With the 2016 election, we have a rare opportunity to break the chokehold the neoliberal agenda has maintained for nearly half a century on the political, economic, and social life of this nation. To do so, we will have to get over the crushing cynicism that has defined establishment politics for decades and elect Bernie Sanders as president.
For too many liberals, the far-right obstructionists in Congress and state governments have served as an excuse for resignation and lowered expectations. But not everything can be blamed on the right. In his important new book, Listen, Liberal, Thomas Frank aptly describes how the Democratic Party steadily shifted away from its traditional working-class base and became a champion of Wall Street and Silicon Valley technocrats. It’s an inconvenient truth that many of the policies that produced decades of wage stagnation, massively transferred wealth to the 1 percent, and created the “you’re on your own” society started not with Ronald Reagan but with his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, a Democrat.
As Frank notes, it took the presidency of Bill Clinton to bring this new world order to full fruition. From the shredding of manufacturing jobs with NAFTA to the 1994 crime bill, from the gutting of welfare that left millions in extreme poverty to deregulating the banking, electricity, and telecom industries—Clinton cemented the Democratic Party’s alignment with Wall Street and global capital. As a result, millions of American workers and families continue to struggle in an economy tilted to the wealthy and the elite and a political system corrupted by corporate donors and billionaires.
While electing Hillary Clinton would be a symbolic first, nothing in her record or her campaign suggests that she would break the class ceiling or reverse the marriage of the Democratic Party to Wall Street and K Street. Indeed, much of her campaign is a reminder of the “triangulation” that so characterized the Bill Clinton years. To cite just a few examples:
- Hillary Clinton attacks the premise of single-payer and insists we can’t “refight” healthcare. Instead, she merely promises to tweak the gaping holes in the Affordable Care Act.
- Rather than banning fracking, as Sanders favors, she proposes “safeguards” that rely on companies to disclose the deadly chemicals they use. But these measures would do little to reduce the carbon emissions that jeopardize public health and cause climate change.
- She insists her plan for Wall Street is “tougher” than Sanders’s, while seeing no conflict in the funding she received from the financial-services industry for years. She reassures us that she counseled the bankers to cut it out before the meltdown, while continuing to hide transcripts of the speeches to Goldman Sachs, for which she was paid $675,000 that one attendee says were “glowing about us.” (Corrected: An earlier version of this article mistakenly cited $675 million.)
- In the area of experience she touts most, foreign policy, her fondness for regime change—as evidenced in Libya (which President Obama now calls his “worst mistake”), her implicit support of a disastrous coup in Honduras, and her embrace of Henry Kissinger—hardly offer comfort.
Fortunately, we have an alternative. Bernie Sanders’s campaign—and the movement aligned with it—is the most significant effort to uproot the Democratic Party establishment in decades (with a nod to the Rev. Jesse Jackson who, like Sanders, was demonized by both the corporate media and party elites).