In the presidential election of 2016, voters in each of the major parties were dissatisfied with their faction’s presidential nominee in such large numbers that we witnessed a massive shift in the two-party system. The nomination of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris means the 2020 election will further entrench those changes. Indeed, Biden’s nomination is less consequential: in his dotage, he is merely a screen onto which every faction of the Democratic Party may project its vision.
In choosing Harris as his running mate, however, Biden signals that the ascendance of Wall Street Democrats over working-class factions is nearly complete. A candidate beloved of Hollywood and Big Business, Harris puts a rainbow flag over a government boot and calls it progress. Her nomination as president-in-waiting means the future of the Democratic Party will be hashed out in corporate boardrooms, not church basements and union halls.
The Republican Party began with a good claim on the workingman’s loyalties. Fighting for free labor and high tariffs meant that the GOP of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries stood for American jobs. The Great Depression changed that perception. America’s version of that tragic era began with a Republican in the White House and meant that a Democrat, Franklin D. Roosevelt, could rhetorically unite his party as the new savior of working Americans.
We can disagree on which of his party’s policies actually helped working people — some clearly did, others absolutely did not — but his message was on point. In the popular mind, Democrats became the friend of the farmer, the laborer, and the little man, while Republicans were portrayed as the party of Manhattan boardrooms and Connecticut country clubs. Fair or not, this perception stuck for many years.
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Since that time, pieces of FDR’s big coalition have fallen away. Farmers are long gone from the party, and miners, too. Union households now split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Big-city police departments were once Democrat strongholds, but the lawless protests and Democratic Party’s open sympathy for rioters turned them away, as well. People working in manufacturing make up an ever-smaller slice of the populace, partly because of automation but mostly because of bipartisan policies that eliminated their jobs and recreated them in China.
In return, the Dems have gained the votes of their former enemies, the rich and influential people in C-suites, movie studios, and newsrooms. Savvy politicians like Bill Clinton could straddle this divide and keep a party together despite growing differences. Barack Obama could not, and Hillary Clinton presided over the full collapse of the old order. The parties were remade in 2016, and the shift continues today.
Harris Represents What Biden Used to Decry
So, is Joe Biden up to the task? He talks a good game and does seem to genuinely care about ordinary working people. In a Politico article last week, Alex Thompson highlighted the differences between Obama and Biden. “Biden also decried the snobby intelligentsia that had taken over the Democratic Party. ‘It seems to me you’ve all become heartless technocrats,’ he said. ‘We have never as a party moved this nation by 14-point position papers and nine-point programs.’”
In his selection of Harris, though, Biden concedes the future of the party sits firmly with the “snobby intelligentsia.” Harris may not be a “heartless technocrat,” but only because technocrats like Obama and Hillary Clinton show a better grasp of policy than Harris. Her campaign style is more emotional than theirs but appeals to the same groups. As Nathanael Blake wrote here on Monday, “Wall Street loves Kamala Harris.”
Really, why shouldn’t they? Her political career aligns perfectly with their interests. Just as the corporations have found it easier to wrap themselves in the trappings of radical causes than to address the complaints of those activists, Harris has proven a friend to every Balkanizing leftist organization that she ever laid eyes on. Her policy positions, such as they are, are designed to appeal to whatever audience is in front of her, accounting for her frequent flip-flops.
Elizabeth Warren “had a plan for that” and Hillary Clinton was equally well-prepared on policy, but Harris is selling you what corporate America is selling you: a vague feeling that she likes the things left-leaning people like. She may not embody the “14-point position papers” Biden decried, but more of the fuzzy PowerPoint full of corporate nonsense words. Sound and even a little fury, but ultimately signifying nothing.
The New Democratic Party
That’s not a bad spot for a candidate. Plans can be refuted, math might not add up, but feelings can paper over differences, at least on the campaign trail. When her feelings need to turn into plans, though, the truth will have to emerge. Eventually, Harris will have to pick a side, and it won’t be the side of American workers.
Accepting the VP nomination means that, win or lose, Harris will be among the top candidates for president in four or eight years. She is already, in many ways, her party’s standard-bearer, since the actual nominee is doing everything possible to avoid speaking in public. That means a victory for the Clintonian embrace of boardroom along with their bohemian fig leaf of social radicalism. For the Democratic Party’s erstwhile supporters in farms, mines, and factories, it is a rejection with shocking ingratitude.
Sen. Bernie Sanders might be wrong about everything, but in his heart, there is a big place for working people. Harris is his opposite — the voice of a new, wealthier liberalism that has given up on jobs and seeks only to manage the decline of America’s economic might. They want to make you comfortable with generous welfare and legal drugs. But if you want a job, they’ve got nothing for you but a rainbow flag and a smile.