Those are the words of Bill Clinton as he was accepting the Democratic nomination in 1992.
I think I've said enough in past articles about why that statement of his was false. For the sake of my audience, who mostly know why as well, I won't reiterate in detail the fundamental corruption of the Clintons, the numerous ways that they and others like them have changed the Democratic Party for the worse, and the consequences that that has had for the country (though if you don't know what I mean, you can read about it here). I'm instead going to focus on why the American people have allowed the Clintons and Clintonism to come-and stay-in power.
To fully articulate the following study, though, I should give some context: after making that promise, Clinton, along with the other neoliberals now in control of the Democratic Party, did exactly the opposite, enacting NAFTA, consolidating media companies, killing welfare, incarcerating more racial minorities, outlawing gay marriage, and, perhaps most consequentially, deregulating Wall Street. And yet the Democratic base, despite largely disagreeing with these policies, remained (mostly) loyal to their party, with Clinton having an approval rating of 66% at the end of his term and Democrats being the most popular party at that time.
With all due respect for those who were among that crowd of loyal Democrats, why did so many Americans continue to support status-quo politics? Why didn't more people see through Al Gore's claim of being a populist improvement of his predecessor during the 2000 campaign and turn Ralph Nader into a serious competitor? Why did liberals become as indifferent towards the injustices that their leaders were responsible for as conservatives are about theirs?
The answer is more ominous than you would guess.
In my previous article, I concluded that the cause of the Democrat's shift towards the interests of the elite was the result of the conservative trend in public opinion left over from the Reagan/Bush years. Although the legacy of that era indeed had an influence on Democratic strategists' decision to move to the right, since the late 90's the public has returned to a firmly liberal state. The real question is why the left, despite being so out of step with the Democratic Party since then, has remained subservient to it. To find that out, we'll need to take a look at how America itself has changed between now and the time when Democrats represented the people.
The period I'm speaking of, which can be loosely defined as lasting from the end of World War II to the start of the Reagan era, was a relatively high point in American history. This was when scientific, technological, and social progress was at its highest rate ever, voter participation levels typically reached above 60% (more than the turnout of the 2008 election), and the Democratic Party, perhaps not coincidentally, was an institution that harbored democratic socialism.
You know what happened next, though. After income inequality reached its lowest point in modern history, with the top 0.1% wealthiest citizens owning a mere 7% of the country's money in the year 1978, the gap began to steadily increase. With the rise of Ronald Reagan (who's campaign poetically began the year after 1978), this and other negative trends became greatly escalated. In 1983, when the top 0.1% owned 9% of the wealth, the number of corporations that controlled a majority of U.S. media was 50. By 1992, that number was 14.
The neoliberal model of government now being applied, in addition to creating such a corporatized system from which Americans got their information, did the same to education. By 1990, the disparity between the quality of education that rich children and poor children experienced was tragically high. And the decrease in funding of schools in America, meanwhile, gave the same corporations that were enjoying tax cuts because of it the opportunity to take control of the schools themselves.
In time for Clintonism's ascension, the takeover was complete. The 0.1% controlled the media, the educational system, and 13% of all the new income, and the result was a politically apathetic population. With many young people feeling detached from the political process after receiving insufficient educations and the majority of Americans getting their news from pro-corporate outlets, rates in political awareness, and political participation, suffered. This was reflected in how voter turnout in the 1996 election was a dismal 49%, turnout among young people was at 40% in the 1996 and 2000 elections, and, of course, in the small amount of scrutiny that the Clintons and the Democratic Party received from their liberal supporters during that time.
In short, Reaganism had turned America into an oligarchy with an uninformed and politically submissive citizenry, which laid the foundations for Clintonism. This dystopian situation was assessed by the author Augustus Cochrane in his book Democracy Heading South: National Politics In The Shadow Of Dixie as being the same societal condition which afflicted the mid-century south. Paul Rosenberg explains Cochrane's analysis in the article Clintonism screwed the Democrats: How Bill, Hillary and the Democratic Leadership Council gutted progressivism:
The good news is that this degenerate form of democracy, where the masses apathetically submit themselves to a continuation of the status quo, was not built to last. Though the state of America's media and educational system has only gotten worse since the 90's, as income inequality has soared to obscene levels, more people have been compelled to revolt against the political establishment that they could once afford to prop up.Cochrane argued that the same sorts of maladies which afflicted the South circa 1950, diagnosed in V.O. Key’s classic, Southern Politics in State and Nation, had come to afflict the nation as a whole. The specific structures might differ—lungs vs gills—but the functions, or dysfunctions were strikingly similar, he argued, with political power held tight by wealthy elites while the majority of voters were confused, disengaged, or entirely absent, with politics serving them primarily as entertainment. In the 1950s-era South, its one party system was functionally a no-party system, operating somewhat differently from state to state. In the country at large, the same result later came from a dealignment of politics—the White House controlled by one party, congress by another—a frequent, but not dominant pattern in American politics until 1968, after which it’s become the normal state of affairs. The intensified role of money and media served to accelerate the breakdown of party bonds and further entrepreneurial politics, in which individual politicians thrive by branding themselves, regardless of how party allies may fare.
After another poor voter turnout in the 2000 election, it soared to 56.7% in 2004, with 49% of young voters participating. This had correlated with a major surge in support during that year's Democratic presidential primaries for the leftist candidate Howard Dean, who, barring the series of attacks that the media and the Democratic establishment unleashed on him, would have likely been elected in 2004. This new strength in political involvement, especially among young people, became more apparent in the 2006 and 2008 elections, the latter of which had a turnout of 58.23% with 66% of participants under thirty voting for Barack Obama.
Because Obama and the other Democrats of his generation then proved to be more or less as Clintonist as their predecessors, voter participation then dropped again, with a 39.9% turnout in the 2010 midterms, a 54.87% turnout in 2012, and a tellingly small 36.4% turnout in 2014. But with the appearance of Bernie Sanders, it was clear that young people and others were fully poised to defeat Clintonism. 29% more young voters chose Sanders than those of them who chose both Trump and Clinton combined. And though Hillary prevailed in the end, had more independents been allowed to vote in the primaries, he could have easily won. There's also evidence that had the voting process itself been conducted fairly, Democrats alone would have propelled Sanders to the nomination.
But in the next few years, given the Democratic Party's steady decline and the coming dominance of millennials over the electorate, we may well see the death of Clintonism occur not with a reform of the Democrats but with the rise of a populist third party.
Whether Clintonism's replacement will indeed be something to the left of it, or if it will be the dark, degenerate brand of populism that Trump espouses, will have to be determined later. But what's certain is that even if Obama isn't the last Clintonist president we'll see in our lifetimes, Hillary herself will be.
Clintonism may have sown its own destruction in the short term, but after America is returned to something more economically equal and the citizenry becomes happy with its government, there's no reason it won't one day take a new form and rise again. When that time comes, many decades from now, hopefully Americans will be able to remember the lessons from this era and reject Clintonism before it retakes control. And if we can reach that state as a nation, where such a cynical and deceptive brand of politics has been made a thing of the past, we'll be able to truly say, "I have news for the forces of greed and the defenders of the status quo: your time has come and gone."