Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Sanders Conundrum

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Protesters camp out in Senator Chuck Schumer’s Capitol Hill Office, November 14, 2016 (source)

by Gaius Publius

co•nun•drum (kə-nŭnˈdrəm) n. A paradoxical, insoluble, or difficult problem; a dilemma: "the conundrum, thus far unanswered, of achieving full employment without inflation” (Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.)

I'm writing this to pose a question, not to offer an answer, at least not for now. Consider:

1. It's important to oppose Trump, especially now that buyer's remorse is setting in and Trump's voter base is freaking out about, among other things, Republican (non-)support for Social Security and Medicare. It's important for progressives to get involved in that discontent and help guide it.

2. Among progressives, Bernie Sanders is the perfect messenger and catalyst to speak to and for that discontent, that reaction and rebellion.

3. And yet, if the way he catalyzes, inflames, and channels that opposition also blesses the neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party (who also want to cut Social Security and Medicare) as something better than they are — if Sanders helps paint them in false colors — is that really a win, either for Sanders or the nation?

Again, the last is a real question and not just a rhetorical one, since opposition to Trump must be effective or we're all in trouble.

The question is a conundrum, as defined above, and I don't think I'm ready to answer it. But I do think it the question must be asked, and asked now, before we get too far into the game of "Making Neo-Liberal Democrats Look Like What They're Not ... Again."

Because if this is the wrong game to play, the repainting neo-liberals game, Bernie Sanders of all people is exactly the wrong person to be playing it.

Here's TYT reporter Jordan Chariton making the case that Sanders is making a mistake. Note: I'm not making that case until I give more thought to the alternatives, but I do want you to notice that the question Chariton asks is a valid one.

Writing at Mediaite, Chariton says (my emphasis):
Bernie Sanders Has The Right Message—But The Wrong Strategy

As a progressive journalist who doesn’t hide the fact that I personally support Bernie Sanders, it’s bittersweet to come to this critical conclusion: the progressive icon has the right message, but the wrong strategy.

Sunday was a classic example. Sanders, alongside Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, brought out 8,000 people to a save Obamacare rally on a freezing cold Michigan day.

And trust me, they weren’t there for Schumer’s electrifying speech.

So, you might ask, where’s the problem? Of course, it’s a good thing to energize thousands of people to come out during an election year, much less a random, off-election year Sunday.

But the problem is who Sanders is allowing to piggyback off his powerful, consistent message. Schumer embodies everything that’s wrong, not only with the Democratic Party, but American politics in general. He’s a politician that, over the years, has invested more in his own personal perseverance of power than in helping the average, working class person he’s entrusted in to represent.
Schumer's history of vacuuming up Wall Street cash to consolidate personal power in the Democratic Party is well documented at DWT (more here). Chariton again:
[T]he Schumer’s of the world, whose votes on economic issues don’t depart much from Republicans, are able to fool many Americans into thinking they are the ones fighting the good fight for the average Joe—just by being on the same stage and grabbing the same headlines as Sanders.

Why should Sanders allow a Democrat like Schumer—who’s against the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, who played a key role in getting derivates deregulated for the big banks, who takes oodles of cash from oil companies destroying our planet, who stayed silent while police illegally shot at and abused unarmed water protectors fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline—to stand next to him and con less politically-astute Americans into thinking he’s some type of progressive warrior?
Because it's really easy to see that this as a con on Schumer's part, isn't it? He's clearly using Sanders to "phoenix" himself and his fellow bought Democrats as somehow better now, newborn, using the fact that Sanders and they are on the same side of some fights, or at least, this fight. (If you don't believe that the Democratic Party as a whole are using Sanders this cynically, watch Democratic House and Senate votes during the Trump cabinet confirmations. If the votes go down as I think they will, I bet you'll conclude that the Party is the same as it always was, the same as it was last year when it was rejected by the voters as "not the solution we were looking for after all.")

And yet, how can Sanders, who clearly understands the danger Trump represents, reject such a partnership? Would you reject such a partnership, if you were Sanders, and risk being less effective by hitting the road alone?

A bit more from Chariton:
This does more than damage hearts and minds of progressives: it risks setting up the Democratic Party —which certainly looks like it will still be a bought-off, Republican-lite party in four years— as the protagonist in the 2020 thriller that seeks to take down the evil Republican boogeyman, President Trump.

And once victorious, America will be back where it’s been for the last eight years: improving on the surface, but structurally drowning as the majority live paycheck to paycheck while most of the money keeps funneling to Schumer’s donors.
There are two armies in the field against us, not just the one. Those who don't see that didn't support Sanders in the primary. And despite all the institutional thumbs on the electoral and media scales, millions upon millions of people supported Sanders in the primary — against a candidate, Hillary Clinton, whom they saw as representing all they rejected; and against policies, "Clintonism," that they saw as taking America even further down a deadly, destructive road. Those people, Sanders supporters, want to see both armies crushed, not just one; and they want to see real progressive policies rise from those dual graves.

