Obama mostly got things right
The effort to craft a "new paradigm" has been a big mistake
Two years ago, Kyle Strickland and Felicia Wong published “A New Paradigm for Justice and Democracy: Moving beyond the Twin Failures of Neoliberalism and Racial Liberalism.”
I wish this report had drawn more attention, because it so clearly articulates an idea that has been broadly influential in recent American politics but is rarely explicitly spelled out: the idea that the ideology of the Obama-era Democratic Party was fundamentally misguided and should be replaced. Of course, leftists complained throughout Obama’s presidency about his brand of meliorist liberalism. What’s curious about politics in 2023, though, is how much influence this viewpoint has within the Democratic Party, despite Obama’s vice president winning the 2020 primary and general elections.
This transformation has been incredibly important, but it can be a little hard to get your head around it.
The term “woke” is very much in the air, for example, but it lacks a clear definition and there’s no political faction that defines itself as “woke.” There are self-described socialists in America, but Elizabeth Warren, who is clearly an intellectually and politically influential person, does not use that term to describe her approach to economics. The lack of agreed-upon labels makes it hard to talk in a clear way about recent events in American politics. If the people who felt that Obama-era liberalism was fundamentally flawed called themselves the Lizard People, then I could write sentences like “Joe Biden has been a good president, but his approach to domestic policy has been overly influenced by the views of the Lizard People.” And the Lizard People themselves would say things like “we were not enthusiastic about Biden in the 2020 primary but have been pleasantly surprised by his openness to Lizardism on a range of topics.” Or we could say that one reason the Israel/Gaza war has been so explosive for Biden’s coalition is that it’s really the one area where there is zero evidence of Lizardist influence and he is governing as a traditional Democrat. But, of course, they don’t call themselves the Lizard People and don’t really have widely recognized foundational documents.
But we do have the “New Paradigm” report, which helpfully acknowledges that “since late 2017, the Roosevelt Institute, in partnership with the Hewlett Foundation and Omidyar Network, has led a major effort to map and analyze existing critiques of neoliberalism, and begin to develop a coherent alternative worldview.”
I think this is a mistake.