Why California Is a Progressive Model for the Democratic Party

01/13/2018 01:32 pm ET
The California State Capitol in Sacramento. (Jeff Turner / CC 2.0)

In this week’s episode of KCRW’s Scheer Intelligence, Georgetown Law professor Peter Edelman discusses how President Clinton betrayed the poor and how other policies from the 1970s and 1980s fed mass incarceration and increased poverty.

While Part One of the interview focused on the past, Part Two turns toward the future. This week, host Robert Scheer and Edelman delve deeper into “the conscience of the liberal,” as Scheer terms it, and discuss how Democrats share the blame of rising poverty rates and incarceration.

Edelman, who was an adviser in the Clinton administration before resigning in 1996 in protest of Clinton’s drastic restructuring of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, says the Democrats moved to the right under Presidents Carter and Clinton.

“I’m disappointed with the Democratic Party over that whole period of time. It’s really two parties. It takes on this relationship with Wall Street which, to me, is destructive for the country, it’s destructive for the Democratic Party, and it leaves a lot of people very skeptical... It came to complete visibility, that anger, in 2016—but it had been boiling up for a very long period of time. And after a while, when there’s no real rational choice, you end up with Trump, because the Democratic Party is really not speaking to the needs of the people.”

The conversation then turns to California, which Scheer argues is a model for progressive policies. “I’m not going to whitewash the whole thing, we have a big prison population,” he says, “but on questions of undocumented workers, on trade unions … on a whole series of issues, the Democratic Party in California is associated with progressive politics of the kind that you, I think, would support.”

“Without saying that everything is perfect, this state has been moving in a kind of politics that I do think we should be trying to push and argue for around the country,” Edelman agrees. He notes that California has implemented extremely flawed criminal justice policies in the past, but a new wave of progressive politicians and organizations are seeking to remedy issues. “Are they moving this way in other states? Not so much.”

Edelman’s latest book, Not a Crime to Be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America, delves into these issues in detail.

Listen to the full interview and past episodes of Scheer Intelligence at KCRW.com

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