Michael Hudson: The Democrats’ Quandary – In a Struggle Between Oligarchy and Democracy, Something Must Give

Yves here. Importantly, further down in this post, Hudson suggests how Sanders could address the false dichotomy between capitalism and socialism posted by Democrats aligned with the super wealthy.

By Michael Hudson, a research professor of Economics at University of Missouri, Kansas City, and a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. His latest book is “and forgive them their debts”: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year

To hear the candidates debate, you would think that their fight was over who could best beat Trump. But when Trump’s billionaire twin Mike Bloomberg throws a quarter-billion dollars into an ad campaign to bypass the candidates actually running for votes in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, it’s obvious that what really is at issue is the future of the Democrat Party. Bloomberg is banking on a brokered convention held by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in which money votes. (If “corporations are people,” so is money in today’s political world.)

Until Nevada, all the presidential candidates except for Bernie Sanders were playing for a brokered convention. The party’s candidates seemed likely to be chosen by the Donor Class, the One Percent and its proxies, not the voting class (the 99 Percent). If, as Mayor Bloomberg has assumed, the DNC will sell the presidency to the highest bidder, this poses the great question: Can the myth that the Democrats represent the working/middle class survive? Or, will the Donor Class trump the voting class?

This could be thought of as “election interference” – not from Russia but from the DNC on behalf of its Donor Class. That scenario would make the Democrats’ slogan for 2020 “No Hope or Change.” That is, no from today’s economic trends that are sweeping wealth up to the One Percent.

All this sounds like Rome at the end of the Republic in the 1stcentury BC. The way Rome’s constitution was set up, candidates for the position of consul had to pay their way through a series of offices. The process started by going deeply into debt to get elected to the position of aedile, in charge of staging public games and entertainments. Rome’s neoliberal fiscal policy did not tax or spend, and there was little public administrative bureaucracy, so all such spending had to be made out of the pockets of the oligarchy. That was a way of keeping decisions about how to spend out of the hands of democratic politics. Julius Caesar and others borrowed from the richest Bloomberg of their day, Crassus, to pay for staging games that would demonstrate their public spirit to voters (and also demonstrate their financial liability to their backers among Rome’s One Percent). Keeping election financing private enabled the leading oligarchs to select who would be able to run as viable candidates. That was Rome’s version of Citizens United.

But in the wake of Sanders’ landslide victory in Nevada, a brokered convention would mean the end of the Democrat Party pretense to represent the 99 Percent. The American voting system would be seen to be as oligarchic as that of Rome on the eve of the infighting that ended with Augustus becoming Emperor in 27 BC.

Today’s pro-One Percent media – CNN, MSNBC and The New York Timeshave been busy spreading their venom against Sanders. On Sunday, February 23, CNN ran a slot, “Bloomberg needs to take down Sanders, immediately.”[1]Given Sanders’ heavy national lead, CNN warned, the race suddenly is almost beyond the vote-fixers’ ability to fiddle with the election returns. That means that challengers to Sanders should focus their attack on him; they will have a chance to deal with Bloomberg later (by which CNN means, when it is too late to stop him).

The party’s Clinton-Obama recipients of Donor Class largesse pretend to believe that Sanders is not electable against Donald Trump. This tactic seeks to attack him at his strongest point. Recent polls show that he is the only candidate who actually would defeat Trump – as they showed that he would have done in 2016.

The DNC knew that, but preferred to lose to Trump than to win with Bernie. Will history repeat itself? Or to put it another way, will this year’s July convention become a replay of Chicago in 1968?

A quandary, not a problem. Last year I was asked to write a scenario for what might happen with a renewed DNC theft of the election’s nomination process. To be technical, I realize, it’s not called theft when it’s legal. In the aftermath of suits over the 2016 power grab, the courts ruled that the Democrat Party is indeed controlled by the DNC members, not by the voters. When it comes to party machinations and decision-making, voters are subsidiary to the superdelegates in their proverbial smoke-filled room (now replaced by dollar-filled foundation contracts).

I could not come up with a solution that does not involve dismantling and restructuring the existing party system. We have passed beyond the point of having a solvable “problem” with the Democratic National Committee (DNC). That is what a quandary is. A problem has a solution – by definition. A quandary does not have a solution. There is no way out. The conflict of interest between the Donor Class and the Voting Class has become too large to contain within a single party. It must split.

A second-ballot super-delegate scenario would mean that we are once again in for a second Trump term. That option was supported by five of the six presidential contenders on stage in Nevada on Wednesday, February 20. When Chuck Todd asked whether Michael Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar would support the candidate who received the most votes in the primaries (now obviously Bernie Sanders), or throw the nomination to the super-delegates held over from the Obama-Clinton neoliberals (75 of whom already are said to have pledged their support to Bloomberg), each advocated “letting the process play out.” That was a euphemism for leaving the choice to the Tony-Blair style leadership that have made the Democrats the servants’ entrance to the Republican Party. Like the British Labour Party behind Blair and Gordon Brown, its role is to block any left-wing alternative to the Republican program on behalf of the One Percent.

This problem would not exist if the United States had a European-style parliamentary system that would enable a third party to obtain space on the ballots in all 50 states. If this were Europe, the new party of Bernie Sanders, AOC et al.would exceed 50 percent of the votes, leaving the Wall Street democrats with about the same 8 percent share that similar neoliberal democratic parties have in Europe (e.g., Germany’s hapless neoliberalized Social Democrats), that is, Klobocop territory as voters moved to the left. The “voting Democrats,” the 99 Percent, would win a majority leaving the Old Neoliberal Democrats in the dust.

