Hamiltonian Democrats

Alexander Hamilton

Last week I talked about the so-called “Hamilton Project” sponsored by the Brookings Institute. I pointed out the irony of a liberal think tank supporting warmed-over Republican ideas concerning educational reform as if they were new. I also noted the curious decision to evoke the name of Alexander Hamilton who, as you will recall from your high school history class, gained political renown by opposing Thomas Jefferson’s creation of the Democratic Party.

Today Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson devotes his column to critiquing the economic policies that frame the project.

It’s come to this: The chief project to restate Democratic economics for our time was unveiled a couple of weeks ago, and it’s named after the father of American conservatism, Alexander Hamilton.

Meyerson points out the elitism and fear of the common man that was at the heart of Hamilton’s political beliefs.

Hamilton believed in balanced budgets and in the government’s taking an active role to build the infrastructure and fiscal climate that business and the nation need to succeed — ideas as alien to the current administration as support for collective farms. But Hamilton also feared the common people, dismissed their capacity for self-government and supported rule by elites instead.

He comes down particularly hard (and effectively) on the undemocratic policy recommendations of the Hamilton Project

Unfortunately, some of Hamilton’s disdain for democracy seeps into their statement as well. The problem of “entitlement imbalances is so large,” they fret, “that the regular political process seems unlikely to produce a solution,” so they recommend a bipartisan “special process” insulated from popular pressures. They also place such traditional Republican boogeymen as teachers unions on the list of problems that need to be solved. On the other hand, their list of national problems includes nothing about a corporate and financial culture that richly and reflexively rewards executives who offshore work to cheaper climes and deny their American employees the right to join unions.

He concludes with a message the Democratic National Committee needs to take to heart.

What the Democrats need is a project that takes as hard a look at corporate boardrooms as the Hamiltonians do at teachers unions. For, so long as our problem is at least partly American capitalism’s indifference to American workers, the Democrats won’t find a solution in the example of Alexander Hamilton

Meyerson points out an issue that is particularly troubling for me- the scapegoating of teachers’ unions. If you agree that schools are not adequately funded, imagine what the situation would have been without teachers’ unions. Teachers, as represented through teachers’ unions, constitute a stabilizing voice that bring some balance to the pressures from politicians and the business community to dismantle public education through “reforms” that have little or no research base behind them. Progressive Democrats need to separate themselves from these unwarranted attacks on teachers’ unions.


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