Why identity politics and class politics can’t be separated

Some liberals are eager to detach identity politics from economic populism. But economic justice is social justice

09.23.20173:00 AM
During last year’s Democratic primary race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the disagreements between the two candidates were most apparent when it came to the economy. While Sanders built his campaign around economic issues like income and wealth inequality, campaign finance and free trade, Clinton often downplayed the importance of economic issues and even tried to characterize Sanders’ focus on things like inequality and Wall Street corruption as an unhealthy obsession.

“Not everything is about an economic theory, right?” said Clinton at one point during a speech to her supporters. “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow — and I will if they deserve it, if they pose a systemic risk, I will — would that end racism? Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community? Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”

“No!” replied the triumphant crowd, as if their candidate had just delivered a devastating coup de grâce to her opponent.

Of course, no one — not least Sanders — had ever made the absurd claim that breaking up big banks or addressing any other economic problem would magically end racism or sexism or any other kind of bigotry. This was a deliberate attempt by Clinton to smear her opponent — who had much more credibility on economic justice than she did — as being out of touch with the concerns of women, people of color and the LGBTQ community. More importantly, though, it was an attempt to separate the economic realm from the social and cultural realms, which made it easier for Clinton to prove her progressive bona fides.

As an economic centrist who had long taken big donations (or speaking fees) from Wall Street and corporate America, Clinton lacked credibility with progressives when it came to economic issues. Thus she tried to discredit Sanders as an “angry white male” who couldn’t grasp the real concerns of women and people of color (even though Sanders is a Jew who grew up in 1940s America and has an equal if not better record than Clinton on social issues like LGBTQ equality).

Ultimately, Clinton and other corporate Democrats were trying to muddy the waters with these disingenuous arguments in order to create a false tension between economic populism and social liberalism. Only a straight white male like Sanders, the logic went, could become so fixated on economic issues like income and wealth inequality, because he did not experience racism, sexism or homophobia on a daily basis. This argument was based not only on a cynical version of identity politics that gave greater importance to a candidate’s race or gender than his or her politics, but on a false dilemma between class politics and identity politics. Furthermore, it implied that the social democratic policies advocated by Sanders — e.g., Medicare for All, raising taxes on the wealthy, increasing the minimum wage, strengthening Social Security, defending labor unions, etc. — would disproportionately benefit white males.

This implication is, as many progressives pointed out at the time, utterly untrue. In fact, women and people of color would almost certainly benefit more from Sanders’ populist economic agenda, as they are disproportionately affected by the economic injustices it was designed to counteract. Sanders made this point during his campaign last year when he observed that African-Americans were hit the hardest during the financial crisis, losing half their collective wealth after being unfairly targeted by the big banks (along with other minority groups) with subprime mortgages during the buildup of the housing bubble.

That economic justice and racial justice are deeply intertwined was given further credence last week when a new study was released by the Institute for Policy Studies revealing that median black household wealth in the United States will fall to zero by 2053 if current trends continue, while the median white household wealth is on path to climb to $137,000.

“By 2020 median Black and Latino households stand to lose nearly 18% and 12% of the wealth they held in 2013, respectively, while median White household wealth increases 3%,” write the authors. “At that point — just three years from now — White households are projected to own 85 times more wealth than Black households and 68 times more wealth than Latino households.”

These stunning numbers display how much the economic problems that Sanders highlighted during his campaign impact the very people he was unfairly accused of ignoring. They also demonstrate how class politics and identity politics are closely linked, and that the dichotomy or binary opposition between them, as created or perceived by certain liberals, is spurious.

After Clinton lost to Donald Trump last November, Sanders argued that the Democratic Party must adopt a populist economic agenda in order to come back strong from 2016. This predictably set off a backlash from neoliberals, who accused Sanders of being a “white male brogressive” who wanted to put women, minorities and LGBTQ people “on the backburner for economic populism.” One critic even opined that Sanders wanted to “defend white male supremacy.”

The fact that Sanders’ economic populism would help the very people he is accused of putting on the “backburner” demonstrates the sheer lunacy of these attacks. If Sanders were advocating completely jettisoning identity politics for economic populism, of course, it would be another story. But only confused liberals see class politics and identity politics as incompatible and invariably at odds with each other. The senator was actually making the opposite point: “To think of diversity purely in racial and gender terms is not sufficient,” wrote Sanders. “Our rights and economic lives are intertwined.” Rather than calling for the Democratic Party to drop identity politics, he was making the point that race, gender and class are interconnected, and that economic justice is social justice.