The DNC’s role is to prevent any such challenge. The United States has an effective political duopoly, as both parties have created such burdensome third-party access to the ballot box in state after state that Bernie Sanders decided long ago that he had little alternative but to run as a Democrat.

The problem is that the Democrat Party does not seem to be reformable. That means that voters still may simply abandon it – but that will simply re-elect the Democrats’ de facto 2020 candidate, Donald Trump. The only hope would be to shrink the party into a shell, enabling the old guard to go way so that the party could be rebuilt from the ground up.

But the two parties have created a legal duopoly reinforced with so many technical barriers that a repeat of Ross Perot’s third party (not to mention the old Socialist Party, or the Whigs in 1854) would take more than one election cycle to put in place. For the time being, we may expect another few months of dirty political tricks to rival those of 2016 as Obama appointee Tom Perez is simply the most recent version of Florida fixer Debbie Schultz-Wasserman (who gave a new meaning to the Wasserman Test).

So we are in for another four years of Donald Trump. But by 2024, how tightly will the U.S. economy find itself tied in knots?

The Democrats’ Vocabulary of Deception

How I would explain Bernie’s program. Every economy is a mixed economy. But to hear Michael Bloomberg and his fellow rivals to Bernie Sanders explain the coming presidential election, one would think that an economy must be either capitalist or, as Bloomberg put it, Communist. There is no middle ground, no recognition that capitalist economies have a government sector, which typically is called the “socialist” sector – Social Security, Medicare, public schooling, roads, anti-monopoly regulation, and public infrastructure as an alternative to privatized monopolies extracting economic rent.

What Mr. Bloomberg means by insisting that it’s either capitalism or communism is an absence of government social spending and regulation. In practice this means oligarchic financial control, because every economy is planned by some sector. The key is, who will do the planning? If government refrains from taking the lead in shaping markets, then Wall Street takes over – or the City in London, Frankfurt in Germany, and the Bourse in France.

Most of all, the aim of the One Percent is to distract attention from the fact that the economy is polarizing – and is doing so at an accelerating rate. National income statistics are rigged to show that “the economy” is expanding. The pretense is that everyone is getting richer and living better, not more strapped. But the reality is that all the growth in GDP has accrued to the wealthiest 5 Percent since the Obama Recession began in 2008. Obama bailed out the banks instead of the 10 million victimized junk-mortgage holders. The 95 Percent’s share of GDP has shrunk.

The GDP statistics do not show is that “capital gains” – the market price of stocks, bonds and real estate owned mainly by the One to Five Percent – has soared, thanks to Obama’s $4.6 trillion Quantitative Easing pumped into the financial markets instead of into the “real” economy in which wage-earners produce goods and services.

How does one “stay the course” in an economy that is polarizing? Staying the course means continuing the existing trends that are concentrating more and more wealth in the hands of the One Percent, that is, the Donor Class – while loading down the 99 Percent with more debt, paid to the One Percent (euphemized as the economy’s “savers”). All “saving” is at the top of the pyramid. The 99 Percent can’t afford to save much after paying their monthly “nut” to the One Percent.

If this economic polarization is impoverishing most of the population while sucking wealth and income and political power up to the One Percent, then to be a centrist is to be the candidate of oligarchy. It means not challenging the economy’s structure.

Language is being crafted to confuse voters into imagining that their interest is the same as that of the Donor Class of rentiers, creditors and financialized corporate businesses and rent-extracting monopolies. The aim is to divert attention from voters’ their own economic interest as wage-earners, debtors and consumers. It is to confuse voters not to recognize that without structural reform, today’s “business as usual” leaves the One Percent in control.

So to call oneself a “centrist” is simply a euphemism for acting as a lobbyist for siphoning up income and wealth to the One Percent. In an economy that is polarizing, the choice is either to favor them instead of the 99 Percent.

That certainly is not the same thing as stability. Centrism sustains the polarizing dynamic of financialization, private equity, and the Biden-sponsored bankruptcy “reform” written by his backers of the credit-card companies and other financial entities incorporated in his state of Delaware. He was the senator for the that state’s Credit Card industry, much as former Democratic VP candidate Joe Lieberman was the senator from Connecticut’s Insurance Industry.

A related centrist demand is that of Buttigieg’s and Biden’s aim to balance the federal budget. This turns out to be a euphemism for cutting back Social Security, Medicare and relate social spending (“socialism”) to pay for America’s increasing militarization, subsidies and tax cuts for the One Percent. Sanders rightly calls this “socialism for the rich.” The usual word for this is oligarchy. That seems to be a missing word in today’s mainstream vocabulary.

The alternative to democracy is oligarchy. As Aristotle noted already in the 4thcentury BC, oligarchies turn themselves into hereditary aristocracies. This is the path to serfdom. To the vested financial interests, Hayek’s “road to serfdom” means a government strong enough to tax wealth and keep basic essential infrastructure in the public domain, providing its services to the population at subsidized prices instead of letting its services be monopolized.

Confusion over the word “socialism” may be cleared up by recognizing that every economy is mixed, and every economy is planned – by someone. If not the government in the public interest, then by Wall Street and other financial centers in theirinterest. They fought against an expanding government sector in every economy today, calling it socialism – without acknowledging that the alternative, as Rosa Luxemburg put it, is barbarism.

I think that Sanders is using the red-letter word “socialism” and calling himself a “democratic socialist” to throw down the ideological gauntlet and plug himself into the long and powerful tradition of socialist politics. Paul Krugman would like him to call himself a social democrat. But the European parties of this name have discredited this label as being centrist and neoliberal. Sanders wants to emphasize that a quantum leap, a phase change is in order.

