by Bryan Henry
Progressives, leftists, and democratic socialists have rightfully criticized the degree to which the Democratic Party has embraced and promoted neoliberalism over the last 25 years, but the fact remains that the Democratic Party is the only viable vehicle through which to achieve a more egalitarian and just society that guarantees both equal opportunity and equal protection. For all the Democrats’ faults on issues like free trade, deregulation of Wall Street, and the privatization of education and prisons, the Democrats have never been the main proponents of such trends and have mainly supported such ideas out of a pragmatic desire to remain competitive with Republicans in attracting campaign contributions. It is easy to celebrate the end of “Clintonism” from the vantage point of 2017, but the Clintons are the reason that the Democratic Party didn’t lose four presidential elections in a row.
The fact is that while the Democrats have often unwisely abandoned progressive and working-class policies in favor of business-friendly approaches that further exacerbated inequality, they have always been preferable to the Republicans. Too many progressives, leftists, and democratic socialists have decided that the Democratic Party’s embrace of neoliberalism is justification for not supporting Democrats at the polls, but the result is unnecessary political gains for Republicans and unproductive cynicism and apathy towards government. The truth is that the Republicans owe the American people an apology, but the voters have only themselves to blame for not channeling more grassroots and electoral energy into the Democratic Party. Chanting “Fuck Trump” might feel good, but it does absolutely nothing concrete to improve people’s lives.
If progressives had put forth half the energy towards the 2016 election that they are currently devoting to the anti-Trump resistance then Hillary Clinton would be president, the Democrats would control the Senate, and the future of the Supreme Court would be hopeful in terms of voting rights, campaign finance, and climate justice. Let progressives, leftists, and democratic socialists organize for all the issues and positions they support but do so while proudly expanding the base of the Democratic Party and reminding the public why voting for Democrats is worthwhile. Let us recount why the Republicans owe all of us an apology to remind ourselves and others why the Democrats are worth our time and effort.
After losing the national popular vote and barely winning the Electoral College in the 2000 election, the Republicans acted as if they had a mandate to implement massive tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 that overwhelmingly benefitted the wealthy. In 2001, the worst terrorist attack on American soil took place despite warnings from the Clinton Administration and the intelligence community that such an attack was increasingly likely. An unnecessary war of choice completely unconnected to the 9/11 attacks then took place in Iraq in 2003. The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s government led to the destruction of Iraq’s government, military, and civil society and unleashed violence and instability across the Middle East that continues to this day. The War on Terror combined with the Bush tax cuts exploded the national debt and annual budget deficits, but Republicans at the time insisted that deficits didn’t matter. The economy and stock market crashed in 2007-2008 because of the type of deregulation that is still championed by Republicans today.
When President Bush asked Congress to bail out the banks the Republicans refused to help and he relied on Democrats to pass the infamous Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). While many have been critical of the bank bailout, most economists agree that it was necessary and effective. The fault lies not in bailing out Wall Street, which was a necessary evil, but in not giving ordinary Americans on Main Street a helping hand as well. When Barack Obama was elected in a landslide in 2008 and the American people gave the Democrats supermajorities in both chambers of Congress (a real mandate unlike the 2000 election), the Republicans completely disregarded the will of the people and took no responsibility for their role in the country’s failed foreign and economic policies.
Not only did the Republicans not engage in any critical self-reflection or try to work with the Democrats, they engaged in unprecedented scorched-earth obstruction. Not a single Republican voted for the 2009 “stimulus bill” that economists agree was a necessary and effective response to the Great Recession. The Republicans said that the “stimulus bill” was wasteful government spending when such spending was a common-sense, textbook macroeconomic response to a severe economic downturn. Their rejection of the “stimulus bill” was even more ridiculous considering that one-third of its cost was in the form of tax cuts for the middle class. In sum, the Democratic Party is solely responsible for the economic recovery after the Great Recession which would have happened more quickly with Republican assistance.