Sanders was, however, rejecting the cynical form of identity politics that — as Briahna Joy Gray puts it in her excellent Current Affairs essay “How Identity Became a Weapon Against the Left” — wields identity to “neutralize political pushback.” The kind of identity politics, in other words, that Clinton frequently deployed during her campaign to counter legitimate criticisms — exemplified by the time she suggested that she couldn’t be a part of the “establishment” because she is a woman.

Over the past few decades, as economic inequality has skyrocketed to pre-Great Depression levels and communities of color have seen their wealth decline, the economic and corporate elite have co-opted the language of diversity and weaponized identity to defend the economic status quo. But the same people neoliberals claim to represent are the ones who suffer most under the status quo. As the authors of the aforementioned study write, “without a serious change in course, the country is heading towards a racial and economic apartheid state.” Economic populism offers an alternative, and a politics of class solidarity is the way to achieve this alternative.

CONOR LYNCH
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.
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A tale of two leaders of the left: New books by Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton

Bernie’s new book is a forward-thinking guide for the young; Hillary’s looks back at who she can blame for 2016

Well before folks could get their hands on Hillary Clinton’s new memoir of the 2016 presidential election, “What Happened,” word was out that VIP tickets for her book tour were running upwards of $2,000. In contrast, Bernie Sanders launched “Bernie Sanders’ Guide to Political Revolution” with a few media interviews and a slate of agenda items for the new Senate session to consider. Folks wanting a copy of the book could find it in the teen non-fiction section of their local bookstore.

The contrast between high priced VIP tickets to an event for a memoir about losing the election and a down-to-earth how-to guide for progressive politics aimed at young readers offers us clear evidence of the vastly different ways that Clinton and Sanders see their roles as national leaders.

Sanders is looking forward and Clinton is looking back. Sanders is engaging the young and working to build momentum for his progressive agenda. Clinton is naming names, bristling at her unfair loss and cashing in.

While Clinton’s book hits stores on September 12, enough of it has been leaked to show that at least one goal of the memoir is to blame Sanders for inflicting “lasting damage” on her campaign during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Even more, she argues that the Sanders campaign helped Trump win.

She also has some blame for President Obama, whom she faults for telling her to hold back in her attacks on Sanders. According to Clinton’s version of events, if she had gone after Sanders more aggressively, she might have won. She felt, she writes, like Obama put her in a “straightjacket.”

Before I move on to comparing the tenor of these two books and the fact that they confirm the vast difference between Clinton and Sanders, not just on policy but on leadership itself, let’s start by saying something obvious. If anyone should be writing a “what happened” memoir, it is Sanders, not Clinton.

While the lawsuit that alleged fraud over the Democratic National Committee’s handling of the 2016 presidential primary came to an end a couple of weeks ago, the legal proceedings, along with the hacked DNC emails, showed that the DNC leadership exhibited a clear case of bias against the Sanders campaign. DNC lawyers argued that they did not have a legal obligation to be neutral. And so the case was dropped.

The lawsuit is really only the tip of a much larger iceberg that surrounded the #DemExit movement. From the debate schedule to superdelegates to the disputes over the DNC platform itself, Sanders and his supporters had plenty to gripe about.

But rather than write a book about all of the ways that he got screwed by the DNC, Sanders took the high road and helped campaign for Clinton, then, after she lost, he focused on advancing his agenda. Meanwhile basically every public statement Clinton has issued since the election has focused on how the presidency was stolen from her.

After he lost his presidential run, Sanders launched the “Our Revolution” website to help continue his campaign’s momentum well after he was running. Its goal was to support and empower a new generation of progressive political leaders. In contrast, Clinton supporter Peter Daou just launched Verrit, a site endorsed by Clinton which offers users verified pro-Clinton quotes they can share online. Many of these sharable quotes are meant to show how awesome she is.

