While most California Democrats are still in despair over the election of Donald Trump to the White House, the state’s most prominent left-leaning economist Robert Reich is trying to pick up the pieces and find out what went wrong.
“The Democratic Party once represented the working class. But over the last three decades, the party has been taken over by Washington-based fundraisers, bundlers, analysts and pollsters who have focused instead on raising campaign money from corporate and Wall Street executives and getting votes from upper-middle-class households in “swing” suburbs,” Reich wrote in a piece published in Newsweek titled “The Democratic Party Needs to Clean House.”
Reich is an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley and formerly served as the Secretary of Labor to President Bill Clinton. He has authored numerous books on the national political economy and is probably one of the most popular left-leaning economists in the entire country.
Reich was a strong and vocal supporter of Bernie Sanders, but then supported Hillary Clinton when Sanders was no longer an option.
Reich is already pursuing in earnest what most Democrats have been unwilling to even consider—that Clinton’s loss was largely self-inflicted and has roots far deeper than the imperfections of the Democratic nominee.
And apparently Reich is not the only one a realized the importance of this issue. Former President Bill Clinton, who did well with these core constituencies, saw this as a major issue months ago.
“Early on, Mr. Clinton had pleaded with Robby Mook, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager, to do more outreach with working-class white and rural voters. But his advice fell on deaf ears,” according to a report in Townhall.com.
“The sophisticated data modeling Mr. Mook relied on showed that young, Latino and black voters would turn out as they had hoped. But while they favored Mrs. Clinton overwhelmingly, she could not run up the score with them like Mr. Obama had in 2012,” according to the Townhall.com report.
Trump won 67% of the vote among non-college-educated whites, compared with 28% for Mrs. Clinton, according to exit polls cited in the report.
Reich further writes “Democrats have occupied the White House for 16 of the last 24 years, and for four of those years had control of both houses of Congress. But in that time they failed to reverse the decline in working-class wages and economic security. Both Bill Clinton and Obama ardently pushed for free trade agreements without providing millions of blue-collar workers who thereby lost their jobs means of getting new ones that paid at least as well,” states Reich.
“Bill Clinton and Obama also allowed antitrust enforcement to ossify—with the result that large corporations have grown far larger, and major industries more concentrated. The unsurprising result of this combination—more trade, declining unionization and more industry concentration—has been to shift political and economic power to big corporations and the wealthy, and to shaft the working class. This created an opening for Trump,” Reich wrote.
Reich concludes “The power structure is shocked by the outcome of the 2016 election because it has cut itself off from the lives of most Americans. Perhaps it also doesn’t wish to understand, because that would mean acknowledging its role in enabling the presidency of Donald Trump,” according to Reich.
Reich stops short of saying exactly what should be done to clean up the Democratic Party, but it is pretty clear that to become competitive the Democratic Party needs to reconnect with the people, not the powerful special interests and political elites who run the party, and control Washington, DC.
Perhaps what is most interesting is that most of the Democrat establishment has remained silent for the likely reasons that Reich outlines—they are completely captured by special interests, powerful corporations, and political elites.
The only real way forward is to get new people and chart a new course for the party which does not have much time because its best chance to regain seats is the midterm elections of 2018 in which the opposition party typically regains seats.
Something else that Reich did not say is what this might mean for the California Democratic Party which has mentioned nothing regarding a “housecleaning” or a need to reconnect with working class voters.
As this column has pointed out, as well as others, the evidence suggests the California Democrat Party to be out of step with the interests of the general populace on several key issues including the pension issue, the need to build more affordable housing, infrastructure investment, business climate issues, tax reform, and issues of government efficiency and effectiveness.
Of course, the root causes of this problem is the Democrat Party base and the special interests who are widely acknowledged to have far too much control of the California Legislature.
Thus, the most productive thing that top Democrats can do now is not point the finger in dismay at Donald Trump for winning the election, but seek to restore the integrity of the Democrat Party by better serving the general populace, as opposed to the special interests.
It is not clear that there is any inclination in Washington, DC, or Sacramento to do this, although it is still very early. The national Democrat Party really has no choice, but there is much less an impetus for the California Democrat Party to change given the fact that most California voters have not begun to question the California Democrat political establishment, albeit Trump has proven that this could change if the right candidate comes along.
David Kersten is president of the Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy—a Bay Area-based think tank and public policy consulting outfit. Kersten is a regular commentator on both California politics, as well as national politics.