Obama’s $400,000 speeches: Unabashed. Shameless. Provocative.

29 April 2017

Unabashed. Shameless. Provocative.

Such words perhaps begin to do justice to the decision by former president Barack Obama to accept payments of $400,000 for each of two public appearances. Two so far.

A researcher earlier this year suggested that the Obamas “could earn as much as $242.5 million from speeches, book deals and pensions.” But that modest calculation was based on an estimated $40 million in book fees for the couple and a $200,000 fee per appearance. The book deal turned out to be worth far more, $65 million, and now we see what Wall Street firms and large corporations are prepared to pay the ex-president for his dollops of wisdom.

The two speaking fees alone put the former candidate of “change” into the top one percent of income earners in the US—in fact, one of them would almost have done the trick.

It is extraordinary. An array of political elements and media outlets invested large amounts of time, energy and money into selling Obama to the American public in 2007-08 as a progressive figure, a cut well above George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, a man of compassion who would understand the average American’s pain. Of course, eight years of the actual Obama, who ruled exclusively in the interests of the financial oligarchy and the military-intelligence apparatus, disabused and disillusioned millions—thereby opening the door for Donald Trump.

But still one might think, given the appalling and reactionary character of the new administration, that Trump’s predecessor would be held—or would hold himself—in political reserve, that he retained, after all, a certain political use value as a means of confusing or disorienting the mass opposition that must emerge.

But they can’t apparently help themselves, this current crop of American politicians. They don’t merely represent enormous wealth, they are themselves enormously wealthy, they are flesh of the oligarchy’s flesh, blood of its blood. Rubbing their riches and privilege in the public’s face is a mode of existence; it comes nearly as naturally as breathing.

The New York Times, along with various Democrats and others, registered a certain nervousness about Obama’s actions. The Times attempted, impossibly, to balance the “two post-presidential Barack Obamas,” one obviously greedy as sin and the other, “civic-minded”: “Throughout his years in the White House, Mr. Obama championed the problems of the poor even as he showed an affinity for Hollywood superstars, elite artists and technology billionaires.” He never “championed” the problems of the poor; he paid occasional lip service to them, the deceitful stock in trade of the Democratic Party.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts and “influential progressive,” according to CNN, described herself as “troubled” by Obama’s payoff. Warren has recently made the astonishing discovery that “the influence of money” in Washington is a serious issue. She told CNN that money was “a snake that slithers” through the nation’s capital and “shows up in so many different ways.”

Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders, the nominal “independent,” told CNN on Friday that he found Obama’s plan to receive $400,000 for speaking at a Wall Street conference “distasteful.” Tellingly, he added, “At a time when we have so much income and wealth inequality … I think it just does not look good.”

This was also the theme of Jill Abramson’s column in the Guardian: “The optics of some of Obama’s decisions since leaving office have been damaging,” including “the vacations. … [T]he former president did deserve a holiday. But did it have to be with the Billionaires’ Club? There was a widely reported visit to Richard Branson’s place in British Virgin Islands for kitesurfing, photos of which went around the globe. In French Polynesia, this was followed by a jaunt on David Geffen’s 45ft yacht [actually 454 feet!] with celebrities including Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey and Bruce Springsteen.”

After noting that the “habitual kowtowing of senior Democrats to the billionaire class has left their party close to morally bankrupt,” Abramson argued that “Obama needs to be the leader of the Democratic party right now.” The disclosure of his personal corruption, however, runs the risk of leaving the Democrats even more exposed and vulnerable.

Farcically, in the midst of the widespread revulsion with Obama, the Nation too proposed that the former president should be the moral and intellectual leader of opposition to Trump (“Do We Need Obama in the Trump Resistance?”). Educating the public about “reinvesting in health care or climate change,” the column asserted, “would be a significant rebuke to the current administration, but not quite the outright ad hominem attack on a sitting president. Such a campaign could preserve Obama’s legacy while catapulting the liberal agenda forward.”

The International Socialist Organization and its socialistworker.org, which proclaimed Obama’s election a “transformative event” in 2008, eschewed all references to “slithering,” “kowtowing” and “catapulting.” In fact, as per usual when complicated and uncomfortable things occur, the group eschewed saying anything at all, which is the ISO’s own special brand of political complicity.

