With a sincere “thank you” to the January 1973 National Lampoon!
The important thing
is to pull yourself up by your own hair
to turn yourself inside out
and see the whole world with fresh eyes
— Marat/Sade, act 1, scene 12
Our current political landscape is unprecedented. The Republican Party is coming apart at the seams. The Democratic Party is broken, the rift between Wall Street Establishment and populist insurgents grows ever deeper. It is generally recognized that there are now roughly four social forces — no, not just four nominal factions, but four distinct social forces, POLITICAL FORCES — contending for the soul of America. Distinct not merely by programmatic nuance, but by fundamental social vision. They are:
- Establishment (Wall Street) Democrats trying to maintain the old post-WWII consensus;
- Establishment (Wall Street) Republicans who would rule through the sheer power of money;
- the Trump insurgency, taking the rage of the working class and trying to harness (divide) it in terms of race and nationality;
- the Sanders insurgency, taking that same rage, and trying to unite it in terms of racial and economic justice. In terms of human solidarity.
The Clinton Democrats are desperately trying to maintain the familiar 2-party framework that has served Wall Street so well — and the poor and working people of this country so badly. But things have gotten more complicated since the last go-round. Establishment Republicans and Establishment Democrats are both threatened by a broad rejection of the neo-con vision of the Pax Americana, and the globalist economic policies that render the ordinary people of this country more impoverished every year. The Trump and Sanders insurgencies both reject that neo-con/neo-liberal death march, but while the Trump base is gravitating toward a social vision that is fundamentally fascist, the Sanders forces are gathering around a vision that is essentially socialistic, whatever your definition of “socialist.”
We walk in the shadow of Germany’s Weimar Republic when the working class forces of both the Socialists and Nazis fought it out in the streets of Berlin and Munich before corporate Germany threw its full weight behind Adolf Hitler, the Donald Trump of his day.
We feel a gut-level revulsion at the very thought of voting for Hillary Clinton, even as we are bombarded on all sides with pathetic pleas to once again support the “lesser evil.” But to really get the folly of lesser-evilism, to win over the millions of Americans who are genuinely terrified at the prospect of a President Trump, we need more than gut-level revulsion. We need some working-class science. We have to internalize, to put it as simply as possible, that a 2-sided fight is not the same as a 4-sided fight and the rules that have dominated presidential politics for so many decades no longer apply. The rules of lesser-evilism have outlived any usefulness they once claimed to have had. Simply put, in a 4-way struggle, any force that does not fight for its own vision will surely be destroyed.
Be nice … or else.
The current beneficiaries of the 2-side paradigm are naturally doing everything within their surprisingly limited powers to deny, de-legitimize, and overtly crush the emergence of the new social forces.
There was the early call for Sanders to throw in the towel and get behind the inevitable nominee. For the good of Hillary Clinton (er, we mean, the good of the Party). The Hillary rank-and-file started shouting “Nader! Nader!” right from the beginning. That initial attack ran headlong into a brick wall, leaving engine parts and spinning wheels strewn all over the landscape.
As the Sanders campaign continued to build, Party elders got a cold dose of reality thrown in their faces. Gulp! Hey, we’re going to need those Sanders supporters come November. So okay, let them have their little Children’s Crusade. But first, let’s insist that they be well-behaved.
Thus Paul Krugman trumpeted in the April 1 New York Times:
“[I]t’s time to lay out some guidelines for good and bad behavior. … Engaging in innuendo suggesting, without evidence, that Clinton is corrupt is, at this point, basically campaigning on behalf of the [Republican National Committee]. … [W]hat makes the campaign think that he will get any backing from a party he refuses to lift a finger to help?”
That same day, Michael Cohen lamented in the Boston Globe:
“[Sanders’] attacks led to booing of Clinton’s name, something that Sanders once spoke out against but now allows to go on without reproach. … Rather than trying to unify the Democratic Party behind its almost certain nominee, Hillary Clinton, he is ramping up the attacks against her. … And the focus of his attacks is always the same — that she is too close to Wall Street. … While I understand the need to maintain a brave face for his supporters, Sanders is doing them and the party he wants to represent no favors not just by misleading them about his chances, but by increasing their dislike of Clinton.”
