The End of the Big Tent: Oh, and No, Neither Bernie or His Bros Did It!
In his latest op-ed in The American Prospect, Harold Meyerson writes:
“If the Sanders Revolution is ever to come to fruition, the Bernie Brigades will have to vote for and work for Hillary Clinton’s election in the fall.”
As I wrote a couple of essays ago, this kind of advice leads to precisely the opposite of a fruition of the political revolution that Bernie Sanders started. As things stand, it is looking less and less that the neoliberal establishment will allow the party to really realign itself with the leftward bent of the electorate. Thanks to older voters, the establishment, for now, appears to be hanging on. At what cost, though?
Of course, what it will cost the party remains to be seen, but if the Nevada state convention is any indication, it won’t be smooth sailing to the national convention in July. So far, over ten million voters chose Bernie Sanders and they insist on having their political revolution. They aren’t satisfied with more of the same or with any course that dampens hope and the sweeping changes a decayed society needs in order to grow anew. The corporate mainstream media pundits have been calling this dogged determination by Sanders voters, Bernie Bro behavior and a purist attitude.
But what revolution do we know of was both a success and not purist in nature? Is insisting on allowing all states to vote before determining a winner democratic or Bernie Bro intransigence? Is California, usually called a bellwether state, no longer entitled to have its say and sway? Is it “purist” to insist on going through with a democratic process to its natural conclusion, as was done in 2008?
Furthermore, it appears as if the national convention may well suffer some of the same symptoms Nevada’s state convention exhibited: a fixing of the rules that will shut out just shy of 50% of Democrats who support Sanders and demand representation. There is now talk of the DNC debating making concessions to the Sanders campaign over its demands for better committee assignments at the national convention in July:
“Two months from Philadelphia, the peace offerings have already begun.
“In an attempt to head off an ugly conflict at its convention this summer, the Democratic National Committee plans to offer a concession to Sen. Bernie Sanders — seats on a key convention platform committee — but it may not be enough to stop Sanders from picking a fight over the party’s policy positions,” reported Abby Phillip and Anne Gearan.”
But when one examines the assignments that were already made, they are not reflective of Sanders’ achievements within the electorate in any kind of proportional way, and they are indicative of the inherent bias in the structure of the DNC apparatus.
Meanwhile, the press is rife with pieces from pundits who are close to the establishment and admonish ‘Bernie Bros’ to stand down, accept the skewed reality that the fight is over and they need to get behind the presumptive nominee. But… Remember, California hasn’t voted yet! 39 million voters don’t matter, apparently. California’s 475 delegates don’t matter, the win is already in the bag. But, on the other hand, Bernie Sanders doesn’t matter, except when it comes to his cooperation in getting Hillary Clinton elected. He owes her because in the Clintonian revisionist history, she quit the primary before California and immediately pitched in the effort to elect Barack Obama, not! In that same revisionist narrative, Clinton has three million more votes! The trouble is that when you add up primaries where single votes were counted and caucuses in which they were not, it is impossible to arrive at three million more votes.
But when we get to the heart of the problem with Hillary Clinton’s early self-coronation, we find that nearly half of Democrats (or more) won’t hear of it and a portion of them will abstain from voting in the general election, write Sanders in, or worse, vote for Trump, rather than resign themselves to voting for a third Bill Clinton administration. That, not Bernie Sanders, is what is at the heart of the divisions within the Democratic party. More than the message Sanders has brought, with decidedly left prescriptions, it is that there is a significant portion of Democrats who just won’t vote for what they view as Clinton III.
This attitude, which had been building up since Election 2012, crystallized with Senator Sanders’ candidacy. It didn’t, as many a pundit has been writing, result from Sanders. Were it not for this building up of pressure in the pressure cooker that is now the Democratic party, Sanders’ candidacy would not have taken off as it did. There would have been no reason for rank and file Democrats to look to the far left for leadership.
