The complacency of the “Democratic Establishment” reveals a profound lack of appreciation for the pulsing discontent among millennial voters in the current run up to the presidential election. Surely, it’s more than mere coincidence that both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump — who have almost nothing in common — share an overlapping of voters who have adopted usage of the term “Establishment.”
US politicians from Ronald Reagan straight on through Barack Obama have told us that things are getting better, yet the primary experience for millennial voters has been to watch people of modest means continuously descend economically — dropping in class.
They saw banks bailed out and homeowners moved out — nearly 4 million homes were foreclosed each year after the Great Recession. The sum of their life experiences with capitalism and establishment politics has politically activated an entire generation of young Americans unable to ignore soaring income inequality, crushing college debt, flat wages, two recessions and a financial crisis.
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What can be said about the coming together of these millennial voters is that they are centered around a set of progressive policies, including single-payer health care, free college tuition, a $15 minimum wage and breaking up the big banks — talking points familiar to anyone who has heard Bernie Sanders.
Neoliberalism Implies a Consensus
At the heart of that decline stands the almost invisible ideology of neoliberalism — the private and public financialization of everything. Seldom recognized as an ideology, neoliberalism has redefined citizens as consumers and competition as the defining characteristic of all human relations, where the process rewards merit and punishes inefficiency.
The idea of neoliberalism implies a consensus across the political spectrum about markets, about the role of the financial industry, labor unions, public services and also about the role of average people. According to historian and political analyst Thomas Frank, the consummate figure in its development — the one that brought all the different strands together — was achieved by President Bill Clinton. “He got things done that Republicans never dreamed of getting done,” Frank told radio host Christopher Lydon, citing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as a prime example.
“Neoliberalism or globalization, or whatever you want to call it,” said Frank, was achieved in large part through these trade agreements and “NAFTA was the big one.”
In his recent book, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, Frank draws on years of research and first-hand reporting to explain that Democrats have done little to advance traditional liberal goals, despite occupying the White House for 16 of the last 24 years.
Nevertheless, “One of the reasons I voted for Barack Obama and was so pleased to see him elected president,” said Frank, was because “I thought it was the end of the Clinton dominance of the Democratic Party.”
Democrats Just Aren’t Who They Claim
Liberalism itself has changed and Democrats — like Republicans — have become a class party co-opted by hyper-educated elite and a meritocracy that is as rigidly status-driven and as averse to outside voices, as class based upon wealth. The highest levels of the Democratic Party, beginning with Bill Clinton and then Barack Obama, have turned away from the economic commitment that has long been the hallmark of the party.
Corporate capture of the current Democratic Party comes into focus with the composition of the 15-member Host Committee of lobbyists and corporate executives for the upcoming 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Led by finance chair Daniel Hilferty, who is CEO of health insurance giant Independence Blue Cross, this Host Committee will handle media relations, plan and organize events.
Once considered the “party of the people,” Democrats just aren’t who they claim to be these days. A point further illustrated by a recently lifted ban on federal lobbyist donations to the party and convention committee.
How Quickly Political Backs Turn After Election
Millennial voters aren’t about to be tricked with election campaign promises they know will be soon forgotten. They’ve seen how quickly political backs turn once an election is over — it’s a trust gap that is likely to live well beyond the current election cycle. Bernie Sanders would describe it as a “political revolution.”
After campaigning in 2008 on bailing out the 18 million homeowners who had lost all the equity in their homes, President Obama abandoned that promise. Again in 2009, even when he had the votes in both houses, President Obama chose not to introduce a bill to raise the minimum wage. And yet again, it was President Obama who withdrew the public option, even after the House had passed it and he had 53 votes in the Senate to pursue single-payer health care.
Once elected and with the help of Michael Froman — a high-ranking executive at Citigroup — President Obama picked his economic team from among the Wall Street protégés of Robert Rubin, the Goldman Sachs executive and former economic adviser to the Clinton administration. The team President Obama put in place to run his economic policy was dominated by people connected through Goldman Sachs, the Bill Clinton administration, Citigroup and the Hamilton Project — a think tank Robert Rubin spearheaded under the auspices of the Brookings Institute to promote the philosophy of balanced budgets, free trade and financial deregulation.
Millennial voters should know and not forget that they were sold out — particularly on the economic side — by the Obama administration seeking to gain corporate political support.
“Millennial voters should…not forget that they were sold out…by the Obama administration seeking to gain corporate political support.”
In Washington, Democratic insiders “see the demographic changes going on in this country and they say, ‘we don’t need to do anything differently,'” observed Thomas Frank, who believes that party elites are utterly complacent about the future of the Democratic Party. In fact, Frank says Hillary Clinton is “openly running as a candidate of complacency, as Barack Obama’s third term.”
Pretending President Bill Clinton’s economic policies were in fact successful, the former secretary of state has also been hugging the presidency of Barack Obama and ignoring the capitulated promises of his 2008 campaign. Like her husband, Hillary Clinton changes her position according to political currents. She has consistently mimicked the talking points of Bernie Sanders throughout the primary season. It is an observation that gives merit to the words of Jon Stewart, who imagines Hillary Clinton “to be a very bright woman without the courage of her convictions.”
