.
The GOP takeover by Big Business in the 60’s was trying to fit into the times, supporting civil rights, science and ecology, and pissing off the sexist, ignorant racists in this country. Reagan gave the SIRs leadership by taking down the unions, and which exploded into the Reagan Revolution.
The Tea Party, originally designed as astroturf for neoliberals, became the seedbed of real grassroots enthusiasm. It got away from the corporate fascists and devolved into the Culture Wars, and it doesn’t support Corporatism. The rest is history, and an ongoing nightmare. Progressive thinkers must battle two fronts at once: the Tea Party Culture Wars and the Neoliberal Corporatism.
But, to develop an ethical, principled and populist institution takes constant vigilance, education and lots of really hard work on an hourly basis for years. It also takes an institutional memory, something Americans are very bad at. Our FDR Democrats are second generation now; those who lived those times are dropping out with illness and infirmity and dying. FDR Democracy is “quaint” because “everything is different now” “this time”, and so the true democrats (small d) are rolled over by the massive Corporate (think) tanks.
It’s not going to get fixed in my lifetime, I fear.
Excellent comment! X1000
My own father, who lived through the Great Depression and lost his father in WWII, is approaching the end of his own time in this vale of tears. The other day he confided to me that he’s extremely worried about the world that his grandchildren will live in, since “the world today is dominated by violent, greedy bastards.”
Thanks so much for this great article. Clearly the election of Clinton in ’92 was the key turning point and,as I’ve said before, the worst thing that ever happened to the Democratic party. They, and probably the country, would have been much better off if Bush senior had been reelected and the Dems had remained in charge of congress as the loyal opposition. The other inflection point would, of course, be the Vietnam war, and as Yves has said Johnson’s guns and butter policy did much to create the economic problems of the ’70s–problems that spurred this disastrous rejection of the New Deal by the DLC. From may have been motivated by “ideas,” but as we know now his ideas have failed utterly.
At any rate kudos to Stoller for this important bit of history.
those ideas certainly dovetailed nicely with the interests of the elites, who had been fighting the new deal since the 30s.
This article, like the subject book, feels the elephant’s trunk and says, A snake!
An acute, if obvious, observation: “Barack Obama was identified early in his state legislative career as a rising star, though his record, From said, was that of a cipher.” Of course he was an empty suit. But the passive voice used there is crucial. Andrew Krieg, in Presidential Puppetry, documents Obama’s long-term grooming and preferment by the CIA. Obama’s a domestic NOC.
Carter White House staff blew off suggestions to denounce oil-industry market manipulation. Incompetence? Mais non! That “1980 election which turned Jimmy Carter out of office and wrecked the Democratic establishment?” That was a deep-state purge.
Dukakis got crushed, right. Who caused him huge problems in the primary? Jesse Jackson, key co-conspirator in the extra-judicial killing of dissident Martin King. It’s in William Pepper’s An Act of State. Policy was not all that he and Coretta Scott King fought about. Jesse Jackson, another NOC.
From discovered Clinton? Yeah, right. Clinton was a junior CIA cadet in ’69. He was vetted and permitted to vie for power, and when loyal deep-state courtier Poppy Bush got puked out, the alternative was Clinton.
Ideas, organized in compliance with the script of the electoral pageant, are stillborn by definition. If we all clap our hands, social-justice Tink won’t die! Fuck that shit, let’s set the curtain on fire.
“It’s in William Pepper’s An Act of State.” No, it isn’t. I went to the source and searched on Jackson. Here’s the best quote:
The last highlighted sentence is especially rich, and can be translated as follows: “In my opinion, Jackson is either innocent, or he is guilty.” Awesome.
Like I said, I’ll check with sources I trust, but for I’m working on the assumption that I’m dealing with another typical deep state nutter who insults the readership by assuming they won’t check their sourcing.
There is a deep state, but since the JFK assassination, the Viet Nam war and the Senate and Congressional hearings, the deep state is not so deep anymore. There is a more personal and well known reason the King Family has been publicly cold and at odds with Jesse Jackson. The reason is at the moment of the MLK shooting, Jesse was not present, but below the motel room balcony on the parking lot when King was shot. As soon as he saw King fall he rushed to the mortally wound MLK kneeling, and dipped blood on his clothes, as if he had been next to him and Martin Luther King died in his arms, with him the heir apparent. The disgusting self promotion is more than enough to poison the well of any hope of trusting Jesse for anything, without resorting to the CIA bullshit accusations. There were other rifts between the two, but the sheer opportunism speaks for itself.
The deep state is the state. The pseudo-profundity of this herpes-like phrase is especially annoying because it implies that the states of the present day are in some way exceptional.
I guess I prefer to focus on the words rather than the man. Since the class of pols giving even lip service to working people these days has a cardinality of zero, I’ll take those words for inspiration until a better messenger comes along.
I have to fess up to being a clueless but ‘high information’ citizen. Since 1992 I have been waving my hands frantically about asking “What happened to MY Cradle Democratic Party?”
I have absolutely no idea what to do about it but at least I know what the hell happened. Cold comfort.
Thanks, Mr. Stoller.
i’d like to know how influential bob shrum was in molding today’s dems.
Losing eight elections puts him in Steve Israel’s class!
(1) Interesting how the people who end up being profiled as influential, effective and successful seem invariably to be the ones whose ideas happen to coincide with the neoliberal agenda. Makes me curious about From’s income sources. I imagine he is about to enjoy some high six digit speaking fees while pimping his book.
(2) I confess with some embarrassment that I had not realized these guys call themselves progressive, or the depth of the hatred they had for liberalism. Perhaps my blaming the GOP for Orwelling the language of the left was misplaced. Makes me wonder though why these Reagan Democrats didn’t just cash it in and switch to the GOP. Discomfort with the right wing social agenda I guess. Makes me wonder also about parallels with neocons, who putatively originated from the left, but found a much more gratifying home for their sociopathic projections with the right.
Great work. Thanks. I absolutely agree that Democratic officials like Clinton and Obama are neoliberal ideologues. A few points:
1. I find the genesis of Democratic neoliberalism unpersuasive. Federal programs are bad because federal money was hijacked by racist Southern whites in the 1960s ? That hardly seems the real reason. Yes, by the late 70s traditional liberalism was spent and flailing the Democrats were losing elections so, clearly, the party needed change. But neoliberalism was hardly the only option. I think the lure of money is the real reason for the conversion to neoliberalism.
2. Ideologues are normally full-throated advocates of their policies. The neoliberal Democrats, however, scurry about like rats in the dark, cutting deals in secret and deceiving their partisans about the goals. This suggests to me that the Democratic leaders know their neoliberalism is not popular with the partisans so they hide it. Further, the goals of neoliberalism are directly contrary to the core Democratic platform that still defines the party for most people. That means Democratic partisans are now controlled by an ideology they reject and that is being forced on them by party leadership. I don’t think that is sustainable.
