The End Of The First American Republic: The Collapse Of The Democratic Party

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Above Photo: Cosmo Sanderson/Flickr

In 2003 I initially suggested that the First American Republic was over. What follows over the next few days is a series of notes published  during subsequent years on some of the factors that helped to end the First American Republic, and, as one of its results, put Donald Trump into power. 

The last clearly identifiable period during which the Democratic Party was a positive influence on the country was during the Johnson administration. Since then the number of Democratic Party led improvements have been minor. If this seems excessively critical consider the following list of things achieved in the four decades before 1970 and compare that to more recent legislation:

– Regulation of banks and stock brokerage firms
– Protection of your bank account
– Social Security
– A minimum wage
– Legal alcohol
– Regulation of the stock exchanges
– Right of labor to bargain with employers
– Soil Conservation Service and other early environmental programs
– National parks and monuments
– Tennessee Valley Authority
– Rural electrification
– College education for innumerable veterans
– Housing loans for innumerable veterans
– FHA housing loans
– The bulk of hospital beds in the country
– Unemployment insurance
– Small Business Administration
– National Endowment for the Arts
– Medicare
– Peace Corps
– Veterans benefits including health and housing

While the current problems of the Democratic Party began in the Carter era, they escalated with the choice of Bill Clinton as its presidential candidate. He was chosen  by the Democratic Leadership Council in part for the purposes he served, namely undoing key elements of Democratic past that even Ronald Reagan couldn’t achieve such as social welfare. Clinton has been outdone by another DLC vetted candidate, Barack Obama, who not only showed contempt for the Constitution on various civil liberties issues but was the first president to propose reducing the benefits of Social Security and Medicare.

Further, since Clinton took office, the Republican Party has had no effective opposition and the Democratic Party has become overwhelmingly beholden to its corporate contributors.

Because the media has increasingly narrowed political coverage topics to the presidency, it is not widely known, for example, that Democrats held a 1542 seat lead in state legislatures in 1990. As of 1998 that lead had shrunk to 288. That’s a loss of over 1,200 state legislative seats, nearly all of them under Clinton. Not to mention that over 400 Democratic office holders became Republicans during the Clinton regime.

Further, in 1992, the Democrats controlled 17 more state legislatures than the Republicans. After 1998, the Republicans controlled one more than the Democrats. Not only was this a loss of 9 legislatures under Clinton, but it was the first time since 1954 that the GOP had controlled more state legislatures than the Democrats (they tied in 1968).

As for the 2000 election, Democrats love to blame Ralph Nader for their loss, but the facts point in quite another direction: to Clinton and Gore. If, for example, you check the changes in Bush’s and Nader’s poll figures during the last month of the campaign, it is clear that Gore lost far more votes to Bush than to Nader.

It is also apparent that if Gore had disassociated himself from Clinton, he would have done far better in the campaign. According to the 2000 exit polls:

– 60% of voters disapproved of Clinton as a person
– 68% said he would go down in the history books for his scandals rather than for his leadership
– 44% thought the Clinton scandals were important or somewhat important.
– 15% of those who had voted for Clinton in 1996 voted for Bush in 2000.

And it was just not the leadership that was responsible for the party’s decline. As a portion of the Democratic base became more affluent, it increasingly separated itself from the concerns of less wealthy party members. This started the rise of the “Reagan Democrats” and continued as the party elite lost interest in economic issues that concerned a major portion of the American electorate.

There was nothing mutually exclusive between these economic issues and, say, gay or women’s rights, but Democrats lost the capacity to deal with both at the same time.

As the Review noted some time back, “Franklin Roosevelt’s labor secretary, Frances Perkins, was central to more progressive economic legislation than the entire liberal movement has been able to come up with in the past thirty years. It’s hard to get liberals excited anymore about issues like pensions or the minimum wage and eventually politics reflects this fact. Consider the example of the women’s movement, which – with a few exceptions like the group Nine to Five – has been stunningly uninvolved with the most oppressed women in the country, those of lower incomes and social class. Further, treating those you should be organizing as just a bunch of Bible thumping, gun toting idiots doesn’t help much.”

And so it became possible for the Republicans to pose falsely as friends of the middle and lower classes while the Democrats did little to prove this was wrong while dismissing constituencies that once had been central to the party.

  • Alan MacDonald

    I call the Democratic Party the ‘smoother-lying’ neoliberal-con ‘D’ Vichy Party of the Empire, in comparison to the ‘rougher-talking’ neocon ‘R’ Vichy Party of the same Empire ruling structure.

    Yes, of course ProRev (for a second I though that might stand for Progressive Revolution, but know I know understand) the Democratic Party as a slightly liberal, and very slightly progressive party is certainly dead, as Christopher Hitchens diagnosed more than a decade ago when he famously said in The Nation in 2000:

    “It feels very slightly different this time. For one thing, the
    Democratic Party is not so much dead as actually, visibly, palpably
    rotting on the slab.”

    And, of course, after 10 cycles on insane “least worst voting” — we have decayed down to the “worst and the worster” in 2016 with the only choice of the people being between the virtual “Empress-in-waiting” and certified War Hawk from the ‘D’ Vichy Party to the megalomaniac sociopath “The Donald” from the equally disgusting ‘R’ Vichy Party of precisely the same Disguised Global Capitalist Empire.

  • resumepoet

    Sam Smith, thank you. This brief piece, more lucidly than any I’ve seen recently, captures the Democrats’ dilemma. They like money. And people who like the power it generates are only too happy to keep giving it to them. So Democrats have become addicted to money.

    Perhaps the next generation of veterans and women running for office as Democrats will have something useful to say and do about this. An old friend of mine has worked for one of the large fund-raising organizations for Democrats. He’s become disillusioned as to any benefit he’s contributing by his work. It’s white people’s money, given to white people, to be spent on their priorities.

    I ran an executive ghostwriting business in the Pentagon for 14 years, preparing resumes for senior officers when they retired. Interesting perspectives.

    Gabe Heilig