Etc., etc., different pundit, different day, same old shit. The problem with their impolite pleas for politeness was that any reference to Hillary being a paid tool of Wall Street was construed as personal. Hillary a neo-con? She supported the TPP? (“This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements.”) Husband Bill was an architect of mass incarceration? (Clinton’s Ready for Hillary PAC received $133,246 from the private prison industry.) All personal. They’re telling us to play tiddledywinks while they continue to play hardball. But as they say in Chicago, don’t bring a tiddledywink to a gunfight.
Anyway, that tack also went the way of the lead balloon. The party elders chastised their underlings that Sanders had to be allowed to continue his little fight all the way to the Convention in July (which Sanders made clear he was doing anyway, with or without their permission).
The leader of the Free World himself even weighed in via the April 7 Hill:
“President Obama on Thursday warned Democrats against adopting a ‘Tea Party mentality’ that could lead to deep divisions within the party and harm its chances of winning national elections.”
Oh yeah, the Tea Party has been such a failure!
… or else!
The odds against Sanders actually winning the nomination lengthened after the April 19 primaries, where Hillary took 4 of 5 states including Pennsylvania. The Establishment went for the jugular —time to lay down the law. As Hillary cheerleader Michael Tomasky made clear in the Daily Beast:
“[Hillary] shouldn’t accept conditions. But she absolutely should take steps to mollify his voters. She’s going to have to. However, she should do it like someone who’s ahead 57-43 should do it. She should say: Sure, I’ll adopt a couple of your positions. But I have a couple of conditions of my own. If I hear the words ‘Goldman’ and ‘Sachs’ coming out of your mouth one more time, if I see any more fund-raising appeals that paint me as the harlot of Wall Street, the deal is dead, and I’ll call Chuck Schumer and make sure that you don’t chair the Budget Committee if we retake the Senate, but instead you have the post-office renaming subcommittee. And I may drop some of that oppo I have on you that I’ve never used. You know the stuff I mean.”
Can’t get much clearer than that. Clarification is good. Smelling blood, the Establishment now feels free to reveal the real deal. In the April 29 Daily Beast Will Marshall says the Democratic Party must base its future on “swing voters”:
“Our survey indicates that to win them, Democrats must move beyond the finger-pointing populism that’s dominated their primary campaign. Swing voters aren’t drawn to an angry narrative of economic grievance and victimhood. Most don’t believe the economic deck is stacked against them … On the contrary, they favor policies that help entrepreneurs and businesses succeed as the best way to get wages rising again and help U.S. workers get ahead. For example, they support dramatically lowering the corporate income tax — to 15% — to put U.S. companies on an even competitive footing [and were] more likely than Democrats to favor reducing regulatory burdens on U.S. businesses.”
Enough of this polite stuff.
Underlying this is a darker rage at Sanders simmering among the ranks of Hillary supporters, coming from the top but oozing out among the Hillary ranks. From the barely civil:
“How privileged do you need to be to imagine that it’s a good idea to risk the actual lives of vulnerable Americans because you hate Clinton so much that you vow to stay home if Sanders doesn’t get the nomination? … more important than the lives of vulnerable Americans?”
to the vicious:
“[O]ld bernie and his filthy and disgusting bros are done. Petty and malicious behavior is all they have, bernie will NOT get a seat at the Dem table, he should be thrown out with the trash”
to the psychotically conspiratorial:
“If you are supporting Sanders you are actively working for Trump and your a troll and want to kill countless children around the world”;
“Bernie has evolved into Trump’s attack dog”;
“Arrest the Bernie Panders fucktard bots throw them in jail for over a year.”
