The latest excuse I’m seeing about Why We Should Just Get Over It and Support Hillary is that the Democrats have always been expedient incrementalists, including Franklin Roosevelt. For example, in response to this tweet —
I don’t understand – was Social Security incrementalism? Medicare? Medicaid? The Equal Housing Authority?
â€” Freddie deBoer (@freddiedeboer) May 12, 2016
As the historian Kevin Kruse (whose book One Nation Under God is strongly recommended) observed, the obvious answers are â€œyes,â€ â€œyes,â€ â€œyes,â€ and â€œthis is not a thing but assuming you mean the Fair Housing Act, yes.â€ The idea that the Social Security â€” which not only offered modest benefits but intentionally excluded large numbers of African-Americans â€” was not an example of incremental reform is quite remarkable. Even more revealing is the Medicaid example. Nothing makes it clearer that this fake-nostalgia for the REAL LIBERAL Democratic Party of yore is just a rhetorical cudgel with which to beat Democrats and not any kind of serious historical analysis than this. Apparently, a public health insurance program that required states to cover only a subset of people well below the poverty line was REAL, UNCOMPROMISING LIBERALISM while a public health insurance program that required states to cover everyone up to 138% of the poverty line is the hopelessly compromised neoliberal work of useless corporate sellouts. Right.
Of course in a democratic system everybody has to compromise. That’s not the issue. The issue for Democrats is that we’ve gotten way too good at compromising with ourselves. We don’t propose what we actually want and then get as much as we can through compromise. We deny even to ourselves what we really want and then propose things we don’t want but which are less awful than what we fear the Right will force us to do.
The clearest example of this was back in 2013 when President Obama’s budget included cuts to Social Security and Medicare. This was part of a “grand bargain” meant to appease the Right from completely trashing the country. Fortunately, the grand bargain fell through, and the Right failed to do as much damage as they’d threatened.
The Affordable Care Act was the most progressive legislation passed by Congress since the LBJ Administration. Even that wasn’t what we wanted, although I supported it because I thought it was the best we were going to get, and people were dying from lack of health care.
But there’s no reason Democrats can’t be trying to make the case to the people for single payer. There’s a great case to be made for it that people never hear, because only a few renegades like Michael Moore ever make it. If the people become sold on it, it can happen. That’s how Reaganism took over, you know; the Reaganites persuaded the people that tax and budget cuts were the road to the good life for everybody.
Where were the counter-arguments? Yes, by the 1980s the Republican Noise Machine was doing a great job of drowning out dissenting voices. But the Republican Party is imploding now. The Noise Machine is arguing with itself these days.
That’s the biggest mistake Barack Obama made, IMO — he didn’t go directly to the people to explain what was going on soon enough and often enough. Instead he allowed his administration to be defined by news media, and that’s a disaster. Those people can’t define toast.
There’s also a difference between necessary incrementalism and plain old foot-dragging. The Dems are a party of foot-draggers, IMO, for a lot of reasons I want to write about later. But let’s just say that Hillary Clinton will go into the White House with her feet locked into really big, heavy chains. You know she won’t make bold proposals even if Congress begged her to.