The Democratic Party’s con game

My social circle tends to be people who call themselves liberal and vote Democratic. Whenever we discuss politics, I am always struck by how their sources of information are restricted to the mainstream media and how much they reflect the thinking of the commentators in them. Their idea of a ‘liberal’ is someone like Thomas Friedman and someone on the ‘far left’ is Keith Olberman. They will proudly say that they subscribe to the New York Times and will express contempt for Fox News and its stable of propagandists. These are taken as signs of their impeccable liberal credentials,

Their view of the world is drearily predictable. According to them, Obama and the Democrats would really, really like to advance a progressive agenda but are constantly being thwarted by the mean old Republicans. It never seems to strike them to ask why it is that when Democrats control the presidency and both houses of Congress with hefty majorities (as was the case from 2008-2010), they seem incapable of advancing their ostensibly progressive agenda but the Republicans with slim or no majorities (as was the case from 2000-2008) seem to so easily get their way to advance the interests of the oligarchy. They do not seem to wonder why it is the Democrats who are constantly looking for compromises with Republicans in their desire for ‘bipartisanship’ and, if asked, will say that this is because the Democrats are not doctrinaire like the Republicans.

These people simply cannot wrap their minds around the idea that we have a one party oligarchic state, and that the Democrats and Republicans are two factions of that party that differ on mostly social issues over which they can ‘fight’ heatedly in order to provide political theater and thus distract us from the fact that the two parties are one when it comes to substantive financial issues. Thus they cannot see that the reason that Democrats are more eager to compromise with the Republicans is because the Republicans more openly support policies that benefit the oligarchy while the Democrats only secretly support them. Compromising allows the Democrats to reward their oligarchic overlords while claiming to their base that they were forced to do so. Over time, the Democrats have become very good at playing this role.

When I suggest to such people that the reality is different and that the Democratic Party serves the same oligarchic interests as the Republicans, they get disconcerted and are incredulous. While they have no difficulty believing that the Republican Party is in the pockets of big business, when you suggest that the Democratic Party is also beholden to the same interests, they accuse you of spouting conspiracy theories. It does not seem to strike them that it would be madness for big business to take the risk of having the public vote into power a party that is hostile to their interests, when they have the money to buy both party’s leaderships so that whoever wins elections, their interests are protected. If I were the head of Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan Chase or some similar institution, I most certainly would make sure that both parties were bought off so that my interests were protected whoever wins. As Russell Mokhiber says, if you want to see genuine competition between two sides, you shouldn’t follow party politics, you should follow sports.

The word ‘oligarchy’ is not used in such genteel circles because it suggests a single ruling class and that undermines the world they live in. These people are always living in hope that someday the Democratic Party will elect a president who is a true progressive and a fighter for those values that the Congress will enact policies that will benefit ordinary people other than the wealthy. The fact that they believed this of Obama and that they elected big majorities in both houses of Congress in 2008 and that the oligarchy still got whatever they wanted (such as making sure that the health care ‘reform’ package served their own needs, continuing the expensive but profitable (for them) ‘war on terror’, getting massive tax breaks for the rich, and laying the groundwork for gutting social security) disappoints them but they find excuses for the Democrats, saying that they were forced into making these concessions. It is astonishing to me how many of them still think that Obama represents the interests of ordinary people despite the evidence to the contrary that he himself has provided in his first two years of office.

Obama’s new chief of staff will be William Daley who, for the last seven years has been a senior executive at JP Morgan Chase. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following Obama’s political trajectory and his close association with Wall Street firms (especially Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase) that began immediately after he became a US senator, as was carefully documented by Ken Silverstein in Harper’s in 2006. (The article is not online, unfortunately, but I have discussed it here.)

It is becoming clear that Obama has no intention of raising taxes on the wealthy as a means of reducing the deficit and the debt. Instead he will use the deficit as an excuse to further assault the middle class and poor by cutting social security and other social welfare programs. I predict that his tax reform proposals will make the tax code even more regressive. His defense will be that it has to be done and if he doesn’t do it, the Republicans will be worse.

The problem with the Democratic Party’s base is that they are too willing to accept at face value the statements of their party leaders and too quick to be satisfied with small victories on relatively minor issues. See how much they are trumpeting the ‘success’ of the lame-duck session with its repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the passage of the Zadroga health care legislation as major victories, and overlooking the massive sell-out to the wealthy by the Democrats on the tax deal. While those victories were undoubtedly good and worthwhile, they were essentially bribes paid by the Democratic Party leadership to their base to appease them over the tax giveaway.

I wonder how far Obama and the Democrats can stick a knife into the backs of their supporters before the latter realize that the party leadership is not actually representing their interests. If the members of my social circle are any indication, they have still some way to go because support for Obama is still strong. But this may be because the small population of generally well-to-do people is one for which the trickle-down theory of economics actually works, because the well-to-do actually do benefit from things like tax cuts for the rich because their tax rates also go down as a consequence. The long-term bad effects of these policies for society or the generally poor current economic conditions haven’t really affected this group yet, in the way it has those further down the socio-economic ladder.

Next: The Republican Party’s con game.


  1. henry says

    I think you’ll like this video Mano. It shows how blind some democrats are to Obama and his alliances:

  2. Steve LaBonne says

    Nothing will change until the position of the upper middle class actually begins to crumble and it discovers that it’s been thrown overboard by the genuinely rich. Until then, such people are very happy with pro-plutocratic policies that leave a little trickle-down for them, covered with a veneer of social liberalism so that they can congratulate themselves on their enlightenment. The people who are left out in the cold by this cozy arrangement are invisible to them, and people like Mano are viewed as crazy class traitors who are inexplicably willing to risk handing the country back to those awful Republicans.

  3. ollie says

    It is important to remember that many of the Democrats in Congress are quite conservative. We really don’t have a liberal party; I support President Obama because he appointed people like Steven Chu to the department of Energy.

    I know that the Democrats are pro-corporate but then Senator Obama made no secret of this when he responded to Daily Kos in 2005 (I can provide a link if you’d like but don’t want to be caught in a spam filter).

    I feel that he is smarter than President Bush was, and he doesn’t go around openly insulting other countries (though I acknowledge that some of the war stuff is more of the same)

    These days, our choices are between moderate Republicanism and extreme Republicanism and the former is the better choice, IMHO

  4. says


    What you say is unimpeachable. I like Chu too. Obama is undoubtedly a smart guy. Given the choice between him and almost any of the current probable Republican candidates for the presidency, he would be better.

    But allowing that he is better on the margins should not blind us to the fact that both parties are leading us towards the same dismal goal. It is that one party is taking us there by a more scenic route.

    We need to create awareness of the deeper problem if we are to change direction.

  5. says

    Shalom Mano,

    I’m convinced.

    When do you think our oligarchy emerged? 1776? 1787? 1828? 1846? 1861? 1898? Sometime in the 20th century?

    Do you think it is possible to identify the members, by name or position, of our oligarchy?

    Are they the heads of the Fortune 100? 500? Are they the leaders of the Washington lobbyists? Or, as I’m coming to consider, is our oligarchy more shadowy than that and made up of not individuals but a kind of economic hive mind driven by Capitalism and our corporate structure?

    Is it possible to banish the oligarchy and retain our economic system?



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