The latest revelation is that the Sanders campaign is planning to wreck the Democratic Convention in July. Also from “HILLARY IN 2016 (FOR INTELLIGENT & LIKE MINDED INDIVIDUALS ONLY”:
“Hillary Clinton Being Warned of a Surprise for Her at the Democrat Convention
“[T]here is no doubt about what the Sanders camp is going to do. They have made their threats, and so the police, and Federal Officials, and others should be ready for these neanderthals. … they may have planned disruptions for the Democratic Convention like they did in Chicago in 68, if you remember people blamed the Democrats for the Vietnam war and it got out of hand, and it led to Nixon winning. Bernie, Jane, Van and his bros and bots may have the same thing planned for Hillary if his other plans to discredit her super-delegates or all delegates that isn’t for him doesn’t work. Please whoever is in charge of the security of the Convention make sure that it doesn’t get out of hand even if the National Guard has to be on hand there. Do like the GOP did at their last convention (I think it was) do not let them get close enough to disrupt the convention and cause violence. There are embedded Occupy and MoveON people organizing sessions on how to make ‘revolution’ and things like that, it is very well organized and they are also planning a 3rd party.”
“Like Minded” anyway!
In a more official vein (the Hill), Democratic Convention chair Ed Rendell has sternly warned:
“There’s gonna be a demonstration in support of Bernie; he’s gonna lose. His supporters have to behave and not cause trouble.”
With two-and-a-half months till Philadelphia, the drumbeat now grows louder for dumping any pretense that they need to give anything to Sanders or his supporters. (Where else can they go? they feign to chuckle while whistling past the graveyard.) They no longer profess to need Sanders supporters. Their fundamental strategy is revealed — winning over so-called moderate Republicans. Regarding us, their actual fear is that we are emerging as an independent, self-sufficient force to their left. That is what needs to be crushed.
Stay out of the Tar Pits.
The goal of the Sanders campaign (short of the nomination), after he declared that we were going to fight for the Political Revolution at least through the July Democratic Convention, was that we would go to Philadelphia and fight to get some good stuff stuck into the Democratic Platform.
That has been okay as a framework for keeping the campaign together until then. It has now outlived its usefulness.
First, on its own terms, it is useless. Everyone knows that “improve the platform” is the political equivalent of “go away, son, you bother me.” The modern version of the La Brea Tar Pits. Nobody reads the platform. It guides nobody’s campaign. It’s a game.
Secondly, Hillary is the unparalleled master of slippery weasel-speak. “I may call for only a $12/hr. minimum wage, but I support Fight for $15, $15 someday,” opportunizing off her SEIU endorsement. Fracking? “Stricter regulation.” Tackle Wall Street? “I have a plan.” Universal healthcare? “We’re all for that! Just build on Obamacare.”
Finally, forces in the Hillary camp are gearing up for a “no prisoners” smackdown that will clear the decks for the center-right campaign they have been itching to run from day one, before that nasty Mr. Sanders threw a flying monkey wrench into their beautiful wickedness.
Some within the Sanders ranks —their loyalty to the Democratic Party rating above their commitment to the Political Revolution — argue that, even if the Hillary campaign gives us nothing now, we can pressure a future President Hillary to work to implement universal healthcare and bust the banks and support the $15/hr. minimum. At the risk of being harsh, such is a perfect case of Lucy and Charlie Brown and the football. Put the movement on hold (disarm) and re-activate it next year. First, you don’t put movements on hold and then re-activate them at will. Movements that stop moving simply die. Secondly, we now have the shining example of the Obama presidency of 2009, where Obama had a Democratic House and a filibuster-proof Senate, and still couldn’t do more than hand healthcare over to the insurance companies. Hardly a peep about any kind of jobs program while Obama was bailing out the banks and letting Goldman Sachs do his economic advising. I do not believe that the “we will pressure Hillary after she is elected” argument is even made in good faith. It is ONLY to disarm us.
Take over the Titanic?
Then there is the old line about taking over the Democratic Party. Eventually. All we have to do is take over all these county committees and state committees. Etc., etc. Sounds sensible on paper, if you forget how many decades progressives have been touting just that. Hasn’t worked. Won’t work. The Democratic Establishment has what in military terms is called the “interior lines,” a well-oiled machine. Money. The awesome array of incumbent officeholders currently backing Hillary. The only way we could even hope to take over is if we could build our own well-oiled people’s machine NOT embedded (and constrained) within the current Establishment structure. But if we had such a powerful and independent machine, then why would we not simply create our own new party rather than trying to salvage the wreckage of the old one?
