I argued last week that while it's very important to get increased representation for women and minorities in political office, it's also important for such candidates to not simply be stalking horses for the (heavily white and male) neoliberal establishment. Focusing on Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick — all minority candidates being groomed by the centrist Democratic establishment for possible runs at national office — I argued that:
If the center wants to win over a suspicious left, they can start by clearly explaining their policy orientation, particularly in areas where they might have fallen short by the supposed standards of the modern Democratic Party — which all three of the above candidates have done in various ways. If they want to deepen divisions, they can use cynical accusations of bigotry to try to beat back any leftist challenger. [The Week]
Many people got really mad about this piece, some essentially accusing me of racism.
So, to clarify the argument, I'll take this suggestion from Greenpeace's Matt Browner Hamlin:
— Matt Browner Hamlin (@mattkbh) August 3, 2017
If policy and allegiance is equally important to identity, then the actual white male neoliberal establishment is doubly worthless.
Let me emphasize once more that I strongly agree that problems of bigotry in this country must be attacked. There is far too much sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and so on in the United States. But leftists like myself believe that in addition to traditional civil rights policy, nothing short of a total overhaul of American capitalism will suffice to actually eradicate oppression from our society. Neoliberals like Andrew Cuomo and Joe Biden, by contrast, believe that the capitalist framework only needs minor tweaks.
What is meant by a "total overhaul of capitalism" is debated, but at a minimum it means a very heavy cutback in the wealth and power of the very rich. It means things like a massive increase in taxation, especially on the rich, to pay for huge new welfare programs; heavy new corporate regulations, especially to break up corporate oligopolies and on Wall Street swindlers; and strong economic stimulus to finally fix the Great Recession and bring down appalling unemployment rates among black Americans especially.
So let's examine these three white male neoliberals in turn. Mark Zuckerberg (who has hired Hillary Clinton's pollster) is a flatly ridiculous option for leftists. He's the fifth-richest person in the world. He personifies the opposite of what leftists want. Moreover, there is no reason to think business expertise makes for a good president (see: Trump, Donald).
Andrew Cuomo is a more serious option. He is the governor of New York, and he is an ultra-cynical political snake. He has betrayed left-wing organizations like the Working Families Party, worked behind the scenes to keep Republicans in power of the New York state Senate, and created a public transit crisis in New York City by starving the subway of funding and attention, among many other things.
Joe Biden is unquestionably the most popular politician among this group, cruising on his reputation as America's cool uncle in the Obama White House. But Biden's long record as a United States senator is quite bad in the eyes of leftists. He championed the war on drugs and crime and voted for the Iraq War. Delaware is notorious for serving as basically a corporate tax shelter, and it therefore has gobs of banks and credit card companies. Biden has close ties to both, and therefore sponsored the gruesome 2005 bankruptcy reform bill and 1999 financial deregulation.
Uncle Joe was a fun bit player in the Obama White House, but the actual policy record of Joe Biden United States Senator is terrible.
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) June 1, 2017
In short, there is every reason to think that these men will serve more or less as representatives of the ruling class — just as Harris, Booker, Patrick, and any number of other Democratic politicians, of any race or gender, would if they were installed by the establishment. They would have neither the inclination nor the necessary political backing to put through the left-wing policy that would actually get the really excellent social justice goods. Like ObamaCare, any new policy they propose will almost certainly be punched through with so many compromises and handouts to existing stakeholders that it would leave tens of millions of Americans — many if not most of them minorities — out in the cold.
So as we discuss which vision is to predominate the future of the Democratic Party, remember that without a sweeping left-wing program, much bigotry and oppression will remain. White neoliberal men are the last people to trust to understand this. People like Harris and Booker are no doubt more likely to understand, but neither should they be blindly trusted. The history of Democratic Party sellout-ery is simply too long.