Betrayal and Racial Injustices
While claiming to be a “pragmatic progressive,” Hillary Clinton has been careful in the current election cycle to avoid undermining her image as a “feminist” candidate and champion for women and children by publicly avoiding discussions about her part in the economic betrayal and racial injustices that grew from the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which she helped to pass.
Seizing on the misleading stereotypes of poor women of color as lazy, promiscuous and dependent, Hillary and Bill Clinton together — with the center-leaning Democratic Leadership Council — advanced this sweeping legislation, which restricted eligibility for cash welfare and imposed strict work requirements, making it difficult for poor mothers to earn a college degree.
Disingenuous messaging and use of racial code words were particularly crucial to the Clinton’s assault on welfare. Taking an active role in the lead-up to welfare reform, Hillary herself “advocated tying the welfare payment to certain behavior about being a good parent.”
Despite the abundance of published research available prior to passage of PRWORA, the Clinton White House disregarded the needs of women who sought to escape domestic violence and single mothers who needed cash assistance to get maternity leave that they didn’t receive from work and during short periods of unemployment.
Three prominent Clinton administration officials working at the Department of Health and Human Services — Mary Jo Bane, Wendell Primus and Peter Edelman — resigned in protest.
As recently as in her 2008 presidential run, she continued to argue that this so called welfare-to-work legislation was enormously successful, ignoring that the “reformed” welfare system provided little safety net, no hand up and did nothing to provide jobs. Moreover, the legislation economically deterred poor mothers from college and trapped them into exploitative, poverty-wage jobs and dangerous personal situations.
Living in a Nation of Winners and Losers
Struggling to make ends meet isn’t limited to the poorest among us anymore. A record 47 million Americans — nearly one in six — were living below the poverty line in 2014. Today, in an emergency, 47 percent of us would be unable to come up with $400!
According to a Federal Reserve Board survey that has monitored the financial and economic status of American consumers since 2013, this is now a reality for most: those who are just beginning, those soon-to-retire, middle-class professionals and even to those in the upper class. Juggling creditors, trying to appear reasonably prosperous, pretending everything is going smoothly is what Americans do now. There is no money to save for many Americans — they live in a continual state of financial peril.
Rather than swallowing their pride, many Americans continue to accept that we live in a nation of winners and losers, while trying to avoid the humiliation and shame of appearing to struggle financially.
Millennia Voters Are Centered on Economic Goals
It’s hard to imagine the evolving Democratic platform being more at odds with Bill Clinton’s centrist Third Way — the strategy that he and Hillary designed to lure white voters back to the Democratic Party in the early 1990s.
The Clintons and their advisors have a history going back decades. The claimed “legislative successes” of President Bill Clinton are directly traceable to the decisions to remove many of the restraints on Wall Street. Bill and Hillary Clinton, along with their advisers Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Laura Tyson and Alan Greenspan, all share major responsibility for the 2008 global financial crisis.
Recently revealed documents show bank-friendly advisers in the Clinton administration were focused on the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which prevented investment banks, insurers and retail banks from merging.
In fact, the Clinton administration helped the banks run amok with the passing of the Financial Services Modernization Act, which gave retrospective clearance to the earlier and, at the time, unlawful merger of Citigroup and Travelers Group.
Access and Ability to Influence What Legislation Is Pursued
Referring to Hillary Clinton, Bill Curry, a former advisor who worked with the Clintons throughout the presidency of Bill Clinton, told radio host Christopher Lydon, “She’s the living avatar of both neoliberal economics and pay-to-play politics … They built the system and the system is killing us,” said Curry.
At this point, US financial elites are so brazenly corrupt, arrogant and predatory that political leaders beholden to them can’t even pretend to deliver economic or political security, much less fairness or progress.
With money pouring into politics from every conceivable form of institution, including dark money and super PACs,the access given and ability to influence what legislation is pursued could hardly be more obvious — they’ve all been richly rewarded not to see the issue.
A Generation Cast Aside by the Neoliberal Assault
Recently, Noam Chomsky said both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are “appealing to the fact that people have just been cast aside by the neoliberal assault of the past generation.” Chomsky recognizes that it does matter who sits in the White House because “there’s one force that’s always going to be there: private concentrated capital, corporate power. Lobbyist, corporate lawyers and so on, writing the legislations, certainly, they’re funding the elections, they’ll always be there.”
On the other hand, Chomsky notes, “The important question is: Is there going to be a countervailing force? Is there going to be a force representing popular interests, needs and concerns, defending themselves against what in fact is a standard class-based assault against them?”
What remains to be seen, observes the world-renowned political dissident, is whether, in the current generally right-wing climate, “the energy and enthusiasm that’s been organized and mobilized can be used to develop an ongoing popular movement, which will be a powerful force, no matter who’s in office, to influence and direct the country in ways that are absolutely necessary?”