The leaked sections of “What Happened” portray Clinton as a victim of Sanders, of Obama, of Putin, of Comey and so on, but also as someone still indignant about the reality of her loss. Despite the fact that the book is meant to offer an intimate side of her, it reads like the petty account of a sore loser.

In contrast, Sanders offers his book as a gesture of solidarity towards future political activists. When he discusses his campaign in the opening of the book, he does so with pride, mentioning the fact that he won more of the millennial vote than Clinton and Trump combined.

He also dedicates the book to the younger generation, which he praises as the most tolerant and intelligent in U.S. history. “The current generation of young people is the smartest, most idealistic, and least prejudiced generation in the modern history of the United States,” Sanders writes. “This is a generation that is prepared to think big and move this country in a very different direction than we have been traveling for years.” The goal of his book, he explains, is to help the young turn their idealism into action.

Where Clinton’s attacks on Sanders get really low is in her resuscitation of the Bernie Bros myth. In the passage where she complains about the Sanders campaign, she goes on to write, “Some of his supporters, the so-called Bernie Bros, took to harassing my supporters online. It got ugly and more than a little sexist.”

Now, here’s the problem: Clinton was, in fact, the target of a whole lot of misogyny, but the sources of those attacks were not the so-called Bernie Bros. In fact, the “Bernie Bro” narrative, as Glenn Greenwald explained for the Intercept back in January 2016, was a potent political tactic  and a journalistic disgrace:

It’s intended to imply two equally false claims: (1) a refusal to march enthusiastically behind the Wall Street-enriched, multiple-war-advocating, despot-embracing Hillary Clinton is explainable not by ideology or political conviction, but largely if not exclusively by sexism: demonstrated by the fact that men, not women, support Sanders (his supporters are ‘bros’); and (2) Sanders supporters are uniquely abusive and misogynistic in their online behavior.

Back when Greenwald wrote the piece, an Iowa poll showed Sanders with a 15-point lead over Clinton among women under 45, while one-third of Iowa women over 45 supported him. Even more recently, Sanders had a 58 percent favorability rating among all women voters and an 80 percent one among Democrats. That poll, conducted in April of this year, concluded that Sanders was the most popular active politician in the nation.

But, still, for Clinton, she lost because Sanders impugned her character and allowed his supporters to hurl sexist epithets her way.

Another stark difference between the new books by Sanders and Clinton is the way that they treat the idea of party loyalty.  Sanders’ volume really doesn’t talk about political parties per se, although it does clearly divide what he describes as left and right political agendas. Instead it focuses on policy, platforms and effective means of political action. Nowhere does he speak of loyalty to a party or even a cause. Instead the key word he uses to link his readers to his vision is “solidarity.”

Meanwhile, Clinton goes on a tirade about Sanders as a disrupter of the Democratic Party. She points out, rightly, that Sanders was not a DNC insider and professed no “loyalty” to the party. But when she ends her adulatory jag about the Democrats, she writes, “I am proud to be a Democrat and I wish Bernie were, too.”

She wishes he were proud to be a Democrat too? Seriously?

It’s not just a weird passage that exposes how Clinton favors party loyalty over listening to the needs of the people; it’s also completely tone-deaf politically. In the latest Gallup poll numbers, only 28 percent of American identify as Democrats and 41 percent are Independents. It’s Clinton’s attachment to party loyalty that is the problem. It favors a cronyist DNC oligarchy over paying attention to what voters want.

Sanders is a leader who advocates solidarity. Clinton wants party loyalty. It’s a clear breakdown in political leadership. One vision is of a leader working with and for the people. The other is a vision of how the people serve the leader and the system. Clinton’s assumption that Sanders voters should have been hers is another clear sign of how she thinks of voters as belonging to her, rather than having their own right to vote the way they want.

But perhaps the best sign of how these two books teach us about the radically different leadership styles of Clinton and Sanders takes place as Clinton dismisses Sanders on policy. Clinton mocks Sanders for what she saw as copying her ideas and then “super-sizing” them to make himself more appealing to voters. She describes him as a “serial over-promiser.”

She goes on to recount how Jake Sullivan, her top policy aide, told her that Sanders’ campaign strategy reminded him of a scene from the movie “There’s Something About Mary,” where a hitchhiker says he has a plan to roll out seven-minute abs to top the famous eight-minute abs.

