Tuesday, April 1, 2014

My Marriage Of Convenience to the Democratic Party Is On The Rocks

My political party affiliations have changed over the years.  As a child I considered myself a Republican, mostly because that's what my parents were.  In my teens I realized that my evolving political ideals bore no resemblance whatsoever to the GOP, and by the time I reached 17 I was calling myself a socialist with a small s.  Those inflamed adolescent ideas mellowed into the social democratic perspective that I've had since my early twenties.  If I lived in Germany I'd gladly throw my hat in with the SPD (or perhaps the Greens), but no such party exists in America.

In my youth I held the Democrats in low regard, and did not care all that much about their situation, even though I detested (and continue to detest) the conservative movement, which has pretty much held the Republican party captive for the past two decades.  The feeling was sealed by the Clinton administration.  I was just too young to vote in 1992, but would have voted for Clinton as the most representative option I had.  When he took office I had some hopes that his administration would begin to turn the tide against twelve years of Reagan/Bush and bring about positive change.  Instead Clinton focused on deficit reduction over social spending, welfare "reform," and generally triangulating his way to reelection rather than doing anything to improve the plight of the middle and working classes.  The bid for health care reform crashed and burned, and after that Clinton seemed to give up on any kind of progressive agenda.  During the last part of his presidency the country was consumed by a frivolous scandal related to his inability to control his own libido.  Yes it was overblown by his enemies, but if Clinton had kept it in his pants it would not have been an issue.

I am not sure where the current nostalgia for Clinton among progressives comes from.  It's probably related to the booming economy of the 1990s, but that economy grew in ways that exacerbated the wealth inequalities of the Reagan years, and made them worse, rather than better.  For that reason I gladly voted Nader in 2000.  People seem to forget that Gore's 2000 campaign carried barely a hint of anything bold or progressive.  Our country had a massive budget surplus, and he still wasn't willing to push for universal health care or new programs to alleviate poverty.

Ironically, it was the 2000 election that forced me into a shotgun marriage with the Democrats.  The Bush administration was so awful that it made Reagan's look preferable by comparison.  When Shrub spun his web of lies to get the country into war in Iraq I began to feel that I had to throw in my lot with the only political organization with the ability to stop him.  In 2003, for the first time, I really began to care about the fortunes of the Democratic party.  I followed their candidates and rooted for them to win.  Politics began to feel like a life or death struggle, and it was useless to sit on the sideline and feel like I was above it.

My investment only increased in 2008, when for the first time I voted for a presidential candidate with enthusiasm.  I didn't think Obama was perfect, but he seemed to be by far the most progressive candidate to get a Democratic nomination in my lifetime.  After eight long years of Bushworld he was a welcome breath of fresh air, and his election gave me hope that three decades of conservative dominance were coming to an end.  When he started his presidency with an honest-to-goodness economic stimulus plan, I felt vindicated in my vote.  The years of neoliberalism looked to finally be over.

Of course, that's around the time that the problems started.  Obama decided to give Congress a reduced stimulus and one full of tax cuts in the hopes that they would pass it.  This would the first of Obama's bad negotiations, where he gave away concessions before coming to the table with the idea that his opponents would just accept his charity and come to a quick agreement.  He realized much too late that his opponents wanted to destroy him, and had no interest whatsoever in compromise.  While the Affordable Healthcare Act is lauded these days as a major accomplishment, I see it as a huge missed opportunity.  The "public option" got excised from a plan hatched essentially by the Heritage Foundation which has been a huge gift to insurance companies.  We are still stuck with the unwieldy and unsustainable employment-based system, making the ACA at best a temporary patch.  I realize that much of this is due to the unreason and vehemence of Obama's political adversaries, but it does not excuse Democrats' cowardice.

At the same time, Obama has continued Bush's heinous NSA policies and has ordered deadly drone strikes around the world that have killed many innocent people.  He has actually increased the deportations of undocumented workers.  These are the kinds of things that led to my great antipathy towards the last president.  While I still generally like Obama on some level, I am slowly beginning to realize that it was a mistake for me to invest myself in and support the Democratic party.  Because it is beholden to corporate monied interests and the demands of American empire, it will never be a force for true change, just a second-best option in a rotten political game.  The Democrats' feeble, ineffectual nature is easy to see in this year's midterm election, where they stand to lose to a party that has gone insane.  The answer is simple: the Democrats are so tied to their rich donors that they can't reach out and do the types of things that will make their base happy.  Without having a reason to vote other than "the other guys are evil," it's no wonder that many registered Democrats will be staying home this November.

I usually like to think that I have become smarter with age, but when it comes to party affiliation I am beginning to think that my teenage self had it right all along.


Anonymous said...



Werner Herzog's Bear said...

I'll certainly keep voting for Democrats, since the alternative is totally unacceptable. It's just that I don't feel all that connected personally to the party anymore, nor would I consider doing volunteer work on its behalf.

Steve said...

I was thinking the exact same thing the other day...I'm supposed to be getting more conservative, but my politics have become more radical, after a relatively brief period of moderation. I guess plutocracy can do that to ya.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

@Steve: My politics have only become more conservative in that I am more pessimistic. I don't really see any hope for positive change anymore.

Steve said...

Have you seen the new Thomas Piketty Book? He argues that the only times the natural tendency of capitalism to create high levels of inequality ended up being checked have been through calamitous events like the two World Wars and the Great Depression.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

I read a long review of it that convinced me I need to add that book to my summer reading. As a historian of the nineteenth century, I'd say that interpretation jives with me. I think that a lot of Marx's criticisms of capitalism still hold up, even if his ideas of class-conflict were bound up in inadequate Hegelian categories that don't really reflect reality. It's good to see modern day economic thinkers taking Marx's ideas seriously again.