Since the election of President Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party has traded in its legacy of the New Deal and civil rights legislation in favor of what is often called a “Better Deal”. This approach to governing, in which the candidates trumpet progressive rhetoric to get elected, then fail to make significant changes to the policies set in place by Republicans, has helped the Democrats lose election after election. And this string of failures has allowed the “fan-favorite” presidents Bush Jr. and Trump into the White House, where they are have done the opposite of what the Democrats claim to want.
The question of why the Democrats have stuck with this seemingly losing strategy for so long boils down to their adherence to the economic policies of neoliberalism. According to Investopedia, neoliberalism calls for control of the economy to be transferred from government into the hands of businesses. While traditional liberalism encourages a free-market system, neoliberalism takes the idea of unrestrained capitalism and runs with it. This situation is best described by Noam Chomsky in an interview with The Nation: “There was a transition at that time[the 1970s] from the period of what some people call “regimented capitalism,” the ’50s and ’60s, the great growth period, egalitarian growth, a lot of advances in social justice and so on…That’s sometimes called “the golden age of modern capitalism.” That changed in the ’70s with the onset of the neoliberal era that we’ve been living in since. And if you ask yourself what this era is, its crucial principle is undermining mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy.”
This process, in which political power(and wealth) was concentrated more and more into the hands of the wealthiest Americans, had led to officials of both parties enacting policies intended to remove the shackles of regulation and taxation from the biggest businesses. As a result, they are now allowed to maximize profits at whatever cost. Politicians do this out of obligation to their big special interest donors, on whom their elections and reelections depend. As Chomsky argues, neoliberalism has prevented us from addressing our societal problems, including our greatest existential threats, which, as he points out, are climate change and nuclear weapons.
Both major parties are neoliberal, as those who provide the majority of the funding for all mainstream candidates are rewarded with pro-corporate policies, making politicians into lucrative human investments. It is no coincidence that many of the most powerful government officials happen to be extremely rich, especially in the current administration. As a result of all this, the rest of us, without millions of dollars to spend on campaigns, are left without representation of any meaningful kind, and thus the parties have come together ideologically when it comes to economics.
While there certainly are ideological differences between members of the two main parties, they are not nearly as significant as they should be. One example would be how the Democrats have implemented only mildly effective environmental protection policies, while the Republicans tend to deny the dangers of climate change and pollution altogether. Their policies are not the same, but the damage continues regardless of who is in power, and there is no major party truly serious about dealing with ecological issues, let alone health care, taxes or war. The only somewhat meaningful difference in the parties, for the most part, is their stance on so-called social issues.
For example, the two parties often debate topics such income inequality, free speech and gay marriage. These disagreements create a false-dichotomy in which the Democrats appear to be the Party of the Left, and the GOP the Party of the Right, when in reality that is not the case (at least not with regard to their stances on economics). The American people no longer have a reason to accept this “better deal”not after a left-wing candidate was denied the Democratic nomination in favor of a conservative one, and not after a far-right candidate won the presidency by offering what his supporters perceived as a message of economic justice. While a Democratic victory in Congress might be the best way to counter the fiscal (and social!) extremism of the President, the odds of this do not seem good. This sad situation is best illustrated by the Party leadership itself, with its slogan “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future”.
The Democrats claim that they intend to raise wages and incomes, create jobs, lower the cost of living and prescription drugs as well as increase investment in infrastructure and small business. Two questions immediately come to mind in response: How exactly do they plan to do any of that, without any control of the federal government? And why didn’t they do any of that when they did have total control of the government? The precarious economy of the Obama era was one of the main factors that drove people to Trump! This has to stop.
Neoliberalism and unfettered campaign donations have killed the Democratic Party. We can no longer survive by making vague promises and blaming the GOP for all of our problems. The only hope for the party is if enough candidates take the Bernie Sanders approach and reject big corporate funding in favor of citizen-funding campaigns.This would put them at a monetary disadvantage in the primary races, but if the people believe in them, they could win and take the majorities in the House and Senate. But unless that happens, our members of Congress will continue to ignore us, and we can look forward to a GOP majority for the rest of the president’s term (no matter how low his approval rating is). The American people need a comprehensive plan of action, and we’re not going to get that from either of the two parties or their big special interest donors. What we are being offered right now is just another bad deal.