In the Democratic primary for Congress in my home district last year, a middle-aged businessman ran as a "lifelong progressive" and beat a very young net roots organizer who was an actual progressive. The progressive label helped power Mr. Businessman's primary campaign into a late surge in a field of four and he edged out the young organizer. Mr. Businessman went on to win the General Election, beating the Republican incumbent and flipping, to blue, a seat that had been red for more than a generation. I have to ask, though, at what cost?
Mr. Businessman dropped the word progressive from his lexicon immediately upon winning his primary. In the sense of social issues, his claim wasn't totally bogus, to a point. He is pro-choice, supports marriage equality, etc. But on social welfare, economic, trade, budget and tax matters, Congressman Businessman is captive to the exact same Neoliberal poison so ably described in the wonderful rant by Words In Action on the rec list today.
Words In Action's rant has inspired me to write Congressman Businessman and confront him with some points about his politics. Come out into the tall grass if you want to know what I said.
Congressman Businessman fancied himself to be a New Democrat from the very begining. If you have followed the New Democrat Coalition in Congress, then you will know that it is the comfortable, philosophical home of the Democratic Party Neoliberals in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Check out their website. The NDC has these enormously prolix yet strangely vague policy pronouncements that mostly involve cutting taxes and propping up enterprises in various ways. They expressly call themselves "moderate Democrats". They name themselves "New Democrats." They say they are "ready to deal" and that everything is "on the table". As Words In Action so ably said, "Christ on a cracker!"
I saw through the candidates's faux progressive schtick from the start and still do, but, in the end, I still had to vote for lesser of evils. So, that gives me the right to speak up and speak out. Here is what I said:
I am worried about you. I voted for you and I want you to do well by our district. But you have fallen in with a very bad crowd and I'm very concerned you are going to get into mischief. I'm talking, of course, about the New Democrat Coalition that you have joined in Congress. I'm not saying that people in your caucus are bad people, but they are badly infected with really bad ideas.
I know there are a lot of them and it is hard to keep track of so many, so let me simplify the explanation of just who it is you are hanging with with a simple illustration based upon the U. S. Senate. A Senate version of the New Democrat Coalition formed in the Senate in 2000 founded by Senators Evan Bayh (Indiana), Bob Graham (Florida), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Joe Lieberman (Connecticut), and Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas). I ask you, Sir, is that the sort of legacy you wish to leave behind you? Shouldn't you at least explore whether there might be a better path for you in Congress?
Mr. Congressman, you are standing with those who are standing athwart the kind of change that must occur if the oppressive exploitation of ordinary, hard working people is to be brought under control in this country. Basic staples of NDC policy, like lowering corporate taxes and providing a supportive business climate and unfettered trade are all plays for the wrong team. Those policies make things worse, not better, for working people, mostly because the policies ignore the factors that actually drive productivity theft by those who have all the money from those who do all the work.
Most of the people who live in your district are ordinary people. In their world, productivity theft is a fact of life. For years they have seen their wages and benefits stagnate and shrink. Yet, American worker productivity has steadily climbed higher and higher, but without any gain for the people whose work became more productive. Congressional priorities must address these problems. The NDC shows no interest in that.
I have hope for you, though. You just got to Congress and you could find new and bettor mentors in Congress than the folks at the NDC. There is a different way of thinking about America. Try it.
Because I mean this to be a scolding, I have to give you a chore so the lesson will sink in. I am assigning homework. I want you to read an essay from a blog entitled How the 90% Is Getting Something for Nothing: Wage Slavery. Read it. Better yet, assign a couple of staffers to read it and prepare a summary. Then read it.
I don't doubt that you will be able to point to a number of issues in the bog and argue that the essay doesn't represent your views. But, in the end you will, if honest, concede that the NDC's ideas do far too little, at far too great cost, to address the real needs of real people. If you really want to serve real people, you are going to have to play for a different team. Look around Congress. Find better friends.
I have hope for you. You just got there. You could do better.