Most of the linked video here focuses on a discussion of the possibility that the federal minimum wage will be raised to something like $10 an hour (which would amount to returning the minimum wage almost to its 1968 record high, which equated to $10.63 an hour in today’s money), BUT about three-quarters of the way through there’s an interview with that guy from the New Republic magazine (certainly not known for its progressive views in recent decades) who authored that article Hillary’s Nightmare on the prospect of Hillary Clinton having to compete with Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in the 2016 election cycle. That’s the part I’d like to focus on here because the author makes it clear in this interview that a leftist “political rock star” like Warren would start the nomination race off with the ideological upper hand because her type of worldview is where the party’s heart and soul lies today. He estimates that the more pro-corporate, pro-Wall Street wing of the party composed about half its membership in 2008 before the crash, but today composes a maximum of one-third. He suggests that, as a result of this change, a leftist “political rock star” like Elizabeth Warren would be a force to be reckoned with if she were to run for the presidential nomination. Some news commentators have made comparisons between the suggestion of a Warren presidential bid and that of John Edwards in 2008, given that both have backwards as trial lawyers and consumer advocates and, as such, represented the more economically populist wing of the party. Specifically, they highlight the fact that Edwards came in third in 2008 in what was essentially a three-way contest for the party’s nomination. That’s a poor comparison for two reasons: 1) the party’s ideological composition has changed fundamentally since the 2008 crash in a way that favors economic populism, and 2) the 2008 nomination race was mainly about the Iraq War, which wasn’t Edwards’ central focus on the campaign trail (though he did have a strong anti-war position), whereas since the crash the main focus of Democrats, as with population generally, has shifted away from foreign policy and onto economic issues. But of course it’s not just Democrats deciding who will be our next president. The general population doesn’t seem to be as progressive as the average Democrat, after all. For instance, exit polls from last year’s presidential election found that slightly more voters (49% to 48%) preferred Mitt Romney’s platform on economic issues to Obama. Obama therefore won the difference between that 48% and the 51% of the vote he actually got on the basis of social issues. If the public still has a slight preference for Romney-esque right wing economics to Obama’s centrist positions on economic issues, then what does that say about prospects of a leftist like Warren when it comes to the GENERAL election? (You see, America is still a bourgeois nation after all; a nation of property owners; of net beneficiaries of the capitalist system.) Democrats, including the progressive ones, are aware that ideological differences between their membership and the general population exist and that those differences favor more right-leaning stances when it comes to economics. A centrist DLC candidate like Hillary would therefore raise the question of Warren’s electability, doubtless to some effect, in competing with a candidate like Warren. The question is to how much effect. (e.g. Could Warren conceivably defeat someone like Chris Christie?) I too have my doubts that a progressive candidate could win the 2016 general election (sorry Rachel, I don’t share your optimism on that), but nonetheless feel that it’s at least worth a shot.
Anyway, beyond presidential politics, the implication that someone like Elizabeth Warren could today win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination is symptomatic of a broad trend that I’ve observed the development of since the 2008 crash. The trend I refer to is the ascendancy of a new, if you will third left. What do I mean by that? Well let me break it down by defining the stages that progressive thought has been through over the last century:
The First Left, alternately known as “the old left”, was defined by economic populism: politics like that of Woodrow Wilson and the Roosevelts. This was New Deal type leftism that tended to push cultural issues into the background the same way that most Republican libertarians (like Ted Cruz) are trying to do today: to the extent of pretty much just ignoring them. It was defined by a worker-farmer alliance that included and in many ways revolved around a major movement to organize the poorer, less “skilled” (read: educated) workers of the day, which were primarily industrial workers, and which also sought to protect the farmer from foreclosure by the common foe these forces had in the financial aristocracy. After World War 2, this alliance began to slowly break apart and was mostly destroyed by the 1970s, as the agrarians left the party in protest of progressive cultural reforms.
The Second Left, once termed “the new left” by the Students for a Democratic Society, was defined primarily by a focus on foreign policy and cultural issues (e.g. ending the Cold War peacefully, ending racial segregation and discrimination very broadly, etc.) and secondarily by the aim of consolidating the achievements of the New Deal by eradicating poverty (as per the objective of Johnson’s Great Society). In terms of its demographic composition, the leadership of this movement differed from that of the first left in that the movement was founded and perpetually led by college students, whom in those days were broadly a middle class strata. The post-war baby boom had increased the percentage of the population that the youth composed and therefore their overall political strength as a group. Their demands hence came to the forefront of the national debate and their energy produced a wave of upheaval. This second, “new left” captured overall control of the Democratic Party after the 1968 presidential election, reaching the zenith of power and influence during the period of 1970-74. George McGovern was the most ideologically clean major party candidate of this student movement: the presidential candidate who most represented the views of the youth. But it was not to last, for the youth won the bulk of their main demands on the one hand, while, on the other, the baby boom ended by the mid-1960s thanks to the advent of birth control, thus, together with improved health care (as concentrated in the Medicare and Medicaid programs introduced in the mid-’60s under Johnson), ensuring that the population would henceforth age. With the aging of the population, the relative political strength of the youth gradually declined and by the end of the 1970s, partially as a result, social conservativism was on the ascendancy and the upheaval of the era was all but gone, by which point the strength of the American left in general began to drop off.
The Third Left is a sort of new “old left” built centrally around economic issues, but which also secondarily includes the demands for social equality of second left. This third left has emerged just since the crash of 2008 and is the direct product thereof. While the youth remain an important part of the Democratic Party, and one which forms much of its left wing, today college students increasingly belong to the ranks of the working poor rather than to the middle class as in ’60s. Their interests have therefore changed. They, together with many others, are today facing the consequences of the termination of key items of the New Deal like the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act that led directly to the financial excesses that produced the recent Great Recession and have now therefore tasked themselves primarily with the restoration of the New Deal; of what thereof has been lost in recent decades. The Occupy movement was one concentration of this third left, as has been the movement to unionize the working poor of today that has emerged over the last year. It is this third left that is today the Democratic Party’s source of energy. With the ranks of poor people and low-income workers swelling, the re-emergence of economic populism has been a natural consequence.
To some extent, the essential trends that I’ve highlighted here are and have been by no means exclusive to this country at that, as I think you can all gather. I’m just focusing here on the particulars that apply to the United States.
My rough estimate of the Democratic Party’s current ideological breakdown:
(This is based on the info revealed in the aforementioned New Republic article and other poll data I’ve collected in recent years.)
-20% are communists.
-Another 20% are other socialists.
-Another 30 to 40% are regular progressives.
-The remaining 20 to 30% are center-right “New Democrats”.