Yves here. While I’m loath to take the site too much in the direction of politics (as opposed to finance, economics, and political economy), Bernie Sanders’ choice of Stephanie Kelton as economist to the Senate Finance Committee, his firm opposition to toxic trade deals, and his long-standing support of social safety nets and pro-middle class policies means his campaign is focused substantially on issues of economic justice. Moreover, I was bothered to see readers take up what I regard as a misguided post by the normally excellent Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report attacking Sanders as a what amounts to a progressive stooge for the Democratic party.
That charge is simply off base. People don’t run campaigns to channel votes to a pre-designated winner; Dixon unfortunately accepts uncritically the Clinton campaign narrative that she’s the inevitable nominee. By contrast, Lambert uses the “S.S. Clinton” moniker to designate her as a political Titanic looking for her iceberg. I’d bet on her health not holding up, but the seemingly unending litany of scandals is only increasing opposition to her. And opposition is a more powerful driver of turnout than tepid support.
In addition, what pray tell does Sanders gain from running to lose? He’s never going to be a VP or cabinet member in a Clinton administration, nor is he about to get a seven figure book deal, seats on corporate boards, or six figure speaking gigs. The campaign is what it is.
In addition, it’s hard to see how Clinton credibly counters a well-articulated challenge from a real progressive, as opposed to the business-friendly sorts who try to wear the mantle for selected photo ops. She can’t even bring herself to oppose the TPP. She’s too hemmed in by her corporate funders to do anything much more than keep playing identity politics cards and make occasional feeble gestures on the economic justice front.
However, the definition of what a successful Sanders campaign looks like is also too narrow. The US didn’t magically become neoliberal overnight. The shift in values took place as a result of a well funded, orchestrated effort by then-extreme right wing businessmen to move the country in a more conservative direction. The efforts weren’t limited to founding and supporting think tanks like AEI, Cato, Hudson and the Heritage Foundation; it included aggressively promoting a “law and economics” movement to subvert the teaching of law and produce more conservative judges.
Thus, even if Sanders loses, he can still produce important gains for the real (as opposed to Vichy) left by demonstrating that “progressive” ideas enjoy broad-based support, and by demonstrating that pet neoliberal positions, like “we have to cut Social Security” and “we can’t raise wages much” are bogus and serve the rich, not the interests of the country as a whole. If Sanders moves the Overton Window to the left, that alone is a significant achievement.
By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, Americablog, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. This piece first appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.
My headline has two parts (you can see it above) but the second is, for me, the most important and the most interesting. I’ve been writing about the split — the chasm, really — between progressives and “progressives” in the Democratic Party for at least a year, and Howie has been documenting the sins of money-bought “Democrats” like the DCCC since forever.
Some want that split to heal, and some want it to widen. Democrats who want it to heal are motivated by two main interests, it seems. One is the desire, understandable enough, to keep government out of the hands of Republicans, who really are the greater evil, if only by a little.
The other interest, though, is more insidious and far less defensible. If the party pulls together, those whose careers are tied to the success of its money-soaked DLC wing will see those careers advanced — in some cases, spectacularly.
The losers in all this? Unbailed-out mortgagees; students with crushing personal debt; the soon-to-explode bomb of poverty among soon-to-retire 401k-holders — the jobless; the poor; the barely-making-it in a Nike and Apple “made in Asia” economy. The bottom 80% who are going nowhere or going down. The traditional constituents, in other words, of the real Democratic Party as constituted in the pre–Bill Clinton years.
Who wants the split in the Democratic Party to widen? Anyone who wants progressive change in America at a non-incremental pace. And everyone, voter or activist, who no longer wants to reward “professional Democrats” — self-serving, money-serving women and men — for their constant and regular betrayals.
An Uneasy Truce
So far, we’ve seen something of a truce between the two groups, with skirmishes. The DCCC-minded crowd has been losing elections for progressives as fast as it can while still advancing some progressive causes, even if forced and grudgingly. And pro-progressive activists have been taking them on via incremental assaults on their numbers. In the meantime, the Democratic Party as a whole has been losing its brand, and arguably losing elections as a result (most recently, 2014).
There’s absolutely no question that progressive and populist economic policies are wildly popular with voters, even Republican ones. 87% of Republicans want TPP to fail, along with large numbers of Democrats. Yet party leaders — Democratic party leaders —are hell-bent to pass it, and don’t mind being seen by voters as hell-bent to pass it.
Even Hillary Clinton, I’m almost certain, wants TPP to pass, but doesn’t want to say so. Consider this:
Clinton Campaign Chairman On Trade Deal: ‘Can You Make It Go Away?’
… At a closed-door gathering of wealthy progressive donors in April, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta was asked how the campaign would deal with the [TPP] issue.
“Can you make it go away?” Podesta replied jokingly, according to sources in the room at the time.
This isn’t how a TPP opponent talks. This is how a friend-of-money talks when her campaign needs to hide her views. How else can you read this?
Now Comes Bernie Sanders, Making Progressives Choose
But this is not about Hillary Clinton, Robert Rubin or Barack Obama. It’s about Democratic voters and the infrastructure of the Democratic Party, its official organs and its allied support groups.
