Tonight, Hillary Rodham Clinton is all but assured to clinch presumptive nominee status in the Democratic Party primary race for the U.S. Presidency. Some of us presumed she would be the nominee back in January, but I’m glad Bernie Sanders stayed in the race into June because I believe primary voters deserved the opportunity to vote their consciences. I certainly did when I cast my ballot for Sanders back in March.
I chagrined at the discord the primary race devolved into in May, though I thought the coverage of it overblown. I do not list faith among my most esteemed of the virtues, but I continue to maintain faith that Democratic voters will come together united in the end against the racist, sexist, ignorant, unqualified, and intemperate Republican nominee for U.S. President, Donald J. Trump.
I was pleased Bernie entered this race because I wanted a candidate who would pull the party toward the left. I believe he’s done that. We are seeing Democratic leaders pivot away from cuts to Social Security in favor of strengthening it. We are putting on weight in the fight for single-payer healthcare and access to higher education. We are seeing a larger conversation about wealth and income inequality and the need for campaign finance reform. I voted for Bernie because he gave me what I wanted by moving the conversation toward these progressive causes.
I now hope he and the progressive left will continue to push that agenda, and to go even further. I’d like to see progressives play a larger role in writing the party’s platform this summer, and I hope that the Democratic Party is inspired by this year’s primary to look at changes to the process for 2020. I’d like to see Hillary Clinton select a strong progressive running mate.
I’d like to see the Democratic Party embrace the progressive impulses of the Millennial generation not just for social justice in America but economic justice as well. How many times must I type it? Wages have stagnated for 40 years. People have no jobs. People have no money. Only one quarter of working age Americans can boast full-time employment with benefits. We are in a Second Gilded Age, and if the ruling class doesn’t act, things will eventually become violent on a scale impossible to ignore.
There is nothing new in history, including this. America, more than most countries through civilization, has been able to stifle and subdue the realities of class, especially through the late 20th Century. In fact, to our Republican friends, class warfare only exists when the lower classes finally push back. But this vast inequality insists upon itself as a political force, and as it grows, tumult and turmoil will only increase with it.
The Democratic Party has two shining examples to look to for precedent. Instead of the Jefferson/Jackson Day Dinners so often celebrated, may I be so bold as to suggest the Democrats start holding FDR/LBJ Day Dinners? The New Deal and Great Society represented an investment in America’s working and middle classes the likes of which we haven’t seen since. While Nixon and Reagan did the dirty on them enough – if not to fully roll them back – at least to harm them to the extent we find ourselves in the Second Gilded Age that we do.
It’s time for the progressive movement to reclaim lost ground and the best hope for doing so is within the Democratic Party. Lyndon Johnson launched his war on poverty on the Ohio University campus here in the foothills of Appalachia not 200 yards from where I’m writing right now.
It was part of his Great Society program that gave us Medicare, Medicaid, the Economic Opportunity Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Head Start, the Model Cities Program, the Community Action Program, the Higher Education Act, the Bilingual Education Act, the National Endowment for the Arts, PBS, housing programs, rural development and a host of other consumer and environmental protection initiatives.
If not for his tragic mistakes in southeast Asia, Johnson would’ve boasted one of the most accomplished and reverberating legacies imaginable for a U.S. President.
The story goes, when Johnson was faced with the obstinance of the Dixiecrats on civil rights, one bold aide told him he shouldn’t waste his time fighting for lost causes.
“Well, what the hell’s the presidency for,” Johnson famously shot back. What the hell’s the presidency for if not to fight for causes you believe in?
As Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee, my wish is that she learns a great deal from the tremendous accomplishments and tragic mistakes of Lyndon Johnson. I expect her to vanquish the odious Trump in November, but beyond that is where the real work will begin.
I would hope she can subdue her hawkish posture enough to not let it become a distraction to the steps we must take forward domestically. I would hope that she will use the presidency to fight for the causes that unite her with progressives. I would hope she will push for programs representing a Renewed Deal and a Greater Society for the 21st Century. After all, what the hell’s the presidency for?
David DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure based out of Athens, Ohio. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. DeWitt is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS. He can be found on Twitter @DC_DeWitt and on Facebook here.