In 2009, the Democrats embarked on comprehensive health care reform that would achieve universal coverage for all Americans, make health insurance more affordable, and end the most egregious practices of the for-profit health care industry. While a single-payer Medicare for All system, or at the very least the inclusion of a public option, would be preferable to the current system, it is arguably just a fact of American politics that the private sector will continue to play a significant role in the provision of health care insurance. Given this reality, the Obama Administration made deals with the powerful insurance and pharmaceutical industries to gain their cooperation to make reform happen, but the Republicans cynically chose to not participate in the reform effort and even criticized it is as “cronyism” and “elitism” due to the role that wealthy interest groups played in crafting the legislation.
The Republicans were so hypocritical and disingenuous in this tactic because they are, more than the Democrats, the party of “big business” always unwilling to do anything to curb corporate power. The fact is that the elements of the Affordable Care Act that are worth criticism are the elements that Republicans and “big business” would insist had to be there for them to support it. The ACA is a moderate, business-friendly approach to health care reform that expands the private marketplace and requires more individual responsibility. In a normal political climate, the bill would have received overwhelming bi-partisan support and both parties could have taken credit for making real improvements to the healthcare system. Instead, we have spent the last seven years listening to the Republicans lie about and mischaracterize the health care issues facing the American people. They have done literally nothing to solve the American people’s problems and have instead further confused and misled the people to score political points against Democrats.
Not only have the Republicans been campaigning on the promise to repeal Obamacare, but they insist that further “reforms” are needed in Medicaid and Medicare. Whatever “reforms” the Republicans propose always have the effect of pushing more of the cost of health care onto the individual and leaving them exposed to financial hardship. The fact is that in both presidential elections where Obamacare was on the ballot (2012, 2016) more Americans voted Democrat in support of the law. Furthermore, Donald Trump ran on a promise to not cut Medicaid and Medicare. Yet, the Republicans in Congress are now gearing up to make as many changes and cuts to these two programs as possible even though neither Clinton nor Trump campaigned on doing so. In fact, Clinton ran on a platform to expand Medicaid and make more people eligible for Medicare and she received three million more votes than her opponent. Yet, the American people will now receive the exact opposite. The Republicans, just as in 2000, act as if they have a mandate to implement policies that no one campaigned on and that the American people do not support. The Republicans, just as in 2000, now have the White House after losing the national popular vote. If Republicans want to claim a mandate for their policies, then they need to convince the American people to vote for them.
In 2013, the Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to even vote on a comprehensive, bi-partisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate because they opposed people having a pathway to citizenship. Republicans accused Barack Obama of abusing executive power for not deporting children who were brought to the United States illegally. Republicans accused Barack Obama of being a “socialist” for wanting to raise income taxes on the top 1% instead of cutting spending on programs that benefit the middle and working class. Republicans accused Barack Obama of being anti-fossil fuel for simply acknowledging that climate change is man-made and insisting that public policy incentivize the expansion of clean energy sources. Republicans refused to allow Barack Obama to exercise his constitutional power as President to nominate a Supreme Court justice. Republicans refuse to support campaign finance reform and instead try to make it as difficult as possible for people to exercise their constitutional right to vote. The Republicans accused Barack Obama of lying about his religion and birthplace. They tacitly endorsed every single conspiracy theory that was ever formulated about Barack Obama and then gave us Donald Trump!
After hearing Republicans complain for eight years about how Obama had too little experience to be president, didn’t believe in American exceptionalism, had no respect for the Constitution, and acted like a dictator, they supported and normalized someone with literally no political experience who openly rejects American exceptionalism, has no knowledge of or regard for the Constitution, openly shows contempt for checks and balances, and continuously praises the leadership of Vladimir Putin. The Republican Party is a complete joke. The Republican Party has no moral authority. The Republican Party is so far willing to look the other way after Russia influenced our election process so long as they can cut some more taxes and take away people’s health care insurance. The Republican Party owes the American people an apology. Unfortunately, so do too many progressives, leftists, and democratic socialists who spend too much time criticizing “the establishment,” fantasizing about third parties, and showing only lukewarm support for the Democratic Party. It is time to unapologetically demand a more egalitarian and just society. It is time to accept that the Democratic Party is the means to that end.