The Democratic Party is soon going to have to decide what its values are and what it will run on.
First published in January 2020.
Republicans identify themselves as the party of values. That characterization was not available to them in the 1850s, as its definition of a “social principle” dates from much later, but I can imagine the abolitionists and progressives of Lincoln’s and Teddy Roosevelt’s times nodding their heads here, though they would have a number of reservations with the modern expression of the party. As I discussed before, in the early twentieth century, Republicans adopted a laissez-faire economic ideology that naturally made them antagonistic to communism, but was uncomfortably leashed to social conservatism – dubiously referred to as the “traditional” values of imposing fundamentalist Christianity on the nation – when Ronald Reagan was cast in his last role on the big screen.
But what are these values, and what beliefs are they grounded in? The marriage of libertarianism and fundamentalist Christianity is a bizarre combination, one that involves a basic contradiction, since the former tacitly assumes the inherent goodness of human beings if left to ourselves, while the latter holds as an explicit doctrine that we are depraved without divine intervention. And this union of convenience has allowed a variety demonic children to anchor themselves in American politics.
According to Republican economics, success in business is due to the creative act of one person without any contribution from workers that deserve credit, much less a living wage. Products and services only need an entrepreneur to set them in motion, and the delivery to customers will occur by magic. Or, to characterize their position more accurately, laborers are free to engage in contractual relationships with employers with both having equal power, and therefore, whatever wages are offered and accepted are a fair assessment of the worker’s value. Whatever jobs are given are a gracious gift of the company’s owner that should be accepted with due deference and submission. And anyone with sufficient moral fiber can succeed in any job. The image here is one of a kid going around his neighborhood asking to mow lawns to earn money for his first car.
With this vision in mind, the right wing views government in terms of business. Bernie Sanders is but the latest of many Democratic candidates about whom it has been asked, “How many jobs has he created?” Whether or not these mythological jobs would be rewarding and sustaining is apparently beside the point, but the argument here is that if we hire someone from the for-profit sector to be the president, employment will be the result, even though the right wing objects to the very notion of the government creating anything.
The model of profit is one that Republicans do not carry through to its logical conclusion. A corporation exists to enrich its shareholders, say the right-wing economists, and yet who the owners of a constitutional democratic republic are is forgotten by Republican policies. Medicare for All and universal access to higher education, for example, would be ways of returning value to the investors in this nation, but instead, Republicans would prefer to siphon tax dollars to military contractors and other donors to their politicians.
All of this is taken as rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, so long as sexuality and courtroom decorations are left in the hands of believers in the one true religion – which is certainly not the latest Abrahamicfaith to emerge from the Middle East, despite all the similarities. Like a proverbial middle child, American Christianity has never quite known where it belongs, has felt a perpetual sense of being left out, left behind, and threatened by the left.
What the Republicans will run on is clear. The question for those of us who are something else is what are we going to support. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has claimed that the Democratic Party of recent decades is a center-right party, and establishment voices are protesting enough to give her comment credibility, as if Clinton’s attacks on the social safety net and Obama’s baptizing of Wall Street into his economic team were not enough. Joe Biden’s appeal, so far as I can figure it out, is grounded in nostalgia for the time not so long ago before the current madman in the White House, forgetting how Republican Biden can be.
Ideally, we would have three parties, left, center, and right, but the decision of the framers to eschew combinations leaves us with big tents, no matter how uncomfortable that can be. The Democratic Party is going to have to decide what our values are and what we will run on. As I suggested above, universal healthcare and education are my idea of core values for the left. Unsurprisingly, I add in the Green New Deal, including a recognition that if the working class is ignored, the environment will suffer, an end to the war on drugs, and protection for the rights of women and for GSRM (gender, sexual, and romantic minority) Americans.
As we are days away from the Iowa Caucuses, the voters will decide whether the Democratic Party will be the left, a different option from the right, or will be a weak shadow of the Republicans.🔷
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