Running Out of Roosevelt’s Steam?

When I was a small boy, I lived in a neighborhood where most houses had two pictures on the wall: a religious picture and a picture of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The area was called Packingtown, in Oklahoma City, and most of the workers who lived there, including my father, worked, when they had jobs, at the Armour and Swift meat packing plants. The people of Packingtown did not just support Franklin Roosevelt; they revered him. I learned as a child that Roosevelt personally saved my family from starvation and that his Party, the Democrats, was the champion of poor people like us.

Seventy years later some part of that simple faith is still part of me, and I think it is still part of others. Of course, today , as a sophisticated college graduate and a student of the New Deal, I know that the history is much more complicated, that the New Deal did much for working people but also had an ugly racist side. But even now, for me, a Democratic candidate has an automatic advantage because when I go to the polls, I remember Roosevelt’s 1944 Economic Bill of Rights, Harry Truman’s advocacy of national health insurance and his moves to desegregate the Army and Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights bills and war on poverty. It was that progressive- social democratic strain in the Democratic Party that won the allegiance of the packing house workers, that holds me and, I suggest, that motivates the base of the Democratic Party.

To be sure, the Democratic Party was never entirely what my emotions suggest. Until the 1960s it had a substantial racist and conservative wing. Big city political machines, which were focused on patronage, ran much of the Party. It always had plenty of the conservatives who were later called Blue Dogs, and in recent years the Party has been dominated by corporate interests. We had a Democratic President in the 1990s who prided himself on his
skill in “triangulating” between Republicans and Democrats. Our current Democratic president finds tolerable an unemployment rate in excess of 11 per cent and has looked for a “Grand Bargain” at the expense of Social Security, a keynote of the New Deal. Is it any wonder, then, that many ordinary Americans no longer feel that the Democratic Party is the party that works for their well-being? Franklin Roosevelt, I suggest, built up a head of steam that has propelled the Democratic Party for any years, but that steam is running out.

We have an important political period ahead. We in Social Democrats USA have determined to gain allies and to wage a battle for a social democratic platform for the Democratic Party. We may have a left challenger in the primaries for the presidency. If we can show the American people that the Democratic Party understands their needs and problems and that it is determined to bring help to them, we may yet restore the the Party’s progressive-social democratic heritage.

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Run, Bernie, Run… as a Democrat!

Political events in Iowa this week were enough to warm a Social Democrat’s heart in a post-election season of cold and darkness. Senator Bernie Sanders, the very Independent Senator from Vermont, spoke to a crowd of more than 200 in a church basement at Iowa State University and was the featured speaker at the holiday event of Progress Iowa, reminding us that politics in Iowa is a retail, one-on-one enterprise. On Wednesday night the draft Elizabeth Warren campaign kicked off its effort with a rally. MoveOn.org has endorsed Warren and is seeking to raise $1 million to put muscle in the campaign. Democracy for America endorsed Warren, put up $250,00 and literally put boots (much needed in the Iowa snows) on the ground by sending a staff member to help organize the push for Warren.

Of course, neither Sanders nor Warren has announced his/her candidacy to oppose Hillary Clinton and the corporate Democrats backing her. Warren, on the contrary, has said that she is not a candidate. Her supporters, noting the present tense, hope that a strong draft movement will cause her to come into the race. Sanders admits to interest in a run but says that he is trying to determine if he has sufficient support to make a campaign viable.

For many reasons, it is my hope that, if Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, decides to run, it will be in the Democratic Party primaries. The most important reason is that, with a closely divided electorate, an independent candidacy on the left would draw votes from the Democrats and might permit a Republican victory. Hillary Clinton has many drawbacks, in my opinion, but her victory would at least keep out the Tea Party-influenced Republicans. Second, the great bulk of progressives-social democrats is in the Democratic Party. We need to support efforts of these people to gain influence in setting policy and choosing candidates. Breaking away to support a third party would burn bridges that took years to build.

The draft Warren movement could, if she makes a Shermanesque statement, provide a ready-made base of support for a Sanders candidacy. Since that movement espouses an ideology close to Sanders’ views, issues of principle should be no problem. It is my hope that, if Warren declines to oppose Clinton, Bernie Sanders will step forward…in the Democratic primaries. At best he can win; at worst, he can pull Clinton to the left, as she fights for the progressive-social democratic heart of the Democratic Party. In any event, he will rally our wing of the Party and help it build for future struggles.

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The Revolt Goes On!

The revolt of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party against the corporate Democrats and for a candidate who stands for the party’s principles got a boost yesterday from Democracy for America. DFA, which claims a million members, announced that 87.6 per cent of the participants in a recent membership poll had supported a proposal to draft Senator Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic presidential nomination. The organization also announced that it had allocated an immediate $250,000 for a draft Warren effort and that it had dispatched a staff member to Iowa to start laying the ground work for a campaign.

An interesting aspect of the DFA endorsement is that the organization was the original base of Howard Dean, who has endorsed Hillary Clinton.

Elizabeth Warren, who last week led the fight against a Citigroup rider on the spending bill and who has fought the nomination of a Lazard executive to a senior Treasury position, has now taken on the White House over the Trans-Pacific trade pact. She expressed concern that the pact will hinder the ability of the United States to regulate its financial institutions. She continues to say that she is not a candidate for president, but the hopeful left is parsing her words and observing that she is only using the present tense!

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Where’s Hillary?

With the Senate vote and Senator Warren’s great speech Saturday night (available via the SDUSA Facebook page), several astute observers, including our own Chairman, have remarked on the dead silence coming from Senator Hillary Clinton. While it certainly is bad political tactics to think that every event deserves comment, we might think that such a “line in sand” confrontation in the Democratic Party would call for some observations from the Party’s front-runner for the presidential nomination.

Senator Clinton’s silence is especially remarkable because Elizabeth Warren’s speech was directed not only against the current administration’s close, not to say incestuous, relationship with Citigroup but also against the similar relationship that the previous Democratic administration had with the same institution. That administration, of course, was led by Senator Clinton’s husband, and it was one in which she played a major, if unofficial, role. Given the usual ferocious Clinton response to criticism, a reaction could have been expected.

Some have speculated that Hillary Clinton has made no comment because she thinks the spending bill was a good deal on the whole and that she expects to make similar deals with
the Republicans if she is elected to the presidency. If those commentators are right, it makes urgent the need to strengthen and carry forward the incipient progressive revolt.

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Treasury Nomination May Be Next Fight

President Obama’s nomination of Lazard executive Antonio Weiss to be Under Secretary of the Treasury may be the occasion for the next fight between corporate and progressive Democrats. Senator Elizabeth Warren has already declared her opposition to Weiss’ confirmation, citing his nomination as another example of the revolving door between government and Wall Street. Her statement was answered by howls of anguish from lower Manhattan and the threat that, if Weiss were not confirmed, Wall Streeters just might stop being willing to run our economy. This threat did not cause extreme anxiety in progressive circles.

Senator Warren recently accused the last two Democratic administrations of having excessive numbers of Citigroup-connected people in high economic positions (Weiss, a Lazard man, is a refreshing change). It is probably of some significance that the previous Democratic president was named Clinton. Warren also made the more serious charge that having Citigroup lobbyists interacting with former Citigroup government officials has impeded proper regulation of the big banks. Further, Warren said, the big banks wield not only economic power but also political power, and citing the trust-busting example of Teddy Roosevelt, she said the big banks should be broken in pieces. Obviously Senator Warren
doesn’t intend to let the minor job that Senator Reid gave her slow her down.

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