Obama had open defenders in the liberal media too, as well he should, given its current degenerate moral state. Daniel Gross at Slate had several preposterous arguments. “Speaking for money is a very large industry,” he commented. “Many of us, including me, participate in this economy. The fees range all over the place, but it’s extremely lucrative. It’s harder to make more money legally in an hour than you can giving a speech.” In other words, I’m a swine, Obama’s a swine, we’re all swine together.

Gross too was concerned about “the optics.” But “accepting speaking fees doesn’t inherently compromise your integrity, and there is no baked-in conflict between having or making money and being heavily invested in progressive causes.” Obama, he reasoned, “was the most effective populist—yes, populist—president since Lyndon B. Johnson.” Gross went on to argue, wonderfully, that because Obama will make lots of money and “take all of his earnings as ordinary income,” he will pay lots in taxes!

Michael Harriot at the Root claimed that the criticisms of Obama’s avarice were at least in part racially motivated. “Obama is black, which means his critics are like a P. Diddy remix: They can’t stop, won’t stop.”

Would taking $400,000 from Wall Street undermine “his [Obama’s] attacks on income inequality” or make him “a hypocrite,” would “large speaking fees make him inaccessible to the common American”? Harriot was not concerned. He asked rhetorically, “Should Democrats and progressives cede all influence over Wall Street to Republicans who espouse trickle-down theory and free-market principles? Speaking of the ‘free market’ … shouldn’t Obama be free to command whatever someone is willing to pay?”

Whatever miserable apologetics are thrown up, Obama’s raking in enormous fees from giant firms disgusts large numbers of people and further undermines the American economic and political system, the fenced-off domain of the fabulously wealthy.

Ruling classes condemned by history can never help themselves, that’s the nature of the beast. One rather conventional historian pointed to what was then considered a truism in a work written over a century ago on the coming of the French Revolution of 1789: “It was the luxury and extravagance of the aristocracy of the old regime and the insolent, ostentatious display of their wealth that created envy and hatred in the hearts of the common people; but the lessons of the past were unheeded by the rich and their conduct at this time only increased the general discontent.”

The American aristocracy is every bit as ostentatious and unheedful, and every bit as historically doomed.

David Walsh


Disingenuous attacks on Bernie Sanders persist — and his popularity climbs

The Democrats’ hypocrisy fest:

Clinton loyalists are still trying to tar Sanders as a sexist troglodyte. Read the polls — It’s not working 

The Democrats' hypocrisy fest: Disingenuous attacks on Bernie Sanders persist — and his popularity climbs
Bernie Sanders (Credit: Reuters/Max Whittaker)
If there is one thing that Hillary Clinton’s loyalists can never resist, it is a chance to sully the name of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who continues to be a thorn in the Democratic establishment’s side. Last week it was no different, when Democratic partisans seized on an opportunity to vilify and paint the Vermont senator as a cultural reactionary who is willing to sacrifice women’s reproductive rights if it means advancing his populist economic agenda.

This opportunity came when Sanders, on his “Come Together and Fight Back” tour with newly elected Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez, made a planned stop in Omaha, Nebraska, to stump for mayoral candidate Heath Mello, a former state senator running against Republican incumbent Jean Stothert. The episode began about a week earlier, when the liberal activist website Daily Kos, along with other notable Democrats, endorsed Mello against his Republican opponent, seemingly unaware of the fact that he is not exactly progressive when it comes to abortion (though he isn’t exactly a fervent anti-abortion right-winger either). Then, on Wednesday, an article from The Wall Street Journal reported that Mello had supported a bill as state senator that required “women to look at an ultrasound image of their fetus before receiving an abortion.”

This predictably created a maelstrom, even though the Journal article turned out to be shoddily reported. While Mello did indeed co-sponsor the 2009 bill cited, it only required the physician performing the abortion to inform patients that an ultrasound was available; it did not require a woman to receive or look at an ultrasound. Nevertheless, over the years Mello has supported other legislative measures — including a 20-week abortion ban — that are no doubt troubling for any progressive. Shortly after the Journal’s report, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Ilyse Hogue, released a statement slamming Sanders and Perez for supporting Mello:

The actions today by the DNC to embrace and support a candidate for office who will strip women — one of the most critical constituencies for the party — of our basic rights and freedom is not only disappointing, it is politically stupid. Today’s action make this so-called “fight back tour” look more like a throw back tour for women and our rights.

