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.”