The Incredible Shrinking Democratic Party

FILE - In this Nov. 21, 2014 file photo, President Barack Obama delivers remarks on his executive action on immigration at De
FILE - In this Nov. 21, 2014 file photo, President Barack Obama delivers remarks on his executive action on immigration at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas. Obama has the upper hand in the fierce struggle over immigration now taking shape, with a veto pen ready to kill any Republican move to reverse his executive order, Democrats united behind him and GOP congressional leaders desperate to squelch talk of a government shutdown or even impeachment. With the public favoring changes in the current immigration system, the Republicans’ best short-term response appears to be purely rhetorical: that the president is granting amnesty to millions, and exceeding his constitutional authority in the process. Beyond that, their hopes of reversing his policies appear to be either a years-long lawsuit or the 2016 presidential election. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken, File)

The internal sniping and bickering has already begun among Democratic ranks but it's their own damn fault. The internal debates following the 2014 midterm elections highlight the ideological schizophrenia that continues to plague the Democratic Party.

Is the Democratic Party the party of labor unions or the party of trade deals that outsource American jobs? Is it the party of the environment or a water carrier for fossil fuel corporations? Is it the party of public education or the party of busting teachers' unions and privatizing schools? Does it favor a single-payer health care system or the predations of the for-profit model? Is it the party of peace or for endless wars? Is it the party of civil liberties or for government surveillance? Is it the party for economic justice or for catering to the rich?

Over the course of the next 18 months, these types of questions are going to have to be answered (and answered acceptably for the grassroots stakeholders involved) or the 2016 elections are going to look a lot like 2014.

Even in the best of times the Democratic establishment in Washington treats its base like a pariah. With the historic losses of 2014, the Democratic leadership appears to be slipping back to its familiar "scared of its own shadow" stance. Right now we are facing one of the worst configurations of unchecked corporate power, militarism, market fundamentalism, and environmental crisis than at any time in our history, and the messaging coming from congressional Democrats right now appears to be that becoming Republican-Lite is the smart path forward.

Facing Republican control of both chambers of Congress, Washington Democrats (even in the lame duck session) are already vying for the coveted spot as the corporate oligarchy's second choice. Senate Democrats like Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia couldn't wait until the new Congress is sworn in this January to begin capitulating. The lame duck vote on the Keystone XL pipeline witnessed the spectacle of a bloc of Democratic Senators tripping over themselves to renounce environmentalism.

It might be a preview of coming attractions.

Come January, you can bet that every single "bipartisan" bill that makes it to the president's desk will be in servitude of the interests of the giant corporations, big banks, and the wealthiest 1 percent. President Obama's recent executive orders on immigration promise to make life a little more bearable for nearly five million people was a smart move politically -- except for the fact that he didn't do it in October when it might have had an impact on the midterms.

The Republican-controlled 114th Congress will attempt to privatize everything from the U.S. Postal Service to Social Security. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his associates will try to gut every social program that benefits working people from Food Stamps to Medicaid. They'll snuff out sustainable energy investments and plow ahead with expanding fossil fuels. They'll figure out new ways to sell old wars. They'll push austerity for anyone who can't afford to attend a $30,000-a-plate fundraiser. They'll push "free trade" deals that outsource jobs while leaving American workers holding the bag. They'll slash unemployment insurance and other "entitlements." And they'll ensure that our economy continues to work for the benefit of the richest 1 percent.

The mainstream corporate media -- from MSNBC to Fox News, CNN to NPR -- will serve as enablers for the whole shitty process pretending to be journalists but asking all the wrong questions and offering all of the wrong political advice.

And don't forget this fact: Everything -- and I mean EVERYTHING -- the Republicans do in Congress over the next two years will be done in the service of positioning the party to take the White House in 2016.

Unlike the Republicans, Democratic politicians seem to always neglect the care and feeding of their own base. They're quick to turn against any organized movement from the Left -- be it Occupy Wall Street, the World Climate Movement, teachers' unions, students' organizations, environmentalists, or the protesters acting in solidarity with the African-American community in Ferguson, Missouri -- yet all the while they expect to win their votes.

In the early-1970s, "Democrats for Nixon" succeeded in splitting off a significant wing of conserva-Dems for the GOP. In the 1980s, Washington Democrats gave Ronald Reagan just about everything he wanted from sweeping reductions to social welfare spending to tax cuts for the rich. In the 1990s, the Democrats capitulated to Reaganomics when President Bill Clinton "triangulated" against the base to push through NAFTA and the WTO even when the labor unions were howling against them. Under Clinton the Democrats embraced "welfare reform" as if it were their idea, gutting New Deal programs like Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). They deregulated the world's biggest banks and promoted neo-liberal economic policies across the board, beating up liberals and the working-class.

In the 2000s, the Democrats in Congress rolled over for George W. Bush giving him everything he wanted, voting for his disastrous war in Iraq, and going along with his domestic agenda all the way up to the brink of agreeing to partially privatizing Social Security, (which was on the table at the time Hurricane Katrina tanked Bush's approval rating).

The Obama years saw many capitulations like cutting deals with Big Pharma in shaping the Affordable Care Act (while excluding single-payer advocates), bashing public school teachers and their unions, escalating the drone wars, jailing whistleblowers, institutionalizing the Bush era NSA abuses, pushing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and so on.

And today, if the lame duck vote on the Keystone XL Pipeline is any indicator, Washington Democrats are poised to interpret the meaning of the 2014 midterms as a "mandate" that the American people want them to renounce everything for which their party supposedly stands.

If history can be a guide, the Democratic establishment will be tempted to do the "Democratic Leadership Council" thing all over again, and with the same disastrous results for working people as the last time around.

Unless Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders jumps into the Democratic primaries and caucuses and give the party's base something to vote for, the Democratic constituencies will limp into 2016 just as uninspired as they were 2014. The Republicans' cynical structural advantages they've institutionalized in recent years -- infinite access to dark money, gerrymandered districts, voter suppression of minorities and young people - will stand rewarded and putting the brakes on the incessant move toward corporate oligarchy in this country will be even harder to fight back against.

Now is not the time for the Democratic Party to "move to the center," but to fight for its heart and soul. Every time the Democratic leadership in Washington fucks its base it has moved one step closer to irrelevancy. Unfortunately, the organized Left in this country, like it or not, needs the Democratic Party.