New Democrats may have outsmarted themselves.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.