He identifies the defeat of George McGovern in 1972 after a nasty intra-party primary contest against Hubert Humphrey as a key moment in this process: "The failure of George McGovern had a major impact on a generation of Democrats, who believed they'd faced a painful reality about the limits of idealism in American politics. Jann [Wenner] sums it up: 'Those of us there learned a very clear lesson: America chooses its presidents from the middle, not from the ideological wings.'"
Obviously the corporate wing of the Democratic Party and their donors were happy to make "1972" a timeless warning against the Democrats ever advocating New Deal and antiwar policies. Taibbi observes, "That '72 loss hovered like a raincloud over the Democrats until Bill Clinton came along. He took the White House using a formula engineered by a think tank, the Democratic Leadership Council, that was created in response to losses by McGovern and Walter Mondale."
Greg Palast wrote about the Democratic Leadership Council in a piece on the Koch Brothers, Murkier Than Oil Vice 02/14/2013:
Bill Clinton’s administration, though nominally Democratic, went easy on Koch interests. Vice-President Al Gore especially – as head of the Reinventing Government Commission, he attacked regulations with more verve than Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher. Gore’s anti-regulation guidebook was the “Mandate for Change” drafted by the Democratic Leadership Council. It was the DLC that had launched the career of the previously unknown Bill Clinton, its first chair, and Al Gore’s career as well. The DLC was created with $100,000 (£64,300) of Koch money. [my emphasis]He also posted a version of the article on his blog, “I want my fair share –and that’s ALL OF IT.” The Kochs & the XL Pipeline Greg Palast 02/14/2013.
Continuing with Taibbi, "The new [DLC] strategy was a party that was socially liberal but fiscally conservative. It counterattacked Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy, a racially themed appeal to disaffected whites Nixon tabbed the 'Silent Majority,' by subtly taking positions against the Democrats' own left flank." This is true. But I would add that Clinton's successful 1992 Presidential campaign emphasized economic issues. Their offices famously had the slogan posted, "It's the economy, stupid." The actual policies of the Clinton Administration generally stuck to the neoliberal playbook. But the central emphasis of that campaign did keep economic issues central, capitalizing on the Democratic brand of activist economic policies, even though his Administration was scarcely the return of the New Deal.
But this is a good summary from Taibbi of how the Clinton Administration made At Least We're Not The Republicans the preferred branding of the Democratic Establishment:
In 1992 and in 1996, Clinton recaptured some of Nixon's territory through a mix of populist positions (like a middle-class tax cut) and the "triangulating" technique of pushing back against the Democrats' own liberal legacy on issues like welfare, crime and trade.Kevin Drum makes a version of the Establishment Dem argument in response to Taibbi's article: Matt Taibbi's Case Against Hillary Clinton Is Surprisingly Weak Mother Jones 03/26/2016. Not surprisingly, Kevin makes arguments like, "her proposals are generally a lot more serious and a lot more practical than Bernie's."
And that was the point. No more McGoverns. The chief moral argument of the Clinton revolution was not about striving for an end to the war or poverty or racism or inequality, but keeping the far worse Republicans out of power.
The new Democratic version of idealism came in a package called "transactional politics." It was about getting the best deal possible given the political realities, which we were led to believe were hopelessly stacked against the hopes and dreams of the young.
But then, he accepts the main message of the Clinton campaign captured in this satirical sign:
Hillary's instincts on national security are troublesome. If that's a prime issue for you, then you should vote against her. It's certainly the issue that gives me the most pause — though I have some doubts about Bernie too, which I mention below.
She also lags Bernie in her dedication to bringing Wall Street to heel. But this is a much trickier subject. Bernie has thunderous rhetoric, but not much in the way of plausible plans to accomplish anything he talks about. Frankly, my guess is that neither one will accomplish much, but that Hillary is actually likely to accomplish a little more.
In other words, there's just not much here aside from dislike of Hillary's foreign policy views. That's a completely legit reason to vote against her, but it's hard to say that Taibbi makes much of a case beyond that.
Bernie Sanders too often lets rhetoric take the place of any actual plausible policy proposal. He suggested that his health care plan would save more in prescription drug costs than the entire country spends in the first place. This is the sign of a white paper hastily drafted to demonstrate seriousness, not something that's been carefully thought through. He bangs away on campaign finance reform, but there's virtually no chance of making progress on this. The Supreme Court has seen to that, and even if Citizens United were overturned, previous jurisprudence has placed severe limits on regulating campaign speech. Besides, the public doesn't support serious campaign finance reform and never has. And even on foreign policy, it's only his instincts that are good. He's shown no sign of thinking hard about national security issues, and that's scarier than most of his supporters acknowledge. Tyros in the Oval Office are famously susceptible to pressure from the national security establishment, and Bernie would probably be no exception. There's a chance — small but not trivial — that he'd get rolled into following a more hawkish national security policy than Hillary.
I'm old, and I'm a neoliberal sellout. Not as much of one as I used to be, but still. So it's no surprise that I'm on the opposite side from Taibbi. That said, I continue to be surprised by the just plain falseness of many of the left-wing attacks on Hillary, along with the starry-eyed willingness to accept practically everything Bernie says without even a hint of healthy skepticism. Hell, if you're disappointed by Obama, who's accomplished more than any Democratic president in decades, just wait until Bernie wins. By the end of four years, you'll be practically suicidal. [my emphasis in bold]
Hillary's foreign policy is "troublesome," but only if that's a "rime issue" for you? Wall Street regulation and reform? Well, who cares, and why bother trying?
Campaign reform, reversing Citizens United? You silly hippies, think about something useful!
And, hey, "I'm a neoliberal sellout" and proud of it!
Wow! I really hope that's not the attitude of the typical Clinton primary voter.