Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
The rise of the so-called New Democrats, which began under President BIll Clinton, was accompanied by an overt hostility to the progressive left.
In 2013, President Obama, speaking at a fundraiser in Medina, Washington — home to a small community of wealthy donors — expressed a sentiment that has become all too common among Democratic Party liberals.
"I'm not a particularly ideological person," the president said in a reassuring nod to those made anxious by Republican hysteria suggesting that Obama, despite his calm exterior, is in fact a raving revolutionary.
While not particularly remarkable, given the current temperament of the Democratic Party, Obama's casual, throwaway line is rather instructive: It describes quite well the shifting foundations of American liberalism.
Since the presidency of Bill Clinton, Democrats have become increasingly anti-ideological (in word), opting instead for an approach cloaked in the garb of objectivity and pragmatism: No longer, for instance, would liberals favor, in principle, labor over business.
Simultaneously, however, despite liberals' professed disdain for political doctrines, a new ideology arose in the place of the New Deal tradition, an ideology that would ultimately come to infect both of America's major political parties: Neoliberalism.
And with the rise of neoliberalism came an aversion to the politics and projects of the left, including its persistent support for the working class, its focus on rising income inequality, and its opposition to the entrenched free market consensus.
Bill Clinton, the embodiment of neoliberalism's rise to prominence, insisted that it was necessary to end "the era of big government" and to embrace the "third way," a path that would navigate smoothly between the competing visions of conservatism and pro-labor progressivism with the ostensible goal of transcending partisan squabbles altogether.
Riding the tide of an evolving Democratic Party, liberals came to embrace the riches of corporate sponsorship, abandoning, as a result, the party's working class base.
And while many on the left were enthusiastic about the election of Barack Obama, he has insisted all along that he, himself, is no leftist — no break from the trends set into motion by Bill Clinton. Rather, as he noted in 2009, he falls firmly in the camp of the neoliberals.
"I am a New Democrat," President Obama declared, a statement that should have done away with any illusions, still harbored by some, that the president is a leftist at heart — that is, if some of his key appointments had failed to do away with them already.
Although the Democratic Party — the vehicle through which the left forced many important reforms throughout the 20th century — has continued its rightward drift, the left has refused to go away. And in the face of intolerable income inequality, some of the left's core messages are hitting home.
When Bernie Sanders burst onto the scene in April of last year, his candidacy was widely dismissed. Hillary Clinton, everyone knew, was already the nominee — despite the crucial fact that no one had cast a ballot.
At the end of the process, however, the picture looks nothing like analysts predicted it would: Though Hillary Clinton has effectively won the Democratic nomination, Sanders, that obscure democratic socialist from the small state of Vermont, far outperformed anyone's expectations, winning 22 states and sparking a movement that will set out to continue far beyond this race.
Yet despite the support he has garnered and the enthusiasm his campaign has generated among both new voters and longtime Democrats, from the beginning Sanders faced near-total opposition from the Democratic establishment — including politicians, top Democratic donors, and major media outlets.
"The elite freeze-out of Bernie Sanders," writes Matt Karp, "is without parallel in modern party history."
This opposition (in contrast with overall public opinion of Sanders, which is favorable) has not been due to animus toward Sanders, personally — rather, it sprang from the Democratic Party's disdain for the left, for the ideas that the Sanders campaign has pushed on the national stage for more than a year.
Democrats did not merely stand by and watch as Republicans destroyed welfare, deregulated Wall Street, and passed disastrous trade deals: They have been at the front fighting, with impressive gusto, for the interests of corporate America and against the interests of those they claim to support.