Such plans ultimately leave us holding the bag. Again, the one purpose such chimera might serve, for what it’s worth, is to hold us together as a movement UNTIL the Convention, while we use the time to work out more serious independent plans. The Convention is a venue from which we can plan and further organize.
But there is much to be done in organizing ourselves. We are currently a movement. To the extent that we are an organization, our organization is the campaign itself, but that is by its nature self-liquidating. The pressure will be enormous to fold ourselves into the Hillary campaign. Her operatives are drooling over getting their hands on our donors list. They are praying that our volunteers will now fall into lock-step for the DNC’s slates across the board.
Obviously we are not going to do that. Well, let me amend that. Some will. The fear of Trump is real. In my heart, I cannot be too cruel in condemning them. They seek some kind of security for themselves and their children. But no, there is no safe choice. Now the burden is on those of us whose primary commitment is to the Political Revolution to prove that we can build a viable alternative.
First consideration is how to give our movement some kind of organizational form beyond the Sanders campaign itself. As I wrote in “Mass Consciousness and its Discontents,” “It is concrete organization that bridges the gap between the consciousness of the masses and action taken by the masses.” So I see roughly three options:
(1) Target local races. This can be a trap if mishandled, or it can be a solid way to build the Sanders movement for the long haul. Every candidate from dogcatcher to Senator will be grasping for our volunteers and our donor lists. At worst, this can be the path to liquidation, spreading ourselves too thin, and too cheaply. We do not want to become just another ActBlue which is nothing but a funnel for the DNC, as we dissipate our forces all over the landscape for every candidate to the left of Genghis Khan. End of story.
We need to set some very high standards. We have to be able to say No to some decent people who are simply not down for the Revolution. Support ONLY candidates who have endorsed Sanders, or the Political Revolution. Or [a few who] have other merit as fighters for principle. In Florida, two candidates come readily mind. Alan Grayson for Senate. He took political risks in endorsing Sanders, and is a serious contender for Marco Rubio’s Senate seat. And Tim Canova, a Sanders endorser and a former Sanders adviser. He is going up against DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who has done everything within her power and some things beyond her power to sabotage Sanders. Politics 101: reward your friends and punish your enemies. Supporting Canova does both.
A high standard allows us to then concentrate our impact so that where we do endorse, we make an appreciable impact on the outcome. It gives us real leverage.
(2) Do a concerted write-in campaign for Sanders in all 50 states (and don’t forget DC!). The downside is that many such votes won’t be initially counted if at all. But, as evidenced by the hysteria from the Hillary camp over #BernieOrBust, it will be felt. Organizing the write-in itself solidifies our forces.
(3) Vote for Jill Stein, the likely Green Party nominee, lesser-known but nonetheless becoming better known. Those votes WILL be counted. If they lead to a significant increase in votes for the Green Party, that will be noticed, just as the legacy of Ralph Nader and the 2000 election still haunts the dreams of the DNC operatives.
Note that I am NOT suggesting we actually join the Green Party. That party is at war with itself over whether it even wants to reach out to Sanders supporters after the convention, or treat us like the bubonic plague for having ever supported Sanders. (Some court us with open arms while another segment concedes they might let us join if we abjectly apologize, and others consider us permanently tainted.) We don’t need to go somewhere we aren’t wanted. Note that I don’t want to write off the Greens completely. They have some very good people doing their best to build something serious. And they have some ballot status. But if we want to relate to them beyond voting for Jill Stein, we would need our own independent electoral organization (party or not) that could relate to them at arm’s length and not become enmeshed in their internal strife.
We should not tie ourselves to ANY particular party. With the whole 2-party structure breaking down, we may find opportunity among all segments of the population.
I am seeing increasing chatter for us forming a new “third” party. I simply do not think it feasible between now and November. A true mass party of the 99% does have potential, but that is beyond the scope of this piece.
The three options above are not long-term solutions. But they can, individually and severally, advance us from July through November, just as the Sanders campaign itself is taking us through July. They keep the movement moving, they keep us organized, and they buy us time.
