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Dear Democrats: The Case for Letting Go “Centrism” and Embracing the Majority

Wish I had written this. But this piece is from Nick Hanauer who tells pretty much everyone that he is a very rich guy, an unrepentant capitalist — and he is rattling the cages of his fellow plutocrats to get them to Wake up! His most famous piece is from four years ago, where he sounded the alarm to his fellow plutocrats that the pitchforks were coming for plutocrats everywhere unless structural inequalities are addressed. Mr. Hanauer would also tell you he is a Proud Democrat.

This guy is no “socialist”. His capitalist cred is rock solid and he is clear he will remain a capitalist.

But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.

And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

He is back in Politico today with a piece called: Democrats Must Reclaim the Center … by Moving Hard Left. It is a long piece, but worth the time. Mainly because he has clearly laid out something any of us have been working around for awhile — centrism is useless in resolving the long term issues of the majority.

In fact, there are two kinds of political centers: There’s the ideological center—the one that Democrats are waging a civil war over. And there’s the majoritarian center—the one where most of the people are. If Democrats hope to be a majority party, it’s the majoritarian center they need to embrace. And to understand the difference between these two strains of centrism, it’s important to understand exactly what the center is measuring.

The next section on how to measure is quite good. But this is it:

This precarious balancing act helps explain why policies that would clearly benefit the majoritarian center are so often rejected as ideologically “far left;” for a centrism that seeks to balance the interests of capital is a centrism that seeks to balance the interests of the very wealthiest Americans against those of everybody else. It’s this sort of “one dollar, one vote” logic that led to Citizens United—a logic that threatens to subvert American democracy itself. For a system that justifies the wealthiest 2 percent purchasing the same political influence as the other 98 percent, isn’t really a democracy at all. I’m not saying that self-described “centrist” Democrats are any more greedy or corrupt than their progressive colleagues, but if they’re honest with themselves, they should recognize how much they have internalized this orthodox ideological bias. Indeed, this is what they mean by “pragmatic centrism”: an economic policy agenda that necessarily balances the interests of business (the few) versus the interests of labor (the many), in an attempt to best serve the interests of all. Yet as pragmatic as such an approach might at first appear, when viewed from a majoritarian perspective, the ideological center consistently fails to hold.

And in this you can see why so many — Democrats AND Republicans are so dissatisfied with how governments treat them. But:

The most ironic thing about rising inequality is how completely unnecessary and self-defeating it is. If we do something about it, if we adjust our policies in the way that, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression—so that we help the 99 percent and preempt the revolutionaries and crazies, the ones with the pitchforks—that will be the best thing possible for us rich folks, too. It’s not just that we’ll escape with our lives; it’s that we’ll most certainly get even richer.

We all do better when we all do better. Rich people are no less rich, but middle class and working class people clearly get their seat at the table.

It’s been three decades since centrist Democrats abandoned the majoritarian economic center, and the consequences for the middle class have been devastating. Since 1980, the bottom 80 percent of American workers have effectively been bypassed by economic growth while absorbing most of the costs of public disinvestment in housing, education, and the social safety net. After-tax corporate profits have doubled from approximately 5 percent of GDP to 10 percent—about a trillion dollars a year—while wages as a share of GDP have fallen by about the same amount. Meanwhile, the richest 1 percent of Americans went from collecting 9 percent of personal income to about 22 percent today. Taken together, these changes amount to a shift of more than $2 trillion a year from middle-class paychecks to the bank accounts of corporations and the very rich.

And I’m probably beyond Fair Use here. But this is the best distillation of how we got here — how centrist Democrats forgot themselves and sold out the majority of us — I’ve seen yet.

This is one more piece that needs to be required reading for all Democrats, especially those in office or looking to be in office. At this moment, there is the center and there is the economic majority. And Dems who can find their way back to representing the majority will find their way back to power.

You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas. -- Shirley Chisolm

4 comments on “Dear Democrats: The Case for Letting Go “Centrism” and Embracing the Majority

  1. here is the new article link

    https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/08/14/democrats-must-reclaim-the-center-by-moving-hard-left-219354

    somehow you had both links in the post pointing to the 2014 article.

    • also.. he is dead right. every democrat should read that.. plus lots of the media, so they don’t incorrectly label things as out of the mainstream.

    • cassandram

      Thank you! I did fix that link.

      It’s hard to get a fix on how the media determines what is “mainstream”. Too often I suspect that they are letting right-wing voices set the tone, without ever grappling with the larger data of What Voters Want.

  2. Democrats/progressives should be launching their own political initiatives within the context of the culture wars. For example: why is the guarantee of freedom of speech not granted in the workplace? Winning on this one issue strengthens the base (not merely appeal to it), and creates more opportunities to win on more related isses such as compensation. Controlling the means of production only gives you power over speech if you can fool people into giving up their rights.

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