“Why, why not six-minutes abs?” Ben Stiller’s character asks.

Clinton mocks: “That’s what it was like in policy debates with Bernie. We would promise a bold infrastructure investment plan or an ambitious new apprenticeship program for young people, and then Bernie would announce basically the same thing, but bigger. On issue after issue, it was like he kept promising four-minute abs, or even no-minutes abs. Magic abs!”

But here’s the thing. The Sanders vision is not equivalent to “magic abs.” In fact, as his book clearly shows, his policy ideas are progressive, practical and possible. And even more, they are what the nation wants.

“The Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Action” is actually filled with clear and helpful information designed to help young activists better understand the challenges facing this nation. It contains infographics, illustrations and resources that help break down issues like income inequality, climate change, healthcare, law enforcement reform, prison system reform and student loan debt. Each chapter includes ways to learn more about an issue and ways to get involved. It is straightforward, concise and inspiring.

While Clinton is going on about “magic abs,” Sanders is writing a book that helps his readers understand how current government structure works and what they can do to make it better. The contrast couldn’t be starker.

In one excellent example, Sanders walks readers through the effects of a low minimum wage, revealing how a “starvation wage” that has workers earning less than the cost of living but putting in 40 hours a week actually serves to subsidize companies like Walmart. He shows how it is middle class taxpayers who help subsidize the cheap labor used by Walmart since their employees need federal and local assistance to survive.

And, while Clinton mocks Sanders for his idealistic desire to think big, Sanders starts his book reminding readers that his views are those of the bulk of Americans: “On major issue after major issue, the vast majority of Americans support a progressive agenda.” For Clinton, though, the progressive agenda wanted by the majority is nothing more than the hocus pocus of magic abs or the dreams of those who want a pony.

This tweet from David Sirota says it all:

There are so many things a leader could do at this moment of crisis. Clinton chose to slam Bernie Bros & hawk Verrit. I wonder why she lost?

That’s the real tragedy to Clinton’s discourse. She literally sees political vision as nothing but a fantasy. She has so thoroughly imbibed the corporatist, pro-status quo version of the Democratic party that she can’t even notice how pathetically uninspiring her positions are for those young voters she referred to as basement dwellers on the campaign trail.

Against the snarky, negative tone of Clinton’s book, Sanders offers his readers a combination of political passion and practical advice. When it refers to him personally, it does so by quoting a Sanders tweet that links to the issue being covered. The tweets are used to show how Sanders has been standing up for these issues for years. It is a technique that privileges the cause, not the ego. The effect is a subtle form of leadership that is grounded in the idea that a progressive leader is only as strong as the people being inspired and mentored.

“Young people are the future of our country,” Sanders explained to Teen Vogue. “As citizens of the United States, they have a responsibility to participate in our democracy and to help create a government which works for all, rather than just the few. This book will expose them to an unusual political campaign, the excitement of politics and what being a progressive is all about.”

Some will likely say that it is not fair to compare two books that have such radically different goals. Clinton’s is a look back at what happened with her campaign; Sanders’s is a book designed to help energize and guide future progressive political action. Hers is a memoir; his is a political guide to action. One is personal. The other is about political vision and action.

Or maybe comparing these books is exactly what we should be doing because they portray vastly different ideas for the future of left politics in this nation.

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that media coverage of the two books has been vastly uneven. Article after article has covered Clinton’s attacks on Sanders. Not one piece I have seen thus far on Clinton’s Bernie-bashing has considered the fact that he has a book out now, too.

Those stories that have covered it often missed the point. Chris Cuomo on CNN’s “New Day” interviewed Sanders about his new book and suggested that some have been reading it as a sign of a potential future run for the presidency. Cuomo asked Sanders whether he planned to run again or back a younger candidate with a progressive message.

Demonstrating why Sanders is a completely different type of leader than Clinton, he quipped back, “Well there is a third school of thought, Chris, and that is that the media never, ever gives up,” said Sanders. “And instead of focusing on real issues, they keep talking about never-ending campaigns.”

Perfectly demonstrating that for Sanders, as it is for many of us, the goal is political progress, not ego-building, he went on: “We never stop elections, people are sick and tired of it. They want me to go back to Washington to deal with climate change, to deal with healthcare, to deal with education, to deal with issues that impact their lives,” he continued. “They do not want to see never ending elections.”

