November 18, 2016


HOW THE DEMOCRATS CAN FIX THEMSELVES : The days of triangulation are toast. (JOSEPH E. STIGLITZ, NOVEMBER 17, 2016, Vanity Fair)

In the aftermath of the unexpected defeat suffered by the British Labour Party in 2015, the party engaged in a furious debate: was defeat a consequence of the fact that Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, had veered too far to the left, or the fact that he had not gone far enough to the left? The 2008 financial crisis was caused by under-regulated markets. The implication was that those who had advocated these policies would suffer--and many therefore thought that the future belonged to the Left. In Europe, these would be the social democratic parties. In America, it would be the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party.

Things, however, have turned out otherwise. A simple explanation is that, beginning in the 1970s, but even more so in the late 80s and early 90s, the center left started moving right. To use Bill Clinton's term, there was a need for a dynamic of tactical "triangulation," which simply meant that the left was moving toward the right's policies. Of course, this meant that the left often stood for nothing different than the right. (Differences kept opening up as the right moved ever further to the right.)

Bill Clinton pushed through financial-market deregulation; lowered capital-gains taxes (which benefited the rich and led to a regressive tax system); pursued trade agreements that contributed to the further deindustrialization of America; pursued investment agreements that have paved the way for regulatory "takings"; pursued intellectual-property agreements that reflected the interests of big corporations and were not focused on the advancement of science or the well-being of ordinary citizens; reformed the welfare system in a way that arguably eviscerated it; and strengthened criminal-justice and police systems in a way that arguably contributed to mass incarceration.

With a history of policies such as these in the background, there can be no debate about how to interpret Hillary Clinton's defeat. While she distanced herself from these policies, she failed to provide a strong enough alternative vision to what had come before. She and her allies in the Democratic Party were seen as simply too aligned with the neo-liberal agenda, which itself was too aligned with the bankers and the comfortable elites.

The dynamics of Third Way politics in the Anglosphere virtually require a "Progressive" rebellion in the Democratic Party and a nominee willing to run on the unadulterated Second Way.  This despite the fact that their neo-liberal nominee just carried the popular vote despite being widely loathed personally. Combined with the unprecedentedly positive economic atmosphere the GOP just inherited and the inability of a party so weak at the state level as the Democrats to produce a serious crop of qualified presidential candidates means we could certainly see them run their own celebrity in 2020, on a platform that harkens to the European socialism of the 70s.  we've already seen in the form of the British Labour Party how well that politics works in the English-speaking world.  

Posted by at November 18, 2016 8:36 AM