3. And one of the reasons the Democratic disequilibrium is unsustainable is that now, as in the late 70s, the Democratic Party is losing elections and losing so badly that they are being whipped by a GOP most of the country knows is insane and ignorant. That is florid failure and impossible to ignore. Democratic neoliberalism has failed as a governing philosophy and is now failing as political strategy. So I agree with your conclusion: now is the time for the Democratic Party to shake off the neoliberal carcass and rejuvenate itself. How? By returning to their roots. By returning to the economic populism that the American people are clamoring for. Even if they can’t articulate exactly what neoliberalism is, the American people have awakened to the calamities that neoliberalism has delivered. They have properly rejected it. And now are correctly rejecting the party that is duplicitously forcing it on them.
You got to the heart of the problem in a few enough words that I was able to take it all in before I forgot what was written at the beginning. In fact, I appreciate this comment so much that I will be sending it on to some friends whose eyes always glaze over when I bring up neoliberal economics to explain why we, the working people, got the shaft in this country of “ours”. Seems that the working people in the good ‘ol USofA have been the last to get this thing figured out. A form of American exceptionalism, I expect.
IMO, it is very hard for people to accept that the system is rigged and neither party is on our side. Americans are used to winning and we are very reluctant to admit that our country is failing, even as the evidence mounts that it is. That is a hard truth to accept and made even more difficult by the noise and disinformation that constitutes American culture today.
What is…and what might have been.
Martin Luther King in 1967 reflecting, as apparently did From, on “lessons learned” from the Civil Rights movement:
“It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us…. ‘Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.’ Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.…A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, ‘This is not just.’ It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, ‘This is not just.’ The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
“A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just. …A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values…
And recently the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin reflecting like From, on the role of political action : “the truly important civic virtues were just exactly the ones that would assert themselves at a time when basic institutional values…human values were at stake, and that you don’t [always] win, or you win rarely, and if you win, it’s often for a very short time, and that that’s why politics is a vocation…. It’s not an occasional undertaking that we assume every two years or every four years when there’s an election; it’s a constant occupation and preoccupation. And the problem [is] to understand it not as a partisan kind of education in the political party sense, but as in the broad understanding of what political life should be and what is required to make it sustainable…a certain kind of understanding that’s very different from what we think about when we associate political understanding with how do you vote or what party do you support or what cause do you support….step back and say what kind of political order and the values associated with it that it promotes are we willing to really give a lot for, including sacrifice. And I think that it’s that distinction between the temporary and the transient and what’s truly of more enduring significance…..”
If as Plato said every political order can be conceived as characterized by a certain kind of person “writ large”, the kind of person most admired, most emulated, most praised, most visible in the very foundational order of a given society, then we know America today is From’s world, Clinton’s world, not MLK’s.
Frhamenstein had to be a zombie saboteur straight out of the left side of the Powell memo. And still so many who have long known this play nice. If I ever see this book at a yard sale for a nickel I may just buy and burn it for fun.
Somewhere over the rainbow, neoliberaltarians fly – should be his and the D party’s epitaph (can’t come soon enough). Also the title of his book with a color drawing of a pile of dead bluebirds on the cover.
Matt’s caveats at the end of the review are necessary to remind readers that this is the story of just one man, not a comprehensive history of the democratic party from 1970’s forward. From is a critical figure by this account and certainly, due to the confluence of the time period when he decided to organize is as important as the ideas he championed that came to dominate the democrats and afford them success with Clinton and serve as the platform for financing Obama. This was the period de-industrialization from the commanding heights capitalism. The industrial manufacturing base of the Northern USA crumbled and was reassembled in remote rural Southern and Southwestern parts of the nation. This lead directly to the decline in union membership and hence, a decline in the political power base of the democrats.
The Dems managed to simultaneously completely ignore the bloodbath of factory after factory shutting down, leaving a wake of massive unemployment, loss of home ownership, benefits and lifetime savings leading to urban decay and population loss while crying over and over again that the biggest political issue was Civil Rights for minorities, affirmative action hiring quotas for Blacks, forced participation by unions in minority, meaning Black, recruitment, more welfare money for single mothers, more daycare and Head Start for poor, Black urban single mothers again!!!, and desegregation of schools, BUSING!!! of little kids from nice, safe suburbs into drug and violence ridden urban ghettos, yet still more Blacks!!!!!!!!, the Democrats managed to undermine the economic livelihood of the working class and attack them for being racists and then ask them to please contribute to their party and vote for them! From was the new class of white collar, upper middle class professional, even if he only had a BA, HAH!, there’s a tell! Not quite a Harvard Law grad, not quite an MBA from Wharton, not quite a PhD in polysci or econ, just a grunt with college diploma! How did such a lowly uncredentialed foot soldier ever get the attention, much less the ability to mold and shape policy and minds of the Best and The Brightest of the real stars of the Party?
From was not preaching eternal verities, it was not the truth reveal by reason, it was electoral success that was the Holy Grail. It certainly wasn’t the amelioration of human suffering that was attacked directly by the New Deal, but it was the verbal harangues of the New Deal against the rich and haves during the depths of the Great Depression that From sought to eliminate as part of the fresh new ideas of Democrats. The welfare state and presumed permissiveness of Liberals in the face of the cultural upheavals of the 60’s all became dirty words in and of themselves. And the policies of redistribution via taxation no longer just stabbed the Royalists of Wealth that FDR railed against. The new victims of taxation were just as easily my own parents, a federal employee of GS-5 pay grade in the 1970’s and her husband, a lifetime retired Navy man working at the US Mint. When their income creeped up to a tax bracket of of 30- 40% and they watched the evening news about college kids on food stamps having sex with rock and roll blaring in their free ride state university dorm room, not to mention welfare queens, the resentment began to boil! They were not alone.
Jimmy Carter tried to be compassionate towards the White working class with his “Ethnic Purity” comments, about how urban neighborhoods with a predominate makeup of one particular ethnic group was not in itself a problem. Little Italy was just Italians enjoying being close to one another like they did in the Old Country. But this did not deflect the clear bias towards the poor, minorities who may have not been disadvantage by poverty, but where still Black and therefor entitled to preferential treatment paid for from rising taxes of regular people with not a whole lot of disable income. The rich limousine liberals did not want to foot the bill for reparations, so they passed it to the real winners of the New Deal, the white working class and middle class. And then they insulted them when the inevitable racist reaction ensued. The NLRB could have stopped many unionized factories from picking up and gong South, they had the power to do that under the right circumstances, just like they did recently with Boeing moving into a new Dream Liner 787 plant in S. Carolina with the sole purpose of hurting the union mechanics. Even without sophisticated analysis the average white person was being alienated, even by his own children,especially over the rift of the Viet Nam war, just in case he did not get an earful of From’s formative crusade for Civil Rights. The Dems lost the working class adults with one set of issues and the War lost many of the younger kids who did not see getting beaten to a pulp during the 1968 Dem Convention in Chicago as a welcome sign.
