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Democrats 2 Excerpt

Democrats 2 Excerpt

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Published by haymarketbooks
The historic 2008 elections put a Democrat in the White House and in the majority in both houses of Congress, yet those hoping for change have been deeply disappointed. Lance Selfa looks at the Democrats in broad historical perspective, showing the institutional roots of today's betrayals, with a new Introduction and chapter on the Obama presidency.
The historic 2008 elections put a Democrat in the White House and in the majority in both houses of Congress, yet those hoping for change have been deeply disappointed. Lance Selfa looks at the Democrats in broad historical perspective, showing the institutional roots of today's betrayals, with a new Introduction and chapter on the Obama presidency.

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Published by: haymarketbooks on May 31, 2012
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“The Democrats: A Critical History systematically debunks the notion that the Democratic Party is a progressive force. . .

” —Robert W. McChesney

The Democrats: A Critical History
Lance Selfa

Revised and Updated Edition

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The Democrats
A Critical History Updated Edition Lance Selfa

Haymarket Books Chicago, Illinois

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© 2008 by Lance Selfa First published in 2008 by Haymarket Books. This edition published in 2012 by Haymarket Books P.O. Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618 773-583-7884 info@haymarketbooks.org www.haymarketbooks.org Cover design by Josh On Trade distribution: In the U.S. through Consortium Book Sales, www.cbsd.com In the UK, Turnaround Publisher Services, www.turnaround-psl.com In Australia, Palgrave MacMillan, www.palgravemacmillan.com.au All other countries, Publishers Group Worldwide, www.pgw.com/home/worldwide.aspx
Special discounts are available for bulk purchases by organizations and institutions. Please contact Haymarket Books for more information at 773-583-7884 or info@haymarketbooks.org.

Printed in the United States by union labor on FSC certified stock LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA Selfa, Lance. The Democrats : a critical history / Lance Selfa. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-931859-55-4 (pbk.) 1. Democratic Party (U.S.)--History. I. Title. JK2316.S45 2008 324.2736--dc22 2008036839 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 union bug

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What Happened to the New Era?

Chapter One

“History’s Second-Most Enthusiastic Capitalist Party”

Chapter Two

The Party of Slavery Becomes the “Party of the People”

Chapter Three

The Rise of the New Democrats

Chapter Four

From “Hope” to Hopeless: The Democrats in the Obama Era

Chapter Five

Social Movements and the “Party of the People”

Chapter Six

Defenders of the Empire

Chapter Seven

Can the Left Take Over the Democratic Party?

Chapter Eight

Why Is There No Alternative?


Is the Lesser Evil Good Enough?


Hal Draper: Who’s Going to Be the Lesser Evil in ’68?
245 252 287

Notes Index

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Chapter One

“History’s Second-Most Enthusiastic Capitalist Party”
s he geared up for his 2012 reelection campaign, President Barack Obama roasted the Republicans who opposed the administration’s plans to spend billions to hire workers to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Appearing at the foot of the Brent Street Bridge in Cincinnati, Obama decried a tax system tilted toward the rich. “In the United States of America, a construction worker making fifty thousand dollars shouldn’t pay higher taxes than somebody pulling in fifty million dollars,” he told a raucous crowd filled with union members. “That’s not fair. It’s not right. And it has to change.” “The Republicans in Congress call this class warfare,” Obama continued. “Well, you know what? If asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher makes me a warrior for the middle class, I’ll wear that charge as a badge of honor. “I’m a warrior for the middle class; I’m happy to fight for working people,” Obama shouted to the cheers of the crowd. “Because the only class warfare I’ve seen is the battle that’s been waged against the middle class in this country for a decade.”1 Obama’s speech tapped the wellspring of Democratic Party support—the notion that the Democrats represent “the people,” while the Republican Party represents big business and the rich. At the beginning of what looked to be difficult reelection effort, it was easy to forget that



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The Democrats

Obama—not his 2008 Republican opponent, Arizona Senator John McCain—raked in the lion’s share of corporate, business, and wealthy individuals’ contributions in 2008. Officially, Obama raised more than three quarters of a billion dollars—doubling McCain’s haul. Obama bested McCain by factors of two, three, and four to one from industries as diverse as lawyers and lobbyists; communications/electronics, finance, insurance and real estate (a.k.a. Wall Street), and defense. And while he received overwhelming support from labor organizations, Obama’s total from the labor sector amounted to $585,000, compared to forty-two million dollars from Wall Street. 2 As this chapter and the next two will show, the contradiction between Obama’s “class warrior” rhetoric and his corporate backing is no accident. The Democratic Party is one of the two major political parties that have shared in governing the United States at all levels of government since the Civil War. The Democrats’ reputation as the “party of the people” follows largely from the party’s “Golden Age,” the New Deal period (1933–1945), in which Democratic president Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted a number of important social reforms. The 1960s “Great Society,” under which Democratic administrations inaugurated Medicare and the “War on Poverty,” solidified the identification of the Democratic Party with the downtrodden. Yet, viewed with a wider lens, this history of Democratic reform on behalf of “the people” spans only about forty of the 150 years since the Civil War era. Even in the last generation, when working-class living standards have been cut, unions have been destroyed, and the majority of American workers have lost their belief that their children will have a better life then they did, the Democrats have done little to stem that tide. Since 1973, when the median wage in real terms peaked, the Democrats have held the White House for half as long as the Republicans have, but they have held the majority in Congress and the state legislatures for most of that time. Yet they did little to reverse the conservative-inspired offensive against working people’s living standards. Kevin Phillips, a former Republican operative who turned against the dominant conservatism of the Reagan era, explained the persistence of the assault on working people in 1990:
Much of the new emphasis in the 1980s on tax reduction and the aggressive accumulation of wealth reflected the Republican Party’s long record of support for unabashed capitalism. It was no fluke that three important Republican

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“History’s Second-Most Enthusiastic Capitalist Party”


supremacies coincided with and helped generate the Gilded Age, the Roaring Twenties and the Reagan-Bush years. Part of the reason survival-of-the-fittest periods are so relentless, however, rests on the performance of the Democrats as history’s second-most enthusiastic capitalist party. They do not interfere with capitalist momentum, but wait for excesses and the inevitable popular reaction. In the United States, elections arguably play a more important cultural and economic role than in other lands. Because we lack a hereditary aristocracy or Establishment, our leadership elites and the alignment of wealth are more the product of political cycles than they are elsewhere. Capitalism is maneuvered more easily in the United States, pushed in new regional and sectoral directions. As a result, the genius of American politics—failing only in the Civil War—has been to manage through ballot boxes the problems that less fluid societies resolve with barricades and with party structures geared to class warfare.3

So despite their (at times) populist rhetoric and support for social reform legislation, the Democrats are at their core an elite party concerned with sharing the responsibility of ruling the United States with the GOP. The differences that separate the Democrats and Republicans are minor in comparison to the fundamental commitments that unite them. To be sure, if there weren’t differences between the two parties, there would be no justification for a two-party system. But for corporate America, which generally supports the Republicans more fervently than the Democrats, the two-party system plays an essential role. If one party falls out of favor with the voters, there’s always the other one—with predictable policies—waiting in the wings. Even as the New Deal rearranged mainstream American politics, a well-known radical social commentator, Ferdinand Lundberg, stressed that the underlying nature of U.S. politics hadn’t changed: “The United States can be looked upon as having, in effect, a single party: the Property Party. This party can be looked upon as having two subdivisions: The Republican Party, hostile to accommodating adjustments (hence dubbed ‘Conservative’) and the Democratic Party, of recent decades favoring such adjustments (hence dubbed ‘Liberal’).”4

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