A recent history of the Democratic party that identifies the chronic errors that lead Dem politicians to act like also-rans even when they're in power—and urgently argues against a return to the status quo
In Chaotic Neutral, political scientist Ed Burmila tracks the evolution (or devolution) of the Democratic Party—from the New Deal era to the pandemic, when, even in the midst of a genuine national crisis, the Dems could not manage to pass sweeping progressive legislation.
Why did the Democrats initially abandon their principles, and why haven’t they been able to grasp that they need a new strategy in the face of decades of diminishing returns? Political scientist Ed Burmila has some idea and he breaks it to us, tracing the party’s metamorphosis from bold defender of labor rights, civil rights, and a robust social safety net to timorous, pragmatic, ideology-free, regulation-averse lifestyle brand. Chaotic Neutral takes a systematic approach, using historical narrative to identify ten mistakes that the Democrats make over and over, the “pathologies” of the New Democratic mindset. The book begins with Roosevelt’s Olympian New Deal and moves all the way through to Biden’s status-quo candidacy, demonstrating that the party began betraying its base in the eighties when it chose to pivot toward the urban elite.
Chaotic Neutral captures not only the Democrats' calculated shift toward neoliberalism and the center, but also the Republican party's response of moving further right, in the knowledge that the Dems will continue trying to meet them in the middle. Burmila doesn’t pull any punches as he describes the Dems’ brand of futility politics, but he also doesn’t claim that all is futile, and instead lays out a potent strategy for how the party might abandon its lesser-of-two-evils strategy and shift back into drive.
Ed Burmila has taught and written on American politics for two decades. He holds a PhD in political science, spent ten years as a professor, is a veteran blogger and podcaster, has published original research in several academic journals, and has contributed to popular outlets such as The Nation and the Washington Post. His heart lives in Chicago; the rest of him lives in North Carolina with his wife, Cathy, and two dogs.