The New Deal that From sought to exorcise was almost completely for the advantage of White Working Class Males. The reason, FDR needed the Democratic Committee Chairmen of Congress to pass his radical legislation. Nothing was going through that gave one penny of help to Blacks or agricultural workers, domestic day help or other menial service providers such as waitresses. Unions were legalized and the National Labor Relations Board, along with much other legislation made this THE WHITE NEW DEAL, leaving behind the oppressed rural Jim Crow South, and all other agricultural workers of the South West.
When the Great Society focused on the unfinished business of the New Deal during the Great Society legislative push, not much included the now more prosperous and less suffering White Working Class. And this coming as deindustrialization began the decimation of the middle class outside of the white collar sector. Now, even the white collar sector has been hammered by decades of “DOWNSIZING” and From’s solution from market based, business friendly, supply side economics is a failure.
The Dems are economically illiterate, even at the highest level. Just listen to Clinton adviser James Carville talk about the bond market from the mystical sage of finance Robert Rubin. “I used to think that if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the pope or as a .400 baseball hitter. But now I would like to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody.”
While From successfully help to indoctrinate this party, it is not as if there were not other attempts by large groups to go directly into the party and influence policy from inside. The NEA made Jimmy Carter the education president by packing the national convention to nominate him. Michael Harrington’s Social Party decided to go into the Democrats for years as DSOC, the Democratic Organizing Committee. But those attempts were dead ends as the global capitalist trends favored the DLC as the best adaptation to a new political environment brought about the transition from industrial capitalism to financial capitalism.
The last paragraph should read Michael Harrington’s Socialist Party, which went inside the democrats as the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee.
More recently, at this years annual convention the NEA voted in favor of a resolution for Arne Duncan’s resignation as Education Secretary.
Great comment. Like Germans after WWI, I feel stabbed in the back, but l am not sure that DP cannot escape the couches of From and his ilk. Let the republicans and demopublicans destroy a little more of the New Deal, and we may yet capture the anger that propelled the tea baggers and could have been a chance for reform.
Synopsis: The Ds, in the wake of Jimmy Carter, realized they were getting their butts kicked and would continue to do so until they changed. So they did the practical thing and gradually morphed into their opposition, cleverly stealing their ideas and presenting them as their own through clever marketing, then did the REALLY clever thing by nominating professional used car salesman types who talked big but represented nothing – or worse, exactly the opposite of what they said they did – to win in ’92, ’96, ’08, and ’12. And now we have the result of their insipid multi-generational machinations: two parties who are essentially one, with only minor feature choices at the margins to distinguish them, but one – the Ds – invariably and rightly viewed as the cheaper brand. In short, a variation on economists’ proverbial perfectly competitive market.
Once again, you have to give credit where credit is due. The Rs, for all their hysterical right wing insanity, at least have an original vision and actively pursue it. The Ds are only definable at all in terms of their relationship to the Rs. Thus we see the peculiar evolution of American politics as the Rs sprint full speed to the right with the Ds in hot pursuit. Little brother syndrome personified, they wouldn’t recognize leadership if it smacked them hard across the mouth, which it has been doing daily since the current Imposter in Chief took office. Remind me once again why I despise the Ds?
In the end, the Ds have defined political strategy as “winning,” when believe it or not, and I know this sounds trite, it’s still about “standing for something.” To do the former they calculated that they had to flush the latter, and now they’re paying the real world consequences for their actions. And this ain’t something they’re going to turn around anytime soon, no matter how often they employ the identity politics or cult of personality cards.
I think in this post election analysis we give the right too much credit for consistency or coherence. The right contradicts itself frequently in fact. But they do it with conviction.
I think the Democratic Party approaches things from a position of power so right off the bat it really doesn’t get some of the underlying problems that the constituency it supposedly is trying to enfranchise face correctly.
Take the war on poverty. There’s always seemed to be the position that the poor are poor because they have bad habits. However, if you look closely their habits really aren’t that different from people like Limbaugh or Noelle Bush (who had a drug dependency issue) or Cheney(who had alcohol problems). The difference between them and the rich is they didn’t have the income to insulate them from their bad choices. The kid who has a mom that works at the local Walmart may not be able to afford rehab like the Bush family did for Noelle. Money, that’s the difference, not habits.
I’m also not even going to get into the stupidity of believing everyone who the Democrats bring to the table to negotiate on solving problems is arguing in good faith and in the interests of the American people rather than for their own self interest. It was beyond insane to give the same companies that were tossing cancer patients off their roles to save money a seat at the table and expect all of a sudden they were going to behave like altruists instead of capitalists. I almost had a twinge of sympathy for Obama with ACA and the blame he got for those SAME insurance companies punking him and changing coverage to those he had just promised “if you like your health care you can keep it.” Then I reminded myself that the Democrats INVITED these people to the table while simultaneously having single payer advocates arrested for daring to feel like they should be allowed a seat at the discussion table(and yes as someone who worked in military health care as both a provider and part of the supply chain I’m aware that COST is an issue.) It also reminded me of when Obama lauded Jamie Dimon as a “savvy businessman.” Here’s a guy who made a living making going around regulatory structure and the President is essentially calling him a business role model. That’s insane. It’s exactly why we have so many problems with a system where you can pull profits by just ignoring rules until you get caught and then paying a small percent of the profit to the regulatory agency for the hassle of getting caught(win win- you pay a fee and they get to argue they DID something even if that something isn’t really good at actually stopping the behavior.)
I wrote this from the point of view that SOME of the Democrats have good intentions. I wrote it from the viewpoint that they also are pieces in a rigged game. However, at some point they are going to have to come to terms with the game being rigged and look carefully at who is doing the rigging. They might want to more carefully consider who they are inviting to the table and asking to act in good faith and might actually want to consider inviting those “regular people with a vested interest in having functional government” to the table instead of the Jamie Dimons or the Scott Serotas(who have a vested interest in keeping the status quo and having a regulatory system that they can exploit.)
Finally, someone might want to have a sit down with the Democrats and tell them the strategy of “we suck less” is a poor, long term game. Suck is suck. At some point people get fed up with accepting crappy and then they start looking for something better. Unless they offer up SOMETHING real and credible more and more people are going to stop voting for them and look at ANYTHING as an alternative. The reality is that progressives and liberals don’t owe Democrats their votes. Democrats need to create policy that appeals to these voters to give them a reason to vote Democrat.(I’m talking to you Nancy Pelosi) They then need to figure out how to sell that policy to the masses as beneficial. One of the biggest things the GOP does that the Democrats don’t is it doesn’t kick it’s base. For too long the Democrats have played punch the hippie and expected those same hippies to vote for them. Guess what? I think the hippies are tired of being taken for granted. They aren’t as stupid as Rahm thinks and it is just a matter of time before they figure a way around the Democrats unless the Democrats figure out how to incorporate them into the process(in a meaningful way.) I’d also argue the Democrats are running out of time. It gets easier and easier each time you vote for OTHER to not be invested in a party affiliation. It’s freeing to not care whether or not DEMOCRATS succeed and spend time trying to justify their behavior to people. It’s much easier to spend time arguing policy positions and how to sell them then to spend the time on the flawed people in the process. With that in mind, if the Democrats can’t get their act together they may well find themselves the next Whigs.
