An observer of history at this early stage of the 21st century might already have noticed something peculiar happening in US politics. It began in November 2000, when the Supreme Court settled an inconclusive presidential election along partisan lines in favor of George W. Bush. This pleased many people, including the Carlyle Group, a private equity and asset management firm that had a close association with the Bush family, now for the second time in a decade in possession of the keys to the White House. Carlyle has been listed as America’s 11th “largest defense contractor.”
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During the presidential campaign of 2000, Bush famously said, in a moment of humorous truth-telling at a gala dinner in New York: “This is an impressive crowd. The haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base.” Bush spoke as a Republican, a party known to cater to the wealthy business class. But he was speaking for everyone in the crowd, his Democratic opponent, Al Gore, included.
Bush’s election inaugurated a period of political and cultural chaos that began a prolonged process whose effect was to undermine Americans’ understanding of the nation’s proclaimed democratic values. Bush’s Middle East wars — so pleasing to Carlyle — were followed by a financial meltdown, leading to President Barack Obama’s bailout of the “have-mores” and his sacrifice of the middle class. It reached a point of culmination in 2016 when Donald Trump, like Bush himself, was elected with a minority of the popular vote and a sense of a quasi-religious mission.
The elections of 2000 and 2016 left the Democrats in a strategic quandary from which they still haven’t recovered. Promoting issues that appeal to voters and a demography evolving in their favor, Democrats should easily dominate national politics. But they simply do not know how to win elections. Worse, every time they lose — as they did in an important gubernatorial race in Virginia last week — they become more deeply confused. It has become an extraordinary spectacle featuring political ineptitude aggravated by the legacy media beholden not so much to the Democratic Party as its donors. The New York Times heads that list.
An opinion piece penned by The Times’ editorial board on the dilemma facing the party after the disappointment in Virginia predictably claims that “what is badly needed, is an honest conversation in the Democratic Party about how to return to the moderate policies and values that fueled the blue-wave victories in 2018 and won Joe Biden the presidency in 2020.”
Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:
Moderate policies and values:
Any approach to politics and government that will find both straightforward and devious ways when necessary to protect the vested interests of people with enough wealth to pay for the outlandishly expensive electoral campaigns of Democratic candidates who are nobly focused on the only goal that matters: getting elected or reelected
Despite The Times’ insistence, 2018 and 2020 saw no “blue waves.” In both cases, Democrats progressed slightly thanks to a powerfully orchestrated negative reaction to the havoc created by Trump faithfully amplified by the media. The logic of the narrow victory achieved in the 2018 midterm elections and the capacity to rise above Trump’s nevertheless impressive numbers in the 2020 presidential election lay entirely in the capacity of the media to convince enough people that Trump was an aberration from hell. For many “moderate” voters, unconvinced by either party, there was no positive reason to vote for Democrats. There was, however, a compelling reason to free themselves from a news cycle dominated by a narcissistic troublemaker. What The Times called a blue wave was nothing more than a Trump-colored ebb as the residue of 2016 temporarily receded.
It is always instructive to learn how off-kilter The New York Times’ collective thinking can be. In the wake of the Virginia gubernatorial race, the editorial board notes that “Democrats lost there — even with a longtime moderate as their candidate for governor.” Could that realization persuade them to wonder whether being a moderate committed to doing things the way they have always been done isn’t the problem? No, not The New York Times. Instead of blaming the moderate candidate, it excoriates an imaginary entity — “the party” — that has failed to consolidate around “moderate, unifying solutions.” The Times specifically complains about the Democratic Party’s insistence on “looking left on so many priorities and so much messaging.”
The editorial cites “left-center squabbling” that has prevented “passing both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a robust version of the Build Back Better plan.” The rhetorical trick here is the word “robust.” Robustness is exactly what not just the progressives but even establishment stalwarts such as Chuck Schumer appear to be pushing for. It is “moderate” Democrats — namely, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — who have ostentatiously battled to deprive the legislation of its robustness.
The Times fears a “sharp leftward push” in the party and claims that “more centrist Americans” are opposed to spending. That is a convenient but traditional fabrication. A clear majority of Americans polled want the specific programs being eliminated in the name of reduced spending. But that fact doesn’t interest The Times. Those who have led the opposition to robustness are “centrist” Democrats, like the multi-millionaire Manchin and the obstreperous narcissist Sinema.
On the same day as the editorial, Times reporter Shane Goldmacher revealingly describes what he sees as the real problem President Joe Biden is faced with. He recounts that last year, Biden promised his “top fund-raisers,” whose cash got him elected, to “never, ever let you down.” Ten months later, Goldmacher reports that the donors “are feeling neglected if not outright cast aside.” He quotes one major fund-raiser who complains: “It’s very discouraging. We don’t exist.” The Times finds that worrying. It finds less worrying the fact that a majority of Americans, with no expectations of a hotline to the White House purchased with hefty contributions, have long felt the same way. This is so absurd it could lead to the speculation that Biden has become a left-wing activist intent on shafting the donor class.
The Times describes the Democrats as “the only party right now that shows an interest in governing and preserving democratic norms.” This is meant to sound reasoned and reasonable. But it says nothing positive. It focuses on “preserving,” defending the status quo. Every election since 2008 has been an expression of the voters’ admittedly confused desire for change that never happens.
The New York Times may have forgotten that the historical basis of any two-party system in a modern democracy relies on the distinction between concepts traditionally termed left and right. The left has traditionally represented two characteristics of the population: people who depend on a propertied class for employment, and the oppressed. The right has traditionally represented the authority of the business class and those segments of the stable middle class that were comfortable with their superiors’ ability to collectively manage the economy. Whether in the US, Britain, France or Germany — to cite only those countries — there is a documented trend of a loss of confidence in the ability of any of the traditional parties to manage things efficiently.
Radical changes have been taking place in this simple dichotomy across the developed world. As Thomas Piketty has insisted, parties traditionally of the left — supposedly representing the working class and the oppressed — have become dominated by the educated class with a technocratic managerial mindset.
As a consequence, broad swaths of the population have begun to feel alienated by a system controlled by technocrats working alongside business leaders focused on accumulating wealth. In total disorder, they turn to various forms of populism that can range from forms of anarchism to fascism. Donald Trump brilliantly exploited that trend and, despite serious personal discredit, is continuing to do so even today. In other words, the dummy Trump understands what the shining intellects of The New York Times refuse to see.
According to The Times’ editorial board, the Democrats, wedded to moderation and technocracy, are in deep water because they have drifted too far to the left. According to Shane Goldmacher, they are suffering because they haven’t properly honored their wealthy donors. Put the two lessons together and it’s easy to understand that The Times has a clear preference for oligarchy over democracy.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.