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Old April 9th, 2017, 10:22 PM   #1
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How Bill Clinton Remade the Democratic Party by Abandoning Unions

One of the many...too many rss feeds I have on my web browser now comes from LAWCHA - The Labor and Working-Class History Association, which posts labor news and blog essays on a regular basis. I came across this one about the Clintons that delves back in time before they were in the White House, where most attention is devoted/but instead goes back to the 70's, when Bill became the youngest governor of Arkansas. According to author- Michael Pierce, the Clinton triangulation technique of moving to the center to appease moderate Republicans, did not begin in 1994, when Billy found himself with Newt Gingrich and a Republican Congress to deal with. Instead, the pattern of taking money/then deceiving and selling out labor unions began 20 years earlier in Arkansas,

How Bill Clinton Remade the Democratic Party by Abandoning Unions
An Arkansas Story
by Michael Pierce on November 23rd, 2016

..............................Labor’s efforts to open up Arkansas’s political system to working-class blacks and whites and get them to the polls ushered in the state’s liberal heyday in the first half of the 1970s, making possible the elections of Bill Clinton and longtime senators David Pryor and Dale Bumpers. During this era, the General Assembly revised the tax code along progressive lines and increased spending on education and other social provisions, and voters approved measures to regulate more aggressively banks, hospitals, insurance companies, and polluting industries.

Bill Clinton, Bumpers, and Pryor—known as the Big Three in Arkansas politics—also relied on labor funds and mobilization efforts early in their political careers. For instance, labor bankrolled Bill Clinton’s first run for elective office—his failed 1974 campaign for U.S. Congress. This money made it possible for him to purchase television airtime throughout the state, helping make him the darling of Arkansas’s political establishment and facilitating his meteoric rise.

But once in office, Clinton and his allies turned their backs on the labor movement that had made their careers possible, largely in hopes of discouraging anti-union companies from funding potential rivals or to undermine potential rivals on the left. Although political commentators date the birth of Clintonian triangulation—i.e. adopting some of your opponent’s policies to distance yourself from your base, move to the center, and broaden your electoral appeal—to the aftermath of the 1994 elections, Bill Clinton along with Pryor and Bumpers began employing it in the 1970s and the Arkansas labor movement was the target.

There is no better example of this triangulation than the Labor Reform Bill of 1978. As anti-union enterprises found new ways to circumvent the National Labor Relations Board procedures—dragging out certification processes, illegally firing union activists and taking years to litigate challenges to these dismissals, and purposely violating laws knowing that the minimal fines would be a small price to pay to keep unions at bay—unions sought relief in the form of a new law to eliminate these practices. But Bill Clinton, Pryor, and Bumpers worked enthusiastically against the bill. Pryor made opposition the cornerstone of his 1978 senate bid. Bill Clinton, with the help of political consultant Dick Morris, wrote a series of ads for Pryor’s campaign warning that unions were “disastrous for the economy of Arkansas.” Bumpers joined the Senate filibuster that killed the bill.

Triangulation made Clinton and his allies nearly unbeatable. Work with liberals on social issues and gestures to the black community allowed them to retain the backing of much of the left (who really had no one else to support), and their labor policies attracted the support (with various degrees of enthusiasm) of business conservatives. Unable to counter employer aggressiveness during a period of rampant inflation and trade pressures, Arkansas’s labor movement and the liberalism that it did so much to sustain withered, and the state began a political shift to the right. The Big Three easily accommodated themselves to this shift, supporting free trade, economic deregulation, and other elements of neoliberalism.

Throughout the 1980s, the ties between the Big Three and stridently anti-union Arkansas enterprises grew. Hillary Clinton joined Walmart’s board of directors, and Pryor and Bumpers became especially close to Tyson Foods and the poultry industry. As a new pro-business economic consensus formed, social and cultural concerns became the defining issues in electoral politics, and the economic needs of workers fell off the Democratic agenda.

Clinton took the strategy that he and Pryor and Bumpers perfected in 1970s Arkansas onto the campaign trail in 1992. He traveled the country, telling everyone that he was a “different kind of Democrat,” scolding trade unionists for their outdated economic ideas and touting his close ties to Tyson and Walmart. For the first time since the early 1930s, the Democratic presidential nominee refused to embrace the labor movement and the politics of class.

Much has been made in the recent campaign about the alienation of working-class whites from the Democratic Party. Understanding Bill Clinton’s Arkansas not only helps explain why but also makes it clear that the Democratic Party has to support the labor movement and economic policies that are friendly to workers if it wants to reclaim its status as champion of all working people.


In essence, the Clintons and their likeminded fellow Arkansas Democratic leaders, deliberately killed the host (the unions) that were feeding the Democratic Party with both campaign donations and volunteers to bring out the vote. Their winning strategies that served their own unique interests so well, effectively started killing off a grassroots base of support for the Democratic Party.

The pattern since then has been more of the same...as their numbers dwindle (especially among younger voters) they have responded with increasingly ruthless and authoritarian management of the Party....but all they control is a sinking ship! In order to expand the base, they have to do more than smoke and mirrors...promises of hope and change...an Obama campaign won't excite young voters again, even if they can come up with a candidate of a brand new color! The problem is an effective grassroots campaign would have to start by doing much of what Bernie Sanders did last year: focus on 3 or 4 key issues that the majority want. The problem is the majority of the $$$money doesn't want universal health insurance, a return of tuition-free state university education, or a $15 minimum wage.

This DNC committee vote that left the status quo in charge of the Party, is another sign that they have completely failed to learn from their debacle...or they're too addicted to money to want to change anything. The US system is extremely undemocratic in reality, and very difficult to get third parties on the ballot and also the corrupt voting systems equally make it difficult for those third parties to get their honest share of the vote...talk to the Greens and Libertarians on that one! But, at some point it looks pretty clear that the Party will either have its internal revolution that kicks the moneychangers out of the temple, or enough people walk out to make some third party the real opposition, and the Dems will go the way of the Whigs!
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