I’ve voted for Democrats my whole life.
I started voting for Greens in 2000 when I realized that Gore/Clinton was a Republican in sheep’s clothing.
I fell for the R/D charade once with Obama in 2008 when he ran as a populist.
I haven’t made that mistake since.
Nor will I again.
Very interesting that so many DLC proponents came out of the civil rights movement where people were working to lift African Americans out of poverty and unemployment. The tragic irony is that DLC neoliberal policies have now cast so many many more US citizens into poverty and unemployment, but it’s not race based. Some progress…
Thanks for this article and the many well thought out responses. Important.
Yes, that’s a great insight.
The real irony is that From and the DLC wanted to replace “special interests” as the controlling factor in the party. All they really did was change the labels. The party is still run by special intersts and unfortunately to the masses determent At least the old special interst groups interests intersected better with the needs of the populace.
Unfortunately, this paragraph summarizes where we are: “From worked with Bob Rubin, Bill Daley, and Rahm Emanuel to run a campaign to pass NAFTA. Since rolling labor and crushing the left was his favorite activity, From jumped into this feet first. He registered as a lobbyist, talked to members on the Hill, and traveled nationwide to do public and media events on behalf of the agreement. It worked, and in his view, set the stage for the rest of Clinton’s term.” Let’s see: What could be wrong with a movement that claimed to be reformist that helps to destroy labor as a counterbalance to capital and that beats up the American Left, such as it is? So the DLC does indeed deserve much of the blame for the last two midterm elections. The shellacking of 2010 and the current circular firing squad.
This is an excellent review which explains what happened to the Democratic Party. Thank you.
Complementing this piece is an interview that Democracy Now had with Ralph Nader on November 6. Whatever people think of Nader, he has some very harsh assessments of both parties; however, he seems hopeful that just 1% of the population can organize and make change happen.
Here are a couple of quotes that seem to mirror what this review mentions:
I confess that in this election, for the first time in my life, I did not vote. The California ballot had only two choices for each position, with no third or fourth candidates and no write-in options. So I was stuck with a neo-liberal Democrat versus a pro-corporate Republican for each position. For example, Brown v. Kashkari, or Newsom v. the NRA’s choice. It was more than I could stomach, so I just decided not to vote at all.
I sympathize with the refusal to vote but I believe it’s more effective to submit a ruined ballot with a note that it was done in protest.
I’m not convinced they meant to win: I think the dem wing of the uni party threw the election.
My takeaway from this history of Al From is that he is an extremely shallow man that was mainly concerned with winning elections, and would take whatever path was most expedient to that goal. To call his methods “ideas” is to debase that word to mean anything that a brain can fart out. He clearly has a knee-jerk hatred for labor unions and workers and his support for all the things that destroyed our nation is abundantly clear. If I’m going to ignore the corruption angle as Matt so clearly wants us to do, then what I see is a party of hysterics who lost a few elections and freaked out, throwing off everything that defined them in the process.
The irony is that From didn’t really help the dems win anything — Clinton won in ’92 basically without him, and Obama won by pretending he was more of an old-style dem. After Obama no one will believe a word a democrat says in support of the people, so great job fellas! You not only screwed yourselves, you also screwed us.
Clinton won because of Perot taking Republican votes away from Bush.
On Jesse Jackson, here’s from his speech to the Democratic convention that nominated bloodless Michael Dukakis and then went down to defeat at the hands of Reagan while running on competence. I heard it live, and it brought tears to me eyes then:
This from a Democrat once mainstream enough to run for office and have his name placed in nomination for President, mind you. Jackson is a pol, for sure, but catch any Democrat saying anything like this today!!!!! They don’t even care enough to fake it, and the people who take the early bus are a lot worse off today, than they were back in 1988. Thanks Al, thanks a bunch. If these people were worthy of my hatred, I’d hate them.
Thanks to Stoller for another great piece. Recapturing our history is important.
I well remember that Atlanta convention where the Dems decided they had to stop Jackson at all costs. Still pre Clinton was a time when some Dems could still be quite sincerely leftish. The dispiriting compromises and sellouts of the Clinton years are what really sank the party.
I always thought Jesse Jackson was a great speaker. Much better, in my opinion, than Obama. But while I think the sentiments expressed in the piece you quoted are beautiful, I’m not sure they are exactly true. I know poor people who don’t have the education or the health to get better jobs, but I know many others who are poor because they are allergic to work, or who do work but have alcohol and drug problems that prevent them from using that income to better themselves or build a better life for their families. I’m not blaming them. To know all is to forgive all. But it is barking up the wrong tree to say that all poor people lack is money. Historically, many teachers have had low incomes, but people didn’t call them poor, and many teachers end up with significant retirement savings, because they are regular in their habits. Poverty is a spectrum that involves low education levels, alcohol and drugs, and antipathy towards marriage. Unfortunately, our safety net currently discourages both marriage and work, and participating in medicaid, food stamps, et al, takes a lot of time and effort. It’s at least a part time job.
The Democrats are a bunch of dupers and I’m one of them, but I should say I’m really an independent, but never changed anything from years ago on my registration:) I’ve been talking about this for a while relative to the times we live in and we have both democrats and republicans that confuse virtual world values with real world values and the democrats have been in control here so much of their confusion has shuffled through. I get ticked off reading their nonsense numbers and I call it the “Sebelius Sydrome” when this occurs as Ms. Sebelius so very public and had such duped perceptions of what was real so she got the name but there’s other afflicted, like most of Congress. Here we had the White House using junk science numbers on a bot produced a campaign for Climate Control. I have no problem with Climate Control at all, but darn don’t use junk science numbers that nobody can predict. It’s like what do they think I am , stupid? Here’s a post I did on it and it’s stuff like this that lost a lot of votes for the Democrats as they are so “Algo Duped” and run around like Linus from Peanuts with security blankets just covered with stats they can repeat when backed into a corner, real or not, they just cling to these.
That’s why the democrats act the way they do, they are Algo Duped to the inth degree and suck in any stats you can toss at them and it’s doesn’t work anymore and only shows their confusion with mixing up virtual world values with the real world, a big problem out there. Be wary sometimes too of what you read in the news as you too like all of us can easily fall into a big dupe.