When one sets aside the steady diet of very biased analyses most mainstream media outlets are now streaming and just looks at the progression of events since the last year of the Bush administration and the rise of Occupy Wall Street, then one gets a sense of the magnitude of the shift in public opinion among left-leaning voters in the last eight years. This isn’t as much about polarization as it is about the consequences of the dashing of hopes and the lack of materialization of change. This isn’t a criticism of the Obama administration, at least not in a conscious way among Democrats, as much as it is a disillusionment with a system that we now know for sure is very corrupt, and by all accounts, most voters feel necessitates radical change, if we are to remain a democracy. Add to that the consequences of the GOP’s forced austerity in the states and federal level, first by denying continued stimulus funding for the states and, eventually, denying President Obama the ability to shape and adapt economic policy, leaving the Federal Reserve as the only government body to intervene in the aftermath of the Great Recession. While the Fed’s intervention surely prevented a depression, it was unable to ensure a robust recovery. The result of both of these last states of affairs is that if the Great Recession, as many economists now believe, was the product of the economic ups and downs of secular stagnation, then we have an explanation for the political phenomena we are seeing both on the right and left, and the behavior of both establishments and the media, in that now very narrow sliver we call the center.
The mood of the American electorate is one of change and a repudiation of the establishment. Voters on the right have finally caught on to the sham that’s been the Koch-created conservatism of the Heritage Institute and ALEC and overwhelmingly rejected sixteen establishment candidates and favored the insurgent candidacy of Donald J. Trump. While and some may view the Trump win as a reset of the GOP, those voters most likely only handed over the keys to the party to a different billionaire clique: Donald Trump’s. On the left, what was assumed in the media as a done deal in the second candidacy of Hillary Clinton has been anything but that in the face of Senator Bernie Sanders’ meteoric rise from -60 points a year ago. That said, one cannot characterize Bernie Sanders’ candidacy as a reset of the DNC by voters who not only insist on one, but a revolutionary one at that.
If at any point, in recent elections, the stakes were about a bit more comfort and a bit more reassurance, this time around, the urgency is such that, with nothing more to lose, a significant part of the electorate has decided that a forced reset of the Democratic apparatus is in order. The fact that the reset in no way resembles that of the GOP’s doesn’t make it any less what it is. The fact that Democratic voters are diverse doesn’t make it any less likely that we are facing a reset by groups of Democrats who feel trapped in a system that has rendered them voiceless and powerless, and pitted the generations against each other.
Hillary Clinton’s success in this primary comes thanks to tweaks to the rules the DNC put in place far ahead of the 2016 election, in part, as an implementation of the lessons of 2008 and 2012, and in recognition that it would be minorities and older voters who would carry the first states to vote. But going forward, past the rest of the primaries and the national convention, there is another danger carried with the alienation of progressives and millennials of all races: voter apathy. It is clear as day that Hillary Clinton has not excited voters. Turnout has been very low, relatively speaking and the massive numbers of new millennials who’ve registered to vote did so for Sanders – not Clinton.
In the last few days, there has been a spate of opinion pieces in the mainstream media that points to an effort by the Clinton campaign to woo moderate Republican men and women. In. ‘Can Hillary Clinton, Goldwater Girl, Win Over Republicans?‘ the New York Times’ Emma Roller writes:
“The Clinton campaign seems to be subtly tapping into her conservative past in the hopes of appealing to anti-Trump Republicans in the general election. In recent weeks, her campaign has started courting Jeb Bush’s donors, and has sent out a flurry of news releases playing up the “risk” posed by a Donald J. Trump presidency and quoting Republicans who have voiced concerns about their presumptive nominee.”
In, ‘How to make Republican men like Hillary Clinton,’ the Washington Post’s Danielle Paquette writes:
“Poll after poll shows Hillary Clinton is not popular among white men. Her policy stances haven’t won their admiration. A cultural shift toward feminism hasn’t helped much, either.
But the Democratic front-runner in the presidential campaign has a secret weapon, one that could help her snare crucial voters from presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump: her husband.”
These overtures are being made as Hillary Clinton told Kentucky voters that she would put her husband, former President Bill Clinton, in charge of fixing the economy. As I wrote in my comment on Gail Collins’ New York Times op-ed, ‘Subtract One Clinton:’
“Hillary is running as the first woman president. She can’t be seen or heard asking her husband to run what is probably the most important aspect of the next presidency for her, especially when she’s said that, as president, she’d be ready to hit the ground running.”
