A Reply To Adolph Reed: The Democratic Party Is Not The Left
I don't think the American left has retreated. Rather I think you have a lot of organizations that portray themselves as "liberal", leftist is a term they have always fled from, whose leaderships and tribal memberships have embraced the corporatist agenda. Or perhaps I should say re-embraced it, and its current kleptocratic form.
What many of us grew up thinking was liberalism was a historical aberration. Classic liberalism was perfectly at home with corporatism/capitalism. The Great Depression forced liberalism into various populist compromises with the left. Since the 1970s, there has been a sustained effort (the kleptocratic enterprise) to roll these back. Neoliberalism, a mix of classic liberal economics with some libertarian elements, provides the intellectual cover used to justify these moves. Again it is important to realize that there is nothing neo or new in this but rather a return to liberalism's anti-populist roots.
This return put pressure on an essential faultline in the Democratic party between its liberals and its allies in the progressive left (or whatever you want to call it). A masterful conman like Bill Clinton was able to defuse much of this tension by talking the talk of the ordinary man while walking the walk of the corporate man. And it all wasn't just words. 23 million were created during his Presidency. But income inequality grew faster under him than under Reagan, and of course, derivatives were deregulated at the end of his Presidency and the last of Glass-Steagall repealed. With Clinton gone and Bush and the Republicans in, the Democrats played off their feigned helplessness to keep their coalition together and explain their failure to mount any serious opposition to Bush and his policies, policies with which, as the last 5 years have shown, they basically agreed. This marked the ascendency of lesser evilism. The left was supposed to support Democrats not for what they were but for what they were not (Republicans). By the time 2008 and Obama rolled around, this had morphed into TINA. Obama might, for campaign purposes, be Mr. Hope and Changey in his rhetoric, but he shut out the left, both its people and its ideas, and surrounded himself with Clinton retreads, Republicans, and a thoroughly corporatist, anti-progressive and anti-left agenda.
Obama and the Democrats continue to count on people supporting the Democratic party not for what it is but what it was. And there is a whole faux-left, career progressive elite punditocracy out there willing to sell this lie. But despite their best efforts, the faultline between Democratic liberals and the progressive left has turned into a growing rift. The truth is if you are a New Deal "liberal" or part of the progressive left, a vote for any Democrat anywhere is a vote for everything you find wrong with this country, no exceptions. This is the one message the Democrats and their liberal punditocracy want so much to confuse and suppress, either by pointing to those "crazy Republicans" or those few mythical "good Democrats". But if you want to know where the progressive left begins, it begins there, with the rejection of the Democrats. Everything else is just posturing and support for an untenable and intolerable status quo.
Does the progressive left need to strike out on its own, create a movement and a party of its own? Absolutely, the Democratic party is not our party. It never really was, FDR included. We did not retreat. The Democratic party is just returning to that part of the right from where it came.