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Monday, January 11, 2016

How the Democratic Party was Bamboozled

Third Way and The New Orleans Declaration from Al From

Al From Takes credit for the birth of the "Third Way", which was a movement of Democrats exemplified by Bill Clinton that aimed at stealing thunder from the Right Wing while preserving the Democrats and allowing them to make a comeback against the Reagan revolution. The Democratic party had been in a hole for years, losing elections, losing "market share", legislators and local government, and worst of all for the insiders - losing patronage from big business and wealthy donors. Third way allowed politicians to continue to claim to champion populist and new deal policies while getting access to all that money.

Critiquing The Manifesto

From the New Orleans Declaration:

"We believe the promise of America is equal opportunity, not equal outcomes."

It also has to be equity -- since there is actual oppression, discrimination and inequity in it's operation.

"We believe the Democratic Party’s fundamental mission is to expand opportunity, not government."

Expanding "opportunity" is code for laissez faire. Always popular short run, until people start drinking contaminated water, or find their jobs moved to China.

"We believe in the politics of inclusion. Our party has historically been the means by which aspiring Americans from every background have achieved equal rights and full citizenship."

They had to say this to remain Democrats.

"We believe that America must remain energetically engaged in the worldwide struggle for individual liberty, human rights, and prosperity, not retreat from the world."

In practice that meant going along with the World Conglomerates/IMF/World Bank's projects of neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism.

"We believe that the U.S. must maintain a strong and capable defense, which reflects dramatic changes in the world, but which recognizes that the collapse of communism does not mean the end of danger."

The question is "end of danger from what?" It took 10 years to shift the danger from "communists" to Moslems, or immigrants from Central America.

"We believe that economic growth is the prerequisite to expanding opportunity for everyone. The free market, regulated in the public interest, is the best engine of general prosperity."

This was a concession to the GOP and Right Wing. It is a truism. The question is where is the free market supposed to be? In health care?

"We believe the right way to rebuild America’s economic security is to invest in the skills and ingenuity of our people, and to expand trade, not restrict it."

In practice this meant anti-labor trade policies and offshoring.

"We believe that all claims on government are not equal. Our leaders must reject demands that are less worthy, and hold to clear governing priorities."

In practice this meant stepping on the less vocal.

"We believe a progressive tax system is the only fair way to pay for government."

They didn't even mean this one.

"We believe in preventing crime and punishing criminals, not explaining away their behavior."

In practice this led to Three Strikes laws, mandatory minimums, and unjust incarcerations that targeted minorities.

"We believe the purpose of social welfare is to bring the poor into the nation’s economic mainstream, not maintain them in dependence."

Actually the purpose of social welfare is to ensure no-one is left out of the economy. This formulation was abusive and demonized the poor.

"We believe in the protection of civil rights and the broad movement of minorities into America’s economic and cultural mainstream, not racial, gender, or ethnic separatism. We will not tolerate another decade in which the only civil rights movement is backward."

In practice this coupled with unjust "crime" enforcement (especially drug laws) enfeebled Civil Rights efforts.

"We believe government should respect individual liberty and stay out of our private lives and personal decisions."

Sounds good.

"We believe in the moral and cultural values that most Americans share: liberty of conscience, individual responsibility, tolerance of difference, the imperative of work, the need for faith, and the importance of family."

Sounds good.

"Finally, we believe that American citizenship entails responsibilities as well as rights, and we mean to ask our citizens to give something back to their communities and their country."

Mostly Sound good? Such manifestos always sound good. We have to look at them critically. Some of the items on that list were GOP slogans, and so Democrats who got involved into Third Way were already compromising with GOP Tropes, all of which sounded good at the time, but many of which were actually myths. For now I'm just going to examine some paragraphs later in the document.

The Devil is in the details

But as usual with neo-keynesian "third way" folks "the devil is in the details:

"The old budget politics of the right and the left don’t work anymore. We can’t tax our way out of the deficit, and we can’t cut our way out, either. We have to invest and grow our way out. To make room for strategic investments in our public infrastructure and human capital—such as those we propose in this Declaration—we will need to cut spending and raise revenues."

Actually we could tax away some of our budget deficits. The issue wasn't "can't" it was volitional. But this was a popular argument for not raising taxes on the millionaires and billionaires, and reflected the bait and switch habits of taxation where taxes were premised on going after great wealth -- and instead sucked wealth out of middle class families.

"Sensible deficit reduction requires neither taking a “meat axe” to federal spending nor placing an excessive tax burden on average families, but rather a reordering of federal tax and spending priorities to create a sound environment for growth and enterprise."

In practice those concessions to the Right meant that they went along with tax reductions on the millionaire and billionaire class that were the main purpose of the GOP; and which were the 'bait' term "growth and enterprise" -- which is code for the "switch" of laissez faire towards speculation and rent seeking activities.

"That means taking a hard look at federal entitlements and subsidies; cutting spending for low priorities and eliminating outmoded programs; reducing the military budget to adjust to new world realities; making strategic public investments in human capital, infrastructure, and technology; turning over to the states functions that they can perform better than Washington; and, restoring to progressivity the tax code."

In a sense Al From was either himself naive about the program of the super wealthy, or more likely, complicit in their goals. Because when they talk about cutting "federal entitlements" they always are looking at the programs that actually benefit working people and the people cut out of the work force by monopolistic policies. These only emerged as issues thanks to the policies they pushed. They paid lip service to New Deal Traditional Democratic policies. But the policies were actually Neo-liberal.

Further Reading

I'm not going to critique the entire manifesto in this post (that would take a book) and since From's book is still on my reading list so I have to defer that to a later work. While so far I've only read the blurbs shared by Amazon and reviewers so far. I remember most of this. And it needs to be deconstructed.

Al From's book The New Democrats and the Return to Power (2013)
The Manifesto of The Third Way Democrats- The New Orleans Declaration

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