Remember, Clinton said these things as she was attempting to disqualify Bernie Sanders in the debate right before the New York primary. How then, does she turn around, not even a month later, and hands over to her husband the single biggest issue of this campaign, not to mention the biggest responsibility as far as voters are concerned? Maybe Clinton has decided she won’t make up with progressives and as she and and her campaign surrogates promise to unify the party after the convention in July, they will work to make up for lost votes? If they get them, great. If they can’t make up for the progressives they’re now giving up on, they can always patch things up after July. The only problem is that the wound this rift has caused has been festering for years. Waiting until July to finally address millions of progressives isn’t just stupid as moves go, but it is careless and very dangerous.
When Robert Reich posted to his followers that they should work as hard for Hillary Clinton, were she to win, a firestorm ensued and the comment section filled up with angry followers. This reaction on the part of Bernie supporters should confirm to all that it is not Bernie Sanders, but the movement and its will that will not bend. Bernie Sanders happened upon a voting public that was more than ready for change, and not the other way around.
Clinton lost West Virginian democrats, not because they’re racist (we already knew that in 2008 and before), but because, much like the progressives, they felt that they can’t trust Clinton to make good on the promises she made about economic development in a post-coal West Virginia. While many pundits chalked up the loss to West Virginians’ refusal to deal with the reality that fossil fuels will be a thing of the past, few are the pundits who factored in Clinton’s big problem with favorability and trust in this loss, as they pointed out that the victor, Bernie Sanders, holds even more severe views than Clinton on ending reliance on coal. Pundits reveled in offering up West Virginia voters as proof of Bernie Sanders’ racist following. But in West Virginia, as in California, Oregon, Kentucky, where Clinton won by less than two thousand votes, and virtually all the states that had a primary, the first concern of voters is their economic well-being. The fact that Sanders has won 20 states outright, and narrowly lost in others is proof that Democratic voters are far from satisfied by Clinton’s economic plaform. This election, as I’ve written many times over the past year, is about jobs and trade. These are Hillary Clinton’s weakest points and it doesn’t matter that, in reality, both points should also be Trump’s weakest. They aren’t. What’s more, Trump is running to the left of Clinton on the minimum wage and trade. That there is even room for Trump to to exploit such a hole is a huge flaw in Clinton’s economic platform and campaign strategy and the most likely reason why it is Sanders who consistently beats Trump in all general election matchup scenarios, whereas Clinton does not.
These considerations apply to all so-called white working and middle class voters and a not insignificant portion of the older voters, specifically those who were forced into retirement by the Great Recession and who are most prone to economic vulnerability. Clinton garnered the votes of the elderly, particularly older middle class women. But what of minorities, Clinton’s so-called firewall? Well, Clinton won the Black vote in the Deep South thanks to long-standing relationships with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, state party organizations, and deep local and regional relationships with civic and church groups. Older, more conservative Blacks voted en-masse for Clinton in the Deep South, in yet another cycle in which overall turnout was low. The younger African Americans, more apt to follow Black Lives Matter, were more reserved with their votes, wanting more from Clinton than she gave them in her platform on criminal justice or in her answers on racially-divisive language she’s used in the past, and her part in her husband’s administration. Add to that new data on the labor participation of Black college graduates, currently still at Depression-era levels, and one can’t anticipate anything like the turnout for President Obama.
This election is about a class war that’s been long in the making. It parallels both the economic bubbles since the 1980’s with the resultant shrinking of America’s middle class, and the long-term effects of the aftermath of the Great Recession not only on that generation of voters, but now too, their children. It is no accident that Bernie Sanders got the millennial and the new generation-Z of voters who will participate for the first time this November. As I illustrate here, they too face a very uncertain economic future. They want change and they’re rejecting an establishment they see, increasingly, as corrupt, not mindful of their futures.
