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In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected president with the help of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the powerhouse of centrist Democrats of which he had been president. The DLC shut down in 2011, but this creature of the Third Way did not slither into the sunset. Rather, it shed its skin and emerged in 2017 as New Democracy, a political action committee.
New Democracy is coiled to strike in 2020. Its advisory board includes declared presidential candidate John Delaney, a former Maryland congressman and millionaire businessman, along with two other possible presidential contenders: Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who said in January that he is “probably” in the race, and former New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu, a self-proclaimed “radical centrist.”
Third Way Democrats love the word “radical.” The Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), the DLC-affiliated think tank, brags that it deploys “its trademark philosophy of radical pragmatism” as part of “the vanguard” working “to design a distinctly American hybrid of publicprivate action” — in other words, privatization of government services.
New Democracy founder Will Marshall expands on this point in a recent article for The Daily Beast, “Hey, Democratic Socialists: More Big Government Won’t Fix What Ails Us.” He writes that, “rather than emulate European-style statism” as advocated by “Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the new socialist idol,” progressives should “offer voters an indigenous and decentralized vision for effecting radical change.”
Marshall is also a founder of both the late DLC and the PPI, which shares an office with New Democracy. PPI funders have included the weapons manufacturer Raytheon, Dow Chemical and General Electric, along with the right-wing Bradley Foundation, which funds the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Just as there is nothing “progressive” about PPI, there is nothing “new” about the ideas advanced by New Democracy. Like the Republican Party, New Democracy is death on single-payer healthcare, which the group’s website explains “would force working Americans to give up their doctors, and raise the threat of rationing care.” Back in 2010, PPI wonks ensured that the White House not push for a “public option”—a government-run nonprofit insurance option — in Obamacare.
New Democracy’s stated goal in 2020 is to expand “the party’s appeal across Middle America and make Democrats competitive.” Pragmatic radicals like Marshall advocate doing so not by “tear[ing] up existing trade agreements” but by building a “knowledge economy” that is “shaped largely by American ingenuity and technological prowess” — a vision crafted for corporate America under the guise of aiding downwardly mobile white working people who, according to the New Democracy fairy tale, were abandoned by Democrats in 2016. Not so. The abandonment dates to the 1990s, when the DLC, PPI and Bill Clinton championed free trade policies that destroyed the livelihoods of working people of all races, including many of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables.”
Hillary’s speechifying may have opened the purses of Goldman Sachs bankers, but she failed to woo white non-college-educated voters who supported Barack Obama in 2012, and she lost the critical states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. According to the calculations of Ruy Teixeira at the Center for American Progress, Clinton would be president had she had won over just 25 percent of these former Obama voters.
Indeed, if Clinton had campaigned, as Bernie Sanders did, against trade agreements like NAFTA that benefit the rich and the powerful, it is a good bet that Donald Trump would not be president. If New Democracy steers Democratic strategy in 2020, it is a good bet he will remain president.
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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.