¶ For years (decades), we have bewildered our friends by calling for the termination of the Democratic Party — and the retirement of its senior operatives to pleasant pastures without Internet connections (all right, the connectivity thing is a recent stipulation). Our friends are naturally regard the Democratic Party as the last hope of progressive Americans, but, in our view, this is as good as forsaking hope altogether. There used to be a vibrant Democratic Party, but it sacrificed itself for a greater good — the promotion of Civil Rights. Thereafter, its deserted shrines were haunted by ghosts and zombies. One of the ghosts, Adolph Reed, has an essay in the current issue of Harper’s. He wants to revive the labor-versus-management blue collar party that flourished in the Postwar boom, and his criticism of “New Democrat” thinking has a Jacobin glint to it. One of the zombies, Al From, an architect of that thinking, has written a book in which he appears to claim that he was its only architect, a boast that Rick Pearlstein, reviewing the book in The Nation, is eager to discredit. Along the way, Pearlstein also discredits the New Democrats, but without the undertow of tumbrils.
Pearlstein on From:
From, however, is not chagrined. The “core principles of the New Democrat movement…are as viable and useful for meeting today’s challenges as they were for meeting the challenges of the 1990s.” For instance: “we need to adopt and enforce a blueprint that will cut the deficit and build confidence in the private marketplace.” Does he care that, as President Obama constantly boasts, the rate of budget growth is now lower than at any time since the 1950s? Or that the stock market is higher than it has been since the 1990s? No, he does not. Nor, surely, have the jet-setters and feather-bedders who feted his new book at a party hosted by the powerful DC law and lobbying firm Akin Gump—for which From serves as a “consultant”—at the shimmering new Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park. “As Bill Clinton would often remind me,” From writes, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.” Yet the formula has worked well enough for From: he’s been wrong in the same way over and over again, and for him, things have turned out just fine.
We doubt that we’d support Reed’s party of the left; it strikes us as anachronistic. Surely there must be new ways to counter what Andrew Packer calls “organized money.” But we applaud Reed’s assessment of the fundamentally useless Democratic Party.
The crucial tasks for a committed left in the United States now are to admit that no politically effective force exists and to begin trying to create one. This is a long-term effort, and one that requires grounding in a vibrant labor movement. Labor may be weak or in decline, but that means aiding in its rebuilding is the most serious task for the American left. Pretending some other option exists is worse than useless. There are no magical interventions, shortcuts, or technical fixes. We need to reject the fantasy that some spark will ignite the People to move as a mass. We must create a constituency for a left program — and that cannot occur via MSNBC or blog posts or the New York Times. It requires painstaking organization and building relationships with people outside the Beltway and comfortable leftist groves. Finally, admitting our absolute impotence can be politically liberating; acknowledging that as a left we have no influence on who gets nominated or elected, or what they do in office, should reduce the frenzied self-delusion that rivets attention to the quadrennial, biennial, and now seemingly permanent horse races. It is long past time for us to begin again to approach leftist critique and strategy by determining what our social and governmental priorities should be and focusing our attention on building the kind of popular movement capable of realizing that vision. Obama and his top aides punctuated that fact by making brutally apparent during the 2008 campaign that no criticism from the left would have a place in this regime of Hope and Change. The message could not be clearer.