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Blake Ashby: An opportunity missed for Democrats to redeem capitalism

Blake Ashby: An opportunity missed for Democrats to redeem capitalism

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As a longtime Republican who voted against Donald Trump twice, I’m relieved that this chapter of our history is almost over. But it’s hard not to be disappointed by the campaign that Democrat Joe Biden ran. Our divided country needed a debate on the proper role for government in our society. We didn’t get it.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Americans had broad agreement on the role of government in the years after World War II. Both parties embraced versions of democratic capitalism, the free market moderated by democracy to ensure everyone benefited, everyone had a chance to participate and everyone played by the same set of rules. There were certainly differences in implementation, but there was broad agreement that government should both nurture the free market and make sure it served the whole of our country. This compromise helped create the postwar economic expansion that grew our economy to be the largest in the world.

My Republican Party started drifting away from democratic capitalism a long time ago. For whatever reason, the party became anti-government. And Republicans seemed to have forgotten that capitalism actually worked better if everybody played by the same set of rules and all Americans had a chance to get in the game.

With Trump’s election, I no longer recognized the party I grew up with. When I was much younger, I wrote for Republican candidates. After Trump’s election, I made it my mission to get Democrats to talk about democratic capitalism. In 2018 I contacted any Democrat who would listen. I got introductions from friends to local party officials. I reached out to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. I volunteered to write for dozens of Democratic candidates across the country. I got several nice notes back and had a few nice conversations, but to get Democratic Party money in 2018, House candidates had to agree to only talk about four things — health care, health care, health care and containing Trump. I wound up volunteering for Henry Martin, a centrist Missouri Democrat running in a strong Republican House district. He lost in the general election, but his Democratic voters were thrilled that someone was actually talking about a middle-of-the-road path for our country.

With 2020 approaching, I started again. I wrote about democratic capitalism for a Democratic website. I began contacting presidential campaigns offering to volunteer. Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota were my favorites. I sent emails and tried to get people to do introductions. I eventually reached out to the campaigns of Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, but again no luck. It’s hard to drop a message into a presidential campaign. Over and over, I heard that “capitalism” had become a challenging, or even bad word. Young Democratic voters had become disillusioned with capitalism and somehow fascinated with Bernie Sanders and socialism. Democrats were worried both that Sanders might win the nomination and that his supporters would be infuriated if he lost. No candidate was going to risk saying nice things about any form of capitalism, at least during the primary. I eventually gave up trying.

It was reassuring when Biden won the nomination. But it was hard not to be disappointed by his campaign. Making it about Trump obviously won him the presidency, but not offering his own vision of government arguably hurt the Democratic Party. The void he left was filled by Democratic candidates such as St. Louis’ own Cori Bush calling to “defund the military” and “defund the police” and embracing socialism. I know a lot of people who weren’t sure if Biden would be strong enough to stand up to the far left of his party.

So here we are. The madness of the Trump administration is over, but our country is still divided. The compromise of democratic capitalism is still the best answer for our country. The free market moderated by democracy is still the best approach to ensuring every American can participate and benefit from economic success. But the Republicans have given up on the democracy part and the Democrats seemingly on the capitalism part. Nor do we actually know what Biden will do. It remains to be seen whether a President Biden have the courage to defend the free market against the left wing of his party, and whether he will be strong enough to move the nation back toward democratic capitalism and help heal our country.

Blake Ashby is an entrepreneur living in Ferguson.

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