As a Rust Belt teenager back when Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam (avec Full Force) released, “I Wonder if I Take You Home,” the present author lived through the collapse of the American New Deal coalition, the functional realization of Kevin Phillip’s “Emerging Republican Majority” in the form of the Reagan Administration, and the Democratic acquiescence to neoliberalism (and related/disconcerting willingness to adopt certain conservative cultural tropes) during Bill Clinton’s years. For my British readers, feel free to insert Callaghan for Carter, Thatcherism for Reaganomics, and a frightening amalgamation of Kinnock & Blair for #42.
With the electoral successes of the Reagan/Bush 41 GOP in the ‘80s and (such as it was) of the DLC-oriented New Democrats in the ‘90s, the Left and its vision of society was marginalized for decades. The high-water mark during this bleak era might have been Ted Kennedy’s “The Dream Shall Never Die” speech at the 1980 Democratic National Convention. Still worth a listen. Apres ca, la bruine.
The Democrats were for many years, effectively, a slightly-to-somewhat liberal corporatist entity…and many of our candidates (particularly at the national level) reflected this tendency. As Former Labour MP Tony Benn said about the British Labor Party, they tried to “give up everything [they] believed in” in order to win…they ended up not winning and also being seen as “not standing for anything.” A similar point-of-view can be applied in many instances to the Democratic Party of the ‘90s. Of course, this win-at-all-costs cynicism is a far better reflection of Bill Clinton’s ethos than Barack Obama’s. President Obama fought for moderately progressive and internationalist principles (expanding health care access and restoring America’s global standing following the failures of Bush 43 being two such goals) but his Administration was compelled him to govern from the Center against a hostile, reactionary Right. While successful, the Obama Presidency was in many ways fairly conventional as his moderate inclinations, combined with an obdurate opposition, prevented him from pursuing more liberal policy ends.
With that as a backdrop, it is encouraging to see Real Deal candidates of the Left, including social democrats and democratic socialists, winning elections up and down the ballot. Let’s focus on those who belong to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (the Democratic nominee in New York’s 14th Congressional District) is running on a platform that is courageously progressive: Medicare for All, a Federal Jobs Guarantee, Housing as a Human Right, to name a few of her stances…this is heady People-Over-Profits leadership. And she isn’t the only serious progressive candidate out there. You have folks like Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato winning Democratic state legislative primaries in Pennsylvania (both DSA members who defeated incumbents in Pittsburgh-area districts). Turning even closer to the DC region, there is Lee Carter, a former Marine who was elected to serve as a Delegate from Manassas, Virginia in 2017, one of 15 DSA Members to be elected to public office last year. In near-by Montgomery County, while not winning their 2018 primaries for County Council, DSA members Brandy Brooks, Chris Wilhelm, and Danielle Meitiv all ran strong campaigns for that office. Meanwhile, another DSA member, Marc Elrich is the apparent winner of the Democratic primary for Montgomery County Executive.
It is heartening to see such individuals – and others - advocating for an optimistic, humanity-centered governing vision and either winning or at least advancing the cause. By doing so, the Left can provide a clear alternative to the morally bankrupt Trump regime and its national, state, and local enablers.
The key is to get serious-minded progressives to take action. Let’s consider judicial picks for a moment. Yes, in the short term, we need to oppose with great tenacity the Brett Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court. We also need to build a strong Left bench at all levels of government so that, when the time comes, we can nominate & confirm those who share our worldview to the Supreme Court and other courts.
We can continue the work of the New Deal (see also Cass Sunstein’s work, “The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More Than Ever,” the Fair Deal, the Great Society, and the Obama Administration.
All that is old can be new again. And yes, Lisa Lisa is back on tour.