And they really don’t want to spend all their time thinking back on a lost election.

These two books offer different visions of political leadership, different narratives about political possibility and different views about our future. One is constructed to build collective support; the other is a story about a leader betrayed and unfairly thwarted. One offers a practical guide to political action; the other is filled with stories of magic abs and ponies. One hopes to make a real difference in our nation; the other mocks the idea of even trying.

Sophia A. McClennen is Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University. She writes on the intersections between culture, politics, and society. Her latest book, co-authored with Remy M. Maisel, is, Is Satire Saving Our Nation? Mockery and American Politics.

The Democrats Are A Lost Cause

There they go again.

Hillary was a two time loser. Weirdly, her people are still in charge of the Democratic Party. Clintonista militant moderates haven’t learned a thing from Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump — so they’re trying to sell Democratic voters on more of the same.

Remember what happened when Hillary ran on “never mind your crappy low wage job, vote for me because ‘first woman president’”? Now we’re supposed to get excited about center-right California Senator Kamala Harris because she ticks off two boxes on the identity politics hit parade.

Remember the ugly optics when Bill and Hillary took their excellent fundraising adventure to the Hamptons? Kamala 2020 is already doing the same thing.

Remember how it well worked out when Hillary snubbed Bernie and insulted his progressive supporters, then ran a tack-to-the-right general-election campaign that targeted Republicans who were never going to vote for her? Here comes Kamala with rhetoric that makes her sound like a Rand Paul Republican: “I agree we must be talking about wasteful spending in our country…we must be talking about tax reform.” Also lots o’ tasty “tough on crime” (since she’s black it can’t possible be the racist dog whistle it sounds like).

The DNC is still partying like it’s 1999: Third Way/DLC/center-right triangulation is king. Dick Morris, call Kamala.

Memo to the Dumocrats: Trump’s polls are in the toilet. Still, Trump (or, if Trump gets impeached, Pence) might beat the Dems again in 2020. “Double haters” — voters who hated Trump and Clinton — were a deciding factor in 2016, accounting for “3% to 5% of the 15 million voters across 17 battleground states,” according to political author Joshua Green. They broke for Trump.

They — and Bernie voters snubbed by Hillary who sat home on election day — cost Hillary the 2016 election.

To be fair, some establishment Democrats know how to count. “American families deserve a better deal so that this country works for everyone again, not just the elites and special interests. Today, Democrats will start presenting that better deal to the American people,” Chuck Schumer wrote in The New York Times yesterday.

Sounds great. So what exactly is in Chuck’s stillborn (Republican president, Republican House, Republican Senate) Better Deal?

“Rules to stop prescription drug price gouging… allow regulators to break up big companies if they’re hurting consumers… giving employers, particularly small businesses, a large tax credit to train workers for unfilled jobs.”

These are good ideas.

But they’re so small.

If enacted, the Dems’ Better Deal wouldn’t do a thing about the problems that afflict most voters.

The #1 problem is the economy. There aren’t enough jobs. The jobs there are don’t pay enough. Bosses have too much power over workers.

A massive new WPA-like program, in which the federal government hires millions of Americans to rebuild our crumbled infrastructure, would create jobs. A $25/hour minimum wage — that’s about what it would be if raises had kept up with inflation — would guarantee that a full-time job yields full-time pay. Abolishing America’s inhuman, archaic “at-will” employment, which gives employers the right to fire you without a good reason, would restore balance to labor-management relations. The U.S. is the only nation with at-will.

The #2 problem is healthcare. Attempts by Republicans to repeal Obamacare have made the ACA more popular than ever. Most Democrats want single-payer, where the government pays for healthcare — why doesn’t the Democratic Party?

The answer, of course, is that the party leadership is owned by Wall Street, the Fortune 500 and big-monied special interests in general. Figures like Harris and Schumer and Clinton will never give the people what we want and need because their masters will never allow it. The question for us is, when do we stop giving them our votes — and start organizing outside the dead-end of the electoral duopoly?

Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/07/26/the-democrats-are-a-lost-cause/

Are Democrats turning to an alliance between neocons and neoliberals?