After Hogue’s statement, Clintonites quickly took to social media to pile on, using Sanders’ endorsement of Mello as further evidence that the Vermont senator — and by default the progressive left — does not consider women’s reproductive rights and other “social issues” to be nearly as important as economic ones. The implication is that Sanders believes women’s rights are worth sacrificing if it means combating economic inequality or corporate power. (No progressives have ever made this argument, of course.)

In response to the criticism, Mello told The Huffington Post that while he is personally opposed to abortion, as mayor he “would never do anything to restrict access to reproductive health care.” A certain degree of skepticism is warranted, considering Mello’s history of flip-flopping on this issue, but the mayoral candidate is clearly not the anti-abortion extremist depicted by Hogue and others.

Last year Hogue — along with most liberal Democrats — had a far more more forgiving attitude toward Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who, like Mello, is personally pro-life. “I am okay with people having a different moral system than I do as long as they don’t legislate that on me or anyone else,” said Hogue in a statement last July, adding, “7 in 10 Americans support legal access to abortion and some of them are like Senator Kaine, who feel personally opposed but still believe that it’s not for a politician to determine for anyone else. . . . I believe [Clinton] chose Tim Kaine because she trusts the guy, and I trust her.”

Of course, Kaine wasn’t just personally pro-life; like Mello, he also had a history of supporting anti-abortion measures as governor of Virginia. As ThinkProgress reported in July (around the same time as Hogue’s statement), while in office in Richmond Kaine had “pushed for adoption over abortion, promoted abstinence-only education, passed a law that required parental notification for minors wanting an abortion, and banned late-term abortion.” ThinkProgress noted, “He even signed a bill to use state dollars to create ‘Choose Life’ license plates, which funded state ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ — facilities whose sole purpose is to dissuade pregnant women from getting an abortion.”

So this entire Heath Mello incident appears to be a thinly veiled sectarian attack against Sanders, driven by bitterness and resentment. For the most outraged Democrats, the problem hasn’t so much been that the Democratic National Committee is supporting a candidate who is moderately pro-life — after all, their 2016 vice presidential candidate was moderately pro-life — but that Bernie Sanders (who still won’t call himself a Democrat, much to their chagrin) has supported a candidate who is moderately pro-life.

Needless to say, capitulating on LGBT rights or women’s reproductive rights is not an option for progressives — and never has been. If a candidate like Mello were indeed planning to “strip women of basic rights and freedoms,” then Sanders would be well-advised to retract his endorsement and vehemently reject Mello’s candidacy. But that’s simply not the case.

This kind of hypocrisy and bad faith is consistent with the Clinton loyalist strategy over the past year or so — to discredit and vilify Bernie Sanders and the entire progressive movement that has formed around his candidacy. A year ago during the Democratic primaries Clinton supporters were singing the same tune, portraying the democratic socialist as a cultural and political dinosaur and insisting that the candidate’s supporters were a bunch of sexist white guys (that is, “BernieBros”). The Clinton camp even depicted Sanders — who has a D- rating from the National Rifle Association — as a gun nut or a “very reliable supporter of the NRA,” as Clinton once put it. In fact, Clinton advocated the same exact position on gun policy as Sanders did during her 2008 presidential campaign.

In addition, the Clinton campaign has consistently promoted a false dichotomy between economic issues and social ones, in an effort to make it appear that Sanders, one of the most passionate critics of economic inequality and corporate malfeasance, only cares about the first type — a blatant falsehood that is refuted by his 40-year record in politics. Sanders has long been one of the most socially progressive politicians in Washington and advocated for LGBT rights long before it became the politically expedient thing to do. To cite just one example, he strongly opposed the now-infamous 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed into law by Bill Clinton and supported by Hillary Clinton.

