For years, the Democratic Party has pursued a comfortably centrist agenda while relying on identity politics to sustain its popularity. It has pursued social good without much regard for economy or efficiency, and, primarily for that reason, has alienated many business interests and ordinary, thrifty, business-like people. In Illinois, the good that individual Democratic officeholders seek to do hardly makes up for the many instances of criminal corruption and abuse of trust that stain the reputation of the party.
Though Democrats purport to fight the scourge of poverty and ignorance, that goal has lost its urgency, the how of it suffocated under layers of bombast and bureaucracy. Even health-care reform, which has given millions of Americans better access to medicine and stands as this era’s chief domestic initiative, has driven up premiums and supplied fresh evidence of federal ineptitude.
Whatever Hillary Clinton’s merits (and they are many), she personifies the compromised condition of the Democratic Party. Like her party, she wants to be all things to all people. That very characteristic disables her from accommodating and channeling the ire festering in the hearts of the Democratic electorate, the ire that is powering the “Feel the Bern” movement.
However worthy her intentions, Clinton cannot step out of her skin. She can’t disavow her wealth and celebrity, can’t ditch her myriad A-list connections, can’t dis-entrench herself from the inner workings of her party. She can’t re-imagine Democratic ideology for fear of upsetting the apple cart that’s carrying her along. And she can’t set herself at odds with the past without diminishing the legacy of her husband, Bill. Being so closely identified with the ex-president is proving a big liability. All these factors prevent Hillary Clinton from being the change agent Democratic voters want and need.
Bernie Sanders represents this constituency, which amounts to approximately 43 percent of all Democrats voting in this primary season. Sanders doesn’t want to please anyone, and he (like Trump) isn’t very concerned about the tenability of his program. Sanders’ goal is to redefine the purposes of the Democratic Party. Sanders’ voters will be lost unless someone else comes along who can do this well.
It’s a shame, because the Democratic Party is ripe for radical reform. It could transform itself into a proponent of internal economic growth, with a focus on the intensive cultivation of the nation’s human and physical capital. It could be a party of peace, a party of green. Once upon a time, the Democratic Party stood for reform, retrenchment, and economy. Could the right leader make the Democratic Party great again?
Image: “First Lady Hillary Clinton, Speaker of the House Tom Foley,
and House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt speak at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol,”
1993 photograph by Laura Patterson, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
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