Those relishing a depressing journey to the past and, perhaps, but perhaps not, the future, can click here to transport themselves to Planet DCCC, the website of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. On Planet DCCC, or D-trip as it is known to insiders, it is always 1988, an epoch when, as those of us of sufficient age will recall, neoliberalism was not only not a bad word, it was enthusiastically embraced by leading Democrats. Among those doing so were Senators Paul Tsongas, Bill Bradley, Gary Hart and, most notably, then Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, all of whom proudly accepted the label and successfully based their campaigns on it. While they have (mostly) long since departed, on Planet DCCC, their spirit is alive and well. And if the term itself is now avoided, the philosophy of neoliberalism remains an article of faith, recognized as the key to the party’s electoral prospects.
The evidence for this is everywhere on the DCCC site, perhaps most conspicuously in the Red to Blue project undertaken under the DCCC’s auspices: 24 key races which it hopes to flip in the 2018 midterms. Their time honored recipe for competing contains one main ingredient: triangulation. Triangulation, as first defined by Clinton’s somewhat infamous campaign advisor Dick Morris involves locating the center wherever the Republicans choose to define it, no matter how repressively reactionary this point is, and then positioning the Democratic candidate one degree to the left of it.
A key component of the DCCC’s triangulatory strategy is cultivating reverence for the military among its candidates. And so it stands to reason that none of them provide even a faint echo of anti war Democrats of the past, and even Republicans, who recognized the devastating fiscal and societal impact of a bloated military budgets. The DCCC prefers what are sometimes known as “national security Democrats” with more than half of the DCCC 24 referencing their current or past military service often in glowing terms. Furthermore, militarism for them is not just symbolic, but substantive, pledging to “support our military”, regardless of cost, via “a robust national security strategy,” “investments in military, intelligence, and diplomatic power,” “equipping our military personnel with the 21st century tools they need to eliminate terrorist threats” to “keep us safe.”
Just as with toughness on defense, much of what the DCCC 24 propose on the economy is indistinguishable from what one would find on the other side of the aisle. One trots out the folksy comparison of the federal government with the fiscal rectitude of her father’s store which, she claims, never took on debt. It follows that “Congress should include ‘pay-for’ measures in all spending bills, instead of kicking the can to the next generation.” Another repeats the widely circulated albeit long discredited talking point of “find(ing) solutions through public-private partnerships.” A third recites from the Reaganite prayer book in pledging to ” keep taxes low.” Several, if not the majority, express some form of the need “to compete in a global 21st century economy” without registering that another term for the competition being invoked is a race to the bottom.
In a departure from Republican orthodoxy, most candidates address the health care crisis with some form of a “Medicare buy in” to strengthen the ACA. What is, however, notably absent from the proposals of all 24 candidates is any mention of the Sanders Medicare for All bill, this despite its majority support from Senate Democrats. This is consistent with an apparent policy of the DCCC, documented by Zaid Jilani on the Intercept to marginalize Sanders’s and his agenda, particularly his health care plan, despite it being overwhelmingly popular with all sectors of the electorate.
The apparent disappearance of Sanders extends to most of the DCCC 24 making only vague pronouncements about “affordable” education, uniformly without reference to Sanders specific proposal for universal free tuition at all state schools despite it being highly popular, particularly with younger voters. Nor do the DCCC 24 make more than occasional mention of wages, none specifically referring to any target wage, most notably, that of Sanders’s $15 per hour.
That these are all highly popular policies brings into question the reflexive defense of the DCCC, namely, that it is fashioning an agenda for its candidates to win in swing districts. If that were the case, why, in addition to the above, do the DCCC 24 fail to mention Bush’s trillion dollar bank bailouts in 2007 which were vehemently opposed by his own Republican majority and Sanders’s widely popular plan to break up the big banks? Why does none mention the renegotiation of jobs destroying trade agreements which were also opposed by large bipartisan popular majorities which both Sanders and Trump referenced in their campaigns to great popular approval? Why nothing about hugely costly and destructive foreign wars the costs in lives and human wreckage often borne by working class voters which should be the natural constituency of the Democratic Party?
The answer to the question is, of course, obvious, albeit uncomfortable. And that is that taking Sanders’s positions would have the undesirable consequence of driving away the support of major corporate, media, and financial elites, the wealthy and well connected individuals which form the primary donor base of Democratic campaigns. Sanders showed that, contrary to conventional wisdom, their presence, and the inevitable compromises with them, are not required to run competitive campaigns-provided that the candidate’s platform resonates with the public. In contrast, running uninspiring candidates such as the DCCC 24 requires massive infusions of cash, major media buys and huge staffs to sell to a justifiably skeptical public. The DCCC is willing to make this bargain: trading off popularity for maintaining its connections with those who fund campaigns and the huge class of professionals who are employed within them.
That is how the world works on Planet DCCC, one where at least in the political sphere, intelligent life forms have been conspicuously absent. There have been increasing escape attempts by many of its inhabitants with many finding it liberating and surprisingly easy to be beamed up, out of the field of its influence. However long it takes them to vacate Planet DCCC, it should be clear that current conditions there are unsustainable.