We know about NAFTA, the trade pact that the Tom Friedman/David Brooks corporatist elite said was necessary to address the unalterable evolution of the world economy and an entire class of professional economists said it would be a net positive for the American economy. It was if you were a stockholder, not if you were a worker.
We know about the deregulation of the financial industry, telecommunications, airlines, etc. George W. Bush got the blame but Bill signed FDR’s legacy of New Deal regulatory schemes away claiming them to be “archaic.”
We know about the draconian crime bills – more prisons, zero tolerance, Three Strikes laws, “truth in sentencing” provisions, mandatory minimums, increasing the number of capital crimes, the truly criminal 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, etc. The “first black president” expanded the drug war and made America the biggest prison country in the world.
We know about welfare reform and the erosion of the social safety net that Clinton created with Newt Gingrich. They also agreed on a framework to privatize Social Security. A blue dress stopped that.
So many egregiously anti-worker and racist Republican initiatives pushed by Democrat Bill Clinton, who said at various times that such acts were absolutely necessary and also very regrettable. He lied over and over again about the necessity of his Republican collaboration for political reasons. As a strategy it even had its own name – “triangulation”.
Clinton ran as a populist who felt worker’s pain, but he governed as a New Democrat who was dedicated to imposing discipline on poor people and endless indulgence on the people of his own class.
Bill Clinton’s presidency purposefully disconnected the FDR coalition from the Democratic Party and alienated the working class.
Whether it was fair or not Hillary Clinton and the entire Democratic Party has suffered for that disconnection. The party itself has defended and celebrated Bill Clinton for so long that it hasn’t come to terms with that massive break of faith with a lot of the party base. The New Democrats made it the party of professionals so the working class had no place to turn. In that light it’s not such a mystery that many of them turned to Trump.
Of course Democrats have to come up with an economic message and a rallying cry. But we need to recognize what happened in the 90s and categorically state that we recognize the break that happened and the damage done and our intention to revive the FDR coalition and be the party of workers once again.