Along with Elizabeth Warren, de Blasio is the most visible face and potent voice of a new political spirit. For the first time in decades, liberalism is once again becoming “a fighting faith” (Whitman’s phrase, revived by Schlesinger). This spirit has almost nothing to do with the perpetual battle for the soul of the Democratic Party, or the Center for American Progress against the Third Way, or Clinton vs. Warren in 2016. It is the political articulation of a wide and deep sense of outrage and disenchantment, which is why it has legs. It has to do with a sense that the deck is stacked in favor of the few, that ordinary people’s aspirations hardly stand a chance.
Bill de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren are not the only highly visible signs of a turn in the times, but also Wendy Davis and our very own Kshama Sawant. But what is this all about? How and why is it happening? The truth, I think, is that, with the collapse of the ideology that supported a market-centered governmentality, more and more white Americans are finding themselves disenchanted and living in a raw society that, while they were dreaming of eternally rising home values and privatized pension plans, has removed almost all serious protections from poverty and not grown in any real (productive) economic way in 40 years.
What Obama has shown is that caution and pragmatism is getting us nowhere. Stronger language and action is needed if the crisis of inequality is to be resolved. And this is the thing: We need to claim the word crisis. At the moment, there can only be an economic crisis, a crisis of those who find the value of their financial assets falling at an alarming rate. If this fall is stopped, the crisis for them and everyone else is over. And so today there is no crisis. But as a French sociologist pointed out in a lecture at the LSE, a crisis can not just end like that. A crisis must be resolved by a conflict. 2014 might be the year that the left and the working class reclaims, reinstates, renames the content of the crisis.