Notes Toward an Definition of the Democrat Party

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

What is says on the tin. This is a “living document,” which I will add to from time to time. At some point all or part may emerge as a real post or posts. (I actually posted this on Tuesday, January 4, 2022. It’s backdated to November 3, 2020 so it drops off the front page.)

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Lambert here: Obviously, the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself. Why is that? First, the Democrat Party is the political expression of the class power of PMC, their base (lucidly explained by Thomas Frank in Listen, Liberal!). It follows that the Democrat Party is as “unreformable” as the PMC is unreformable; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. If the Democrat Party fails to govern, that’s because the PMC lacks the capability to govern. (“PMC” modulo “class expatriates,” of course.) Second, all the working parts of the Party reinforce each other. Leave aside characterizing the relationships between elements of the Party (ka-ching, but not entirely) those elements comprise a network — a Flex Net? An iron octagon? — of funders, vendors, apparatchiks, electeds, NGOs, and miscellaneous mercenaries, with assets in the press and the intelligence community. (Note that voters do not appear within this structure. That’s because, unlike say UK Labour or DSA, the Democrat Party is not a membership organization. Dull normals may “identify” with the Democrat Party, but they cannot join it, except as apparatchiks at whatever level.) Whatever, if anything, that is to replace the Democrat Party needs to demonstrate the operational capability to contend with all this. Sadly, I see nothing of the requisite scale and scope on the horizon, though I would love to be wrong. (If Sanders had leaped nimbly from the electoral train to the strike wave train after losing in 2020, instead of that weak charity sh*t he went with, things might be different today. I am not sure that was in him to do, and I’m not sure he had the staff to do it, although I believe such a pivot to a “war of movement” would have been very popular with his small donors. What a shame the app wasn’t two-way.) Ah well, nevertheless.

For an example of the class power that the PMC can wield, look no further than RussiaGate. All the working parts of the Democrat Party fired on all cylinders to cripple an elected President; it was very effective, and went on for years. Now imagine that the same Party had worked, during Covid, to create an alternative narrative — see Ferguson et al., supra, to see what such a narrative might have looked like, and with the unions (especially teachers) involved. At the very least, the Biden Administration would have had a plan, and the ground prepared for it. At the best, a “parallel government” (Gene Sharp #198) would have emerged, ready to take power in 2020. Instead, all we got was [genuflects] Tony Fauci. And Cuomo and Newsom butchering their respective Blue States, of course. The difference? With RussiaGate, Democrats were preventing governance. In my alternative scenario, they would have been preparing for it.

And while we’re at it: Think of the left’s programs, and lay them against the PMC’s interests. (1) Free College, even community college. Could devalue PMC credentials. Na ga happen. (2) MedicareForAll. Ends jobs guarantee for means-testing gatekeepers in government, profit-through-denial-of-care gatekeepers in the health insurance business, not to mention opposition from some medical guilds. Na ga happen. (3) Ending the empire (and reining in the national security state). The lights would go out all over Fairfax and Loudon counties. Na ga happen. These are all excellent policy goals. But let’s be clear that it’s not only billionaires who oppose them.

Showing the PMC’s inability to govern, as a class they seem unable to expand their scope of operations into new fields. Consider the possibilities of the “Swiss Cheese Model.” Layered defenses include extensive testing, contact tracing, ventilation systems (not merely blue collar HVAC work, but design and evaluation), and quarantines. If we look at each layer as a jobs guarantee for credentialed professionals and managers, like ObamaCare, the opportunities are tremendous (and that’s before we get to all the training and consulting). And yet the PMC hasn’t advocated for this model at all. Instead, we get authoritarian followership (Fauci) and a totalizing and tribalizing faith in an extremely risky vax-only solution. Why? It’s almost as if they’re “acting against their own self-interest,” and I don’t pretend to understand it.

And I’m not the only one who’s puzzled. “Even if you…

A second example of the PMC’s inability to govern comes under the rubric of “our democracy.” Of the various components of the Democrat party, NGOs, miscellaneous mercenaries, assets in the press, and the intelligence community all believe — or at least repeat vociferously — that “our democracy” is under threat, whether from election integrity issues, or from fascism. But other components — funders, vendors, apparatchiks, and electeds — don’t believe this at all. On election integrity, HR 1 has not passed. Gerrymandering continues apace (also a sign that Republicans take their politics much more seriously than Democrats do). On fascism, I suppose we have Pelosi’s January 6 Commission. But nothing unlawful took place, or we would have Merrick Garland’s January Investigation. The combination of hysterical yammering from some Democrats and blithe indifference from others is extremely unsettling. (This leaves aside the question of whether Democrats, as a party, have the standing to whinge about either the erosion of democracy or the imminence of fascism. I say no.) Of course, there is a solution to the problems with “our democracy”:

It is said, I believe by Thomas Frank, that the Democrats are the Party of Betrayal. Certainly the “Build Back Better” debacle provides many examples of combinatorial betrayal. Manchin betrayed Biden (by lying to Biden at his house). Biden betrayed everybody (by believing, I am persuaded, and acting as if he had Manchin’s vote in his pocket*). Schumer betrayed everybody (by keeping Manchin’s written request a secret). Pelosi betrayed Jayapal (by splitting BIF and BBB into two bills and by relying on Republican votes). The Democrat leadership betrayed the Progressive Caucus (by explicitly and verbally making the face-to-face promise that BBB would be passed, and then not delivering). And, though this is harsh, Sanders betrayed his voters with his 2020 turn toward electoralism (by personally liking Biden, and relying on his deal-making ability, now shown to be a sham). I don’t think the Squad betrayed anybody, unless you regard participating in the process as a betrayal, so there’s that. NOTE * I believe Biden’s top line was Manchin’s from the beginning, and nowhere near Sanders’.

