Establishment Democrats Lack the Will to Fight the GOP Tax Plan. It’s Time for an Alternative.

To fend off the Republicans’ one-sided class war, we must break the corporate hold on the Democratic Party.

Joel BleifussDecember 4, 2017

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., conduct a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center to voice opposition to the Republicans' tax reform plan on November 2. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Despite oppo­si­tion from 52 per­cent of the Amer­i­can pub­lic accord­ing to a CNN poll, tax reform” has now passed both the House and the Sen­ate large­ly on par­ty line votes. All that remains is for the GOP Con­gress to rec­on­cile the two bills. The exact details are yet to be deter­mined, but what is not in doubt is that the Repub­li­cans are set to deliv­er lav­ish tax breaks to the 1 percent.

Reforms are also required at the state level, where in not a few cases the Democratic Party is ruled by election laws structured to preserve the status quo, protect incumbents and prevent popular participation.

This give­away to the rich will be accom­pa­nied by major cuts in the 2018 fed­er­al bud­get (anoth­er piece of leg­is­la­tion that must be rec­on­ciled before the end of the year) for ini­tia­tives that help the rest of us, like the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Assis­tance Pro­gram (aka SNAP, for­mer­ly known as food stamps). In 2016, SNAP fed many of the 41 mil­lion Amer­i­cans — includ­ing 12.9 mil­lion chil­dren — who suf­fered from food inse­cu­ri­ty and hunger.

The Democ­rats’ abil­i­ty to ade­quate­ly respond to this one-sided class war, waged by GOP donors and their leg­isla­tive pup­pets, is in doubt. The par­ty of Franklin Roo­sevelt today lacks the moral author­i­ty — and the appetite — to take on this chal­lenge because, as Theo Ander­son notes in this month’s print cov­er sto­ry, The party’s New Deal-era cri­tique of con­cen­trat­ed wealth and pow­er has been sup­plant­ed by a cor­po­rate-friend­ly worldview.”

This brings us to the cur­rent strug­gle between cor­po­rate and pro­gres­sive Democ­rats for the future of the par­ty. Will it be a par­ty of the rich and pow­er­ful or a par­ty of the people?

In 2018, the 447 mem­bers of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee will vote on whether to imple­ment the reforms advo­cat­ed by the Uni­ty Reform Com­mis­sion, estab­lished as part of a deal between the Sanders and Clin­ton cam­paigns at the 2016 con­ven­tion in Philadel­phia. One of the key pro­posed reforms is a dras­tic reduc­tion in the num­ber of Demo­c­ra­t­ic superdelegates.

But will the Demo­c­ra­t­ic estab­lish­ment agree to cede this advantage?

Reforms are also required at the state lev­el, where in not a few cas­es the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty is ruled by elec­tion laws struc­tured to pre­serve the sta­tus quo, pro­tect incum­bents and pre­vent pop­u­lar par­tic­i­pa­tion. Take the New York Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, one of the most cor­rupt and unac­count­able state par­ties in the nation.

Not coin­ci­den­tal­ly, New York, a large­ly pro­gres­sive state, is home to the Inde­pen­dent Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­fer­ence, eight Demo­c­ra­t­ic state sen­a­tors who vote with their Repub­li­can coun­ter­parts, giv­ing the GOP de fac­to con­trol of the state sen­ate and allow­ing Gov. Andrew Cuo­mo (D) to gov­ern as a cen­trist. Thanks to these eight Democ­rats, pro­gres­sive ini­tia­tives passed in the assem­bly rou­tine­ly die in the upper house.

New York is one of 12 states that hold closed” pri­maries, in which only those who are reg­is­tered with a par­ty are allowed to vote in that party’s pri­maries. So, say you would like to reg­is­ter as a Demo­c­rat in order to vote for the pro­gres­sive can­di­date who is chal­leng­ing your local state sen­a­tor — a mem­ber of the Inde­pen­dent Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­fer­ence — in the 2018 primary.

Well, you are out of luck.

Accord­ing to New York elec­tion law, if you want to vote in the Sep­tem­ber 11 state pri­ma­ry (or the June 26 con­gres­sion­al pri­ma­ry) you should have reg­is­tered as a Demo­c­rat by Oct. 132017.

As Susan Lern­er, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of Com­mon Cause New York, told the Huff­in­g­ton Post, The par­ty appa­ra­tus here has man­aged to inter­twine its ten­ta­cles around the elec­tion law … and they are stran­gling it, like a tree with a par­a­sitic vine.”

Pro­gres­sives can and should put up as many bril­liant can­di­dates to chal­lenge estab­lish­ment Democ­rats as they are able to muster. If, how­ev­er, Demo­c­ra­t­ic offi­cial­dom con­tin­ues to pro­tect the sta­tus quo with restric­tive pri­maries in states like New York, it will wall itself off from a gen­er­a­tion of young, new­ly engaged pro­gres­sives and set the stage for more vot­er dis­af­fec­tion, spoil­er cam­paigns and defeat. It will also pave the way for more tax reforms” that will trans­fer our nation’s wealth from the major­i­ty to the 1 percent.

Joel Blei­fuss, a for­mer direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri-Colum­bia, is the edi­tor & pub­lish­er of In These Times, where he has worked since Octo­ber 1986.

Blei­fuss has worked at In These Times for 34 years, includ­ing as man­ag­ing edi­tor and senior edi­tor. He tack­les the state of nation­al and inter­na­tion­al events with a blend of crit­i­cal insight and humor, and over the years has devel­oped a niche for inves­tiga­tive reporting.

His report­ing on envi­ron­men­tal health issues, nation­al secu­ri­ty scan­dals and the Iran Con­tra affair has land­ed in news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines around the coun­try, includ­ing the New York Times, the Utne Read­er, the Cap­i­tal Eye and many others.

He is the co-author of the book Was The 2004 Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion Stolen?,” with Steven F. Freeman.

Before join­ing In These Times, Blei­fuss was direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram for the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri, a fea­tures writer for the Ful­ton Sun in Ful­ton, Mis­souri, and a free­lance jour­nal­ist in Spain.

Blei­fuss cur­rent­ly serves on the advi­so­ry board of The Pub­lic Square, a pro­gram of the Illi­nois Human­i­ties Council.

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