Reprinted from Alternet
As Donald Trump leads a full-scale war against the Republican establishment and elites, particularly through his attack on both their military (Iraq) and their trade (NAFTA) policies, the Democratic Party is also in a predicament that Bernie Sanders' candidacy is exposing. Both parties right now face a great crisis of leadership/ideology as well as a great opportunity for reinvention, and whichever party first reinvents itself successfully will begin winning elections the way the Democrats did in the 1932-1968 era.
If neither does, our nation faces a massive crisis provoked by the loss of democratic representation of the majority of the American electorate. Neither party today does much of anything for the bottom 90% of Americans, as so clearly demonstrated by a recent study out of Princeton that showed that the likelihood of legislation passing that represents the interest of that bottom 90% was equivalent, statistically, to white noise.
Thomas Frank's new book Listen, Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? offers the fascinating premise that starting with the McGovern Commission of 1972 (which largely excommunicated Labor from having a large role in Democratic Party decision-making) and going into a full-out embrace of the "professional class" -- i.e., the top 10% economically -- the Democratic Party has largely abandoned the American working and middle class -- the bottom 90%.
As Frank told me on my program recently, the doctor who delivered me in 1951 was almost certainly a Republican (then the party of the professional class), but today would almost certainly be a Democrat. In the 1950s and 1960s virtually the entire professional class (the top 10%) was Republican; today it's virtually all Democratic.
In the late 1980s, the DLC Democrats (and now the Third Way/Clinton Democrats) embraced the professional class and embraced complex solutions to our nation's problems. They consciously moved away from labor/working class and towards an elitist embrace of banksters, the emerging "geniuses" of Silicon Valley, and the college-educated at all levels.
They even went so far as to suggest it was a good thing that much of America's blue-collar working-class high-school-diploma jobs go to China and Mexico, as we here in America needed to move to the "new economy" jobs of technology, medicine, and finance, requiring a college education.
This ideological change in the Party led to the Clinton-era 1990s policies that gutted our industrial base, ripped apart the social safety net (ending "the era of big government"), and financialized our economy.
As Frank points out, while FDR had a "brain trust" of the best and the brightest in the nation, they were drawn from a broad cross-section of America in terms of class and education. Many didn't even have a college education. The Clinton and Obama administrations, on the other hand, while optically more racially diverse, are almost entirely run by people with elite educations from elite universities (particularly Harvard), who share the worldview of the DLC/Third Way.
The policies that came out of this new Democratic Party ideology (largely taken from the 1950s Republicans) have resulted in a boon for the professional class, but almost totally left behind the bottom 90%.
President Obama's failure to even bring up Card Check (the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have strengthened Labor), even after campaigning on it twice, is one of the most obvious examples of the Party's decision to give lip service to working people, but keep their emphasis on elite complexity and the professional class that embodies it.
The result of these decisions and policies provided the opening for the most unlikely phenomenon (on the Democratic side) of my lifetime: a rumpled, acerbic, 74-year-old Jew with a Brooklyn accent who calls himself a "Democratic Socialist" drawing tens of thousands to stadiums across the nation and holding his own against the anointed candidate of the Democratic Party and Third Way elders.
Bernie Sanders carries into the Democratic Party the message of the bottom 90%, the Occupy Movement, and the Black Lives Matter movement -- and the aspirations of students and working people -- so successfully in large part because they've been abandoned by the Democratic Party elites (including the Clinton dynasty).
While Thomas Frank details brilliantly the reinvention (and, probably, destruction) of the modern Democratic Party, in my book The Crash of 2016, I detail the parallel rise of the modern Republican Party, starting with the Powell Memo within a year of the McGovern Commission.
Prior to the 1970s, business in America had been largely apolitical, preferring to focus instead on making money and running companies. But Powell convinced the Chamber of Commerce and a group of wealthy ideologues to change all that, and a group of billionaires and foundations rose to the call and created the huge and well-funded "conservative" infrastructure of think-tanks, media arms (hate radio and Fox News), and the Koch Network.
Within a generation, the Party elites relied almost entirely on Big Business and Big Money to get elected, only throwing rhetorical bones to the bottom 90% with their cynical "god, guns, and gays" strategy.