As for Black Lives Matter, their work goes on as the need for their presence hasn’t abated. While the media has greatly reduced its coverage of police brutality, it continues to be an almost daily occurrence. In, San Francisco, following the killing of a young African American woman, the sheriff finally resigned this week after resisting through months of allegations and proof of racism in his department. In New York, there was yet another instance of a graphic video in which cops are seen abusing their taser and killing a mentally-ill man they were supposed to help. In Minnesota, a Black woman is being charged with the murder of a white man to whom she sold heroin. The man, a long-time addict, died in an overdose. According to the UK’s The Guardian ‘The Counted’ US police killings database, 389 Americans have been killed by police, so far, in 2016. While that number is on track to be lower than last year’s 1100, it isn’t much lower.
While Black Lives Matter mass-protests have died down and opportunities for very public interventions few in the last few months, activity or lack thereof by the civil rights movement should not be used as a barometer of discontent for young African American voters. In a piece in the magazine The Nation, writer Reniqua Allen rightly points out in her riposte to a Washington Post piece criticizing Black millennials for not being politically-engaged:
“First, Black Lives Matter never claimed to represent all black youth or be responsible for mobilizing an entire generation at the polls. Black Lives Matter organizers have said repeatedly that voter mobilization isn’t a priority and that they were not endorsing a presidential candidate in this election.
Black Lives Matter activist and California State University professor Melina Abdullah summed up the strategy on Democracy Now! in early March: “We’re not telling people not to vote, we’re simply not endorsing any presidential candidate, recognizing that where we want to put our time and energy is in the development of people to act in their own interests and on their own behalf.””
The correct way of framing the issue is to turn it on its head. Given a candidate who seems genuinely concerned and intent on far-reaching civil rights and criminal justice reforms, one can expect voter interest, and ensuing turnout, to rise in direct proportion.
The same is true of all other voters when it comes to the prospect that their vote will be the engine of change. In a primary and general election in which the feeling among voters is that the election is rigged toward the establishment, many may find that abstaining as a form of protest will be the more effective way of ensuring change in another four years. In other words, those #NeverHillary voters, in large enough numbers, may well be what forces the DNC establishment to be toppled.Van Jones told CNN that DNC Chair Wasserman Schultz made things worse this week:
TPM reports that Sanders voters have already secured permits for protests near the site of the DNC convention in July. Barring that and barring a genuine reconciliation by the July Democratic Convention and depending on how it is conducted, we may well wake up to a new party made exclusively of disgusted progressive refugees from the DNC. We are right at the junction where several movements are poised to meet, join, and push for change that will happen sooner, rather than later.
As I wrote in my last post, Bernie Sanders should not remain a Democrat if the party denies him the power and mandate granted to him by his voters in this primary. He will have done his utmost to work within a system that is too set in its ways to change… With the DNC rebuffing Sanders’ political revolution and with a robust progressive constituency behind him, it will finally be time for the founding of a much needed third political party.
Sanders has garnered sufficient support in all 50 states by now, for a third political party to be built on the solid foundation of progressive labor principles. Sanders has demonstrated that he has the support of those voters who make up the labor movements of the present and the future, and a vast swath of the US working and middle classes, as well as its youth. In time, Sanders will widen his reach to include those whom he should have appealed to but didn’t. It takes time and and a great deal more effort to build a movement.
In one short primary season, Bernie Sanders achieved what no other American politician before him has ever been able to achieve, from the ground up. He doesn’t need a primary victory to take his movement to the next level, but he does need all of his voters to remain engaged, focused, and preparing for the next election. Allowing the DNC to assimilate Sanders without breathing life into the new movement he started will achieve only one thing: the further disenfranchisement of many millions of Americans and their disconnection from a process they will then know as rigged. Maybe the tent was always too big for the focus that is now needed. Maybe a big tent can’t work because the establishments have made it impossible for a new FDR to rise. Whatever the answer, in these times, change is needed. Incrementalism is antithesis to change. We need change.
Message to readers:
Blog#42 is reader-supported. It is thanks to the support of readers like you that I am able to widen the blog’s reach. Click here to make a one-time donation to fund Blog#42, or here to make a small monthly contribution.
To help my family, please click here.