The Clinton camp has basically sought to use Sanders’ passion about economic inequality and political corruption against him, as if someone who is this intense about economic issues must be a “class reductionist” who cares little about social and cultural issues. (It is only mainstream liberals, of course, who treat economic and cultural matters as if they could somehow be separated.) “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow . . . would that end racism? Would that end sexism?” Clinton absurdly asked at one point.

Unfortunately for the Democratic establishment, these disingenuous attacks have failed. According to various polls — including a new Harvard survey released last week — Sanders is currently the most popular politician in America. It is not surprising — or perhaps it is deeply surprisingly for some Democrats — that African-Americans, Hispanics, women and millennials view Sanders the most favorably, while white men view him the least favorably.

After just a week on the road, the Perez-Sanders “unity tour” has gotten off to a rocky start. This latest incident reveals the depth of lingering resentment and friction within the Democratic Party. It is clear that many Democrats want Sanders to fall in line and use his influence to serve the party and, as long as he remains an independent gadfly fighting for principles over party, they will keep trying to discredit him. Of course, one of the primary reasons for Sanders’ popularity is that he clearly places principles before party — so we can expect his popularity to keep on growing, even as the smears become more and more desperate.

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

Cornel West – Democrats delivered one thing in the past 100 days: disappointment

The time has come to bid farewell to a moribund party that lacks imagination, courage and gusto

Nancy Pelosi
‘The 2016 election – which Democrats lost more than Republicans won – was the straw that broke the camel’s back.’ Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The distinctive feature of these bleak times is the lack of institutional capacity on the left – the absence of a political party that swings free of Wall Street and speaks to the dire circumstances of poor and working people. As the first 100 days of the plutocratic and militaristic Trump administration draw to a close, one truth has been crystal clear: the Democratic party lacks the vision, discipline and leadership to guide progressives in these turbulent times.

The neoliberal vision of the Democratic party has run its course. The corporate wing has made it clear that the populist wing has little power or place in its future. The discipline of the party is strong on self-preservation and weak on embracing new voices. And party leaders too often revel in self-righteousness and self-pity rather than self-criticism and self-enhancement. The time has come to bid farewell to a moribund party that lacks imagination, courage and gusto.

The 2016 election – which Democrats lost more than Republicans won – was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The unfair treatment of Bernie Sanders was but the peak of the iceberg. In the face of a cardboard Republican candidate equipped with pseudo-populist rhetoric and ugly xenophobic plans, the Democratic party put forward a Wall Street-connected and openly militaristic candidate with little charisma.

The crucial issues of a $15 minimum wage and saying no to fracking, no to TPP, no to Israeli occupation and yes to single-payer healthcare were pushed aside by the corporate wing and the populist wing was told to quit whining or take responsibility for the improbable loss.

The monumental collapse of the Democratic party – on the federal, state and local levels – has not yielded any serious soul-wrestling or substantive visionary shifts among its leadership. Only the ubiquitous and virtuous Bernie remains true to the idea of fundamental transformation of the party – and even he admits that seeking first-class seats on the Titanic is self-deceptive and self-destructive.

We progressives need new leadership and institutional capacity that provides strong resistance to Trump’s vicious policies, concrete alternatives that matter to ordinary citizens and credible visions that go beyond Wall Street priorities and militaristic policies. And appealing to young people is a good testing ground.

Even as we forge a united front against Trump’s neofascist efforts, we must admit the Democratic party has failed us and we have to move on. Where? To what? When brother Nick Brana, a former Bernie campaign staffer, told me about the emerging progressive populist or social democratic party – the People’s party – that builds on the ruins of a dying Democratic party and creates new constituencies in this moment of transition and liquidation, I said count me in.

And if a class-conscious multi-racial party attuned to anti-sexist, anti-homophobic and anti-militaristic issues and grounded in ecological commitments can reconfigure our citizenship, maybe our decaying democracy has a chance. And if brother Bernie Sanders decides to join us – with many others, including sister Jill Stein and activists from Black Lives Matter and brown immigrant groups and Standing Rock freedom fighters and betrayed working people – we may build something for the near future after Trump implodes.


Why Aren’t Bernie Sanders-Style Democrats Getting More Support from the Party Leaders in Washington?

In Kansas, the Democrats barely lifted a finger to help James Thompson, a progressive who came painfully close to winning. That’s a losing strategy.