Chariton asks, what good does it do in the end to defeat Trumpism, if as you do you position Clintonism as the natural alternative in the next election? As the protest group All of Us said in their petition when they staged demonstration in the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer (image above):
“Donald Trump won by channeling anti-establishment anger and worry about long-term economic decline, and pointing the blame at people of color and immigrants. He sold his supporters a racist lie, and gave them an outlet for their rage at a broken system. The only way to stop his disastrous policies now, and beat the Republicans in 2018 and 2020, is through a vision of our own that acknowledges that the system is broken and places the blame where it belongs—with Wall Street, the big corporations, and a political establishment that is beholden to them.

“Insisting that trickle-down economics and corporate friendly policies are working is what lost Hillary Clinton the presidency—and that’s why we can’t let Wall Street Democrats like Chuck Schumer lead the party any longer. Schumer, as one of the U.S. Senators who has received the most contributions from Wall Street, exemplifies the establishment that voters across the political spectrum have rejected.”
Yet, many would ask, as I'm sure Sanders does ask — how do you not go to war with Trump alongside anyone who will help you defeat him?

Does Sanders — do progressives — have a path against Trump that doesn't involve restoring one enemy while defeating the other? How do we turn anger at Trump into a win for progressives, instead of a win for the Clinton wing of the Party?

I'll leave you to ponder that. A conundrum.

GP
 

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13 Comments:

At 10:45 AM, Blogger Gadfly said...

Isn't this the same conundrum for places, sites and groups like Progressive Democrats of America, Democratic Underground and this blog, who refuse to admit the national party is in many ways a more and more hulking shell, and refuse to look beyond the two-party box?

 
At 12:09 PM, Blogger Alice said...

I don't know what Sanders should do. Some of this comes down to whether you think that the Democratic party is salvageable, or whether we should just go Green. I think Bernie is trying to change the incentives. If he can get this corportist Democrats in front of cheering crowds who want them to defend healthcare, Schumer et al might just do the right thing. That combined with the knowledge that if they fail to do the right thing they will be hearing from BernieNation in a big way (ask Cory Booker) might persuade them to do the right thing. It is a question of using the tools you have.

 
At 12:42 PM, Anonymous Liz B said...

I thought in the early weeks after the election that the Democratic party was not salvageable, and had serious concerns about Bernie's apparent strategy to effect change from within. But now I'm cautiously hopeful. He and like-minded politicians appear to have had a significant degree of success thus far in doing just that. I still have concerns about the time, effort and funding required to start from scratch to create a truly progressive organization, and--if it's a third party--it's political viability, given the difficulties that the current system and public opinion about third parties pose currently. Yes, Schumer is a weasel, and will undoubtedly attempt to profit personally and politically from his association with Bernie when it suits him, but his tendency to jump on what appears to be a successful bandwagon could make him useful until and unless his constituents figure out what he's really about and replace him with someone willing to look out for the interests of the 99%.

 
At 1:13 PM, Blogger Elizabeth Burton said...

The answer isn't that complicated. How many progressive Democrats who are most like Sanders are there in the current Congress? If Sanders scorns Schumer and his ilk, what are the chances of his achieving anything? Answer: Few, and not optimistic.

In addition, as long as the grassroots activists stay awake and keep fighting, those corporate Dems who show up to share the stage with Sanders are going to have to watch their backs if they try to renege. Consider Cory Booker. Will it make him think twice about putting Big Pharma above his constituents? No way to know at this early stage, but it was a shot across the bow to the elite. And the people who are all aghast at how badly he was treated, the poor baby, are revealing their own total disconnect from the people they claim to be part of.

Bernie's method has always been to get different, and often opposing, factions working together for the common good. He's doing exactly what he's always done, and before people who haven't been at it as long and as successfully as he has start pontificating, they might want to consider that.

 
At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think Chariton's fears will be realized. If the Democrats stand before the electorate in 2020 with a Chuck Schumer Republican Lite candidate they will go down to defeat, no matter how awful the Republican candidate may be.

 
At 2:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched the rally on TV, Schumer acted as if Bernie was the president elect, or at least the rock star. Schumer is taking a bit of a back seat and letting Bernie be the voice of the party--that is telling to me. We do have to do something about finding and insecticide strong enough to keep the Clinton's out the management of the party going forward. In the same way Howard Dean was able to get the 50 State Project going--which set the stage for Obama's win, Bernie may be able to move things in the right direction. I grew up in the NYC of Eleanor Roosevelt's "Reform Democrats". It may be doable.

 
At 3:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is just a continuation of the same strategy employed by BOTH Bernie and the utterly corrupt democrap party (ucdp; scummer, et al).

Bernie is an independent. He needs the democrap party to help him in his ever diminishing granular victories in a long war of attrition. He's using the "whomever is the enemy of my enemy is my friend" tactic in a case-by-case basis.

