by Jim Miller
This last week marked the two-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, a political happening that finally put the issue of economic inequality in the spotlight and started a national discussion about money, class, and political corruption. That movement was largely brought to us by young people, Millennials mostly, whose view of mainstream politics is justifiably jaded.
As Peter Beinart recently pointed out, “Compared to their Reagan-Clinton generation elders, Millennials are entering adulthood in an America where government provides much less economic security. And their economic experience in this newly deregulated America has been horrendous.”
And this experience has been made worse by bankrupt politics that pits what Beinart rightly characterizes as “a procapitalist, anti-bureaucratic Reaganized liberalism” that is “inclined toward market solutions” to everything against a radicalized “right wing populism”:
The argument between the children of Reagan and the children of Clinton is fierce, but ideologically, it tilts toward the right. Even after the financial crisis, the Clinton Democrats who lead their party don’t want to nationalize the banks, institute a single-payer health-care system, raise the top tax rate back to its pre-Reagan high, stop negotiating free-trade deals, launch a war on poverty, or appoint labor leaders rather than Wall Streeters to top economic posts. They want to regulate capitalism modestly.
Their Reaganite Republican adversaries, by contrast, want to deregulate it radically. By pre-Reagan standards, the economic debate is taking place on the conservative side of the field. But — and this is the key point–- there’s reason to believe that America’s next political generation will challenge those limits in ways that cause the leaders of both parties fits.
Thus, the hope for the future is that the next political generation will not just challenge “Reaganite orthodoxy” but also “Clintonite orthodoxy” and bring us a truly progressive Democratic politics that rejects the compromised corporatism of the “New Democrats” with their love of neoliberalism and austerity lite.
Here in San Diego, what we are seeing inside the Democratic party is a battle between those who want to put the party on a “New (read: corporate) Democrat” track and those who want the party to stand for all San Diegans. Nathan Fletcher has the “New Democrats” and the 1% crowd in his corner and David Alvarez is the best hope of the progressives. It’s a battle between the son of the local barrio and the favored child of Irwin Jacobs making $400,000 a year just to be himself.
Those who are seeking to anoint Fletcher in the Forrester, Jacobs, Gonzalez set of the party have been doing everything they can to dress him up with the proper faux Clintonian mantle by emphasizing his largely symbolic shifts to the left on social issues and his totally empty promises to labor, but it hasn’t been easy. Fletcher lost the Labor Council endorsement badly (that’s 128 of San Diego’s 135 unions if anyone is counting) and former Assemblywoman Lori Saldana decided to back Alvarez rather than jump into the race herself and split the progressive vote. And with folks like Donna Frye, Toni Atkins, and others doing the same, Nathan’s coronation just might be in jeopardy.
Indeed, it’s tough to keep wooing labor when you whisper sweet nothings in their ears one week and then bring on a money bundler with ties to the Koch brothers-funded Manhattan Institute the next. Yes it’s surely tough to head fake well enough so folks in labor miss the fact that your pledges to the working people one moment are followed by your receipt of a big check from the union-busting Tarsadia Investments (the target of a recent hunger strike by hotel workers) the next week.
And it’s rough going when after your “Latino Leaders Endorse Fletcher” press conference, La Prensa writes this about your record:
[H]is work on behalf of the Hispanic community is almost non-existent. We looked up his record as Assemblyman and went through all the bills he sponsored, all his press releases, and all the news stories about Fletcher and we didn’t find one mention of the Hispanic community or any of their issues during his term as Assemblyman.
We read where the Latino “leaders” cited his recent support of the janitors, his support of the DREAMERS, and his work as with the San Diegans United for Comprehensive Immigration Reform where Fletcher is listed as Chair, as their reasoning to support him . . .
When Fletcher’s had a chance to support the DREAMERS he voted against them both times in 2011 when he voted against the private scholarships act and the state financial aid act. So his support of the DREAMERS is mere rhetoric.
In regards to the San Diegans United for Comprehensive Immigration Reform we looked that up and it basically consists of a web page that was created in March 2013, the month Fletcher and Lorena Gonzalez announced the group’s creation. There was also a Twitter page and a Facebook page. All three internet pages show activity in March and in April and nothing after that.
For all intents and purposes, the organization is dead after one short month. Basically an organization created for political purposes only!!!
This isn’t just garden-variety hypocrisy. What these examples do is not just eviscerate the logic of those arguing that the bad old GOP Nathan was “back then” but “now he is on our team,” but also point to what is really at stake when the local Democratic Party endorses for mayor tomorrow: its soul.
In the serious conversations being had about this battle, no one behind Fletcher is arguing that he is truly progressive with a straight face because they know it’s not true. It’s all about expediency, money, and viability.
Fletcher is the 1% Democrat par excellence. The Magic Democrat can posture as a progressive and line up opportunist politicians behind him to praise his conversion while still raking in the corporate cash. He can win!
The problem is that winning with Fletcher is just defeat dressed up as victory for progressives. You get to wash down Filner’s betrayal of progressive principles through his reckless behavior with Fletcher backers’ betrayal of progressives in the service of a cynical opportunism that takes advantage of our civic tragedy to stage a New Democrat take-over of the party.
But what becomes of the political narrative in San Diego when Fletcher represents the “left” while Faulconer is the right? It becomes a joke again. You get Sanders versus Sanders lite; the Chamber of Commerce’s first choice versus their happy second choice. You get an election brought to you by a secret meeting of Republican power brokers on one side and a secret meeting of Democratic power brokers on the other side. That’s not democracy; that’s a rigged game.
And it gets worse: in perhaps the most disgusting attempt to pull people’s attention away from the real ideological and political battle here was made by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. In a response to a tweet by Lionel Sanchez last Thursday asking, “So how are these two Democratic camps being described? Progressives versus Neo Liberals? North Versus South of I-8?” Gonzalez replied with “watch it . . . You’re treading on dangerous water [sic]. How about Due Process Filner folks vs. other Dems.” The tweet has been subsequently erased but it was there long enough to make things plain.
I guess the “dangerous water” that Gonzalez and the rest of the Fletcher camp doesn’t want us to “tread on” is the question of what the political, ideological, racial, and class consequences of this mayor’s race are. Just stick to the dirty Filner narrative and don’t look at the big political gorilla behind the curtain. And if things get rough for Fletcher’s side, you can just Filner bait people to change the subject. (Although it’s not clear how Donna Frye’s endorsement of Alvarez fits into the Assemblywoman’s tortured logic.)
It’s a new low, but the best answer to this kind of politics is for the Democratic Party to endorse David Alvarez, the true progressive in the race. If Fletcher represents the tired old corporate politics of the past, Alvarez is the face of the future. He is the standard bearer for the new majority in the city, a leader who will stand for all San Diegans without having to answer to the big money donors that Fletcher’s friend from the Koch brothers-funded Manhattan Institute is rounding up.
Alvarez will fight for historically underrepresented neighborhoods like his own Barrio Logan; he will continue to have the solid environmental record that Lori Saldana praised; he will not be afraid to buck the downtown special interests. Is he perfect? No, but he is a real progressive with a solid record to stand on including his leadership in the recent victory for the better of the two Barrio Logan plans.
And, unlike Fletcher, who likes to tell people that he could always go back to his $400K a year job and move to a beautiful house in Solana Beach rather than drop in to save us, Alvarez is really in it with us. David Alvarez still lives in his modest home in Barrio Logan. He is San Diego, one of the 99%.