09 October 2006

Elliott Spitzer as the New Democrat

Too much attention has been paid to the political prospects of Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, or John Edwards for the 2008 election and too little been paid to Elliott Spitzer's rise in the party. Spitzer represents the future of the party.

In 1901, Republican Teddy Roosevelt became president and redefined the role. He challenged businesses in a way that made his Republican peers nervous - feeling that big business needed a big government to counter its power. He realized that labor needed an advocate to balance its battle against capital. Roosevelt was ousted from the Republican Party and his sentiments towards labor were adopted by the Democratic Party, which rode the rise of labor in the 20th century to electoral strength.

Yet late in the 20th century, the division between capital and labor was muddled. Business geniuses like Sam Walton made their employees partners in their business, offering them stock and stock options to align the interest of labor and capital. Through pension funds and mutual funds, labor became the new capitalists. Suddenly, the vote for Republicans or Democrats seemed less clearly about economic policy and more apparently about culture values.

Spitzer has been an activist as Attorney General in New York. Right now, labor owns corporations but lacks any real mechanism for exercising influence over corporate policy. In a plot twist that might have amused Dickens and has been oddly overlooked by the media, labor has become the capitalist. Spitzer, more than any politician at work in the US (he is now running for governor of New York) understands this new reality. His efforts have less easily been understood as attacks on corporations or trusts as Roosevelt championed than as attempts to empower the new labor with new means to exercise their will over the new corporation. His efforts have less to do with curtailing the power and size of corporations than in ensuring that the many owners of these big corporations are properly represented.

If the Democrats want to win again, they have to demonstrate that they know the difference between attacking business and attacking a lack of representation in those businesses. This country was founded by a people who refused government that offered them no representation. The next generation of politicians will represent the large segment of the American population that refuses management that offers them no representation. Elliot Spitzer understands this dynamic and sentiment. His will continue to be a fascinating career to watch.

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