To the Rescue?

According to the New York Times, the Democratic Party establishment is concerned about their Hillary Problem.  She has been dropping sharply in the polls while her main rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, has been galvanizing his support from a coalition of progressive Democrats, progressive non-Democrats, sane Republicans (current or former), workers, marginalized minorities, and other truly grassroots interests, and has consequently gained in the polls to the point where Sanders now leads in both Iowa and New Hampshire, the two opening contests in primary season.

Thus, the Democratic Party establishment has been quietly scrambling to field a big-name alternative.  For whatever reason (and we will speculate on those reasons in a moment), the party establishment is uncomfortable with the prospect of the good senator from Vermont being their standard bearer.  As mentioned in the article, names like John Kerry, Al Gore, Elizabeth Warren and, of course, the current sitting vice president are being floated as potential candidates.

However, this pro-Bernie site cogently responds with reasons why each of these candidates are either unlikely to run, or are unacceptable alternatives to Sanders.  In addition to the reasons stated in the article, I will throw in my two cents’ worth: Kerry: proven loser; Gore: proven loser, time has past in the electoral arena, does more good now as an elder statesman; Biden: still grieving, has to carry the baggage of the current administration rather than offering a fresh alternative, gaffe machine.

One might notice that I have no objection to Elizabeth Warren.  If she entered the race, I would seriously reconsider my support for Sanders.  She would be a force for essentially the same red-meat liberal policies as Sanders, but would also offer the opportunity to achieve gender equity in the presidency, which, despite my lack of support for Hillary Clinton currently, I nonetheless believe is an important consideration.  However, she’s not going to run.  If she were interested in the job, she would have declared her candidacy by now.  After all, she is a one-term senator whom progressives really like, who is a forceful speaker and also has enough personality and populism on her side that moderate America could be won over: reminiscent precisely of one Barack Obama circa 2008.  So it was her moment in history to seize, and she did not seize it.  So there is no reason to think she is going to seize it now.

This author thinks that with a proper rollout, Bernie Sanders could be attractively presented to the rest of America who may right now be unfamiliar with the Vermonter’s oeuvre of corporate-busting, monopoly-resisting, working-class-championing activism.  I think this is correct.  Trump is surging in the polls because of (a) racism and misogyny and (b) a hunger for authenticity and a disdain for politics-as-usual.  The thing is, sane people who are not racists and misogynists are also hungry for authenticity and have a disdain for politics-as-usual.  If they can’t vote for Trump (and thank god they won’t), where do they go?  Likely as not, many just stay home.  Sanders himself has maintained that if the Democrats don’t nominate someone who can rally genuine populist enthusiasm and grow a progressive grassroots coalition (read: him), the lack of enthusiasm on the part of rank-and-file Democrats will suppress the vote enough to swing the election to the Republicans.  His theory is not without merit.

The million dollar question (and I choose that phrase carefully) is: why is the Democratic party establishment so reluctant to embrace Sanders?  Here are a few reasons, and some responses.

(1) He’s not actually a Democrat.  He is the longest-serving independent member of congress.  He takes no money from the Democratic Party.  He believes that to do so would compromise his message and effectiveness as a legislator.  He also does not take money from SuperPACs or large corporations, and, of course, the Democratic Party proper does.  So he’s not “one of them.”  Base tribalism for the win here.

My response: he caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate and has been certainly a more reliable independent for the Democrats than, say, periodic turncoat Joe Lieberman.  What actually bothers the establishment about this is that they would have a candidate not beholden to them, and therefore beyond a certain measure of their control.  To this I say, sorry, but, you may have to check your sense of entitlement at the door and concede that sometimes, occasionally, in an alleged democracy, the people themselves actually have a say and will not always fall into lock-step with what you want.  I recently told Sanders supporters who refuse to back the eventual Democratic nominee to “grow up”; now I say to you likewise.  Grow up.  You are not always going to get what you want when the people speak.

(2) The corporate paymasters of the Democratic party establishment do not want a candidate whose populism represents a genuine threat to their money interests.

My response: this is really a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party, which, many believe, myself included, that the party has lost touch with its working-class roots.  The Democratic Party, before Hillary Clinton’s husband became president, was the party of unions and labor.  It is understandable that after 1980, 1984 and 1988 an adjustment had to be made.  Third-way politics were necessary in the moment of 1992 as a temporary stopgap in order to reintroduce the American people, weary of traditional liberalism, to the Democrats.  However, third-way politics should have been a stopgap in 1992 and then a gradual reintroduction of liberal orthodoxy back into the Democratic party platform should have taken place.  But corporate America and the Democrats became cozy with one another, and the party became Corporate Lite.

It is no coincidence that six media conglomerates own 90% of the mass media you see and hear every day.  This was made possible by the deregulation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, who assured us that deregulation would mean more competition in the marketplace of ideas, and therefore, more liberal voices reaching the American people.  But it never worked out this way.  The mass media has colluded to present a picture to America of itself where it is a center-right nation, even though the actual progressive/liberal orthodox agenda (protecting social security, reforming health care, enacting policies that keep American jobs in America, resorting to diplomacy rather than war in foreign affairs, etc., etc., etc.) is attractive to the vast majority of Americans when polled.  But, President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act into law, and the corporate media’s current state of affairs redounds to the benefit of the corporate Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton, who is his wife.  Connect the dots.  The corporate media is supporting Hillary Clinton as a payoff for the Telecommunications Act, which benefited them enormously.

(3) They’re worried that the “socialist” label is going to sink Sanders’s viability.

Now, there, there is an argument that has something to it.  Frankly, it worries me too.  I think that Sanders labeling himself a “democratic socialist” is perhaps the single most profound blunder of his political career.  He fails to realize that the s-word is anathema to an America that remembers the cold war.  Interestingly enough, youth who do not remember the Cold War fail to be fazed by the s-word.

But you have to give Sanders this: if Hillary Clinton had ever labelled herself a “democratic socialist” at some point in her political career, she would now be out there scrambling to say that she was for it before she was against it.  Sanders to his credit has never retreated from the label.  He sees democratic socialism as a good thing (and, by the way, it actually is).  So whatever points he loses for using the s-word, he may very well gain back by being perceived correctly as a man of integrity who means what he says and does not waffle or try to explain away politically inconvenient facts about him.

So, Democratic Party establishment, enough with the rescue talk.  The people do not need to be rescued from a candidate who so obviously has their own best interest at heart.  If anything, you need to rescue yourselves from the greed and culture of corporatism that has so obviously and thoroughly corrupted your moral compasses.

-Robert Gross

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