If he can be criticized for waving a needlessly red flag, it is his repeated statement that his program is designed for the “working class.” What he means are wage-earners and this includes the middle class. Even those who make over $100,000 a year are still wage earners, and typically are being squeezed by a predatory financial sector, a predatory medical insurance sector, drug companies and other monopolies.

The danger in this terminology is that most workers like to think of themselves as middle class, because that is what they would like to rise into. That is especially he case for workers who own their own home (even if mortgage represents most of the value, so that most of the home’s rental value is paid to banks, not to themselves as part of the “landlord class”), and have an education (even if most of their added income is paid out as student debt service), and their own car to get to work (involving automobile debt).

The fact is that even $100,000 executives have difficulty living within the limits of their paycheck, after paying their monthly nut of home mortgage or rent, medical care, student loan debt, credit-card debt and automobile debt, not to mention 15% FICA paycheck withholding and state and local tax withholding.

Of course, Sanders’ terminology is much more readily accepted by wage-earners as the voters whom Hillary called “Deplorables” and Obama called “the mob with pitchforks,” from whom he was protecting his Wall Street donors whom he invited to the White House in 2009. But I think there is a much more appropriate term: the 99 Percent, made popular by Occupy Wall Street. That is Bernie’s natural constituency. It serves to throw down the gauntlet between democracy and oligarchy, and between socialism and barbarism, by juxtaposing the 99 Percent to the One Percent.

The Democratic presidential debate on February 25 will set the stage for Super Tuesday’s “beauty contest” to gauge what voters want. The degree of Sanders’ win will help determine whether the byzantine Democrat party apparatus that actually will be able to decide on the Party’s candidate. The expected strong Sanders win is will make the choice stark: either to accept who the voters choose – namely, Bernie Sanders – or to pick a candidate whom voters already have rejected, and is certain to lose to Donald Trump in November.

If that occurs, the Democrat Party will evaporate as its old Clinton-Obama guard is no longer able to protect its donor class on Wall Street and corporate America. Too many Sanders voters would stay home or vote for the Greens. That would enable the Republicans to maintain control of the Senate and perhaps even grab back the House of Representatives.

But it would be dangerous to assume that the DNC will be reasonable. Once again, Roman history provides a “business as usual” scenario. The liberal German politician Theodor Mommsen published his History of Romein 1854-56, warning against letting an aristocracy block reform by controlling the upper house of government (Rome’s Senate, or Britain House of Lords). The leading families who overthrew the last king in 509 BC created a Senate chronically prone to being stifled by its leaders’ “narrowness of mind and short-sightedness that are the proper and inalienable privileges of all genuine patricianism.”[2]

These qualities also are the distinguishing features of the DNC. Sanders had better win big!


[1]https://edition.cnn.com/2020/02/22/opinions/bloomberg-needs-to-take-down-sanders-lockhart/index.html. Joe Lockhart, opinion. For the MSNBC travesty see from February 23, https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/02/23/msnbc-full-blown-freakout-mode-bernie-sanders-cements-status-democratic-frontrunner, by Jake Johnson.

[2]Mommsen, History of Rome, 1911: 268.

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  1. Ignacio

    A little bit off-topic, or very much off-topic but related with Hudson’s favourite theme. This is about potential bankruptcies derived from quarantines almost certainly not covered by insurance: wouldn’t this be an excellent case for debt forgiving?

    1. Lost in OR

      I dunno. My impression is too much of corporate malfeasance involves the use of debt. Consolidation, stock buybacks, leveraged everything, hostile take-everything.

      This stacked system is currently confronting two crises it has no good solution to. One is Covid19 and the other is insurrection. Obama forgave the one percent’s debts once already. No more of that. I’m hoping this is “the great leveling” event.

      More elderberry-flavored popcorn please.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          I doubt it. Even if dried elderberries have enough water left in them to turn to meaningful amounts of steam under enough sudden high heat, their skins are too porous to contain the steam until it reaches a pressure-explosion threshhold.

      1. False Solace

        Trump’s case for re-election is based almost entirely on the stock market being at record highs. If the 1% want a bailout, he’ll give them one.

    2. urblintz

      I can not find a link but a comment here yesterday said China has announced it will pay all healthcare costs related to Covid for those without insurance. I honestly don’t know if that’s true but it lead me to understand that China has a hybrid public/private system health insurance system. Wikipedia says China provides “basic” healthcare for 95% of the population which covers roughly 50% of treatment costs. Hmmm… I wonder what the treatments cost…

      Sadly, promises to cover the cost of treatment are ineffectual without enough facilities, supplies and healthcare workers.

      1. wilroncanada

        Regarding your last paragraph: virtually all so-called “First World Countries” are in exactly the same position, and, except for Italy, we haven’t seen even the beginning of a health care crisis of a pandemic; even a mini localized pandemic. The crisis is already present in this “First World”.
        Are we going to do like DT? Loudly brag that we have it all under control? Then, two days later, run to our legislators for money to throw at the problem? Sure! That’s the ticket. It’s all about perception! Perception management R’Us,

    3. Samuel Conner

      With regard to the question of “corporate debt”, a better way than “forgiveness” IMO would be “temporary nationalization” by means of some public entity bidding on operating assets (with, hopefully, the entity still functioning) at a liquidation auction. The senior creditors (first in line, I think are employees with unpaid back wages due) would get something; the shareholders — given the degree of leverage that is customary today — often would be wiped out (which they would be in any event under the conditions in view).

      The publicly owned and operated businesses would go private again through conversion to worker-owned cooperatives. This would take time, which would permit the bugs to be worked out. I can’t imagine that the transition would be smooth.

