The New Democrats Era might be at a Shifting Point

The political effect of the global financial crisis reverberated across different countries according to national peculiarities. In the UK Corbyn climbed to the leadership of Labour, in Italy 5 Star Movement became the first party, in France Marie Le Pen won an extraordinary 34% at the presidential election and in Spain all of a sudden Podemos has established itself among the main parliamentary forces. In the US this trend was paralleled by Trump’s victory within the Republican Party and Sanders’ positive electoral experience. Since then, the Democratic Party has been the place of some auto critical discussion. In fairness Hillary Clinton won the presidential contest, still it felt like a substantial defeat which has not triggered an official internal debate even though concerns on the future political posture of the party have become a haunting issue.
The beginning of this story however goes as far as the early ’90s. Bill Clinton’s New Democrats revolution (http://www.jstor.org/stable/2152360?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents) aimed at challenging the Republican electoral dominion since the end of Johnson’s mandate by shifting the ideological axis of the party towards the centre and joining the “third way” (http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0745626750,subjectCd-PO50.html). Since the Democratic Party adopted Clinton’s model it has been a successful era, with four Democratic presidential mandates in 24 years. In the ‘90s the left-wing approach to free-market and globalism proved to be very profitable in terms of political consent. However after the crisis and after Obama’s mandates “it is increasingly apparent that Democrats cannot win in much of the country without a more coherent and overriding economic message” (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/15/us/politics/democrats-economy.html?smid=tw-share). Despite the party has moved leftward on civil rights with Obama, some “Democrats share a growing recognition that Mr. Obama’s way may not be the best course in a country where many voters have experienced little income growth and where high-paying jobs can be scarce” (ibid.). If on the one hand it could be argued that Trump did not win against Hillary Clinton –  given that she won with an advantage of 3 million votes – on the other hand special elections confirmed the negative phase for the Democratic Party. The latter just lost four out of the five 2017 special elections for senate held so far – the other elections were in Kansas 4th, Montana’s At-Large, California 34th and South Carolina 5th.
The most painful of these defeats came in Georgia, where the candidate Jon Ossoff managed to lose after achieving the record for participating in the most expensive campaign of its kind in American history. In many admitted, like when Trump won, DP should stop looking for votes over the moderate centre where, particularly in Georgia, Republicans are strong. They say that “we need a bolder economic platform, our party needs to be for good jobs and better wages, [and] we have to have some bold economic ideas that are going to convince people that we get it,” (http://www.politico.com/story/2017/06/21/democrats-special-election-ossoffhandel-239827). In this instance it is interesting to bring back a 1993 article written in The American Prospect where the author provided this harsh but realistic description of what Bill Clinton’s project represented at the time: “when faced with such central public problems as falling real incomes, impoverished cities, uncompetitive industries, and stubbornly high unemployment, their vision falters. Like their own caricature of the Left, the New Democrats are trapped in a “politics of evasion,” obsessed with abstract debates over social values, while the nation stumbles into decline”. (http://prospect.org/article/myth-new-democrats). Trump’s victory, together with the rise of nationalism across Europe, tells that the Democratic Party is now paying the price for its early ‘90s ideological shift. In particular the Democratic Party is failing to speak to the most socially insecure strata of society. As reported in a recent study “stagnating income and limited job prospects have disproportionately affected lower-income and lower-skilled Americans, leading inequality to rise” (http://www.hbs.edu/competitiveness/Documents/problems-unsolved-and-a-nation-divided.pdf, p. 3). It is true that Obama recovered the 8 million jobs lost with the crisis, however it is clear that the kind of jobs he brought back are not of the same quality in terms of contract as they used to be. Meanwhile, the fast progress of technology – such as self-driving trucks and cashier-less shops – threatens to throw millions of workers out of their jobs – as it happened with agriculture in 20th century (Jeremy Rifkin, 1995, The End ff Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and The Dawn of the Post-Market Era, p. 109; ch. 8). As explained in a recent report: “Almost 88 percent of job losses in manufacturing in recent years can be attributable to productivity growth, and the long-term changes to manufacturing employment are mostly linked to the productivity of American factories” (http://conexus.cberdata.org/files/MfgReality.pdf, p. 6).
Because Trump has avoided this issue so far, there is a political space for the Democratic Party to fill. But fighting back technology means developing a critical analysis of capitalism. Therefore the question is “does the DP really want to tackle technological growth and unemployment”?

Zeno Leoni
PhD candidate
Department of European and International Studies
King’s College London
@multipolarorder

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