I’m sitting here wondering too what the GOP will do and if they will get better digitally educated so we can get laws passed as you have this battle of the weird perceptions of the GOP versus the Algo Duped Democrats and we have a stale mate and nothing gets done:) The GOP still thinks they have more power than they do at times with forgetting that the machines are running and enforcing their laws today and they don’t give any thought to what kind of technology has to connect to their laws and there’s some of that too on the other side.
So while the above is going on, we as consumers have to live under “The Attack of the Killer Algorithms” as banks and corporation just write code around our lawmakers and keep on moving as again the tech folks know that code makes money and talk makes verbiage and that’s what comes muffled off the hill these days. Google probably does it better than anyone else as they work both ends to make sure there’s no real damaging verbiage that will impact their code for profit. They are not alone, though.
The affordable care act as we know was developed by the Democrats and they haven’t come to the realization that the machines are running it yet:) GOP forgets there’s code on the machines running it on top of that and keep repeating the word “repeal” and in the meantime tech folks think, about how many more years of code to add on, how long it will take and how to keep more glitches from reaching the public with all of this that we have to deal with…and the Supreme Court – grin – what kind of verbiage are they going to unleash with all of this and then again how will the democrats react? We’ll be right back to virtual values again with folks not seeing the real world. Watch the videos at the Killer Algorithms page if you like and learn from folks smarter than me and some that I Iearned from that educate you on the back side of what’s really going on with machines, code, and the wealthy that control and have this proprietary code that makes them wealthier and us much poorer.
Of course you were verklempt to hear Jackson, Who wouldn’t be? I got dragged to watch Obama’s nomination speech at a neolib Walpurgisnacht and it choked me up even though we knew he was Alwaleed’s real doll. But you know, you wipe your nose and face reality.
Wowsers, Mr. First Time Commenter. Not sure why you have such a problem with a Presidential candidate coming out in favor of the working class, but whatever. I checked the two links. The second has nothing to do with Jackson at all. The first is long on assertion, light on links, and the few comments it attracts are divided.
Look, I may need to wipe my nose, but I’m happy that’s all I’ve got to wipe, if catch my drift. I’ll look into the content with sources I trust, which don’t include your links, or you. Bye.
I know another question that’s never asked: What about the terrible twins, Mike & Ike (MIC & IC)? In all his travels, did Mr. From never interact with the Deep State? Aren’t some of these all-important elites also ensconced in MIC & IC? Are no “real decisions” made there? Are we to assume they have a hands-off policy towards the two major parties? I seriously doubt it.
This focus on an individual, for me, begs the question of how we got here to the extent it ignores the Deep State.
And my biggest beef with economic and financial analysis, in general, is that it almost always ignores the Deep State. The development and evolution of the economy, political parties, and government policies, is portrayed as if organic, a function of individual actors or at most, “elite institutions” that somehow don’t include MIC & IC.
Now I know this is a relatively new development, and that most analysts, like me, grew up in complete ignorance of its existence, let alone its influence. But isn’t it about time we drop the pretense that things are as they appear on the surface?
Do we really think our government will interfere in the economies of other countries, but not here on their home turf? Do we really think MIC & IC are content to practice l’aissez faire with regard to domestic political parties?
I’d like to know in what way Mr. From caught the attention of MIC & IC. I’d like to know which Wall Street firms are the Halliburtons of economic warfare. I’d like to know how much of the deference shown to Goldman Sachs, JPMC, et al., is due to their being
defensemilitary contractors. Maybe they each, Wall Street and the Deep State, think they have the other by the short hairs. But there I go again, assuming a distinction that may not make a difference. Hell, the CIA was set up by Wall Street!
And as we all know only too well, the Cold War seamlessly morphed into GWOT. Can’t wait for the sequel….
So while I appreciate the importance of “recapturing our history,” as Lambert says (aside: I volunteered for Jackson back in the day, some of the best times of my life; I’m one of those of whom he spoke), I still think we could do better.
I’m not saying it’s all about the DS, to the exclusion of all else. The opposite of a mistake isn’t necessarily correct. But it’s damn hard to confront, let alone defeat, an opponent whom we never imagine to exist.
I’d heard the name, but I knew none of these details.
One of the problems is that Al doesn’t seem to know jack about US history. He apparently thinks the New Deal was the product of wild-eyed pinkos, when in fact it was devised by devout capitalists who perceived during the misery and turmoil of the Depression that reigning in the excesses of capitalism was critical if the system were to survive. The New Deal was implemented in order to prevent a popular socialist workers’ uprising, the thought of which is all but unimaginable today, but which was widely feared in the 1930s.
So, by working to overturn the programs and regulations which had kept capitalism from its worst predations for forty-five or so years, he helped gut those programs and regulations. Et voila, we have the New Depression, Wall St gate-keeper/toady Obama, and the renewed and seemingly-permanent immiseration of the 99%.
Thanks, Al, you moronic asshat of unimaginably epic proportions.
The consequence of your life’s work has been to turn the US into a third world nation. Good going, dumbfuck! We can only hope that as a result of the culmination of your life’s work, the Democratic Party will now implode, leaving space for an actual left-of-center party to thrive.
I doubt they implode at all. That election was irrelevant. The under 60 vote was very consistent. But the above 60 vote was way out of line Way out of line. People don’t quite get this. It has little do with the way the ‘Democratic’ party is, but the way the electorate shaped up. Ronald Reagan lost 8 seats in 1986.
Mid-terms are just useless.
Not sure I agree with the notion that elections are only relevant if certain age groups vote.
Here’s a 1974 Atlantic essay on the Dem dilemma then, and the triangulation that took place. Just a bit of interesting history.
My point is, when a general “segment” is so badly overrepresented, it distorts the electorate. That was a distorted election. Now the old vote will decline in share in the Presidential election reversing the 2014 electorate decision by balancing the over result.
The “badly over-represented” segment was self selecting. Why didn’t the younger voters turn out to vote? Why didn’t Democratic voters turn out to vote ?
Yea but I’m not convinced all the people turning 60 won’t vote the same way the current 60 year olds do (and the population is aging) Tell me exactly why I should be?
This book review is illuminating. Hopefully it helps people to grapple with where we are today.
The two Parties are more protection rackets than political groups. Despite this, each Party and the two-party system itself is virtually impervious to reform (Al From’s “reforms” took >>10 years – and he was swimming with the money tide). Those “progressives” that argue that electoral success means everything are not really progressive, they are power-hungry Party operatives that play on people’s fears.
Too much of the public doesn’t know or appreciate:
But most DO know and blindly accept neolib talking points like:
H O P
We need to find a balance between efficient markets and human dignity. And we need governments that are accountable and responsible. These are not ‘radical’ anymore than women’s rights, civil rights, the right to an education, and the right to a living wage is.