Photo Credit: Screenshot / YouTube

Since losing the presidency to a Cheeto-hued reality TV host, the Democratic party’s leadership has made it clear that it would rather keep losing than entertain even the slightest whiff of New Deal style social democracy.

The Bernie Sanders wing might bring grassroots energy and – if the polls are to be believed – popular ideas, but their redistributive policies pose too much of a threat to the party’s big donors to ever be allowed on the agenda.

Even a symbolic victory cedes too much to those youthful, unwashed hordes who believe healthcare and education are human rights and not extravagant luxuries, as we saw when the Democratic establishment recruited Tom Perez to defeat the electorate-backed progressive Keith Ellison for DNC chair.

The Democrats demonstrated this once more this week when, in a special election triggered by Trump’s tapping of Mike Pompeo for CIA director, a Berniecrat named James Thompson came painfully close to winning a Kansas Congressional seat that had been red for over two decades, and his party didn’t even try to help him.

If Thompson’s picture is not on the Wikipedia page for “left-wing populism,” it really should be. Following a difficult upbringing during which he was homeless for a time, he joined the Army and attended college on the GI bill. He went on to graduate from Wichita State University and Washburn University before going into practice as a civil rights lawyer. He owns guns and looks natural in a trucker hat.

In a Reddit AMA, Thompson said he was “inspired to run by Bernie” and talked about “progressive values” like universal healthcare, education, and a $15/hour minimum wage. He also spoke in favor of taxing and legalizing marijuana, regulating Wall Street and overturning Citizens United. It’s no surprise he received the endorsement of Our Revolution, the progressive political action organization spun out of Sanders’ candidacy.

After beating an establishment Democrat in the primary, Thompson promised to take on Trump and the Republicans, as well as the state’s unpopular Republican governor Sam Brownback and Kansas-headquartered oligarchs the Koch brothers.

In one campaign ad, Thompson shoots an AR-15 rifle at a target before delivering a broad, class-based appeal: “People of all colors, all races, all religions, they want the basic same thing … they want to be able to provide for their family, provide a good education for their kids. We’ve got to get back to this country being about the working class family.”

While his candidacy initially seemed like a long shot in a district that had re-elected Pompeo just last year with 60.7% of the vote, in the weeks before the election, the race grew unexpectedly close.

This led to a sudden infusion of cash from the National Republican Congressional Committee to Thompson’s opponent Ron Estes, who in the end raised $459,000, $130,000 of it from the NRCC. He also received massive donations from representatives of big business and help from such national figures as Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Ted Cruz, and the president himself, who tweeted about the race.

Estes spent much of his money on TV attack ads, like the one that claimed Thompson supports using tax dollars to fund late term abortions, as well as abortions performed because parents don’t like the gender of their baby.

Given our current political climate, you’d think the Democrats would have jumped at the chance to take back a Congressional seat and demonstrate opposition to Trump, but you’d be wrong. While Thompson managed to raise $292,000 without his party’s help, 95% of which came from individuals, neither the DNC, DCCC, nor even the Kansas Democratic Party would help him grow that total in any substantial way. His campaign requested $20,000 from the state Democratic Party and was denied.

They later relented and gave him $3,000. (According to the FEC, the Party had about $145,000 on hand.) The national Democratic Party gave him nothing until the day before the election, when it graced him with some live calls and robo-calls. He lost by seven percentage points.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Perez confirmed the DNC would not be giving Thompson a dime. “We can make progress in Kansas,” he said. “There are thousands of elections every year, though. Can we invest in all of them? That would require a major increase in funds.” Fact check: the DNC has a fund just for Congressional elections, of which there are just ten this year.

Contrast this with what Perez said just a few months earlier when he promised “a 50-state strategy” complete with “rural outreach and organizers in every zip code.” In a post-victory interview with NPR, he specifically name checked Kansas as a place Democrats could win. Why the sudden about face?

In defending their decision, party mouthpieces have taken the absurd line that giving Thompson money would have actually hurt his chances of winning, because then everyone would have known he’s a Democrat, and Kansans hate Democrats. (Let’s take a moment to appreciate these are the same people who keep saying the party doesn’t need a new direction.)