 If so, it’s a terrible strategy

An alliance with Bush-era neocons on the Russia scandal is pushing Democrats hard right on foreign policy. Sad!

Last week, former Republican congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough made headlines when he announced on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” that he was leaving the Republican Party. A week later the conservative pundit wrote a column for the Washington Post elaborating on his decision.

“I did not leave the Republican Party. The Republican Party left its senses,” explained Scarborough. “President Trump’s Republicans have devolved into a party without a cause, dominated by a leader hopelessly ill-informed about the basics of conservatism, U.S. history and the Constitution.”

“Neither Lincoln, William Buckley nor Ronald Reagan would recognize this movement,” the former congressman continued. “It is a dying party that I can no longer defend.”

Scarborough’s criticism of his former party is more than a little ironic, considering he was a frequent apologist for Trump throughout the campaign season, but the host has nevertheless been praised by many Democrats for his “principled” decision to “put his country first.” Though it has already been a year since the Republican Party officially embraced Trump by nominating him as their candidate, it is, as they say, better late than never.

Scarborough is just one of many conservative pundits who have garnered liberal adulation for rejecting the unhinged Republican president. Since Trump was elected president last year a who’s-who of top conservative figures have been embraced by Democrats and the “liberal media” for their opposition to Trump and his reactionary brand of populism.

Indeed, though he has divided the country, President Trump has been a great unifier of neoliberal Democrats and neoconservative Republicans, who have come to see Russian plots against America at every turn. Neocons like Max Boot, David Frum, Bret Stephens and Bill Kristol are among the top Republican hawks who have become liberal darlings in the Trump era. Frum, the former George W. Bush speechwriter and coiner of the infamous phrase “axis of evil,” has become many liberals’ favorite neocon pundit on social media, while Stephens — a prominent climate-change denier — was hired earlier this year as a full-time columnist for the ostensibly liberal New York Times editorial page (not surprisingly, the Times was forced to issue a correction for his debut column defending climate-change skepticism).

At the center of this alliance is not just a mutual antipathy for President Trump but a hostility towards Russia that recalls the paranoid years of the Cold War. Last week this hawkish alliance was made official when a new “bipartisan” group called Alliance for Securing Democracy was formed. This new advocacy group will be led by Laura Rosenberger, a former State Department official in the Obama administration, and Jamie Fly, a former national security adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio. Top Obama-era officials and Bush-era neocons will sit on the board of directors, including Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan, former ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul, Bush-era Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff and none other than Bill Kristol, America’s leading chicken-hawk (who is known best for how wrong he has been in nearly all of his predictions).

Glenn Greenwald summed up this new Trump era alliance in a recent article on The Intercept, noting that “on the key foreign policy controversies, there is now little to no daylight between leading Democratic Party foreign policy gurus and the Bush-era neocons who had wallowed in disgrace following the debacle of Iraq and the broader abuses of the war on terror.”

The Democratic establishment’s apparent shift to the right on foreign policy, along with its newly formed alliance with Republican hawks, is part of an overall trend that reveals how out of touch the party elite have become with the base. Indeed, while leading Democrats have adopted a Cold Warrior mentality, the party’s base has actually shifted further to the left. A majority of Democrats today, for example, have a favorable opinion of “socialism” and support  progressive policies like universal health care. This makes it all the more ironic — and maddening — that senior figures in the Democratic Party have started to sound more like heirs of Joseph McCarthy than Franklin D. Roosevelt, as displayed by a recent tweet from former DNC chair Donna Brazile declaring that “the Communists [i.e. Russians] are now dictating the terms of the debate.”

In a Bloomberg poll released last week, it was revealed that Hillary Clinton is even more unpopular today than the historically unpopular President Trump. According to Bloomberg, many Clinton voters said they “wished Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont had won the Democratic nomination, or that they never liked Clinton and only voted for her because she was the lesser of two bad choices.” The survey had another interesting find: of the many issues facing America, 35 percent of people consider health care to be the most important, followed by issues like immigration, terrorism, and climate change. Only 6 percent of respondents said that the United States’ “relationship with Russia” is the most important issue facing the country.

