The not unlikely shortcomings of a President Joe Biden could lead us straight back to the current dilemma, perhaps with a younger, smarter version of Trump.
By Max Sawicky
Cheer up. The Left is winning the battle of ideas. Ideas are the basis for organization, and organization is prior to change. The signs are in the evolution of statements and platforms presented by Democratic presidential candidates. As the economist John Maynard Keynes wrote, eighty and some years ago:
“Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”
It’s our “madmen” (and women) who are more in evidence these days — not as public personalities, but in the guise of campaign commitments offered by leading Democratic politicians. Their ascendance parallels the decline of neoliberal ideology.
To anyone who lived through the Clinton years — or merely remembers the Obama era — the discrediting of neoliberal ideas that were once sacrosanct among Democrats is nothing short of astonishing.
In this essay, I’d like to give credit where it is due for the raising of consciousness. In the process, I would like to foster a keener appreciation for the difference between progressive and neoliberal doctrine. What does it mean to be left these days? Everybody knows the extreme point — wholesale socialization of the commanding heights of the economy. But where is the separation between hackneyed liberalism, “woke” and otherwise, and emerging progressive platforms?
Going beyond the old order
It does not always pay to highlight differences. But our ambitions go well beyond a restoration of the old order under Barack Obama or Bill Clinton. For one thing, the not unlikely shortcomings of a President Joe Biden could lead us straight back to the current dilemma, perhaps with a younger, smarter version of Trump. Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Tom Cotton of Arkansas wait impatiently in the wings, tanned, rested, and ready to wreak havoc anew. We bitterly recall the triumphant victories of 1992 and 2008. Democrats won the White House and held both houses of Congress; then they stunk up the joint, leading to the midterm electoral debacles of 1994 and 2010.
The urge to paper over differences, in the interests of antifascist unity, intermingles with sympathy for the old liberal verities and a reluctance, if not an incapacity, to offer a forthright critique of progressive alternatives. Among friends, the label “neoliberal” is often taken as an insult. The desire by liberals to avoid being flanked on the Left is strong. Of course, being “more left” is not necessarily better, much less a sign of virtue. There have always been virtuous liberals and low-down radicals.
From my own policy standpoint, I would assert that the radical or progressive option is not intrinsically preferable to the neoliberal: we need to get down to cases. Here are some leading examples of the dwindling currency of neoliberal thinking. …