Many progressive victories of the past are now taken for granted. The changes they instituted are generally recognized as positive contributions to society. But the struggle today has moved beyond identity politics to class politics as related at NC and elsewhere everyday. Toxic crony circle-jerk malinvestment vs.everybody’s well-being. The answer is so obvious that neolibs have to deceive, distract, and threaten people to go along.
I did some checking and it seems that From’s idea to counter Republican’s desire for smaller government was more efficient and effective government. Along the way, they also determined that Democrats would work WITH corporations and the military (rather than have an antagonistic relationship). They reasoned that this would reduce criticisms that Democratic candidates faced.
In essence, they threw the baby out with the bath water. And it worked (for a time) because they could always point to republican policies that would be worse. But their strategy depends on two things:
But we saw indications in the 2014 midterms that both of these are now happening with voters staying home and Republicans being more disciplined / less offensive. That spells major trouble for Democrats in 2016 and a major opportunity for real progressives. However, I remain skeptical that the Democrats will allow any fundamental shake-up. Lambert has make it clear, in his writing and links, that in 2014 the Obama-led Democratic Party would rather lose than go populist.
Glad nobuddhau mentioned the deep state. Stoller is an articulate advocate for Bagehot’s dignified institutions, but we must not forget about the efficient ones, because the efficient institutions are really really ruthlessly efficient and the dignified ones are a laughingstock by now.
Your choice is not (D) or (R). Your choice is the deep state or the outside world. That’s all there is. I see this and it’s like Proust getting a whiff of the madeleine, it all comes flooding back, faces and voices and hallways and doors and shades of paint. I knew these guys, I did this shit.
You monster, you’ll say, How could you? When you’re just one teeny tiny little apparatchik, your compartments work like blinkers for a horse. For a long time you just get inklings, vague disquiet: perplexed disgust at profiteering and the furtive early days of total surveillance. To me then it was silly but lucrative, preparing for a nuclear holocaust that we knew would not happen. Used to try the super-duper-double-secret access code for shits and grins, see if anybody answered – Nobody home, huh-huh-huh. When the plans got ready for anything and explicitly included the prospect of civil insurrection, I attributed their persistence to institutional inertia, old guys hanging onto their gravy train. After boredom pried me loose it took leisurely years of sense-making and more years of intent digging to see that the war did in fact start. Only it’s on us. CIA fans out and takes over: dispersing into population centers; confounding counterforce attacks with countervalue by making human shields of the civilian population; militarizing civilian resources. Never occurred to me they could just knock down some buildings and do it. Now the constitution’s gone and you live in the United States of COG.
We will get nowhere until we come to terms with our fake democracy and our real totalitarian state.
Pretty funny that Peter Dale Scott recycles Walter Bagehot’s theory of the state, Bagehot being the first editor of The Economist.
Scott isn’t the only one interested in Bagehot’s theory, the blurb version of which pretty much sums up our situation today, not in all matters, but in all vital matters.
I was already uneasy when I hit this sentence: “Like most great political operatives, From is an idealist,..” at which point I stifled my instinctual urge to laugh, and carried on bravely. I confess I couldn’t finish, as it’s entirely evident the Dems had already fallen into failed institution status when it hired him in the first place.
I followed all of those campaigns and elections and Dems could’ve won every one of them with a better candidate – the choosing of which had been given over to opinion polls and media spin, not ability, smarts, character, and key communications skills, etc.
So who needs Karl Rove and Lee Atwater?
Al From was basically a Quisling from the beginning.
Apparently no one interrogated his central premise: that welfare was a tool of the white power structure. Was it? In what ways? Evidence, please? Data? Fact?
Worse, Al From is responsible not only for this fake emoting “I feel your pain” kind of emoting politics which covers up outright slavery to Goldman-Sachs, From is responsible for the factuality and evidence-free kind of politics of faith-based assertion. In other words, he is directly responsible for Sarah Palin.
As I said at the beginning? Who needs Karl Rove or Lee Atwater?
It is time for a SOCIALIST alternative. Yes. SOCIALIST.
Or one could call it a return to the principles, prioities and ideals of THE NEW DEAL — like, say, the Glass-Steagall bank regulation bill which kept the banks in line from 1933 until Clinton and the From Democrats helped Republicans repeal it — DIRECTLY rresulting in the 2008 financial catastrophe and current DEPRESSION. Yes. DEPRESSION.
Oh. And the principle of democratic, representative governance, RATHER THAN TECHNOCRATIC, BUREAUCRATIC, STALINIST DICTATORSHIP — called “inverted totalitarianism” by Sheldon Wolin and Chris Hedges.
How about a party-based Westminster system with NO, repeat NO gerrymanderable districts because there would be no districts? And NO CITIZEN’s UNITED or CORPORATE PERSONHOOD? Parties would get representation in Congress or City Hall based on its share of the vote, and none of this 5% threshold stuff to keep parties out. I say 0.05% gets a party in and then let the sausage-making of the democratic process unfold in public. Democracy should rule the economic system — finance capitalism — but the economic system– finance capitalism — should NEVER rule democracy. Repeal NAFTA and ALL the other monopoly YES MONOLOLY trade agreements. And a $15 minimum wage and forgtiveness of all student loans for starters. Oh, and abolish the Fed, the NSA, and NATO.
What we have in Clinton/Bush/Obama/ClintonorJeb is precisely what those white slaveholder Founding Fathers Feared. An OUT-OF-CONTROL ROGUE MONARCHY beholden to an unofficial but UNDENIABLE aristocracy OF the ONE PERCENT, BY the ONE PER CENT and FOR the ONE PER CENT.
Thanks to Al From for making it clear how this happened and his role in the subversion of the NEW DEAL. What was I thinking when I voted for these sociopsychopaths? Conservagives like From — a liar to use the word “progresive” in that org in order to cover up that From was, in fact, an Ayn Rand conservative in sheeps clothing — we don’t need running the OPPOSITION party.
It is TIME for a SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVE. And I don’t mean the Al From-cloned European Socialisms like the worthless, useless UK Labour and French or German Socialist parties — which are as beholden to Goldman-Sachs as are the Democrats.
But an AMERICAN SOCIALISM must begin at home. If everyone who was pissed off at how rigged this system is, they would run for local public office, spend no money, crowd the ballots, and raise hell — Tea Party OR Socialist or just plain RAISE HELL — then perhaps the looming collapse of the current finance capitalist hegemonic new world order can be hastened; the liberal “wasteful spending” on the military can STOP; the wars can STOP; the looming apocalypse of Global Warming Climate Disruption can be mitigated; and new, authentic democratic systems can be created as models for a new sort of economy and governance in a vastly changed North American landscape.
THE SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVE MUST be democratic; the current (NOT ADAM SMITH) FINANCE CAPITALISM is anti-demoratic.
A good first step might be a return to the old fashioned ethos of “the customer is always right” capitalism. Let’s keep talking. It is time to yank the sociopsychopaths like From, Rove and the late Atwater and their descendants OUT of POWER permanently. Perople need an authentic opposition party to RESTORE THE NEW DEAL and BUILD ON IT.
