From FDR’s New Deal to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the Democratic Party took pride in being the party of the people. During this period, Democrats championed the rights of union members, women, black and brown minorities, the poor, whoever was getting shortchanged in American society. But when Bill Clinton won back the White House for the Democrats in 1992, the party began losing its way.
Clinton was the chair of the DLC, the Democratic Leadership Council, that steered the party away from its progressive traditions and toward a centrist, business-friendly, Republican approach to government. In 1993, he “helped gut America’s manufacturing base by promoting and passing the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA,…” NAFTA failed to protect the interests of working Americans and “signaled that the Democratic Party—the “progressive” side of the U.S. two-party system—had accepted the reactionary economic ideology of Ronald Reagan…” (See https://www.alternet.org/2015/06/15-ways-bill-clintons-white-house-failed-america-and-world/)
In 1996, Clinton worked with Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republicans to enact the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act which gave states control of welfare programs. According to the Atlantic, “‘Welfare reform’ didn’t fix welfare so much as destroy it,…” Twenty-plus years after the passage of welfare reform, the number of poor American children has exploded and black welfare recipients are subject to the system’s most stringent rules. (See https://www.alternet.org/2015/06/15-ways-bill-clintons-white-house-failed-america-and-world/ and https://www.history.com/news/clinton-1990s-welfare-reform-facts.)
In addition, Clinton curried favor with Wall Street at the expense of most Americans by signing into law more financial deregulation legislation than any other president, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. Among the worst acts was his dissolution of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which had protected people’s savings accounts from being used by investment banks on speculative financial deals. This was a major factor leading to the 2008 Great Recession.
When President Obama took over the Democratic Party, he followed in Clinton’s footsteps by bailing out Wall Street while providing little assistance to the millions of Americans who had lost their homes in the Great Recession. By the time Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2016, the American people were fed up with the Establishment of both parties who favored Wall Street and their big donors over them. That opened the door to the White House to outsider Donald Trump.
Now outsider Bernie Sanders is leading the Democratic primary race. Given the recent history of the Democratic Party, it stands to reason that a major factor in Sanders’ rise in popularity is his rejection of the centrist establishment, Clinton approach of fostering close connections to Wall Street and Big Money. Somehow the party establishment has not gotten the message: The American people are tired of playing second fiddle to corporate America and Big Money interests.
Sanders promises to revive the progressive values of FDR, JFK and LBJ. He’s calling for what most Americans want: a $15/hr. living wage (67% according to Pew Research Center) , healthcare for all (56% according to Kaiser Family Fdn), stricter gun control laws (60% according to Pew), and a Green New Deal (80% of registered voters according to Yale Program on Climate Communication). Yes, it’s radical to the Establishment who want the government to continue protecting its interests at the people’s expense. But it’s not radical to all those who’ve seen little rise in their income, higher and higher health insurance and pharmaceutical bills, more and more friends and family shot to death, and the government doing very little to remedy these and other real problems.
People like MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews are the radical ones. His calling Sanders’ Nevada primary victory akin to the Nazis conquest of France is outrageous. The “liberal” media seems just as threatened by Sanders as the Establishment. They both fear losing their power and influence in the political arena, and don’t get how fed up so many Americans are with Washington and its do-nothing politics.
Trump conned America into believing he would clean “the swamp.” But, he’s only made it worse. If the Democratic Party wants to win in November, it better get behind the man that truly speaks for the people. Bernie looks like the real deal. He appears to be the only candidate who is building a mass movement, including millions of disillusioned and new voters, capable of the wave election needed to sweep Trump out of office. Given the chance, Sanders really could “Make America Great Again.”
Bruce Berlin, J.D.
A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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