“You do not get to the single digits in a district like this if you’re a nationalized Democrat,” DCCC communications director Meredith Kelly told The Huffington Post. “End of story. That’s just the way it is. There are just certain races where it is not helpful to be attached to the national D.C. Democrats.” End of story, idiot.

Nobody must have told Kelly that Thompson was already attached to the “national DC Democrats” by virtue of being in their party, a fact Estes was happy to exploit in an attack ad that showed him waist deep in a literal swamp he hoped to drain.

“The liberals are trying to steal this election by supporting a Bernie Sanders backed lawyer, because they know he will vote how Nancy Pelosi tells him to,” he claimed. Seems Thompson got all the bad parts of being a Democrat this time around, and none of the good ones.

One person the party does not think will be hurt by their help is Jon Ossoff, who is running in a similarly red, but much wealthier, district in Georgia. To date, the DNC has raised some $8.3m for him and has committed to sending nine field staffers to organize on-the-ground efforts.

Although he is young, he’s an acolyte of the Democratic establishment, having worked for Representatives John Lewis and Hank Johnson, and he endorsed Hillary Clinton in the primary. He went to Georgetown followed by the London School of Economics and speaks fluent French. He has the support of several Hollywood celebrities.

Democrats think Ossoff is just the guy to bring his affluent suburban district back into the fold. (Clearly, losing a national election was not enough to reverse course on that most doomed of 2016 strategies: trading blue collar whites for wealthy, suburban ones.)

Georgia Democratic Party spokesman Michael Smith said this is the state organization’s chance to “deliver the White House its first electoral defeat.” Liberal bloggers are wetting their pants over this “weather vane” of early Trump backlash. It’s like Thompson’s campaign never even happened.

By refusing to fund the campaigns of anyone but centrist, establishment shills, the Democratic Party aims to make the Berniecrats’ lack of political viability a self-fulfilling prophecy: starve their campaigns of resources so they can’t win, then point to said losses as examples of why they can’t win.

If that means a few more red seats in Congress, so be it. The more they do this, though, the less of Bernie’s “political revolution” will be absorbed by the Democratic Party and the more will go shooting off into third parties and direct action.

Feel free to keep eating your own, Democrats. At this rate, we’ll have a socialist party in no time.

*The original version of this article referred to Joe Pompeo. It has since been changed to Mike Pompeo.




Sen. Bernie Sanders is continuing to spread the word of his “political revolution.” He’s scheduled for a series of sold-out speaking appearances in the Boston area Friday. It was also confirmed this week that Sanders, who was beaten to the Democratic presidential nomination by Hillary Clinton in 2016, will headline the second annual “People’s Summit,” a meeting of progressive activists and organizations in Chicago in June, which this year will seek to launch candidates for political posts.

His Friday schedule includes a book signing and two speeches starting off with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. Sanders will then move to the Orpheum Theatre in the downtown Boston area, where he will appear alongside Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren for a rally hosted by political nonprofit Our Revolution.

Even at this early stage, Sanders and Warren have long been considered two of the leading candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for president in 2020. He will turn 79 before the next election but has not ruled out running again.

In any case, Sanders has worked to ensure that the ideas he brought to the national stage during last year’s election campaign have remained a leading topic of conversation in the Donald Trump era.

Following the failure of the Republicans’ Obamacare replacement last week, Sanders said he would introduce a single-payer healthcare bill—one of his core campaign promises.

“Ideally, where we should be going is to join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee health care to all people as a right,” Sanders told CNN Sunday. “That’s why I’m going to introduce a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program.”

“Today is a great victory but we have a lot more work to do. We are going to go forward and guarantee health care to all people as a right.”

Sanders has been a frequent and impassioned critic of Trump’s actions rolling back the environmental protections put in place under former President Barack Obama, calling them an “embarrassment to the world.”

“Trump’s position on climate change is pathetic and an embarrassment to the world.”

The impact of Sanders, both directly and indirectly, is likely to continue to be felt, including at the voting booth. The theme of this year’s “People’s Summit” will be to transform the progressive cause from simple resistance to mounting campaigns to gain political power.