Why can’t capitalists just take “yes” for an answer? FDR did NOT impose a socialist commie/pinko welfare state; he Saved Capitalism. And it is people like From, Rove and the late Atwater and their alcolytes, funders and sycophants who are showing today’s FINANCE CAPITALISTS how to win a lot of battles but lose the whole war.
It is time for a SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVE.
This is a Capital-less site.
Nice review but when it comes down to both parties have to tell Americans they will have to do with less and that starting with Gen X the days of successive improvement of each American generation are over. Try to be the politician who stands up and delivers that stark message.
DLC is just emblematic of the Boomers in general – idealists in college and maybe shortly that but largely turned out to be money grabbing whores who are largely insatiable regardless of party affiliation who refused to save adequately on the whole, refuse to age and step-aside, and are inflexible and incapable of either compromise or true leadership. ‘Grasshopper Generation’ who is devouring everything in site and increasingly even eating the seed corn.
Yes they will probably lose and lose and lose if they give the harsh message with nothing to offset it. But they could propose something actually desirable to offset it: more equal distribution of income is needed obviously and the something desirable is more leisure time, less stuff and a better qualify of life, more time for family, friends, and community. A better life than to spend every minute working for survival or to buy stuff (to compensate for the fact you spend every minute working).
Thanks for sharing your hate, as well as your sloppy concept that generations have agency.
But Lambert, us Boomers factually have been riding the greatest cumulative consumption curve in human history and stomped by far the largest foot-print in terms of the West’s legacy global and domestic environmental damage and resource loss of all kinds. And while it is true we as a generation are at or near peak power, wealth and influence, we, well, we haven’t exactly figured out what to do either theoretically or practically with the extra generation(s) that’ve been added all over the world since 1900 in terms of wealth not being passed and spent as quickly as it had for millenia, nor do we appear to have common bonding enough to pool our efforts to save the world for the kids. If it was our music or tv or internet or phone, or trip we had to cough up for, now maybe then you’d get a rise out of us. The future? Sorry, can’t help you, my friend.
Us boomers? Nice petitio elenchi. Show me the Boomer office on K Street and I’ll agree generations have agency.
I’ve got enough things to take real responsibility for without taking on imaginary constructs primarily of interest to marketers and writers of fluff pieces.
The grounds keepers and hired cheer squad create the enviroment, yet after the game is over, everyone talks about the teams and sports fans.
Skippy… the bricoleurs are usually the last thing on the menu
Skippy, you forgot the owners….
Oh, come on, Lambert. Your assertion re ‘agency’ is as bogus as a 3-bill, and you know it. I neither read nor write ‘fluff’ pieces and can re-state with absolute assurance my claim re “Boomers” in the same way I can say with certainty that “Americans love cars” and know that any reader will of course know I do not mean every single American, and that the statement remains true after decades of efforts to advance public transit.
I know there are disingenuous right-wingers in the financial press and elsewhere trying to co-opt portions of the environmental/resource argument, or the total -indebtedness argument for their own purposes, but the answer isn’t to deny that the propensity of the huge group of individuals that constitute the ‘Boomers’ as a group was to embark on an a life-long orgy of spending. I was there, all the way along, and am here now to tell the tale. I watched it unfold all around, at times in complete amazement. I believed as a young adult we (the post-War West) were crazy to so blithely and unilaterally carve up the planet for stupendously thoughtless consumption knowing billions were left and billions more were coming, and are even crazier now to insist on a God-given right to go shopping for baubles irrespective of consequences for the future of humanity or this planet. The poor ‘Boomer’ was of course never allowed to play – though a white ‘Boomer’ always had a better shake than his contemporary black and brown fellows. If you insist ‘Boomer’ is too wide to capture the phenomenon, then substitute ‘Non-Poor Boomer’, which in the US meant 75% back in the ’60’s and about 65% today.
We claim ownership of the ’60’s’ in a thousand ways, but from then on it was only and always ‘them’ that did it? Nope. We were the first completely commercialized, put-it-on-the-card generation in history and, speaking as a life-long ecological socialist, boy, does it show.
A response as prolix and vacuous as this is most certainly a fluff piece; it’s not my problem you can’t recognize the genre when you see it. Hate dulls the critical faculties, I suppose.
As for generations having agency, show me the Boomer (or the Millenial) office on K street, or take me to their leader, or their central committee, and I’ll believe they have agency, and not until then. Until until then, stop digging.
Migtronix aka mig-o is that you?
You won’t find much traction with that shtick around here, best to keep that hate in the cults secures.
Skippy… the same boomer hate meme is an indication imo as well at they stole or theft tropes…
I also notice the admission your premium rate is increasing. One of the central predictions of the ACA was that the market place would produce a reduction in premiums, not an increase in them. That was the central theme from the start. Indeed, much of the financial structure is built with assumptions of dropping prices. If prices continue to go up, financial structures for the subsidy plans could implode rather quickly.
The Democratic party moved to the right to occupy the gap left after the Republican party moved to the right in the 1990s. That was the idea of the DLC, to attract disaffected Republicans by borrowing some of the Republicans’ ideas. I was a disaffected Republican, and I finally quit the party in 2005, but now I’m frustrated. Apparently I quit the Republicans just in time to catch the Democrats going down the tubes. After giving birth to the the Affordable Care Act, like a salmon spawning in its native stream, the Democrats turned belly up and became a carcass. Frankly, the limpid effort they made this last election was appalling . I don’t blame the President. He was willing to do whatever they wanted, but the response seems to have been: “No, we’ll lose this election on our own, we can handle that.” So the question is, who will pick up the pieces? Of course it will be a new generation, because this one has sunsetted itself.
Most of the focus here is on the Democrats, but there is a similar problem on the Republican side though its more subdued, and Republican activists and ordinary voters have more power overall than their Democratic counterparts.
In the seven elections between 1960 and 1984, the Republicans nominated Nixon, Goldwater, Ford, and Reagan for President. In the next seven elections, between 1988 and 2012, they nominated Bush, Dole, Bush, McCain, and Romney.
The later group of nominees included three scions from one of the nation’s wealthiest and politically most connected families, and the son of an important admiral. Only Dole came from an ordinary background and worked his way up. Of the earlier group, I think only Goldwater was born into any wealth. The changeover happened about the same time as the “DLC” takeover of the Democrats, at the end of the Cold War.
This is something of a big deal, because ordinary Republican voters make a big deal, more so than ordinary Democratic voters, of not being “elitist”. And there are policy implications; the Republican version of health care is immigration, the base overwhelmingly votes for the party to basically close the borders and they get something close to the opposite.
It’s the Fromtopus!
Here’s some “bright” news coming from the leaders of the Democratic party.