All three options entail a strategic rejection of clutching at the coattails of the neo-con/neo-liberal Democratic Establishment. Or in plain English, they say “No way are we voting for Hillary.” And no way are we just sitting it out. Pursuing any or all of them requires confronting head-on the boogie-man of lesser-evilism, in the form of “vote for Hillary, or Trump’s gonna get your momma.”
Free the lists!
We need tools. We need resources, to continue the Political Revolution and pursue any of these options. The campaign is currently organized around a top-down phone-banking operation wholly focused on upcoming primary states. The phone banking is not used for building local structure. But who owns the lists?
Our donor and volunteer lists are an awesome resource. We built it. We cannot settle for the lists of volunteers and donors to remain a commodity for bargaining with Hillary for Sanders’ right to make a speech at the Convention. We built those lists. We ARE those lists. We have to have functioning and accountable state organizations so that we are not vulnerable to the Kill Switch being pulled on us. And the volunteer and donor lists, once a given state has held its primary, need to be turned over to each state campaign to use as it sees fit.
We cannot be an independent force while organized by the rules of corporate America, where everything is owned by a handful of people.
Be afraid, but be smart!
Some argue that we don’t have to worry about the lesser-evil argument because Hillary is a sure bet to win in November. Though attractive, this view is very dangerous. It renders our position passive. If we win people over based on Trump being sure to lose, our forces will then start to wobble should Trump have a good day in the polls. Or should Hillary be indicted for her e-mails. Or whatever. The Establishment media is already in full anti-Trump frenzy (16 different — or perhaps the same — anti-Trump articles graced the front page of the May 8 Huffington Post.) The constant message is fear.
Trump certainly gives me cause to fear. But Hillary gives me cause to fear as well.
As Andrew Levine explains in the April 29 Counterpunch:
“Democrats can therefore do what Republicans cannot: integrate the victims of the status quo into a political consensus that serves and protects those who benefit most from it – the “one percent,” the “billionaire class.” They are good at this. … Republicans support neoliberal policies and practices more fervently than Democrats do. But, for putting them into practice, Democrats leave Republicans standing in the dust. … It is likely, in fact, that Trump would run to Hillary’s left on most issues – trade, foreign affairs, infrastructure development, jobs programs, holding Wall Street banksters and other corporate criminals accountable, and so on.
Think Levine is some kind of wild leftist? Then take the lead headline of the May 9 Washington Post which blurts out: “How Donald Trump is running to the left of Hillary Clinton.”
This point may be debatable, but I prefer not to. The very fact that it even IS debatable says all that needs to be said on the matter.
No, what terrifies me the most is the possibility that we might let this historic moment slip by, that we not seize this opportunity to consolidate our own independent political force. If we fail in that, we are left defenseless against all the horrors that the minions of a collapsing empire can unleash. Democrat or Republican.
Time indeed to see with “fresh eyes.”
What uplifts my spirit is the break-up of the 2-party system. Establishment against Establishment. Both Establishments against Trump. All three against us.
In that free-for-all, we are fighting for the soul of the 99%, enraged that it has been abandoned by both Political Establishments, by the media, by the Beltway, by the very organizations that have purported to speak in their name. But will the 99% be organized by racism and social division, or will they be organized on the basis of human solidarity and racial justice, for a world where healthcare, education, housing, jobs and income are fundamental human rights?
In coming months, both parties will stage various spectacles of “kiss and make up,” featuring heart-warming photo-ops while the real business goes on with daggers under the table. But they have “let slip the dogs of war.” We must not disarm.
The American tradition.
The hard fact is that if we go running around holding our noses and telling people to vote for Hillary, we forfeit our ability to even try to organize the 99% around anything progressive. Yes, we can talk about disarming now and resuming the struggle come next January. We can talk about all sorts of things on paper. You don’t build a Political Revolution under the banner of Hillary Clinton. Movements have their own dynamics. Movements can die. Shilling for Hillary, we would be rejected by our own base.
Let no one question our legitimacy. They call us wild-eyed. But we are in the best tradition of the American people. In 1775, Patrick Henry spoke to the Political Revolution of his day:
“I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves, and the House? Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. … It is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.”
— Jeff Roby
May 9, 2016