      This kind of conversion from shareholder-owned to worker-owned enterprise has been proposed previously (don’t have links) as something that could be done as ongoing policy through money creation by the central government and new forms of “eminent domain” legislation, or simply by purchase of shares in the open markets, New private enterprises could be created by the former owners using the funds received and, at such time as these became sufficiently powerful to be problematic, could likewise be converted to cooperatives. It might be an engine of innovation. Significant regulation would probably be needed to curb clearly unproductive uses of funds.

      Perhaps it’s another way that this crisis is creating opportunities that we don’t want to allow to be wasted.

      It will be interesting to see what the government of China does, as it will be the first to face this problem at large scale. Will they turn into a “workers’ party”? Hard to imagine, but the paths out of the current turmoil may contain possibilities that could not be realistically contemplated just months ago.

      1. Susan the other

        How do you prevent this feed-me-seymour financialization-economy from imploding? Keep feeding it. Biden and his cronies, including little George, knew it. And that has to be the reason why they passed laws preventing the process of bankruptcy. Like they placed their bets on winning the war for oil in the middle east at the same time. Why did they think these bad decisions would keep our economy stable?

  2. divadab

    I wonder how much of the rot at the top of the Dem party is simple dementia. By the age of 70, half of people have some level of dementia. Consider Joe Biden – is anyone in the public sphere going to state the obvious – that he has dementia and as such is unfit for office?

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      “Rot” is few and far between at the top of the DemParty. Most of what is at the top is ever-freshened and renewed radioactive toxic waste. The Clintons were not dementiafied when they took power in the Party. Neither was Tony Coelho or Al From or The Hamilton Project people or the DLC people or the Third Way people.

      They can either be submitted to or they can be exterminated from public life and social visibility.

      How many renew-Deal Democrats would have to quit the party en-organized-mass in order to be able to form an immediate Third Party big enough to overcome the obstacles and beCOME the Second Party?
      What if they were to call their wannabe Second Party the Real Democrat Party . . . to make their beliefs clear?

      1. divadab

        “The Clintons were not dementiafied when they took power in the Party”

        Well yes. But they weren’t in their seventies at the time…..but Nancy Pelosi and JOe Biden are and I question their mental fitness. And their judgment. What is the average age in the Senate anyway? Well I looked it up and it’s 61. IN 1981 it was 53. It sure seems to me that much of their general uselessness is due to (besides corruption and self-dealing) calcified mental processes. Inability to consider anything other than the status quo, in which they have been mightily successful, but NOW IT”S TIME TO GO!

  3. Fred1

    First, my priors. I voted for Sanders in 2016, will vote for him in 2020, and expect him to be elected president. Further I believe that where we find ourselves today is the result of at least 40 years of intentional bi-partisan policies. Both parties are responsible.

    If Sanders, upon being elected, were able to snap his fingers and call into existence his entire program, it would immediately face a bi-partisan opposition that would be funded by billions of dollars, which would be willing to take as long as necessary, even decades, to roll it back.

    Just electing Sanders is only the first step. There must be a committed, determined follow through that must be willing to last decades as well for his program to stick. And there will be defeats along the way.

    Several observations. If Hillary had beaten Trump, Sanders would have trudged back to Vermont and would never have been heard from again. The MSM would have dismissed his program as being completely unacceptable to the voting class. But she didn’t, so here we are, which is fantastic.

    Some on Resistance Twitter claim that if Sanders is the nominee, Trump will win a 48 sweep. Possible, but very unlikely. But if it did happen, the MSM would once again dismiss his program as being completely unacceptable to the voting class, and Sanders would trudge back to Vermont never to be heard from again.

    So if his program requires a decade long follow through, what are the least bad outcomes? If the D’s deprive him of the nomination at the convention, even though he has far and away more pledged delegates, the MSM cannot dismiss his program as it would in the two previous scenarios, and his program would live to fight another day.

    If he loses to Trump, but closely, which can mean a lot of different things, his program would live to fight another day. Moreover, if the D’s are seen to actively collude with Trump, this less bad outcome would be even better.

    I am an old geezer and don’t expect to live long enough to see how all of this plays out. But I am very optimistic about his program’s long term prospects. There is only one bad outcome, a Trump 48 state sweep, which I consider very unlikely. But most importantly, the best outcome, his election, and the two least bad outcomes, the D’s stealing the nomination from him or his losing a close general election, all still will require a decades long commitment to make his program permanent.

    I wish I were younger.

    1. a different chris

      >a Trump 48 state sweep

      Where do people get this? Take a deep breath. Trump may or may not win. But if he does, the best he can hope for is a skin-of-his-teeth victory. Seriously, he lost the popular vote by a ton to Hillary freaking Clinton.

      And stuff is beginning to crumble around him on the Right. The Dow drops. Oops Richie Rich gets uneasy.
      Hammered by a 5 star general. The Deplorables kids were raised to look up to generals, not New Yawk dandys. How does this affect them? And it’s still February.

      1. KLG

        Look at the 2016 Election Map.

        Which of Hillary’s states would Bernie lose? And then imagine Bernie NOT campaigning in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

        No, history doesn’t repeat itself, but that rhyme is a strong foundation.

      2. Fred1

        Where do people get this?

        As I said Resistance Twitter. specifically Sally Albright and her running dogs. Moreover, she is advocating for a centrist D to run a 3rd party campaign to prevent down ballot Ds and state Ds from being tarred by being associated with Sanders.

        I think she is full of it. But some here do fret about Establishment Ds preferring Trump over Sanders. Of course, the Ds may explicitly collude with Trump or passive/aggressive support Sanders.

