A rebellion is breaking out in the Democratic Party, but it’s not like the 1960s when the party was torn apart over the Vietnam War and civil rights for blacks. In those days, Democrats were united in support of the New Deal/Great Society approach to economics. Today, the situation is reversed. There isn’t any significant split over foreign policy or social issues. Now Democrats are divided over economics.
Harold Meyerson of The American Prospect notes: “As Southern whites fled the party [in the 1960s over civil rights], Democrats welcomed socially liberal financial elites who had rejected the GOP’s rightward turn on racial and gender issues. This mix of Wall Street bankers and high-tech entrepreneurs has become a major source of Democratic funding. Their perspectives have dominated the party’s economic policies, beginning with former Goldman Sachs CEO Robert Rubin’s tenure as Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary and continuing through the Obama presidency with such protégés as Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner. During Clinton’s presidency, Rubin et al. deregulated the financial industry and crafted free-trade accords that decimated American manufacturing. The dot-com boom and low unemployment levels of the late 1990s convinced the Rubinistas that they had found the key to generating good jobs in a nation that had been losing them for at least 25 years.”
Rubin’s vision for prosperity died with the crash of 2008, but his devotees in the Obama administration limited the push for stricter financial regulation and emphasized protecting banks more than homeowners.
Many progressives had been quiet about their criticism of President Obama until after he won re-election. Then this summer they successfully challenged Obama’s expected appointment of Larry Summers to the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve.
Democrats are having a big battle right now over a gigantic “free trade” agreement called “NAFTA on steriods.” The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is being negotiated in secret among 12 Pacific Rim economies, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia. Recently Wikileaks released the “intellectual property” chapter of the TPP, which reveals that it involves an expansion of protectionism rather than free trade. Economist Mark Weisbrot notes that this chapter is “one of 24 (out of 29) chapters that do not have to do with trade. This chapter has provisions that will make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to get patents, including in developing countries; have these patents for more years; and extend the ability of these companies to limit access to the scientific data that is necessary for other researchers to develop new medicines. And the United States is even pushing for provisions that would allow surgical procedures to be patented — provisions that may be currently against U.S. law.”
Opponents of the TPP made significant progress in the House in November as 174 lawmakers from both parties indicated their unwillingness to grant the president authority to “fast-track” the TPP to a Congressional up-or-down vote. Under this Nixon-era procedure, there is no debate.
The 151 Democrats opposing fast-track include 18 of 21 full committee ranking members and 72 subcommittee ranking members; Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn; Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Steve Israel; Steering and Policy Committee Co-Chairs Rosa DeLauro and Rob Andrews; and 35 of 48 Democratic Steering and Policy Committee members; 19 of the short list of Democrats who voted for the 2011 U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement; 26 of the 51 members of the New Democrat Coalition; and eight of the 14 members of the Blue Dog Coalition. It is impressive that about half of the New Democrat Coalition (the reincarnation of the Democratic Leadership Council) took this stand because this group typically supports free-trade agreements.
The 23 House Republicans opposing fast-track included both moderates and Tea Party sympathizers.
Rep. Jared Polis, who is a member of both the Congressional Progressive Caucus (which strongly opposes the TPP) and the New Democrat Coalition, hasn’t come out against fast-track. Neither have any of the other Colorado members of the U.S. House of either party.
Since we are a “swing state,” progressives have a big challenge. We have to get outside our comfort zone in Boulder and reach out to more conservative Coloradans. We should certainly share our views with politicians, but ultimately we need to create more grassroots “street heat.”
It’s time to turn that heat up on Polis and our other representatives.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.