“Many of those in Chicago last June have played leading roles in public actions and protests this year, but the supporting organizations are unified in calling for defining a progressive vision that moves beyond resistance and protests,” read a statement announcing Sanders’ headlining appearance.

Many of his former aides are already taking up the battle, banding together to prepare to fund candidates to run up against establishment Democrats in the 2018 midterm primaries.



Bernie Sanders Calls Democratic Party ‘Weak and Incapable of Organizing’

The senator asserts that Democrats have no one to blame for their losses except themselves

Warren, Sanders Rally Supporters In Boston

Since the Democratic Party lost the 2016 presidential election, the party’s establishment has suppressed all calls for reform from progressives. Though the party appointed Sen. Bernie Sanders as its head of outreach, most Democrats continue to treat him and his supporters as unwelcome outsiders. In a recent speech, Sanders provided progressives with insight as to how to advance their values against an inept and increasingly out of touch Democratic Party.

“When you have everybody in the establishment against you, how do you move a progressive agenda forward?” asked Sanders during a speech at MIT on March 31. “The answer is you go to the people.” This has been Sanders’ primary strategy during Donald Trump’s presidency; he has led rallies, held town halls, and delivered speeches across the country to mobilize his supporters.

“Our job is not a radical concept. Our job is to organize and educate people around a progressive agenda that demands Congress represent us, not just the one percent. That’s about it. Nothing more complicated than that,” Sanders said. “But to make that happen, we are going to need radical transformation of the Democratic Party. I don’t want to offend anybody, but the Democratic Party cannot continue to be just the party of the liberal elite and people who have money. It has got to be the party of the working class of this country. The Democratic Party cannot just be a party that just does well in New England and the west coast, it has got to be a 50-state party.”

While Sanders discussed why the Republican Party is successful in winning elections across the country, he blamed the Democratic Party for Trump‘s election and Republicans holding a majority in Congress and state legislatures all over the country.

“And he also assumes, quite correctly, that the Democratic Party is extremely weak and incapable of organizing people,” Sanders said in reference to how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is able to push policies that hurt his constituents with impunity.

Sanders noted that although the knee-jerk reaction from many Democrats is to shame, scold, and blame people who voted for Trump, it’s Democrats’ fault that thousands of voters who voted for former President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 voted for Trump in 2016. “The problem is these people over the years, many of them were Democrats. They looked at the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party made a hell of a lot of promises to them.

gettyimages 662145650 Bernie Sanders Calls Democratic Party Weak and Incapable of Organizing

Bernie Sanders. Scott Eisen/Getty Images











But you know what? In many respects, not all, and clearly the Democrats have been much better than the Republicans. But I don’t want anyone here to forget that it was a Democratic president, not a Republican president, who deregulated Wall Street. It was a Democratic president who made the first major initiatives in disastrous trade policies,” Sanders explained in reference to former President Bill Clinton, who enacted several policies that hurt working, middle class and low income Americans. “Let’s not forget that either. So, they’re angry, and they look for an alternative.”

Rather than understanding this dynamic, many Democrats have attacked Trump’s voters, reverberating the self-destructive attitude exemplified by Hillary Clinton’scomment during her campaign that half of all Trump supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables.” Sanders said, “I do not believe in any way shape or form that the vast majority of Trump supporters are racists, sexists, xenophobes and homophobes. I don’t believe that. I think if you think that’s the issue, you are missing the boat big time.”

He also discussed the plight of coal country in rural America, where communities that once thrived with thousands of well paid jobs have been abandoned and these jobs have disappeared with no economic infrastructure to fill the void. “These guys were heroes, going down underneath there, the worst work in the world, and many of them die young from black lung disease…The world has come and past them. Coal is in decline,” said Sanders.

“So, how do you feel if you are 50-60 years old you once had a job. And by the way, a job is not just income. People want to work. They want to feel part of society. They want to be productive.” Sanders noted that severe economic issues in many areas of the country combined with a diminishing sense of community throughout nation—and globally—provides opportunities for people like Trump. “We have got to create community. We have got to make sure that I care about you and you care about me. That I know you are worried about my seven grandchildren, and I am worried about your mother who is ill. When we are a part of that community—not left out—I think that makes us more human and less likely to picking and start scapegoating minorities, because that’s what demagogues feed upon.”