        1. PKMKII

          The counterargument is that the establishment D’s who would hold their nose and vote for Trump over Bernie are largely confined to deep blue states that Trump has no chance of winning. To reverse the Schumer quote, for every limousine liberal Sanders loses in NYC and LA, he gains two working class voters in Wisconsin and Ohio and Arizona.

      3. John k

        Surprised Hudson is so pessimistic just now… granted, bloom has a lot of money, but he’s a terrible campaigner. Meanwhile Bernie has a great chance to win SC, and if he does that or ties, looks to crush it on super tue.
        I think he will likely get 50%+ of delegates… but say he gets only 44% while the sum of all other candidates is 40%, leaving 16@ supers.Bear in mind that while supers are free to vote on second ballot, I think so are all pledged delegates. Bernie’s delegates will stay with him for at least several ballots, not going to witch to bloom. Meanwhile the smalgroups of delegates supporting biden, Buttigieg, warren and Klobuchar will get antsy… Bernie will get some supers, say 2%, so then just needs 10% of the other pledged candidates.
        I don’t know what bloom can do with title to the party, but if he can’t change the rules to just nominate himself then it looks too late to stop Bernie getting the nom.
        Can he then stop Bernie from beating trump? Will the news media attack Bernie as the greater evil? Will the dems and indies with tds get a greater case of bds?
        A narrow win comes down to ten swingers, and Bernie looks to do well in most, maybe not Fl.
        But I have long thought that Tx would be in play if the latins go to the polls, as looks likely… and if Tx goes dem, it moves towards landslide. A pres Bernie with a landslide would have great power. Trump controls his disparate party because of fear of his base. Bernie might inspire similar fear.

    2. Mary L Isaacson

      Your comment expresses my views and voting history as well. I too am old…but female. Thanks for your clarity of thought.

    3. Amfortas the hippie

      “I wish I were younger.”
      I’m only 50, but yeah(pretty bad arthritis)
      I’ve been pining for something like this all my life.
      and it’s gonna be a slog.
      part of me hopes the dnc/etc tries to rig things…shamelessly and poorly…because that will mean a further rending of the veil…which makes it all that much more easy to talk about things in the feed store.
      in fact, if the demparty really wants to engineer a continuation of the status quo, they should start working on how to help trump beat bernie, without anybody knowing.
      i think that the membrane is prolly too thick for them to do this with any skill, however.

  4. Sailor Bud

    Just an FYI: The five-volume Mommsen “History of Rome” referenced in the text is available in English on Project Gutenberg, free and legal to download. Probably everyone here knows this, but just in case…

  5. Dan

    How about Bernie call himself “Roosevelt Democrat” instead of “Democratic Socialist”. It would give all those in the senior demographic a better understanding of what Sander’s policies mean to them as opposed to the scary prospect of the “Socialist” label.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      A 10 year old in 1945 would be 85 today. Team Blue boomers don’t care, and they dont care as much about “socialist” as much as being proven wrong about backwards 3rd way ideology. How dare the effing kids not praise them for shouting 1972?

      As for Sanders, you dance with who brought you.

      1. flora

        Gosh, I had no idea I was so self-unaware. Thanks for setting me straight about myself. ;)

        p.s. an 85 year old is part of ‘the silent generation’, b. 1928-1945, not the ‘baby boom’ generation, b.1946-1964.

      2. Phil in KC

        I don’t know about you or others, but in my family, Roosevelt, though long gone, was not forgotten, and I grew up knowing that FDR was the guy who won WW 2, instituted Social Security, saved the banks from collapsing, and gave work to millions of unemployed people through the WPA. My uncle was in the CCC. I am 64 and no genius or history nerd. If today’s kids don’t know about FDR, it is the fault of the Dems who turned their backs to this important legacy and to history taught indifferently in our schools. Why not invoke this legacy?

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          BC has not part of living memory. Whether you like him or not, it’s irrelevant. He’s approaching Lincoln status. At that point he’s a statue.

          It’s like how kids don’t recognize your favorite bands as cool.

        2. flora

          Yep. The Dem estab has spent the last 30 years running on the goodwill created by the New Deal and civil rights, SS, Medicare, housing, employment, etc. (Then trying to cut these programs when elected.) Joe Lockhart was Bill Clinton’s press secretary. This comment of his is emblematic of the current Dem estab thinking – they still need to run on the New Deal image, even it they don’t support it in practice.

          “The Democratic establishment gave us civil rights, voting rights, the assault weapons ban, social security and Medicare. What have you done Senator?” -Lockhart

          Stoller’s comment is correct.

          Also , the Dem estab didn’t “give” civil rights to voters.


    2. Oxley Creek Boy

      The Democrats should have been slowly disarming the word “socialist” for at least the last decade. In principle, it’s not difficult – as Michael Hudson says – “Every economy is a mixed economy” – and in a very real sense everyone’s a socialist (even if only unconsciously). I’m not saying that bit of rhetorical jujitsu would magically turn conservative voters progressive but you’ll never get to the point where you can defend socialist programs on the merits if you always dodge that fight. It’s just a shame that Bernie Sanders has to do it all in a single election cycle and I don’t think choosing a different label now would help him much.

    3. flora

      He could even compare himself to the earlier Roosevelt: Teddy Roosevelt.

      By 1900 the old bourbon Dem party was deeply split between its old, big business and banking wing – the bourbons – and the rising progressive/populist wing. It was GOP pres Roosevelt who first pushed through progressive programs like breaking up railroad and commodity monopolies, investigating and regulating meat packing and fraudulent patent medicines, etc. Imagine that.

      1. lyman alpha blob

        I just finished Stoller’s book Goliath and according to him, Teddy wasn’t quite as progressive as we are often led to believe. He wasn’t so much opposed to those with enormous wealth – he just wanted them to answer to him. He did do the things you mentioned, but after sending the message to the oligarchs, he then became friendly with them once he felt he’d brought them to heel. He developed quite the soft spot for JP Morgan, according to Stoller.

