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Mon Dec 4, 2023, 06:06 PM Dec 2023

Sen. Chris Murphy: 'This Party Has Not Made a Firm Break From Neoliberalism' [View all]


“I am very convinced that America is in the middle of a spiritual crisis,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told the Prospect over the phone. It was an unexpected entry point for him to explain the impetus for a new interview series the senator launched on social media earlier this month, focused on monopoly power and its various ills. The topics of the first three episodes—the merger between airline giants JetBlue and Spirit, and the monopolization cases against Google and Amazon—don’t exactly come off as matters for a theological seminary. However, this unsecular turn in Murphy’s thinking is not entirely surprising if you’ve followed any of his speeches and signature policy issues over recent months. To Murphy, the issue of corporate concentration runs deeper than just consumer pricing and equitable growth. It strikes at the core of why Americans feel powerless about the fate of the country.

People have a palpable, though not always articulable, sense that the most crucial decisions governing their daily lives are now being made far away from their communities in corporate boardrooms, rather than by elected officials in the halls of government or by extension themselves. Many of the country’s morbid symptoms, in Murphy’s estimations, trace back to this friction between the public and their corporate overlords. “The disease is a really deep, insidious one rooted in the fact that people feel like they have no control over their lives any longer … in politics we often treat the symptoms, not the disease, and that’s what I’m trying to address,” Murphy said, evoking themes akin to the “malaise speech” from President Jimmy Carter in 1979, who, ironically given the first episode of the series, actually deregulated the airlines, paving the way for today’s industry consolidation.

So far, he has held discussions with former Biden competition czar Tim Wu, airline expert William McGee, and Institute for Local Self-Reliance co-director Stacy Mitchell. The interview series is part of a political transformation Murphy has undergone recently, marking such a stark departure that it reads as though he himself is perhaps experiencing some kind of spiritual restlessness. Since taking office in 2013, shortly after the Sandy Hook school shooting, Murphy has primarily championed gun control legislation and dovish foreign-policy views, fairly standard issues for a liberal senator. One reason for that is his committee assignments. He does not sit on the Judiciary or Banking Committees, which are more central in legislating matters involving corporate power. Most recently, he has helped lead negotiations with Republicans on a border security deal.

But his work of late is now colored with a recurring theme of the psychic damage to the country wrought by “forty years of neoliberal policies,” which he’s derided in numerous op-eds. “He’s really trying to rethink philosophy … and understand why everyone is so miserable,” said Matt Stoller, policy and research director of the American Economic Liberties Project, whom Murphy quotes in a Substack post introducing the interview series. “That led him to question neoliberalism, and then to center that questioning on monopoly and finance.” Over the summer, Murphy received national attention, and raised a few eyebrows, for making a pilgrimage of sorts from his home state Connecticut to visit Boone, North Carolina, in the heart of Appalachia. The trip was meant to feature the core problems with neoliberalism that have left swaths of the country behind. Those include deindustrialization, business-friendly trade policies, declining unionization rates, and runaway poverty.

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