Neoliberal centrists either don’t understand why Trump won, or they’re so desperate to stay in control of the Party they’re willing to risk four more years of Trump.
So let’s look at the arguments they’re mounting against the progressive candidates and policies.
But first, let’s get one thing clear: the overwhelming majority of voters support progressive issues on a case-by-case basis, and they support the candidates who espouse them. Doubt that? See here, or here, or here, or any poll on the issues, not the labels. Terms like liberal, moderate, centrist and conservative have ceased to represent any real political perspective, because they’ve been distorted by a four decades long propaganda campaign funded by the oligarchy. As for supporting the progressive candidates, Sanders’ and Warren’s combined share of the voters exceeds Biden’s by a factor of two, and both poll far better than Trump.
Ok, so onto the neoliberal’s arguments.
The way to win is to get some centrists back from Trump. No. Real centrists are a rare breed, and pinning your hopes on getting a few to switch sides will be futile, for two reasons.
First, they’re not about to go from Trump to an elitist neoliberal who calls him or herself a moderate. It was the policies and the hypocrisy of the neoliberals that drove them to Trump in the first place. He’s their protest vote; their Molotov cocktail tossed in the face of Democrats who promise the moon around election time, then represent Wall Street, corporations, the ultra-rich and big banks the rest of the time. The fact is, Sanders and Warren are more likely to win back a few disgruntled centrists precisely because they understand this and back policies that matter to the people.
Second, there’s simply not enough of them. If you add up left leaning Independents and Democrats they equal about 48 percent of the electorate, while right leaning Independents and Republicans add up to 39 percent of the electorate. Real centrists comprise only about 7 percent.
The real prize in electoral politics is the no shows. And with the majority of people holding progressive views, the way to get no-shows to show is not to back centrist policies, it’s to run on values that favor the people. Things like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, fiscal and tax policies that lower the obscene income disparity between the rich and the rest of us, free tuition, student loan forgiveness, a living minimum wage of $15 an hour, trade policies that put people and the environment above corporate profits, rational gun control legislation, a humane immigration policy and a pathway to citizenship, serious climate mitigation legislation, and a willingness to break up corporate monopolies. All of these are supported by the majority of Americans.
But this brings us to the next shibboleth raised by neoliberals and centrists.
Progressives need to focus—they are all over the place, and that’s not how change happens. Here, Democrats need to take a lesson from Republicans, who managed a sweeping change in our national political dialogue in a few short decades.
If you go back to the early sixties, about half the people identified as Democrat, and only about a quarter Republican. At the same time, about 80 percent trusted government to do the right thing most of the time. Today, only about 17 percent do, and only 3 percent believe government “does what’s right just about always.
As result of this transformation, government regulation is weaker across the board. From Wall Street to big banks to corporate polluters, to food safety to anti-trust law to the FCC and communications to food safety – you name it and regulations have been scaled back. Or take tax policies—they’ve become less progressive each year and in 2018, billionaires paid a lower tax than working class Americans for the first time in history. At the same time, military spending went up, our foreign policy became more bellicose, religion crept into government (despite the Constitution), and climate denial and anti-science ignorance became legitimized.
But Republicans didn’t try to sell these changes as policies, they espoused a set of principles, and sold them, instead. As Kevin Drum put it:
Every American over the age of ten knows what the GOP and the conservative movement stand for. Sing it with me now: low taxes, small government, strong defense, traditional families. See? You know the tune, and the harmony line, too…Everybody knows what the conservative brand stands for, because the conservative leadership has spent four decades nurturing a consistent brand identity for themselves.
Now, about that four decades long effort at branding—it was actually something far more revolutionary than mere branding. Lewis Powell laid out the blueprint for this revolution in 1971. Speaking of the need to grab power, he said:
Business must learn the lesson . . . that political power is necessary; that such power must be assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination—without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.
Powell went on to lay out a strategic approach to move the country to the right that featured think tanks, foundations, endowed university chairs in economics and journalism, media outlets—a whole panalopy of well-funded entities designed to carry out a revolutionary change in US political thought.
Wait. There’s that word again. Revolution. Sound familiar? That’s what Sanders has been calling for. But rather than one built on greed and private interests, he’s been advocating a collective endeavor—one that unites us in the pursuit of higher values. Things like equality, freedom from economic enslavement, environmental justice, and fair trade laws. And a government that works for the people; not the corporations.
This is how change happens. By focusing on these values, the policies will follow.
When the centrist neoliberals tell you that change is incremental, what they’re really saying is they don’t want that much change. And the reason they don’t is that they are beholden to corporations and rich folks.
Look, the US is in desperate need of change, and to quote Warren, we need “deep structural change.” This nation can’t endure with the kind of income disparity we have now; we can’t function with the people marginalized politically and economically. And the world which has sustained us since we emerged as a species can’t survive mere incremental policies designed to address climate change.
We either ignite a revolution built around values, and take back the country from the neoliberal centrists, or we risk another Trump victory. Even if the neoliberals manage to defeat Trump—which is doubtful—we are still doomed. It will just take a few decades longer.