        TR wanted to be the Boss, the center of attention with everyone looking up to him. As one of his relatives said, he wanted to be the baby at every christening and the corpse at every funeral.

        I find Bernie to be a lot more humble.

        1. flora

          Yes. Even so, I’ll take TR’s good progressive results motivated by his egotism over continuing the bad status quo. :)

        2. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

          And recall what TR ended up having to do: form a third party. Instead of “Bull Moose” maybe we could call it “Bull Durham” or something

        3. hunkerdown

          I just finished Walter Karp’s Indispensable Enemies and according to him, FDR was the continuity of the political machine, and no real hero to citizens. Reading from such friendly histories as Leuchtenberg’s, he cites several examples of FDR’s incredible “errors,” bureaucratic cleverness, empty shows of action, arm’s-length non-solutions, purposeful elevation of Bourbon Democrats to powerful positions, and of course warmongering — in other words, much the same playbook as the oligarch duopoly uses today — to avoid reform, to save the Democrat Party oligarchs, to strengthen oligarch control of the economy, and to create new captive constituencies (such as management-controlled unions). The FDR-Obama comparison is, in fact, quite apt. Perhaps invocation of that myth may sell well to the so-called Boomer demographic, but I hope to god it’s a cynical invocation.

          1. flora

            FDR said the people ‘had to make him do it’, ( where ‘it’ was going against the moneyed interests to create SS, CCC, bank regulations, progressive taxation, etc.). Obama also said the the public would have to ‘make him do it.’ O’s voters (and I was one), thought he could by himself make the necessary financial changes. No. It takes a groundswell of public demand, determination, and support. I think we’re at or near that point now. We’ll see.

            1. flora

              And in this “make me do it” formulation is the old political question “where does power lie now?” Power usually lies with wealth. There are times, however, when power lies with the broad interests of ‘the people’. Politicians are always, always, adjusting themselves to where they see then greatest power lies in the moment.

              Where ‘wealth’ is long and public sentiment can be ‘brief’, wealth usually wins. When, however, the abuses of the public and the public purse become so great and so long standing, the public pushes back and keeps pushing back, and the political equation of where greatest power of the moment lies can change.

    4. Balakirev

      I have a sense that changing his party affiliation label at any point in time since Sanders began running for president in 2016 would be a godsend to his enemies in both hands of the Duopoly. They’d tar him loudly as a hypocrite without an ounce of integrity, using personal politics to distract from the issues.

      Meanwhile, we can expect to see the Socialist (and Communist, and Russia-Russia-Russia) nonsense reiterated as long as Sanders has strong visibility. He’s extremely dangerous to both parties and their owners. I don’t’ believe the DNC will let him take the convention, but if he does, I’ll bet the Dems give him minimal support and hope he fails–better the devil you know, etc.

    5. Left in Wisconsin

      Bernie’s campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, has been doing the interview rounds and has what I think is the right take on this: both reminding people that the essential parts of Bernie’s program derive directly from FDR’s second bill of (economic and social) rights while at the same time lauding his consistency and intellectual honesty over his long career. There is no way he is going to change his framing now – and I agree that he would be slaughtered for hypocrisy if he tried to – and he is likely to gain more voters who respect his honesty than lose those who fear his socialism.

      1. flora

        Sanders has his language and he should stick to it, no matter Krugman’s preferences. The battle over language is very important, and if he cedes on his meaning of one important word then they’ll push him to cede on other words. imo.

        1. Mel

          Re language, I never did like Krugman’s “Up against the zero lower-bound.” I knew what he meant, I just didn’t like the phrase. Zonker Harris’s placard “Up Against the Ceiling” showed better spatial awareness.

    1. deplorado

      Agree. In a few paragraphs, Prof. Hudson is able to provide a powerful, cogent, and timeless reference for understanding what is happening. Needs to be reposted far and wide!

  6. The Rev Kev

    I am going to have to bookmark this page and think about it but will leave a quote here-

    ‘A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.’ – Ariel Durant

    1. inode_buddha

      “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.’ – Ariel Durant”

      The same might be said of individual humans —

      “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” -KJV Proverbs 16:32

      In order to be in control of oneself, one must first know oneself — how many people do you know who do this? Too many are chasing after Power, as if they were going to find Happiness there!

  7. Carolinian

    Sanders had better win big

    Latest CBS local poll has Biden 28, Sanders 23. Seems likely that if Sanders does win here it will be a squeaker.

    I’m not detecting much primary fever in my Republican neighborhood–hardly any yard signs. Both Biden and Sanders are going to be in town this week.

    1. eg

      I don’t think Sanders needs to win SC to maintain momentum — a solid second-place showing ought to be good enough

      1. Kilgore Trout

        I think you’re right. The black misleadership class in SC supports Biden, while younger voters–if they turn out–will likely go for Sanders. Last night’s food fight likely means the other candidates will continue to fight for scraps left over. The wild card in SC is Bloomberg and whether his “foundation” work pays off so that he sneaks into 3rd place. I think: Biden, Sanders, Bloomberg, in that order in SC.

  8. political economist

    It’s time to put your money in reality futures by putting all that you can into supporting Bernie, AOC, etc. and all your local candidates that support at least democratic socialism and ourrevolution the DSA Justice Dems or other groups that have people but need money. I was having a conversation with a friend who was complaining that he was getting too many emails from Bernie asking for money after he had given the campaign a “modest amount”. My suggestion was in honor of his children and grandchildren he should instead GIVE ‘TIL IT FEELS GOOD. My spouse and I, I told him, gave the max to Bernie and now we don’t give upset when he asks for more. There will likely never be a moment like this in history and there may not be much of a history if things go the wrong way now. He agreed.

