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NEW DEMOCRATS: MAYBE THE JIG IS UPBy


Norman Solomon

The

New Democrats may have outsmarted themselves.

A

couple of months ago, the current Democratic Party leadership seemed to be

firmly in control. The succession was orderly. The party’s new ticket of

"moderates" — Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman — gained momentum. If all

went according to plan, President Lieberman would be wrapping up his second term

in 2016.

The

longstanding game plan kept boosting people who fervently embraced "the

center." Why defend low-income mothers when you can brag about dumping them

off the welfare rolls? Why make trouble for Wall Street when you can curry favor

and rake in larger contributions? Why put a brake on the drug war when you can

keep building prisons and filling them with more dark-skinned poor people?

Applauded

by countless reporters and pundits, the New Democrats grabbed hold of the

national party apparatus in 1992 and never let go. Journalists concluded that

all the major policy issues within the Democratic Party had been settled. The

mood was similar among most of the Democrats on Capitol Hill as they kowtowed to

the party’s hierarchy.

But

now, there’s outrage in elite circles. Leading Democrats and their fans in the

media are appalled. In private, top party officials curse the day Ralph Nader

was born. In public, they’re dishing out lots of honey and vinegar to

recalcitrant voters on the left. The point, as usual, is to consolidate power.

It

wasn’t supposed to be this way. The pundits who insisted that the Democratic

Party must shed vestiges of the New Deal are accustomed to being contemptuous of

progressive constituencies: Take them for granted! They have nowhere else to go!

Throw them a bone once in a while, but don’t hesitate to treat them like dogs!

On Election Day, they’ll come running.

The

conventional media wisdom has been that Americans strongly opposed to inordinate

corporate power were irrelevant. Now, they’re incorrigible. And, in the

prevailing media view, Nader is the most incorrigible of all.

"Nader

Intends to Play Spoiler Role to the Hilt," a USA Today headline explained

on the first day of November. The news article began by informing readers that

Nader is "relishing his role as the potential spoiler in the presidential

race."

Well,

that’s one way to depict Nader. But it would be at least as accurate to report

that the Republican and Democratic candidates are "spoilers." They’ve

never been willing or able to step outside a rotten big-money system that

precludes basic reforms.

Back

when Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992, no journalist had more reason to

feel satisfaction than E.J. Dionne Jr., the Washington Post reporter whose book

"Why Americans Hate Politics" had appeared the previous year — with

laudatory endorsements on the cover from media heavies Mark Shields, Cokie

Roberts, William Schneider and Lesley Stahl.

Early

in the decade, Clinton was fond of quoting the Dionne book in speeches and

interviews. The president-to-be praised him as a "very gifted political

writer." Most importantly, Clinton saw eye-to-eye with Dionne’s centrist

prescription, which called for politicians to develop "a new politics of

the middle class, an approach that represents the ideals and interests of the

great mass of Americans in the political and economic center."

Dionne

maintained that "voters increasingly look for ways to protest the status

quo without risking too much change." In effect, it was a call to better

choreograph an elaborate shell game that would do little to rearrange the

nation’s distribution of economic and political power. When Clinton echoed

Dionne, much of the national press corps seemed delighted.

Like

many of his colleagues at major media outlets, this fall Dionne has been

sounding mournful about the failure of Nader supporters to fall in line behind

Gore. In a recent syndicated column, Dionne lamented "the agony for Gore in

the closing week of this campaign" — as a result of "tensions in the

Democratic coalition that most Democrats thought they’d resolved."

But

key issues of economic inequity and social justice — including the further

centralization of power in huge conglomerates — were never really settled. They

were just suppressed by New Democrats in command of the party. Now, their finely

woven schemes may be unraveling.

A

week before the election, Gore denounced Bush for supporting "class warfare

on behalf of billionaires." It was an apt description of the Texas

governor, who is a complete shill for corporate interests. But Gore is the loyal

vice president in an administration that has presided over escalating economic

inequality. During the 1990s, Americans with financial assets gained wealth.

Those who merely worked for a living slipped farther behind.

Rhetoric,

of course, is much less important than policy. In practice, Bush’s class warfare

from the top down is more extreme than Gore’s — but both men have been eager

tools of the rich and powerful. Perhaps the nation’s media establishment will be

able to cope with the shock when millions of Americans vote for Nader because

they want a fundamentally different kind of society.

 

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