1/2 Who Broke The Democratic Party?
In 1993, the U.S. economy was a wreck and the crime rate, while falling, was nothing to boast about. Candidate Bill Clinton promised to be “tough on crime and good for civil rights.” That was risky language because “tough on crime” is code for putting black men behind bars. Just imagine Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan or some generic Arkansas cracker saying it, and you know exactly what it means — unless, apparently, that Arkansas cracker is a prominent Democrat, in which case it must surely be an innocent figure of speech. And yet, what Clinton delivered as president was, in fact, a lot more black men behind bars. America reached new levels of authoritarianism by way of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and the Violence Against Women Act also of 1994, which greatly increased criminal sentences, prison capacity, and federal grants to fatten police department budgets.
Soon he would crack the seal on austerity, first with NAFTA, a Reagan wish-list that shipped desirable manufacturing jobs overseas so that American employers could cut wages and benefits, then threaten to relocate to Mexico if workers didn’t take what they were offered. Next, we got the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, designed to “end welfare as we know it” (more code for doing dirt to black people), which drove the least fortunate among us out of their homes and into the streets. Luckily there were plenty of cops to welcome them.
Thus did Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty become Bill Clinton’s war on the poor. He got a pass on bigotry and class warfare because he wasn’t a Republican, even though the outcomes of his domestic policy would have tickled Reagan or Nixon or George Wallace. It’s almost as if he had secretly meant the racist subtext embedded in his innocent figures of speech.
Clinton’s failure to secure a public health care scheme or insurance subsidy for the many millions who lost employer-provided health coverage during his tenure would complete the demoralizing triumvirate plaguing all working Americans for the past twenty-five years: the disappearance of blue-collar careers and their replacement with low-paying, service-sector gigs, unaffordable health care, and reduced entitlements for the needy. Those with high-school educations were losing ground rapidly and visibly. The entire notion of a “working-class career” was under attack. Clinton bleated about job training and what he called a “G.I. Bill for workers” fairly regularly, but Congress wasn’t listening and he never really tried to sell it.
It’s the technology, stupid
The major tech players of the day were IBM, Intel, Apple, Microsoft, Dell, AOL, Oracle, AMD, and Sun. Google was a search engine almost as popular as HotBot; Nvidia, Amazon, and eBay were healthy startups; and no such thing as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter existed. Computer technology, e-commerce, and the Web were new and mysterious, even to the government officials and politicians charged with regulating them.
Clinton boasted about technology whenever a microphone came near, but he understood little. He delivered economic news like a TV weather presenter: “The New Economy is increasingly driven by creativity, innovation, and technology,” he explained, vaguely, from the White House Rose Garden in March of 1998. There was a golden goose producing vast personal fortunes and shareholder value, plus lots and lots of crummy jobs, and no one wanted to be held responsible for killing it.
He went so far as to urge Americans to do their holiday shopping on line during his 1999 Thanksgiving address: “About four million American families will buy some of their gifts on line for the first time this holiday season,” he predicted. “I intend to join them, because online shopping has significant benefits not just for consumers and large, established retailers; online commerce also opens a world of opportunity for local artisans and small entrepreneurs.” I’m sure he believed that. Many people did.
There was smoke but little heat. The dot-com appendage became a charm defying business conventions; thus it appeared plausible to millions that something like Pets.com should sport a market cap greater than the entire U.S. annual demand for pet products. Consumers would scramble to click their mice and receive bulk dog food via Federal Express because that was such a cool thing to do, the techno-utopians predicted. Previously sober companies like major telcos strapped on extra bandwidth in anticipation of an IT Valhalla that would never arrive.
Venture capitalists and investment banks got rich cashing out their IPO allocations, and the public got poor by taking the hypertrophied shares off their hands weeks later while squads of cheerleading ‘analysts’ talked the worthless stocks up on CNN and CNBC, even as they tanked. Investors eagerly paid many times what a share was worth because they expected the dot-com talisman to defy reality. Between 1996 and 2000, the value of tech stocks quadrupled. By late 2002, the market would give up every cent it had gained. Scores of major online shops and services vanished along with big telcos like Global Crossing, Worldcom, and NorthPoint which had anticipated explosive demand.
A partial recovery during Clinton’s second term would revitalize the service and financial sectors, and strengthen Silicon Valley’s survivors, but the rot gnawing at working-class careers would spread. The national trajectory toward ephemeral, low-quality gigs would become permanent. The proletarianization of every American lacking a university degree was nearly complete.
If Democrats are unwilling to fight for collective bargaining and a minimum wage suitable for an adult, how do they differ from Republicans? By being more polite about their white-supremacist faith in all things “Western” and “Liberal?” By holding our heads under water on behalf of the national plutocracy and offering us puffs of air just before we pass out? With “the African-American community” and Martin Luther King Day as substitutes for equal access to housing, equal access to education, equal access to business loans, and equal pay?
Prosecuting class war from above and loathing your victims while concealing your contempt behind liberal euphemisms is a trend that the Clinton Democrats perfected, so it would appear that they destroyed the Party— although you might wish to read the companion article looking at the Obama Administration before deciding.