Bernie Sanders is calling them all out — “You say you believe in fixing the economy; prove it.” And he’s doing it as a candidate for the presidency, in direct opposition to the “inevitable” Hillary Clinton. This is not about polls that can be ignored. Sanders is asking for votes. Now look at the first part of my headline: “Sanders Raises $3 Million in Four Days.” He’s apparently got the popular wind at his back, at least for now:
Bernie Sanders Raised $3 Million From Small Donors in the First Four Days of His Campaign
Your 2016 Democratic presidential primary in a nutshell: At about the same time Hillary Clinton revealed Wednesday she would begin raising unlimited money for a super PAC supporting her bid, an aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders told the Huffington Post the Vermont independent’s campaign had taken in $3 million over four days — at an average of $43 per donation, from an estimated 75,000 supporters.
The same adviser reported that 99.4% of the contributions were for $250 or less. Furthermore, the Huffington Post reported, Sanders’ campaign website has collected 185,000 email addresses, an indication his grassroots donor base could grow throughout the primary season
Getting the band back together: If the interest is there — and these early numbers suggest Sanders is rooted in fertile political ground — the campaign will be in a good place to capitalize on it. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Sanders had signed up veterans of President Barack Obama’s groundbreaking 2008 digital operation. Revolution Messaging, headed up by Obama alumnus Scott Goodstein, will manage the campaign’s online networking and fundraising work.
Sanders will need his initial wave of small donors to keep their pocketbooks open and credit cards out, because there is no cavalry of billionaire boosters ready to ride in behind them. Asked last week if he would accept and promote a friendly super PAC — like the rest of the candidates in the 2016 field, Republican and Democrat — Sanders told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer he would not, describing the practice as “vulgar.”
That wind at his back is not a gentle breeze:
It’s a long shot, but Sanders has reason to believe. A poll Wednesday out of New Hampshire showed Clinton with a narrowing majority — just 51% — with Sanders’ support among Democrats rising to 13%, up from 6% in February. One in 5 surveyed said they backed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), who has said repeatedly she will not run in 2016. If those potential voters were to shift their allegiance to Sanders, the candidate most closely aligned with Warren’s politics, he would be up to 33% in the Granite State.
If this keeps up — and if he doesn’t take himself out of the race (which I don’t see, but I’m watching) — everyone who calls herself a “Democrat” will have to choose sides. If he unites the voters, he could split the party. It’s going to be interesting times if the Sanders campaign gains any kind of strength. (You can help, if you like, here.)
Shining Clinton’s Progressive Apple
At the moment, two large groups of progressives in the Democratic Party are in agreement about Bernie Sanders — they like that he’s entered the race. The first group, however, wants Sanders to win. Actually win. The second group are Hillary supporters; they want Clinton to win, but want Sanders to shine her apple — to “pull her to the left” so that she’s (a) more acceptable to voters; or (b) forced to make promises she might, maybe possibly, feel forced to keep. Or both.
Hillary supporters in the (b) group above — those who think or hope that Clinton can be “pulled to the left” — are mainly genuine in their principles, whether mistaken in their hope or not. These progressives, I think, would re-elect Barack Obama, even if he manages to sign TPP, and be glad he’s not a Republican.
Hillary supporters in the (a) group — who only want Sanders around to polish her progressive apple so voters will like her better — are a different story. They know, no matter what Clinton does while in office, their next bread and butter will come from her administration and the infrastructure that supports it. That has to be a compromising thought. It would certainly compromise me if I needed her favor to eat, or at least eat well in DC.
From the sidelines, this is just fascinating to watch. I don’t for a second envy the players, however. DC is a very expensive town if you want to eat well.
An Uneasy Truce … For Now
This truce will last, I think, until Sanders is out of the race, so long as it never looks like he could win. But if it starts to look like he can actually beat Clinton — if he lasts through next April, say, with the same wind or stronger at his back — look out. The more he thrills the voters, the more he splits the party.
Consider that again — If Sanders and his message prove wildly popular with voters, the party will split along a continent-long fault line, one it has lived with, uneasily, for more than two decades.
Yet, in all this there’s very good news.
If Sanders Wins, All Progressives Will Win
The good news here is very good. If this works out, if Sanders wins the Democratic primary, it will prove how popular his message of economic recovery actually is. That opens all kinds of possibilities on the Democratic side. And given the hatred of Wall Street among Tea Party voters — which just scratches the surface of their economic anger — he’s likely to pick up many of the Republican votes in the general election that a Warren candidacy would have gotten.
I think if Republicans could nominate a competent non-whacko, it might be a contest. But frankly, without the racism angle, I see a Sanders win, or at least a strong shot at one. That would put progressives, real ones, in the White House for the first time, in fact, since Johnson. How is that bad, if you’re a real progressive?
And just in time, in the hour of greatest need. I’ll have more on that “greatest need” later, but as you might guess, it includes climate, billionaire-owned methane, and the inexorable march of the lemmings to 500 ppm CO2 and beyond.
You Have to Play to Win
Whatever the outcome, this may be the most interesting political year for Democrats since 1968, when Eugene McCarthy forced President Lyndon Johnson out of the race, paving the way for Kennedy to enter it. (I know, Nixon won that year, but only because we lost Kennedy, who I’m certain would have beaten him.)
Be nervous, but be hopeful. The stakes are high — Clinton, though a Democrat, is a carbon candidate as well — but the rewards are higher. Let’s put this in the hands of the people, and let the game begin.
(Again, if you’d like to help, click here.)