2022-01-05

I have moved my standing remarks on the Democrat Party (“the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself”) to a separate, back-dated post, to which I will periodically add material, summarizing the addition here in a “live” Water Cooler. (Hopefully, some Bourdieu.) It turns out that defining the Democrat Party is, in fact, a hard problem. I do think the paragraph that follows is on point all the way back to 2016, if not before:

The Democrat Party is the political expression of the class power of PMC, their base (lucidly explained by Thomas Frank in Listen, Liberal!). It follows that the Democrat Party is as “unreformable” as the PMC is unreformable; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. If the Democrat Party fails to govern, that’s because the PMC lacks the capability to govern. (“PMC” modulo “class expatriates,” of course.) Second, all the working parts of the Party reinforce each other. Leave aside characterizing the relationships between elements of the Party (ka-ching, but not entirely) those elements comprise a network — a Flex Net? An iron octagon? — of funders, vendors, apparatchiks, electeds, NGOs, and miscellaneous mercenaries, with assets in the press and the intelligence community.

Note, of course, that the class power of the PMC both expresses and is limited by other classes; oligarchs and American gentry (see ‘industrial model’ of Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Jie) and the working class spring to mind. Suck up, kick down.

We sometimes tell ourselves that society is structured like a corporation or the army, where there is a “chain of command.” I don’t think that’s true. I’ve been reading — and I need to do a lot more reading of books than I do skimming of Twitter, how to find the time — Pierre Bordieu’s Forms of Capital (1983-1984). He has this to say, which helps me think about how to anatomize the Democrat Party:

I think one of the obstacles to thnking scientifically about the social world and providing an adequate construction of it us the architectural type of philosophy that Marxism [not equal to Marx], with its infrastructures, superstructures, procedures and apparatuses, so powerfully underpins….. [Our social unconscious] tends to represent the social world as a house where there are foundations (the infrastructure) and then superstructures. The social world then is construed as something well structured, something we could draw: society is like a pyramid…

Speaking of a “space of spaces” is to say that there is a universe of of spaces whose boundaries are not very clear — which is a nuisance: We like to draw lines around things. we like things to say in their place — and with no obvious hierarchies, since the hierarchies are in a state of constant flux. One property of these subspaces is precisely their struggle for their positions in the space. We might see this as a sort of artistic construction like mobiles, which move very subtly with a kind of imperceptible shift (by the time we have detected it, it is already over) or, sometimes, with an abrupt change of position.

To give an account of RussiaGate — that enormous Democrat Party operation — will I think be far easier to do using Bordieu’s style of thought than more conventional left approaches. (See Capital, Volume III, Chapter 52: “[Here the manuscript breaks off.]” I should say that by no means wish to erase real, material power relations, or even the notion of class; I just want to use a lens that can actual detect the cascading motions of the object of interest. For those still reading, here is an image of a Calder mobile:

(Here is a video about Calder; here is a video of how to make a Calder-style mobile. Good project!) Back in the day, I used to go regularly to the Fogg Museum in Cambridge. They had a Calder mobile on display; the wonderful thing is that I could blow on it — without a guard coming a-running, interestingly — and the mobile would move. The mobile was dynamic, and every part affected every other part. And I suppose if one wished to stop the mobile from moving, the schwerpunkt would not be that difficult to detect. Not so with a monolithic, static pyramid…

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I’m still puzzling over the PMC’s willful refusal to govern, which goes back at least to 2008 — Obama’s miserably inadequate stimulus package and the ACA debacle being two prime examples — and this article from Thomas Frank popped into my mind. It’s even more biting than Listen, Liberal. From Harper’s, “Nor a Lender Be“:

Sitting there in gilded Manhattan, I thought of all the abandoned factories and postindustrial desolation in the surrounding regions, and I mused on how, in such places, the Democratic establishment was receding into terminal insignificance. It had virtually nothing to say to the people who inhabit that land of waste and futility.

But for the faithful liberals at the Clinton Foundation gathering in New York, none of that mattered. The party’s deficit in relevance to average citizens was more than made up by its massive surplus in moral virtue. Here, inside the theater, the big foundations and the great fashion magazines were staging a pageant of goodness unquestionable, and the liberal class was swimming happily in its home element.

They knew which things were necessary to make up a liberal movement, and all of the ingredients were present: well-meaning billionaires; grant makers and grant recipients; Hollywood stars who talked about social media; female entrepreneurs from the Third World; and, of course, an audience of hundreds, who clapped and cheered enthusiastically every time one of their well-graduated leaders wandered across the stage. The performance of liberalism was so realistic one could almost believe it lived.

If the primary social relation (funders aside) between liberal Democrat electeds and Democrat NGOs is sycophantic groupthink, and the primary expression of that groupthink is performative virtue signalling, one can see why these components of the Democrat Party are incapable of governing, let alone politics. We can see these tendencies in RussiaGate, but they are visible all the more strongly in vaccination policy, where vaccination and virtue are equated, and Fauci embodies both. Note that with Vax only, nothing more is required of liberal Democrats than, essentially, the consumption of a consumer product. Nothing fundamental will change.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.