How the neoliberal (usually known as Democratic) party may well lose in 2020

So it was already pretty obvious that the mainstream of the Democratic Party, which I prefer to call the “neoliberal party,” has thrown its weight behind Joe Biden when I came across numbers assembled by FiveThirtyEight that show Biden garnering a vast majority of endorsements. It’s not even close.[1]

This is the same bunch that endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016 and often blame Bernie Sanders for her defeat. And we need to understand what animates them.

First, in the course of my dissertation work,[2] I came across something I’d never heard of before: A term “liberal interventionist.”

I didn’t get into liberal interventionism specifically. As near as I could determine, it was, for all intents and purposes, neoconservatism, maybe a little different around the edges with social issues like abortion. The real difference, I concluded, is that “liberal interventionist” is what Republican neoconservatives call Democratic neoconservatives.

While neoconservatives appear to form a small portion of the political field—their power stems more from their position in Washington, D.C., than from popularity—in the period from the fall of the Berlin Wall[3] to the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, a bipartisan consensus formed around neoconservative ideals.

Neoconservatism sees the U.S. system of (not really) “democracy” and of capitalism as not only requiring an often muscular defense but universally as the preferred system for all people everywhere, regardless of history, regardless of culture. It sees neoliberalism as a moral imperative. Which is to say that neoconservatives are fundamentally comfortable with the idea of imposing a republican and “free” (for whom? to do what? to whom?) market system on the entire world. This is an imperialist and colonial ideology.

Mainstream Democrats, whom, as I said, I prefer to call ‘neoliberals,’ still fundamentally embrace this ideology and we see a straight line among Democrats from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton to Joe Biden adhering to this ideology even to the extent, as in 2016, that they will lose elections in its defense.

Because the ideology was bipartisan, they see it as “centrist” and therefore as appealing to an allegedly vast moderate portion of the electorate that they have been seeking to win really since George McGovern’s defeat in 1972 (against Richard Nixon) and especially since Walter Mondale’s defeat in 1984 (against Ronald Reagan). It’s had mixed results: Even as they’ve pushed Republicans and the Overton Window ever further to the right, Democrats only won with Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama and only two of those three were re-elected. (Jimmy Carter, the one who was not re-elected, won in 1976 against Gerald Ford, who had assumed the presidency following Nixon’s resignation in the Watergate scandal.)

The Democratic Party lost against social conservative and neoconservative Ronald Reagan, neoconservative George H. W. Bush (the elder), neoconservative George W. Bush (the younger), and authoritarian populist (bordering on paleoconservative)[4] Donald Trump.

Notice the break in the pattern. While so-called “centrist” neoconservatism, with its morally imperative neoliberalism, has more often favored Republicans, it lost in 2016, and the Republicans still won. It is not, by even the remotest stretch of the imagination, a reliable ideology for Democrats to run on, which is why I say they prefer this ideology even to winning elections.

But with Biden, they’re still refusing to admit that maybe Sanders wasn’t really the reason Hillary Clinton lost.

  1. [1]FiveThirtyEight, “The 2020 Endorsement Primary,” December 5, 2019, https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2020-endorsements/democratic-primary/
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  3. [3]Melvyn P. Leffler, “The Free Market Did Not Bring Down the Berlin Wall,” Foreign Policy, November 7, 2014, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/11/07/berlin_wall_fall_25_anniversary_reagan_bush_germany_merkel_cold_war_free_market_capitalism
  4. [4]David Benfell, “Barack Obama asks, ‘Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?’” Not Housebroken, November 4, 2018, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/11/04/barack-obama-asks-why-is-it-that-the-folks-that-won-the-last-election-are-so-mad-all-the-time/

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