Wouldn’t you love to buy a house from a Democratic Party Congressperson? They’ll give you everything you want and then tell everybody how great the deal was. There is one catch; you had better be right wing. If you’re left wing they will fight you with everything they have.
In this part we explore the Democratic Party, from its origins to its current state. We spend more time on the Democrats than we do on the Republicans because the latter are a spent force and should not be regarded as a legitimate political party. With an effective opposition the Republicans would be voted into oblivion within a couple of electoral cycles in the same way that the Whig Party ceased to exist after the creation of the Republican Party in the mid-1800s. The Democratic Party is the obstacle to that genuine opposition, and so it must be either completely reformed or swept aside for another party.
Like the Republicans, the Democrats of today have been repurposed to serve the desires of the wealthy elites. Because their social policies are slightly less odious than those of the Republicans the foundation of their electoral and governance strategy is “I mean, have you seen the other guys?” (this is a legitimate official slogan that they seriously considered running with). When asked for policies and a course of action, Democrats provide platitudes. When it is suggested to the leader of the Democrats of the house that perhaps they need to change something since they have been electorally wiped out, she responds with “We do not need to change.” It is little wonder that the party has lost support from every demographic.
The Democratic Party is the oldest continuously running political party in the world. Founded by supporters of Andrew Jackson, who was President from 1829 to 1837, the founding of the Democratic Party dates to around 1828. Prior to that time, the two dominant parties in the US were the Federalists and what history calls the Democratic-Republicans, both of which emerged after George Washington stepped down as President in 1797. A feud within the Democratic-Republican Party between Jackson and John Quincy Adams had dated back to at least the 1824 election, which was decided by the House of Representatives since none of the candidates had met the constitutional requirement for victory. The 1824 election was known as the Corrupt Bargain election, the Speaker of the House that appointed Adams as President, Henry Clay, was appointed secretary of state by Adams.
By the 1828 election the party had divided into factions supporting Jackson and Adams and the election itself involved outrageously dirty tactics from both. Jackson won the election, but the bitterness between the two continued for years. Adams forged a new party, called the National Republican Party, and Jackson termed his faction the Democratic Party.
As described in a prior blog post, by around 1836 the National Republican Party had forged into the Whig Party, from which the Republican Party emerged in around 1856. The Democratic Party, however, would continue on until around 1860.
The split over slavery
As the election of 1860 approached the issue of slavery had split the Democratic party, and the pro- and anti-slavery factions could not decide on a party platform or on which candidate to field. This continued to the Convention, where the party did not come to a consensus on their candidate. The pro-slavery southern states wanted Vice President John Breckinridge, who advocated the protection of the right to own slaves, while the anti-slavery northern states wanted Stephen Douglas who did not support the federal government imposing protections of slavery.
The Democrats held a new convention six weeks later in Baltimore, but after no consensus was reached once again, ten southern states held their own Convention separately and nominated Breckinridge. The remaining states nominated Douglas. This resulted in a split of the Democratic Party, accompanying the political split of the country between north and south.
Villains of the Civil War
In some respects, the 1860 election could be regarded as two presidential elections occurring simultaneously: a northern election between Republican Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas; and a southern election between John Breckinridge and John Bell from the Constitutional Union Party. When Lincoln was announced as having won the national election (with less than 50% of the vote), South Carolina voted unanimously to secede from the union. By the time of Lincoln’s inauguration six other states had also voted to secede. The Civil War began soon afterwards.
During the civil war the Northern Democrats forged with the Republicans and the anti-slavery factions of the Constitutional Unionist to form a new Republican Party. The Southern Democrats forged with the pro-slavery Constitutional Unionists to form a new Democratic Party and thus the dual party system was returned.
If history remembers the pro-slavery South as the villains of the Civil War, then we must also regard its political party, the Democrats as the villains as well. After losing to the north in 1865 the south was subjected to a “Radical Reconstruction“, which involved the ratification of three constitutional amendments and left the Democratic Party largely in the political wilderness for 60 years. During that time they supported a political campaign of aggressive racial segregation known as the Jim Crow Law.
The move towards progressive values
Franklin Roosevelt brought the Democrats out of the wilderness when he overwhelmingly defeated Herbert Hoover in the 1932 election. Roosevelt’s “New Deal“, introduced at the end of the Great Depression, created Social Security and the minimum wage, and boosted industry, agriculture, finance, waterpower, labour, and housing. It also funded the construction of massive infrastructure projects that are still in use today. It was paid for by large increases in taxes on the wealthy, of amounts up to 94%, and of corporations and their “unreasonable profits“. The policy was hugely popular, and Roosevelt won two more terms in office becoming the only US president to serve more than two terms. The Democrats and Republicans have exchanged political dominance roughly equally since.
The Democrats finally shed their Southern baggage with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Legend has it that at the time of its passage President Johnson said “There goes the South for a generation”. We discussed in a prior post how the Republicans embraced the white supremacist elements of the south with its Southern Strategy and how they also courted fundamentalist Christians a decade later. Meanwhile the Democrats, for a short time at least, portrayed themselves as the champions of the poor and working classes, bolstering unions, creating and strengthening Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
The move away from progressive values
Such golden ages, sadly, tend to be very short-lived.
Like the Republicans, the Democrats began their acceleration to the right in the 1970s following Supreme Court decisions to allow the corruption of the parties via campaign donations. This resulted in a moving of the political Overton window further and further right over the following decades. The Democrats of today very closely resemble the Republicans of the 2000s, barring a few minor social issues. It was the Clinton administration in the 1990s that exploded the prison population, relaxed the media ownership laws, destroyed the rust belt by enacting NAFTA, and deregulated the financial sector paving the way for the global financial crisis. It was the Obama administration that made the Bush tax cuts permanent, viciously crushed protests, rapidly expanded the military industrial complex, and set the scene for the next global financial collapse.
When one considers the 190-year history of the Democratic Party, there have really been only about 30 years where it could be regarded as the champion of the majority of the American people. Prior to the 1860s it favoured the land owners and plantations of the south, and between the 1860s and 1960s it favoured racial segregation and small government. By the 1990s it had moved away from progressive values once again, and with each year its leadership grows more and more out of touch with the masses. Today, like the Republican Party, the Democrats serve as a tool for the wealthy elites to prevent desperately needed reforms while providing political cover as the Republicans continue to re-distribute the wealth towards the welfare queens at the top of the economic ladder. Today the Democratic Party has no policies and no platform; its political strategy extends no further than “vote for us because the Republicans are terrible”.