When I first saw the headline of Douglas Schoen’s New York Times op-ed, “Why Democrats Need Wall Street,” I thought, well maybe this will stake out some needed middle ground in the debate about the proper role of Wall St. in Democratic politics. Instead, it’s closer to a call for Wall St. domination of the Democratic Party.
In Schoen’s view, “Hillary Clinton’s lurch to the left probably cost her key Midwestern states that Barack Obama had won twice and led to the election of Donald Trump.” That will provoke derision from progressive Democrats, who believe that Clinton lost the Electoral College, not with a lurch to the left, but by failing to advocate populist economic reforms that could motivate a good turnout among the base and win over swing voters.
Schoen’s argument that Democrats failed to even connect with, much less motivate, small business entrepreneurs to support the Democratic Party makes better sense. Small business folks rarely applaud Democratic ideas. Looking to the future, Democrats may gain some traction with small business by pushing for a public option that would relieve employers of the ever-worsening burden of providing job-linked health insurance.
Schoen makes a blunt argument for Democratic dependency on Wall St.:
Democrats should keep ties with Wall Street for several reasons. The first is an ugly fact of politics: money. Maintaining ties to Wall Street makes economic sense for Democrats and keeps their coffers full…In the 2016 election, the Center for Responsive Politics reports, employees and companies in the securities and investment industry donated more than $63 million to the Democratic Party.
He argues further, that “Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris as well as Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor — should not be dismissed simply because of their current or past ties to Wall Street.” As of this writing all are considered good possibilities to serve on the Democratic 2020 ticket.
“If voters really hated ties to Wall Street and financial elites,” writes Schoen, “Republicans would not enjoy such a commanding electoral position — or have elected a New York plutocrat president.” But that doesn’t discount the possibility that voters dislike “Wall St. ties and financial elites,” but are willing to subordinate such concerns, if they like something else about a candidate.
But Schoen takes a dubious leap in stating:
Despite what the Democratic left says, America is a center-right, pro-capitalist nation. A January Gallup poll found that moderates and conservatives make up almost 70 percent of the country, while only 25 percent of voters identify as liberal. Even in May 2016, when Senator Sanders made redistribution a central part of his platform, Gallup found that only about 35 percent of Americans had a positive image of socialism, compared with 60 percent with a positive view of capitalism.
Cherry-picked polls about public views on “capitalism” and “socialism” are problematic, since the public has a broad array of definitions for each term. And rigid adherence to ‘isms’ of any sort is not a high priority with today’s voters, anyway. The assertion that “America is a “center-right” nation, based on polls showing 70 percent self-identify as “moderates and conservatives,” ignore the reality that “moderate” includes a wide range of views, including center-left opinions.
Schoen’s unbridled celebration of deregulation seems more characteristic of conservative Republicans than even centrist Democratic leaders: “The Democrats cannot be the party that supports only new, stifling regulations. Reducing regulation allows banks to employ capital and finance investment in our country’s future, making electric cars, renewable energy and internet connectivity across the globe a reality.” Most genuine moderates would agree that at least some regulations serve the public interest — and public safety.
Ditto for his opposition to the concept of a livable minimum wage. “Advocacy of a $15 minimum wage and further banking regulation does not constitute a positive, proactive agenda,” Schoen writes, calling it “an ineffective, negative and coercive economic message.”
Schoen comes to his globalist, neo-liberal perspective from the vantage point of a frozen-in-1990s-amber Clintonista. Clinton did enjoy a booming economy and a semblance of party unity that served Dems well — for a while. Economists will long debate how much his better economic statistics came from good policy vs. good fortune.
There were also a lot of problems percolating during the globalist glory days of the Clinton Administration. As Charles Pierce notes in a 2010 Esquire post, dryly referrring to Clinton as “the Pericles of the Ozarks”:
…It was the Clinton years that produced a Democratic party content with half-measures and wishful thinking, attaching itself to trade policies that substituted the messianic buzzwords of globalism for, you know, actual jobs, abolishing the Glass-Steagall Act to great acclaim and even greater financial fraud, and generally refashioning itself as a home for people who really, really Liked Ike…This was fine when the economy was humming along, and we were not bogged down in two wars, and the financial system hadn’t nearly dissolved into a puddle. Now, it’s been so long since the Democratic party ran on a genuinely progressive platform that the president and his people can’t seem to put together a coherent campaign based on what they relentlessly assure us has been the most triumphant progressive presidency since LBJ. They don’t know how to run like that anymore, especially not the retreads from the Class of ’92…
Are Dems really stuck with a binary choice between full-blown 90s Clintonism and all-out democratic socialism? Isn’t it at least conceivable that both government and the private sector can play a better role in creating a more livable society for everyone?
Most voters simply don’t fit neatly into rigid ‘ism’ boxes. Instead, they fill a wide spectrum between the two poles that can vary significantly from issue to issue. Candidates who avoid being ideologically pidgeonholed can win majority support of both Democrats and persuadable voters — provided they articulate an inclusive, hopeful and credible vision.