    1. Debra D.

      Exactly right. I gave Bernie the max in 2019 and will keep giving throughout 2020. This campaign is about not just me, but all of us. It’s now. We must fight for this change as has always been the historical precedent.

      1. BillC

        OK, you two gave me the push I needed to max out my contributions to Bernie too. Let’s hope Bernie’s (oops … OUR) bandwagon keeps gathering steam!

      2. Arizona Slim

        Another 2019 Bernie maxer here.

        I feel blessed to have been able to give at this level. And I believe that I did this for a lot of people who aren’t able to donate at all.

      3. Adams

        I agree with majority here that Bernie cannot change his stripes. But this is vintage Krugman deflection and cognitive dissonance reduction. As another maxxer to Bernie’s campaign ( also in ’16, also supporting Tulsi), though, I worry about repeated, very frequent calls and emails asking for more. Only a little irritating, but what does it say about the campaign’s data management and training of solicitors? Waste of time and resources.

        Similarly, the claims of bullying and personal attacks by Bernie staffers reveal some weakness in campaign management. See Daily Beast: “Bernie Staffer Mocked Warren’s Looks, Pete’s Sexuality on Private Twitter Account.” The staffer has been fired, but the headline remains and seriously understates the vitriol documented in the article. Expect this to come up again in the debate tomorrow. Bernie can’t deflect this merely by saying he can’t control his supporters or by condemning the language in the attacks, although he has to.

        Attacks on Bernie are already brutal following his Nevada blowout. It is going to get much worse from, from both parties, now through the election and beyond. “Squeaking clean” is not perfectly attainable, but some resources should be committed to researching staffer background and cleaning house.


    2. False Solace

      Great comment. The best time to donate is now, in the critical period leading up to Super Tuesday. If you don’t do it now when are you going to?

      The campaign is clearly putting it to good use. They had staffers in Nevada for 8 months before the election. Same in CA. So when I hear about what the campaign is doing I get to nod my head and know that part of my contribution helped do that. Yeah, you get emails and texts, honestly I just ignore them and occasionally they’re helpful as a reminder that a debate is happening etc.

  9. steven

    I was more than a little honked when Sanders appeared to roll over and support HRC in 2016 in spite of the obvious fraud perpetrated on him and his supporters, not to mention the subsequent treatment they received at the hands of the DNC and Tom Perez. I am coming to understand that might have been necessary within the context of one last desperate attempt to work with the Democratic party. But now I find myself wondering if it wouldn’t be a good idea for Sanders and his supporters to make it absolutely clear their attempts to work within ‘the system’ are finished if they are robbed again; maybe even starting work immediately on establishing a party not controlled by Wall Street lickspittle or knuckle-dragging no-nothings?

    Little as it has been the answer has a lot to do with my willingness to pour more money into repetitively self-defeating behavior.

    1. HotFlash

      Bernie is a long-distance runner and strategizes like one. First work on finishing your races. Then worry about where you place.

    2. False Solace

      Bernie is a legislator, he’s going to make deals, that’s what he knows how to do. Last time he held out to get as many policy concessions out of HRC as he could. He got her to sign on to free college. And he got demonized for not immediately endorsing her for years afterward (HRC was complaining about it yet again just a couple weeks ago). I know what Bernie is, it doesn’t concern me all that much what he does.

      What I do know is that if they steal the nomination there will be hell to pay from the rest of us. Nobody I’ve seen or spoken to will go along quietly.

      But they have to steal it first. Our job is to make that as difficult as possible.

  10. Edward

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Sanders dies in an airplane “accident”, like Paul Wellstone.

    I am not sure the Dems thought they were giving Trump the election in 2016; they expected Clinton to win.

    Washington and Lee University, which I live near, recently had a mock convention and I watched some of it. The convention was brokered, so the super delegates decided the nominee. It looked bad, like a joke was played on the students, who had spent two days thinking they were selecting a candidate. I have to wonder if the real super delegates at the real convention can get away with choosing a nominee other then the one with the most votes without facing massive voter wrath. The end of the convention, session 4, can be viewed at the bottom of this webpage.

  11. Debra R.

    I am a somewhat old geezer, too, who caucused for Bernie in 2016 and 2020. This article is very good and helps me understand why I feel the way I do. I was disappointed in Obama, who didn’t follow through on the things I cared about, and I was devastated when Clinton was crowned the Democratic nominee well before the Convention, all the while holding onto a smidgen of hope that somehow Bernie would pull through as the nominee.

    I was ecstatic when Bernie announced his candidacy for 2020. He is our only hope, and now we have a second chance. But now I am spending half my time screaming at people on tv and online who can’t even hear me, and even if they could, they don’t give a s–t what I think. It’s Clinton 2.0–same thing all over again, four years later. Just who do these people (DNC, MSM, and others with a voice) think they are, to decide for the Democratic voters which candidate will be the nominee, who won’t be the nominee, without regard to what the voters want? They are a bunch of pompous as–s who have some other motive that I am not savvy enough to understand. Is it about money in their pockets or what?

    It should be as simple as this–Bernie is leading in the polls, if they are to be believed, and good people of all demographics want him to be our next President. He is a serious contender for the nomination. Show the man some much-earned respect and put people on MSM and publish articles by writers who help us understand what the anti-Bernie panic is about and why we shouldn’t panic. Help us to explain his plans if he hasn’t explained it thoroughly enough instead of calling him crazy. But to dismiss him as if he has the plague is not furthering the truth, and it is a serious injustice to the voting public. Naked Capitalism can’t do it alone.

