The Democrats At War With Themselves1
One of the most dismaying things about American politics in recent years, other than the election of Donald Trump as President, has been the devolution of the Democratic Party. From being the force behind such foundations of American life as Social Security and Medicare, to being the only part of our government to oppose the war in Vietnam, at least in part, to economic populism as exemplified by the presidential campaign of George McGovern, the Democrats, starting with the election of Jimmy Carter, have become, to a large extent, a pale copy of the Republican Party. When given a choice like this, to paraphrase the slogan of the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater when presented with a choice between the real thing and an echo, the American people will generally choose the real thing.
There are some hopeful signs that things may be changing with the victories of progressive candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated a long-time congressman in the Bronx, and of Andrew Gillum in the Democratic primary for governor in Florida. These are ‘progressives’, and Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. It is important to note that this is not true Socialism as seen in places like Venezuela, and certainly is not reminiscent in any way of Mao’s Great Leap Forward in China. This is more like the socialism in Denmark and most of the other Scandinavian countries, where the means of production remain in private hands, but the government takes measures so there is a strong safety net to protect the individual against sickness and other misfortune.
Nevertheless, a candidate with the word Socialist in their party affiliation is liable to have a hard time getting elected as long as Fox News remains on the air, though one should note that there have been successful mayors and Socialist candidates in the past, and Eugene V. Debs, who ran as a Socialist, did get millions of votes for President in 1912. Later in life, he served time in prison for the crime of opposing the entry of the United States in World War I, because he believed that the workers of the world should be fighting capitalism rather than each other.
Why is this happening and what does it bode for the future of the Democratic Party. There was a poll done recently which showed that young people had a more favorable view of socialism than they did of capitalism. This is not surprising, considering that so many of them burdened with massive student debt and an uncertain future that may have them living in their parent’s basement for an extended period of time.
But what of older voters who have traditionally supported more conservative candidates and who helped elect Donald Trump? They are likely to follow those young people left, particularly if the GOP is successful in decimating or ending programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which is their ultimate stated goal. When you have to decide between paying for your medicine or using your limited funds to buy 9-Lives for dinner, or perhaps splurging this once on Fancy Feast, your politics are liable to undergo a significant change.
It really isn’t necessary for the democratic socialists to gain power. Many of the most common features of modern life, such as Social Security, Medicare, the eight-hour day, unemployment insurance, and many others were originally socialist proposals, and were widely criticized as un-American or even communistic when they were first proposed. To take a more recent example, Medicare for All only had one or two supporters in Congress several years ago. After having been the centerpiece of Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president in 2016, it is now supported by the vast majority of candidates running in Democratic primary elections, even some who are not commonly thought of as progressives, such as Cory Booker.
Practically speaking, the majority of Democratic politicians are unlikely to become socialists or even progressives, but they don’t need to be. The Tea Party was probably never more than ten percent of the Republican party, but they were able to significantly shift its political direction to the right by knocking off a few RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) in the primaries.
The DSA or Democratic Socialists of America, might be able to perform a similar role, without splitting the progressive vote as another line on the ballot might. If the progressives are able to continue knocking off the DINOs (Democrats In Name Only, though that could also stand for DINOsaurs), they could have a similar effect but in the opposite direction. You have to remember numbers don’t really matter that much.
The polls in the last election were probably correct in that Hillary Clinton had millions more supporters than Donald Trump, but the Trump supporters really believed in their candidate, (of course, the Electoral College played a role too), while the Clinton voters didn’t. Batista’s forces in Cuba vastly outnumbered Fidel Castro’s ragtag bunch of guerrillas and dreamers, and the United States had many thousand times the weaponry and other resources in Vietnam as Ho Chi Minh did, yet who was the victor in the end?