Traditional New Deal liberalism has been dead in presidential elections since Walter Mondale was trounced by Ronald Reagan in 1984. Democratic nominees since then — Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama — have embraced a technocratic elite and portrayed themselves as friends of free trade and international trade deals. They claimed they were fiscally conservative, concerned about the national deficit, friends of Wall Street and the financial industry, opponents of too big government and too much regulation, compromisers on universal health care, reluctant to intervene in foreign nations without NATO or United Nations approval.
They turned a blind eye to Goldman Sachs’ manipulations of the market, and the Dodd-Frank regulatory reform may be so weak the “too big to fail’ financial institutions can do it again with impunity.
With Bernie Sanders’ surprising success in the Democratic primaries, New Deal liberalism might be making a comeback. Thomas Frank, author of the best-selling What’s The Matter With Kansas? (2004), has a new book, Listen, Liberal: Or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? He indicts the sell-out approach of 21st century Democrats. “Democrats have occupied the White House for sixteen of the last twenty-four years, and yet the decline of the middle class has only accelerated. Wall Street gets its bailouts, wages keep falling, and the free-trade deals keep coming,” he writes. Democrats have become elitists, abandoning the interests of the working class.
An excerpt appears in the UK Guardian: “The issue is not Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street links but Democrats core dogmas,” he writes. It is that Democrats have abandoned the working class in favor of “the highly educated professionals who populated its clean and innovative knowledge industries.”
To regain the trust of working class voters, Democrats must succeed in reversing widespread income inequality, Frank argues. Liberals must examine some of their core assumptions and dogmas, such as that “education is the solution to all problems, that professionals deserve to lead, that the downfall of the working class is the inevitable price we pay for globalization.”