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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Clinton era: Defeat of the left

A political revolution has taken place in New York this week. The Democratic Party, scenting victory in November, has swallowed Bill Clinton's strategic defeat of what remains of the American left.


It is a strange way to celebrate the end of the Cold War. Traditionally, the American left has been on the defensive because it was accused of being soft on communism. But the left never gave in. At convention after convention, the left fought against the Vietnam war, against Reagan's re-armament program, and against the Star Wars strategic defence program.


Logically, you might expect the death of communism to give the left more room to grow. The impact of the current economic recession has been harsh enough to invigorate the left's demands for public spending, state investment and more jobs. Instead, the left has been bulldozed out of the way by the Southern white ticket of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.


Clinton's political strategy has for the last five years been based upon making the party electable by moving it back to the center. This required taming the left, which meant breaking the grip of their activists on the convention.


Clinton has already broken their grip on the platform, the party manifesto, which now explicitly forswears "the big government theory that says we can hamstring business and tax and spend our way to prosperity".


Clinton could defeat the left because the scale of his victory in the primaries was far greater than most observers have recognized. Clinton won more votes than any other candidate, Democratic or Republican, in history. He won more states than any previous candidate, and he won all the Big Ten, the largest, most influential states.


The scale of Clinton's triumph is even clearer when one looks at a new survey of the delegates themselves. In 1980, less than a quarter of the delegates had incomes higher than $50, 000 a year. This year, almost 70 percent of the Democratic delegates earn this amount or higher, and $50, 000 is double the average American industrial wage.


Clinton's unspoken slogan is "no more free rides", and it is aimed at the new voting majority of America's suburbanites, who moved out of the cities because of the high taxes and higher crime rates. and because so many of them left their old Democratic loyalties back in the decaying cities when they moved, the Republicans were able to establish their generation-long grip on the White House.


The demographics of this suburban revolution, which Clinton perceived early, do not preclude a thoughtfully calibrated radicalism. The suburban middle classes tend to be environmentally minded, to be serious about education, to accept a woman's right to choose abortion, and to be more than a touch guilty about racial division.


Observe how Clinton plays these themes. On abortion, he is pro-choice. By picking the super-green Gore as his running mate, Clinton established his ecological credentials.


Education reform is at the heart of Clinton's program. and his rhetoric of healing after the Los Angeles riots, following his evident pleasure at chanting and swaying in black churches on Sunday mornings gives him a transracial authority which Jesse Jackson's sulks cannot dent.


Jackson and Brown represent a fading force, a generation that came to prominence in the 1960s and '70s, and are now stuck with its radical slogans. They reek of the bell-bottomed jeans that the suburban voters threw out when they moved house and began to raise children.


Clinton has moved on too, and while Jerry Brown's delegates chant their politics of protest and Jesse Jackson continues to posture, Clinton has taken the Democratic party with him.