    1. HotFlash

      There is a lot of good analysis out there, mainly on Youtube. I particularly like The Hill’s Rising. A young progressive Democrat and a young progressive Republican (who even knew there was such a thing!) ‘splain a lot of the antipathy. Another good source is Nomiki Konst, who is working on reforming the Dem party from within. Here she talks to RJ Eskow about how the DNC is structured and how she hopes to provide tools for rank-and-file Dems to wrest the levers of power from the establishment. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZ7wm6DCPV4

  12. notabanktoadie

    “Every economy is a mixed economy” Michael Hudson

    Well, the Hebrews, in the time of the Judges, had no king for 400 years and still survived at the crossroads of the ancient world. But they had the Mosaic Law and recurring chastisement from God to return them to it.

    But government is the rule for today, no doubt (Romans 13:1-6). But let’s be wise about it; ie. a large government sector is NOT justice but an indication of injustice with large government as a form of amelioration for that injustice.

    1. Harold

      Not a “large” government”, but a large enough public sector. Private sector cannot operate without same.

      1. notabanktoadie

        Private sector cannot operate without same. Harrold

        The problem is that the population, including FDR in his time, have been duped into believing that the private sector REQUIRES government privileges for private depository institutions, aka “the banks.”

        So currently we have no truly private sector to speak of but businesses and industry using the public’s credit but for private gain.

  13. Susan the other

    Last night’s Democracy Now was interesting. Amy seems to be less of a commie hater than she recently was with her participation in the Russia-Russia-Russia smears against Trump. She held court last night with Paul Krugman and Richard Wolff discussing just exactly what “socialism” means. It was a great performance. Krug seemed a little shellshocked about the whole discussion and he said we shouldn’t even use the term “socialism” at all because all the things Bernie wants are just as capitalist – that capitalism encompasses socialism. But he stuttered when he discussed “single-payer” which he claimed he supported – his single payer is like Pete Buttigieg’s single-payer-eventually. He tried to change the subject and Amy brought him straight back. Then Wolff, who was in excellent form, informed the table that “socialism” is a moveable feast because it can be and has been many things for the advancement of societies, etc. But the term always means the advancement of society. Then Krug dropped a real bomb – he actually said (this is almost a quote) that recently he had been informed by Powell that debt isn’t really all that important. Really, Krug said that. And he tried to exetend that thought to the argument that anybody can provide social benefits – it doesn’t require a self-proclaimed “socialist”. Richard Wolff confronted that slide with pointing out that it hasn’t happened yet – and he left Krug with no excuses. It was quite the showdown. Nice Richard Wolff is so firmly in Bernie’s camp. Krug looked evasive – and I kept wishing they had invited Steve Keen to participate.

    1. Susan the other

      It leaves me a little dumbfounded that we are so conditioned to think that debt is required to provide society with the means to thrive. As it is today this is a huge burden of private debt (Krug’s little blindspot). Krug’s timid foray into the debt quagmire was so delicate it didn’t create a direct confrontation – probably intentionally – because the real question (imo) is why on earth should we borrow money from ourselves to create the society we want and need? The answer is that we can’t spend directly into our society because the whole house of finance will crash without the structural support of all those obscenely rich middlemen, clicking their keyboards for us.

      1. WobblyTelomeres

        “Money is debt and you all owe me and therefore I own all of you,” the House of Morgan may have just as well said. With a midget in his lap.

        We needed another Ferdinand Pecora and we got Eric Holder and Barney Frank.

    2. False Solace

      Wow that sounds like a great debate. Thank you for bringing our attention to it. Wolff is always excellent, a great educator and an entertaining communicator. I found a link to the video and rush transcript at Democracy Now’s website here.

  14. john halasz

    “who gave a new meaning to the Wasserman Test).”

    Good sneaky little joke, though the original is spelled Wassermann.

  15. Tom Bradford

    I can’t agree with Holder that a quandary is “a problem with no solution”. My understanding of ‘quandary’ is a situation with multiple ways forward all of which are equally unattractive, or attractive, making a choice between them difficult and with no ‘perfect’ outcome.

    To me what Holder describes as a quandary is a dead-end – a problem with no solution going forward, so the only option is to back-out into a previous position and try something different from there.

  16. Hamford

    Sanders might be ahead now, sure. And many are getting excited. We still have to contend with all the black-box ballot states. Remember MI and a few other so drastically differed from exit polls in Clinton’s favor. Behind the computer curtain, they can shave Sanders lead in these states (or even worse bump ~12% candidates above the 15% threshold so they get delegates). Eventually giving Sanders only a minor victory and leading to a ~35% share of delegates at convention. Low enough to strip the nomination. This is far from over and there are many tricks left in the bag.

  17. RBHoughton

    “Rome at the end of the Republic” – oh, lovely man. What an insight. CNN on the steps of the forum in a toga reading the approved news to any who would listen. There are two groups that are not amenable to this form of control. Those who say ‘feed us or we’ll leave’ and those in the army who say ‘feed us or feel our revenge’ – neither will provide a refuge to a politician.

    Now we have Spartacus in Nevada uniting the plebs and threatening to match on Rome. “Kill them all” makes sense as a policy but we might need a few to serve us – what to do? Emperor or Popular Leader? Why can’t they just do as they’re told? The Founding Fathers tried to balance government by the poor (democracy) with the Electoral College and Senators but that doesn’t work anymore. The country needs a new way of balancing employees and employers. What is that?

    Btw – “The servant’s entrance to the Republican Party” – that should be carved in stone over the DNC office.

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