NOVEMBER 2017 Kelley Kidd.
Sometimes my research shows me whole worlds of reality I did not know anything about until, almost by accident, I stumble on them in the dark. Lately one such stumbling began when a friend unexpectedly used the term neo-liberal. I looked it up by rambling through a number of derogatory references until I found a writer and speaker who said he had been proud to be called by the name. Whenever I hear a new political label it is my custom to try to find somebody who created it or wear it proudly. I always hesitate to attach any such label to those who depreciate it.
Anyhow, the self-proclaimed neo-liberal writer claimed that the label was that of people who, like himself, aimed to reduce the role of the government in the economy and to expand the power and scope of “the market”. I thought at once of Adam Smith, the 18th century father of free enterprise economic thought, but the writer suggested his readers think of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.
Not being a neo-liberal myself, I took the writer’s advice. Since June of this year I have repeatedly run into the legacy of Bill Clinton with that label in mind. I confess to measuring both man and label by each other.
And I often see the former president in the same mental telescope in which I am gazing at his wife, the Democratic nominee in 2016 for the job he held during most of the last decade of the 20th century.
I was raised in the Deep South during the Jim Crow era. Almost all the officeholders of that era (in Georgia at least) were vocal advocates for what they called “free markets” and “small government, close to the people.” So they said. My experience of them was that they favored big government projects when they and their rich supporters would benefit, and that the closer their control of policy outcomes, the more they called that control that of “the people.” They were usually at least as involved in the kind of back room manipulation they sometimes accused their opponents of doing. So the Clinton takeover of the Democratic Party in 2016 was no surprise to me.
What is a refreshing surprise is that Donna Brazile is candid enough to admit that she was a part of such activity. Ms. Brazile’s honesty may go a long way towards making real reform of the Democratic Party possible.
The Neo-liberal project may owe its philosophy to Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, but its tactics are sure to include what we used to refer to as those of Gene Talmadge and the “populist” tradition of the Jim Crow era. When it suits the purposes of the Clinton style political operative, he too is as likely to engage in demagoguery as any “left wing radical” or “right wing Republican.” But unlike the radical and exactly like the Republican whose economic views he shares, the Neo-liberal operative has the backing of some very deep pockets and the tactics that big money politics brings. The Neo-liberal does not just outspend the democratic populist. He also buys the tools to power that democratic populist cannot afford. Sadly in 2016 the Democratic National Committee was one of those bought tools.