What white liberals so often get wrong about racism and Donald Trump

Bernie is wrong and Malcolm was right:

White progressives have a tough time confronting racism — as Bernie Sanders, a hero in many ways, has made clear

Bernie is wrong and Malcolm was right: What white liberals so often get wrong about racism and Donald Trump
Bernie Sanders; Malcolm X (Credit: AP/Craig Ruttle)

In the United States, white liberals and progressives have historically shown a serious inability to grapple with the realities of the color line and the enduring power of white supremacy. Many of them are either unable or unwilling to understand that fighting against class inequality does not necessarily remedy the specific harms done to African-Americans and other people of color by white racism.

For example, last Friday Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke in Boston at the Our Revolution Rally, where he said this:

Some people think that the people who voted for Trump are racists and sexists and homophobes and deplorable folks. I don’t agree, because I’ve been there.

Given Sanders’ long history of fighting for human rights, his comments are profoundly disappointing. They also demonstrate the blind spot and willful myopia that too many white liberals and progressives have toward white racism in America.

Sanders’ defense of Donald Trump’s “white working class” voters can be evaluated on empirical grounds. This is not a case of “unknown unknowns.”  What do public opinion and other data actually tell us about the 2016 presidential election?

Donald Trump’s voters — like Republicans and conservatives on average — are much more likely to hold negative attitudes toward African-Americans and other people of color. Social scientists have consistently demonstrated that a mix of “old-fashioned” white racism, white racial resentment (what is known as “modern racism”), xenophobia, ethnocentrism, sexism and nativism heavily influenced white conservatives and right-leaning independents to vote for Donald Trump.

Trump voters are also more authoritarian than Republicans as a whole. Trump voters possess a fantastical belief that white Americans are “oppressed” and thus somehow victims of racism.

Polling experts such as Cornell Belcher have placed Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton within the broader context of a racist backlash against Barack Obama’s presidency among white voters.

And one must also not overlook how Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and victory inspired a wave of hate crimes across the United States against Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans, First Nations people, gays and lesbians and those of other marginalized communities. Donald Trump used a megaphone of racism and bigotry to win the 2016 presidential election. His supporters heard those signals loud and clear.

Sanders is also committing another error in reasoning and inference, one that is common among white Americans in the post-civil rights era. Racism and white supremacy are not a function of what is in peoples’ hearts, what they tell you about their beliefs or the intentions behind their words or deeds. In reality, racism and white supremacy are a function of outcomes and structures. Moreover, the “nice people” that Sanders is talking about benefit from white privilege and the other unearned advantages that come from being white in America.

Sanders’ statement is also a reminder of the incorrect lessons that the Democratic Party is in danger of learning from its 2016 defeat.

Chasing the largely mythical “white working-class voters whose loyalties went from “Obama to Trump” will not win future elections. The white working-class voters they covet are solidly Republican.

Alienating people of color and women by embracing Trump’s base of human deplorables will not strengthen the Democratic Party. It will only drive away those voters who are the Democratic Party’s most reliable supporters.

Sanders has unintentionally exemplified the way that both white liberals and white conservatives are heavily influenced by the white racial frame. As such, both sides of the ideological divide are desperate to see the best in their fellow white Americans, despite the latter’s racist behavior.

This is why “white allies” are often viewed with great suspicion by people of color. Malcolm X discussed this point in 1963:

In this deceitful American game of power politics, the Negroes (i.e., the race problem, the integration and civil rights issues) are nothing but tools, used by one group of whites called Liberals against another group of whites called Conservatives, either to get into power or to remain in power. Among whites here in America, the political teams are no longer divided into Democrats and Republicans. The whites who are now struggling for control of the American political throne are divided into “liberal” and “conservative” camps. The white liberals from both parties cross party lines to work together toward the same goal, and white conservatives from both parties do likewise.

The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor; and by winning the friendship, allegiance, and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool in this political “football game” that is constantly raging between the white liberals and white conservatives.

Bernie Sanders’ comments on Friday serve as an unintentional reminder of Malcolm X’s wisdom.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.