A history professor explores the transformation of the Democrats over 40 years from purveyors of social-welfare policies to neoliberal ideology and market approaches to solve poverty and economic inequality.
... important ... Geismer’s book is a wonderfully detailed history of a now-extinct faith; the D.L.C. closed its doors in 2011. She’s especially good at tracing the evolution of the 'microfinance' model developed by the Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh, which was embraced with great enthusiasm by both Bill and Hillary Clinton ... There’s a tendency today on the left to judge the New Democrats by an impossible standard, and Geismer succumbs to this periodically. For example, she faults Bill Clinton’s praising of the working poor who 'played by the rules' for serving to 'stigmatize those poor people who allegedly did not.' That was one of three or four places where I scribbled in the margin, 'Oh, please.'
... should make almost any left-of-center reader retroactively furious about the 1990s and the inability of its architects to foresee the twenty-first century they were creating ... should spur serious soul-searching among the American center-left. It is a book about well-intentioned policy not working out, but also about blasé indifference of policymakers as to whether their policies worked or not, and whether the point was for them to 'work' for the people affected by policy or for ideas to work in a speech.
By the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency, the poverty rate was the lowest in decades. The U.S. economy was enjoying an unprecedented expansion ... You won’t find these facts in Left Behind: The Democrats’ Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality, Lily Geismer’s broadside against Clinton-era economic policy. A historian at Claremont McKenna College and a contributor to Jacobin and Dissent, Geismer wears her Sandersite politics on her sleeve ... Geismer calls these imperatives 'lessons' to take from her book, but they read as assumptions she took to the book. Instead of a dispassionate, scholarly analysis of which Clinton-era policies worked and which failed—and the ledger shows examples on both sides—Left Behind offers ideology in the form of history, with scant power to convince anyone not aligned with her politics ... Whatever the book’s genesis, the result is uneven. The microfinance initiatives get chapter after chapter, while more important policy interventions are dealt with summarily or not at all ... Every historian has political views. But historical scholarship must do more than promote a political agenda.