The Trans Obama Partnership is picking up steam really fast.
Wonder how long before the Hagan-McCain tax repatriation holiday rears its ugly head again.
From is an idealist
LOL! His ideal seems to be: Everybody should have an equal right to be screwed by the rich.
As read this narrative–admittedly, I have not read the book itself, only your portrayal here of it–what the political activist Mr. From’s experience and story teaches us is that, far from centering campaigns around principles of some sort and then doing battle in favor of them–and against one’s opponents’ ideas– a follower of From’s example should approach matters as a pure opportunist, seeking to do what are merely the most convenient things as they are to be discovered by determining what power-interests already desire and how certain factions among these interests could be reconciled into something rather more broad and encompassing. In choosing to oppose the legacy of the New Deal and in taking positions which were simply anathema to the most basic princples of labor rights, From simply sought to remake an ersatz Democratic Party in the image of its opponents, the politically right-wing Republicans. In taking such a course, he’d naturally find allies in both the Republican party, who’d be quite pleased to see their former opponents ape their own ideas and motives, as well as those Democrats who are by inclination, the most Republican-like of their party. I can indeed see how a so-called self-styled “reformer” could see and take up such an opportunist course, but I don’t see how that serves us here as a model for productive progressive action in recovering what, thanks to just such a person as Al From and his aides and followers, the Democrats have so tragically lost—unless the idea is to attempt to reform the Republican Party in the image of Roosevelt’s New Deal ambitions to aid the neediest. I don’t see that as a winning strategy since, thanks to people such as From himself, today’s Democratic Party would fiercely oppose it, and the Republicans along with them.
And, since corporate money now rules virtually every aspect of our politics, both electoral and administrative, there is simply little reason to expect that even a new “third” (or, rather, a second party, opposed to the entrenched Republ-ocrats) party would present any effective remedy in a system which is not open to democratic initiatives in the first place.
I don’t agree that Democrats as I think of them “faced a shellacking in 2010.” or that ” [t]hey were just defeated, again, up and down the ticket.” Those people so described have nothing to do with what I call Democrats and so I don’t lament their losses or consider that, as a consequence of those losses, anything which I care about politically was seriously affected or set back in the first place. Instead, one faction of a single arch-conservative anti-democratic political system fought and lost out within the narrow confines of its own inner self-perpetuating logic. But that represents nothing of interest to populist democratic politics.
The readers of this site will not like to hear this, but the transition of the Democratic Party from a majoritarian party a least partially based on the economic interests of the working and middle class to a minoritarian party based on ethnicity , gender , and race supporting the economic interests of professional elites was a successful project of the New Left in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Remember the Frankfort School ? History is not made by the masses , but by outcast minorities.
If you are dissatisfied with the Democratic party today, remember that it instantiates the policies of many ‘progressives’ . This party, however, is the Party of Al Smith , not FDR . Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.
RE : “History is not made by the masses , but by outcast minorities.”
While that may be a truism with a certain validity, it passes over without comment the fact that various outcast minorities are always competing to make history and, in making it, these outcast minorities depend on for their validation and any durability their history-making may enjoy on those you dismissed as “the masses.” Not only are “we” “stuck with” the masses, to be honest, “we” also need them–in spite of their shortcomings and because of our own.
At some point it might really be productive to take a closer look at what went on during the New Deal, which, from my perspective, laid the foundation for an every accelerated trend towards centralized public/private power.
I tend to see the New Deal and the crisis of the 1930s as a time when the National State overcame the political caution and corporate hesitation that had characterized many of the earlier Progressive modifications of the market system.
Basically, what seemed to develop was a type of managerial capitalism in which the State accelerated its interventions in order to control divisions among corporate groups and financial circles as well as better manage clashes between labor and capital.
I would argue that it was during the New Deal that the State delegated power to more monopolistic private organizations largely based in the corporate sector. The monetary system and credit structure were also overhauled ( and centered in Washington DC) with the Banking Act of 1935, essentially making the credit supply and monetary management a practical instrument of government.
Calls for a New New Deal, from my perspective, is largely a vote in favor of a managerial type of capitalism between Big Capital, Big State and Big Bank which was created in the 1930s and which since the end of Word War II, has gradually eroded any hope for a more participatory democracy or any hope for alleviating the profound social-psychological crises created by this same managerial system.
How, though, do you interpret the following?— sheer empty rhetoric?
This is an informative piece, but it was still written with a heavily Democratic ideological filter. Stoller seems to accept From’s assertions about his motivations at face value and doesn’t provide any analysis as to why we should do so as well:
On some level Al From probably does believe in his shit. But that doesn’t make it not shit.
The Progressive Policy Institute is a way for the rich to give their right wing ideas a patina of intellectual respectabilility, like any other right-wing “think” tank. If the DLC was basically folded into the Clinton Global Initiative, then it was likely that they were already more than amenable to influence peddling for the wealthy. And the fact that he now works for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a group that almost exclusively works to elect Republicans, suggests that his allegiance can be bought.
This is a toxic fantasy:
Stoller seems to think that From succeeded on the strength of his ideas and doesn’t give any consideration as to why they were influential. Neoliberalism is an ideology that has been thoroughly discredited over the past seven years. But it is still what we have to live under because it serves our overlords. If you think that the Democrat elite will listen to you on the strength of your ideas, you live in a fantasy world.
The weird premise here is that From is somehow unusual for believing in his policy goals. Republicans believe in their policy goals too. From’s goals are exactly the same as those of center-right Republicans today — as Southern Democrats have often been. From could see he was to the right of much of the Democratic party, but like everyone else’s ideology, that was because that was what he believed in. The DLC was the right wing of the Democratic party, and the right wing of the Democratic party still mainly runs things today. There’s no deep history here, and it’s not a matter of one right-wing guy’s influence, since the fight between the right (Southern) and left (Northern) wings of the Democratic party has been going on since well before FDR. The real question is why these guys started dominating the whole party rather than just one faction starting in the 70s. But whatever the answer, it’s not due to From’s scheming; there are far bigger forces at play. Everybody in the 70s (and since) has been working hard to organize and start their own caucuses, and their ideas are neither more nor less new than From’s anti-liberal “reform” prescriptions. So when Stoller suggests that the solution is to be more like From and “organize around ideas”, he’s missing an important lesson. Everyone has ideas, and everyone tries to organize. The question is why the conservative/From DLC faction of the Democratic party was the group who actually managed to take over. And sadly, that probably has more to do with the destruction of labor and the rise of corporate power than with the intrinsic strength of From’s ideas or his organizational efforts or prowess. I appreciate Stoller’s larger point that we need to organize movements and not just elect Democrats, but however depressing it may be, our time doing so will be wasted if we don’t also understand that the reason the efforts of people like From were successful when so many others are not was because From had the (eventual) backing of the increasingly powerful rich, and was opposed by the increasingly weakening unions and poor.