Is there a spectre haunting America?
On New Year’s Day 2014, Bill de Blasio was sworn in as the new Mayor of New York City.
His policies – which include increasing taxes on those earning $500,000 or more (approximately £300,000) to pay for universal pre-kindergarten programmes, expanding sick leave, and allowing undocumented migrants to access state tuition assistance and driving licences – have been characterised by some as liberal and progressive, whist others have called him an extremist and a socialist.
But de Blasio is not the only newly elected prominent left-winger in the United States. The New York Times recently reported that in Seattle, Kshama Sawant defeated a long-standing Democrat on the City Council to become the city’s first socialist representative in more than a century.
So do the elections of de Blasio and Sawant herald a softening of attitudes towards more left leaning candidates and policies in the capitalist homeland? Although these victories are certainly an interesting development, they are not indicative of America’s wider turn to the red peril.
Instead, these victories highlight that in tough economic times, voters tend to seek alternatives – it is in these same circumstances that the Tea Party movement came to the fore – during the height of the financial crisis.
But in a similar fashion to the denunciation that the Tea Party is now receiving from Republicans for transforming them into an unappealing and unelectable political party, centrist Democrats have already questioned whether de Blasio and other leftists will hold the key to future electoral success.
This includes none other than the Democratic Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, who said of the Mayor’s plan to increase taxes on the wealthy to pay for pre-school programmes – a measure which would need the Governor’s approval – that although this was the right direction for the state, he raised questions over how it would be funded.
But centrist Democrats needn’t worry of a takeover from the left, in the way that the Tea Party came to dominate the “Grand Old Party”. Democrats are in a different position, having won the most recent Presidential elections during the worst of the financial troubles. They also know that New York City and Seattle are very specific left-leaning parts of the country, and not representative of the rest of the United States. A fact highlighted by the high proportion of the vote gained by Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential election, despite Obama’s significant Electoral College win.
But at the very least, these recent elections perhaps point the way to the beginnings of a greater diversity within, and splintering from, the two main parities in the United States. If this occurs, we can expect a more interesting range of candidates, further election results that surprise, and a fascinating transformation in the country that has some still denouncing their President as that most evil of all evils – a socialist.
The title of this blog is adapted from the first line of the Communist Manifesto, authored by Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels: “A spectre is haunting Europe – a spectre of Communism”.