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No Vox – Bernie Sanders Is Right about the Democratic Party

Bernie Sanders at a democratic town meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, July 2015
Bernie Sanders at a town meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, July 2015

In an op-ed for Vox titled “One sentence from Bernie Sanders’s speech last night that really enrages Democratic leaders,” Matthew Yglesias disapproved of Sanders’ characterization of the Democratic Party as a party of “wealthy campaign contributors.”

Bernie Sanders said the following about the Democratic Party in a national address to his supporters:

I also look forward to working with Secretary Clinton to transform the Democratic Party so that it becomes a party of working people and young people, and not just wealthy campaign contributors: a party that has the courage to take on Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, the fossil fuel industry and the other powerful special interests that dominate our political and economic life.

Well, I have some bad news for Matthew Yglesias and the so-called “enraged Democratic leaders” that he refers to. Bernie Sanders is absolutely right.

In an interview with Nick Nowlin on The Benjamin Dixon Show, Thomas Frank talks about his book “Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People” where he explains how the Democratic Party in the early 70’s systematically marginalized the role of labor unions from the Party and became a party of the “professional class.” These are the democratic “elites”, the top 10%, who saw their income increase at the peril of the bottom 90% who ended up working longer hours for lower wages.

The shift of the Democratic Party from being the “Party of the People” to the “Party of the Elites” took full form after Bill Clinton took office in 1993. Despite a vigorous campaign by labor unions, led by the AFL-CIO, against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the “Party of the People” sided with lobbyists, corporations and “wealthy campaign contributors” who spent millions to ensure the passage of the legislation. The AFL-CIO estimated that 500,000 American jobs will be lost due to this trade deal. They were wrong. One million jobs were lost.

And the same scenario is happening again with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Wealthy campaign contributors support the TPP, while labor unions such as the AFL-CIO oppose it. But President Obama is vigorously and actively working to ensure the passage of this deal. Supporters of the deal are even looking at the possibility of clearing the way for a vote on the TPP in the lame-duck session of Congress after Election Day. And while Hillary Clinton claims that she opposes the deal, I argued that her new found criticism of the deal is nothing but political expediency.

The “Party of the People” then passed the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. Since that legislation, the number of U.S. households living in extreme poverty in any given month more than doubled between 1996 and 2011.

Bill Clinton, with the support of many Democrats and the influence of millions of dollars from the financial industry, championed the repeal of Glass-Steagall which separated investment banking from commercial banking activities. This was a major factor in the 2008 stock market crash. Hillary Clinton and many Democrats still oppose reinstating Glass-Steagall, a position that is widely supported by the donor class.

And lest we forget that it was under the leadership of the “Party of the People” that the United States saw the most rapid growth in prison population. The War on Drugs has inflicted great harm on the society and disproportionately harmed people of color. It was President Clinton who pushed for prison privatization where corporations actively searched for inmates. These predatory corporations have no shame establishing quotas that pushed lawmakers to fill beds so they maximize returns for their share holders. These corporations contributed heavily for Clinton’s presidential campaign. Clinton only stopped accepting their contributions after the Black Lives Matters movement forced her hands on the issue.

It’s not an accident that the financial industry gave over 28 million in campaign contributions to the former Secretary of State, according to Open Secrets. It’s not an accident that the healthcare insurance industry contributed millions after Hillary Clinton changed her position on healthcare. But it’s not just Clinton; it’s democrats in Congress as well as governors and state legislators. The “Party of the People” decided to lift the ban on donations from federal lobbyists. The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee supported legislations that would gut rules intended to shield families from predatory lending.

This is not to say that the Democratic Party hasn’t done anything that benefits the working class. They definitely have. Obama worked vigorously to pass the Affordable Care Act which gave health insurance to 17.6 million Americans. But it’s also important to note that the Affordable Care Act was influenced by lobbyists and contributions from the insurance industry. The final legislation, while benefiting millions of Americans, also benefited health insurance giants.

Jill Stein, the leader of the Green Party explains it best: The Democratic Party “fakes left, marches right.”

Written by Salam Morcos

Salam Morcos is a Managing Editor of Progressive Army and a member of its Editorial Board.

Political activist for democracy, social justice, racial justice, women's right and human rights.


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  1. telling that you didn’t bother to quote yglesias. i’ll do it for you:

    “It’s incredibly frustrating for people who’ve been working in mainstream Democratic Party politics to hear their party described as something other than a party for “working people.” Clinton won the votes of millions of working-class Americans, primarily people of color, throughout the 2016 primaries; and in the 2012, 2008, 2004, and 2000 election cycles there’s been a pronounced tendency for lower-income voters to back the Democratic candidate and higher-income ones to back the Republican.

    Similarly, it comes as a shock to people who participated in the passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill (or the White House’s series of later anti-bank regulatory actions) or who’ve worked to uphold the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plant rule that they apparently lack the courage to stand up to Wall Street and fossil fuel interests.”

    that’s quite a bit more than mere “disapproval.” those are facts. if you really were confident in your position that the democratic party isn’t for or is even against working people you would have included yglesias’s actual argument and even addressed it. you didn’t, and, like i said earlier, it’s telling.

    • I think it’s telling that not one single person who created the 2008 crash, begged for bailouts and then gave themselves billions in bonuses, was arrested, charged, and convicted… I think it’s telling that Obama, who I voted for, reached into the pile of crooks who left America on its knees to drag out various individuals and place them as heads of the Fed and other agencies… I think it’s telling that the TPP is being fast tracked by the Democratic party in spite of its obvious damage to the American Middle Class, and the world’s environment…

  2. There are many who are, what I call “legacy Democrats,” who continue to vote for what the Democratic Party once was but is not any longer: the party of the working man & woman, the party of FDR, of Jackson, of Jefferson. As Thomas Frank has so accurately described in his latest study, beginning in the 1980’s and accelerating under Bill Clinton, it is not so much that working people abandoned the Democratic Party as that the Party abandoned working people. Now it is just another brand name owned by the same Wall Street power elite who own the Republican Party, and for whom Hillary Clinton is their ANOINTED ONE. If further proof were needed, the fact that $hillary is aggressively courting traditionally Republican campaign contributors would tell you so; even the Koch Brothers have openly spoken of their preference for her over Bozo the Billionaire. WAKE UP Legacy Democratic voters! This is not the party you thought it was; but all is not lost.

    Right now the Democratic Party is at a crossroads and it is a parting of the ways from which there is no returning. Bernie Sanders, while identifying himself as a “Democratic Socialist” actually stands for all the traditional values of what used to be the Democratic Party; Hillary and the party establishment represent the failed policies and beliefs of the NeoLiberals, who are functionally the same as the NeoCons with only a thin veneer of being less racist/sexist to pretend be the more palatable of two evils to moderates, liberals and progressives. Evil is still evil; don’t be duped by this false choice.

    Right now you do still have a real choose left to you: choose the Clinton Machine and the party, whose leaders have already sold their souls to Wall Street, will begin an irreversible decline– much as the Whigs did before the Civil War. Choose the other path and the Moses of Progressivism will lead the party out of the wilderness of elitism and corruption and into the “promised land” of progress and revitalization, and along with it restore those values which a majority of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, still subscribe to.

    Greed is not good, contrary to what NeoLiberals seem to believe; the toxicity of Hillary’s pay to play politics will eventually destroy the Democratic Party. Mark my words, if the Dems follows her path they will, like Kerensky, eventually end up on the ash heap of history.

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No Vox – Bernie Sanders Is Right about the Democratic Party