The problem for Bernie is and has been for decades that he then has to play apologist and bullshit artist for the nearly unbroken string of major betrayals by (ucdp).

In this time and place, scummer and ucdp need Bernie to appear relevant to the 99.99% (less the 20% or so virulent white racists). Without Bernie's apologism and co-appearances for the illusion of relevance, the ucdp would look worse than an ocean of cowflop to voters -- not that this would prevent the morons from still voting D on the ballot. beggars the imagination.

At this point, I would HOPE that ucdp needs Bernie FAAAAAR more than the inverse. Bernie established some cred with his run. Except for blacks (unfathomable) and anti-semites, he is pretty well known and liked by everyone that doesn't yearn for some dipshit despot to tell them how to think.

But I always have to remember how gawdawful stupid voters are... so maybe they both need each other in equal amounts... pity.

If Bernie steers the ucdp successfully in opposition to the fascists' murder of 50 million elderly, sick, poor and minorities (for fun and profit, natch), then he WILL have prolonged the life and relevance of that odious hairball of a ucdp. If he fails, the odious hairball stays stuck in the throat but more people will die... sooner than if the ucdp was in charge of repaying the corporations.

 
At 4:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You pose a question? I pose a couple back at you: How is a united front against Trump, one that will recapture the White House in 2020, possible without the Democrats?

Do people like Anonymous@3:41 PM think it's going to happen with Jill Stein voters?

 
At 5:56 PM, Blogger Zappatero said...

the ones I see in CO (Bennet in the Senate, Polis in the House) are oblivious to the warning signs, or, more likely, don't want to or cannot change their ConservaDem/Blue Dog guiding philosophy and hope that CO Dems don't notice or don't realize the necessity to purge those strategies and ideas from the Democratic Party consciousness.

 
At 6:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 4:56 PM - if you have been reading DWT very long you will discover that Anonymous@3:41 PM says the same things over and over and over. I just skip any and all of his rants about "democraps", etc. Don't waste your valuable time. He/she is just a downer and offers no solutions to any of the problems about which he/she is constantly ranting. Same rant - different day.

 
At 6:37 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Call me a blue dog, but Chariton is a fucking pain in the butt. Bernie has lived a whole lot longer than Jordan. The Sanders wing now is the Democratic Tea Party and Schumer knows he'll go down if he betrays us.

 
At 8:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to 4:56, that's the point, isn't it. It won't happen under the current banner because they suppress progressive candidates and promote corporatists... and each cycle a few more of their voters figure this out.

If it won't happen under the current corrupted fascist neoliberal banner, it MUST happen under a different one.

to 6:17, I've posted several possible strategeries which might work and I've posted them several times. Since you skip my stuff via clairvoyance, you must have missed them all. Feel free to critique them but you cannot claim I haven't offered any.
First and foremost, voters have to get smarter and more discerning. If that doesn't happen, Ds will be forever in the minority.

 
At 8:33 PM, Anonymous NABNYC said...

David Ogilvy popularized the idea of creating a Top 10 list to market products. Top 10 reasons this is the best car, for example. It works. And we know David Letterman later made this his own, from a humorous perspective. People read those lists. They're open to learning, particularly when it is limited to 10 key points.

I think we need a progressive platform hammered out by activists, then re-written by marketing/copy writers into a Top 10 List. Top 10 Progressive Goals for America, for example. The platform/list would actually give Bernie cover, so it's no longer all about him. He could instead say "the progressive platform, endorsed by millions of Americans, includes the following positions...." Of course the demands should be made equally against democrats and republicans.

The platform could be lengthy. But the Top 10 List would have to be brief, to the point, not superficial and vague but not tied down with details. It could be handed out to people who will undoubtedly be gathering in the streets during the next 4 years to protest anticipated atrocities from Trump. We would need a website, and place for people to vote to support it.

One of the critical reasons to do this would be to get people to focus on principles, not personalities, so that all this energy is not wasted on anti-trump sentiments, when the same dangers undoubtedly lurk among other republicans and among many democrats, as pointed out in this article.

Much of the platform/top 10 might come from Bernie's own campaign. But not all of it.

That leaves Bernie free to externalize it to some extent, so he is not the only person in the entire country standing up for progressive positions, and so that progressives do not spend the next 4 years simply running from one issue to the next: Defend Medicare, Defend public education, oppose police violence, etc. We really need an organized coherent platform with a Top 10 list that fairly states our position.

From there, of course, we could ask any candidate if they would commit to supporting our platform and, if they don't, we recommend against supporting them. If they agree, we back them.

I think we're up against the wall. The democrats believe they can keep all the Wall Street/corporate/warmongering whores in charge of the party because we won't risk another Trump-election disaster. We need to tell them that if they don't change now, we'll continue to not support them with the same result, except their party will pretty quickly disappear. Who is going to continue giving them billions when they can't win an election? I think now is the time to get tough and get organized.

 

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