by: Eli Zaretsky on August 9th, 2012 | 5 Comments »
A striking fact of contemporary politics is the emotional difference between the two parties. The Republicans seem to believe the ideas they advocate, for example, unleash business, lower taxes, roll back government. Even though these ideas are sort of nutty, they are nonetheless convictions. The Democrats, by contrast, lack core principles. They talk about “fairness” but they vote for the banks. Obama as a typical Democrat exemplifies this difference. He insists that the Republicans are irrational fanatics, and that the Democrats are willing to compromise, for example to cut benefits. Of course, there are Democrats like Bernie Sanders who are people of principle, just as the Republicans are full of hypocrites, especially around such issues as homosexuality and “family values.” Nonetheless, there is a difference that needs to be explained.
The difference is this: both parties were originally revolutionary parties, but only one revolution fully succeeded. The Republicans were the party that abolished slavery and in this they succeeded. (Establishing racial equality was a different matter.) Instead of slavery the Republicans stood for markets, small business, opportunity and economic individualism. When Republicans today claim to believe in business, they are relying on around 160 years of history. Today’s Democratic Party is the product of another revolution, namely the New Deal. This revolution, however, was incomplete. Whereas the Republicans wiped out their class enemy– the slaveholders– the Democrats merely weakened their class enemy– finance capital.
As in any on-going, incomplete revolution, the New Deal brought opportunists and “pragmatists” in its wake. These are the men and women who say the original revolution was fine, but “too idealistic,” subject to “excesses.” Now we have to focus on practical problems, above all economics. We saw this in Russia, where Stalin killed the original revolutionaries and built a new Party based on technicians, managers, and engineers. We see it in China, where the technocrats are in charge. They pay lip service to Communism, but their real goal is to enrich themselves.
Since the sixties and seventies and, especially eighties, the leaders of the Democratic Party have been of this sort. They mumble their commitment to “fairness” but they have contempt for the Left that still believes in the original “revolutionary” ideals. Their real god is not so much profit as it is “expertise,” cost-accounting, committees of experts who will decide which medical procedures should be followed and which are too expensive, game theorists, who will tell them how many drones to deploy and all the rest. This is why the charge of elitism directed against the Democratic Party has merit, and why any new Left in America has to turn its back on the Clinton-Obama Party. The most important dividing line in American politics today is not between Democrats and Republicans but rather between those who understand this, and those who think it is “bluster” and “class struggle.”