Since the 1970s, Democratic elites have focused on breaking public sector unions and financializing the economy. Carter, not Reagan, started the defense build-up. Carter, not Reagan, lifted usury caps. Carter, not Reagan, first cut capital gains taxes. Clinton, not Bush, passed NAFTA. It isn’t the base of the Democratic party that did this, but then, voters in America have never had a lot of power because they are too disorganized. And there wasn’t a substantial grassroots movement to challenge this, either.
Obama continues this trend. It isn’t that he’s not fighting, he fights like hell for what he wants. He whipped incredibly aggressively for TARP, he has passed emergency war funding (breaking a campaign promise) several times, and nearly broke the arms of feckless liberals in the process. I mean, when Bernie Sanders did the filiBernie, Obama flirted with Bernie’s potential 2012 GOP challenger. Obama just wants policies that cement the status of a aristocratic class, with crumbs for everyone else (Republican elites disagree in that they hate anyone but elites getting crumbs). And he will fight for them.
There is simply no basis for arguing that Democratic elites are pursuing poor strategy anymore. They are achieving an enormous amount of leverage within the party. Consider the following. Despite Obama violating every core tenet of what might have been considered the Democratic Party platform, from supporting foreclosures to destroying civil liberties to torturing political dissidents to wrecking unions, Obama has no viable primary challenger. Moreover, no Senate Democratic incumbent lost a primary challenge in 2010, despite a horrible governing posture. Now THAT is a successful strategy, it minimized the losses of the Democratic elite and kept them firmly in control of the party. Thus, the political debate remains confined to what neoliberals want to talk about. It’s a good strategy, it’s just you are the one the strategy is being played on.
A lot of people think that Obama is a bad poker player, but they miss the point. He’s not playing with his money, he’s playing with YOUR money. You are the weak hand at the table, he’s colluding with the other players.
There are parts of the Democratic elite that don’t believe in neoliberalism, but they are a modest portion of that structure. So often what comes out of the party is garbled. Most Democrats support our reigning institutions, they believe in paying taxes, they believe in government power. Given a choice, they’ll grumble, but they are more willing to believe that this government is good than to support structural change. By contrast, the Republicans are unified in their desire for a more brutal and more plutocratic though otherwise unchanged institutional arrangement.
This makes the GOP seem more committed, more professional and more change-oriented. This isn’t poor strategy or coordination from Democratic elites. The lack of willingness to fight on behalf of the public isn’t the same of an unwillingness to fight. It’s just their unwillingness to fight anyone but you.