by Russell Dobular
We once had a president who proposed a health care plan that was far more generous than Obamacare. It never came to pass because members of Congress opposed it. This same president also seriously considered a Guaranteed Basic Income and created an entirely new government agency focused on the environment. That agency was the EPA, and that president was Richard Nixon.
The Congressional leaders who opposed his health care plan were led by Ted Kennedy, who felt it didn’t go far enough. So, was Nixon considered a liberal in his own time? Hell no. He was the arch-conservative of his day. At that time though, the opposition party was so much further left that they wouldn’t accept an approach to health care that kept the private insurance industry intact. What does this tell us? We’ve gone so far to the right in the years since the Nixon presidency that in many ways Nixon was to the left of the current leftmost outpost of mainstream American politics, Bernie Sanders. Even Sanders hasn’t proposed a GBI, nor is he contemplating the creation of whole new government agencies. How we got to a place where the average Democrat is well to the right of yesterday’s conservative Republican, and today’s conservative Republican is well to the right of the Taliban, is a complex tale of woe, but I’ll sum it up as best I can before getting to my proposal.
A realignment of voters’ allegiances began in the 1960’s, first around the issue of Civil Rights. Since the Civil War, the Democrats through their Dixiecrat wing had been the natural home for racists and segregationists. The GOP, being the party of Lincoln, maintained the allegiance of some African American voters, and in turn had no interest in cultivating overt racism within their party. That all changed with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, under Lyndon Johnson. Upon signing it, Johnson, one of the keenest political minds of his time, famously made the observation, “We’ve just lost the South for a generation.” Turned out it was more than a generation. It was forever, or at least down to the present day. So, where did all those Dixiecrats go? They fled to the Republicans, largely with the encouragement of the aforementioned Richard Nixon, who laid the groundwork for today’s GOP with his “Southern Strategy,” an overt dog whistle appeal to disaffected racists under the guise of restoring “law and order.”
In spite of their gradual hemorrhaging of southern white voters, for a while the Democrats were able to maintain the hold on both Houses of Congress that had been in place almost continuously since FDR. This was because they still had the unions, and those unions continued to be a powerful force in society. Unionized workers were the Democrats’ foot soldiers and primary fundraisers. They were what allowed the party to compete with the GOP, who regularly out-raised the Democrats 20 to 1 in election cycles. The Republicans had the money, but for a long time, the Democrats continued to have the people.
Then came Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC was a group of Democrats who wanted to move the party to the right in order to win back all those Reagan Democrats. They also had a barely-hidden contempt for the party’s traditional working class constituency, on the basis that they were retrograde on social issues (the genesis of Hillary’s “deplorables” comment). In many ways they were the “New Left” of the 60’s, all grown up and ready to kick Archie Bunker out of the party in favor of the well-educated and white-collar Meathead. The theory was that they’d retain the unions anyway, because they wouldn’t have anywhere else to go, and at the same time make inroads with a portion of the GOP’s professional class voters. The latter worked out like gangbusters, with huge numbers of what had been known at the time as “Rockefeller Republicans,” defecting to the Democratic Party with the election of Bill Clinton, whose vision of free trade and welfare reform, combined with his ability to hang with African Americans at a fish fry without looking too out of place, aligned nicely with their socially liberal, economically conservative views (if you’ve ever described your politics that way, now you know where your politics came from. And it wasn’t the Democrats).
With those voters came their donations and the kind of influence on policy that those donations bought. That’s why today the legislative preferences of the upper 20% of income earners become law 60% of the time, while those of the bottom 80% effect legislation about 1% of the time. At the same time, the unions were decimated by Clinton’s passage of NAFTA, which turned out to be the proverbial slaughter of the electoral golden goose. Until NAFTA, the Dems had held both houses of Congress almost continuously from FDR to 1994. Right after its passage, they lost Congress in the midterms and have hardly ever held both houses since. Turns out those union workers did have someplace else to go. Some went to the GOP, and a lot simply stopped voting altogether.
Because of the Nixon/Reagan and Clinton realignments in their respective parties, we’ve gone a generation with two parties fighting for the interests of their wealthy donors and no one fighting for the working and middle class. Our current grotesque levels of income inequality are the end result.
Now, to my proposal. There’s a war going on right now inside the Democratic Party between those who want to give it back to the poor and working class voters it was stolen from a generation ago, and the center-right professional class voters and politicians who stole it from them. History and demographics will tell you that’s a fight the progressives are bound to win eventually. All the Pelosis and Bidens of the party are doing is holding back the inevitable, and with it, they’re holding back progress and delaying the restoration of a system that, at least relative to what we have now, more or less worked. A country where Biden represents the right-wing and Bernie Sanders the left, would be a pretty good country. We know that because from 1945 until around 1980, that was the country we had. So how do we get back there? It isn’t enough to reform the Democratic Party. That’s only addressing one half of the problem. We also have a fascist right wing party that needs to be brought back to the sane center-right space it once occupied. And who better to do that than its former base voters? I know it’s a big ask, but in order to bring our politics back into alignment, you, dear centrist Democrat, need to consider joining the GOP.
I know, I know, you’re a Democrat through and through and you’d never break bread with those theocratic nutballs. But they’re only theocratic nutballs because you folks moved out of their neighborhood and gentrified the other party. Instead of fighting a rearguard action against progress within the one, you are uniquely equipped to foster progress within the other. That’s where you can do the most good.
Bonus: you get to rant about AOC all you want, without any pushback from members of your own caucus. See? It’s a win-win.
Now, I can already hear your next argument: how will the Democrats win without us? The answer is, much more easily. There are a lot more pissed off poor people, many of whom were once proud members of the middle class out there, than there are wealthy, professional class voters. You people, with your obvious contempt for rural and working class voters, and your discomfort with class politics, are like a giant electoral scarecrow, driving them into the cornfields. We know how to talk to them. I don’t want to be unkind here, but honestly, you make them want to puke. Really, you do. As someone from a blue collar background, I can tell you, I’ve seen the puking. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
So that’s my proposal.
I know right now you’re saying you’d never even consider it, but I suspect as progressives continue to take over the party, you’re not only going to consider it, most of you are going to do it with bells on. ‘Cause let’s face it, you’re never coming out to vote for people who want to radically overhaul a system that’s made you pretty well off. Once Sanders-style politicians come to define the Dems, you’re going to run for the hills, at which point most of you will end up in the GOP anyway. So why not start today? Your country needs you. In the other party. And besides, aren’t you tired of getting out-lefted all the time? Deep down don’t ya kind of feel like a dick regurgitating Third Way Democrat talking points in the face of Medicare For All? Over there in Trumpland you’re never going to get out-lefted again. Standing next to those screwballs, you’ll be Che fucking Guevara. How cool will that be? Listen, I know it sounds radical now, but just sit with it for a couple of days. This country isn’t going to save itself. We have work to do. Together. But in a separate kind of a way.