These findings indicate two things: First, that most Americans care much less about the Russia scandal than the political establishment does; and second, that Clinton’s brand of neoliberalism is politically toxic. In that light, the Democratic establishment’s current strategy of embracing the center and aligning with neoconservatives to “secure democracy” against Russia is reckless and extremely shortsighted. ​​​​​​​The Republican Party “left its senses” long before Trump came around, and in uniting with Republican chicken-hawks, leading Democrats seem to be leaving their senses too.

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.

How Did Democrats Become the Party of Elites?

In order to win back statehouses and Congress, Democrats must rewrite the political narrative that now has them on the side of the establishment and Republicans on the side of sticking it to the man.

“For four decades now, Republicans have succeeded in framing Democrats as the party that uses government to bigfoot rather than aid the American people,” writes Leonard Steinhorn. (Photo by Georgia Democrats/ flickr CC 2.0)

How did it come to pass that of the two political parties, the Democrats — who have long fought for the underdog, civil rights, consumer protections, universal health care, the minimum wage and for unions against powerful interests that try to crush them — have now been branded in large swaths of the country as the party of the establishment and the elites?

And how did it come to pass that Republicans — whose policies, regardless of stated intent, benefit polluters, entrenched interests and the upper brackets of American wealth — are now seen by many as the anti-establishment populist party which delights in flipping off elites on behalf of the Everyman?

For the moment, keep Donald Trump out of this conversation — after all, Democrats have been hemorrhaging seats in statehouses and Congress for decades. Also set aside any talking points about which party’s policies truly benefit forgotten Americans or which short-term trends show up in the polls.

More important for Democrats is whether they can rewrite the political narrative that now has them on the side of the establishment and Republicans on the side of sticking it to the man.

If Democrats want to regain their electoral stride and recapture defiant voters who once saw the party as their advocate and voice — the same voters they need to establish a sustained governing majority throughout the land — they must think less about policies per se than about how those policies translate to messaging and brand.

Just as consumers purchase products not merely for what they do but for what they say about the people who buy them, voters are drawn to narratives, brands and identities as much as the policies that affect their lives. These narratives give voters meaning, define who they are, and become an essential part of their identity and self-image.

What’s most toxic in American politics today — as it has been throughout our history — is to become the party associated with domineering overlords and supercilious elites who seem to enjoy wielding power over the rest of us.

To some extent, the Democrats have only themselves to blame for their elite, establishment image.

Few question the party’s need to build its campaign coffers in what is now an arms race for political dollars. But by cozying up to Wall Street and the privileged — and appearing more at ease hobnobbing among them than among those who work in factories, small businesses and call centers — Democrats have sent a subtle message about the people they prefer to associate with and seek out for advice. To many Americans, it reeks of hypocrisy at best.

Republicans, who unapologetically celebrate wealth as a symbol of American dynamism, face no such messaging dissonance.

But perhaps more important is the jujitsu maneuver that Republicans have used to turn one of the Democratic Party’s strengths — its good faith use of government to level the playing field and help the little people — into a weakness.

From the New Deal through the ’60s, the Democrats were able to show that government was an essential tool to correct market inequities, protect the little people from unchecked power and special interests and ensure that the American birthright included safeguards against crippling poverty and misfortune.

Government, most Americans believed, was their defender and their voice. In 1964, according the the American National Election Studies, more than three-fourths of Americans said they trusted government most of the time or just about always. It was the Democrats that stood for grass-roots change and the Republicans who represented the powerful and resistant establishment.

Democrats then expanded their vision of a righteous government by exercising its power to fight segregation, discrimination, environmental blight, corporate malfeasance and consumer hazards — and to advance health care as a right and not a privilege. All of that seemed to follow the New Deal script of government as a force for good.

But with Richard Nixon channeling George Wallace’s racialized anger at the federal government and Ronald Reagan saying that the only way to christen our shining city on a hill is to free up aggrieved entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens stifled by burdensome red tape and regulations, the Democratic association with government began to turn noxious.

As Reagan put it in his 1981 inaugural address, we should not allow “government by an elite group” to “ride on our back.”

For four decades now, Republicans have succeeded in framing Democrats as the party that uses government to bigfoot rather than aid the American people. Democrats may celebrate public servants for keeping our food safe and our lakes healthy, but Republicans have successfully portrayed them as a humorless bureaucrats who salivate at the urge to exert power and control over taxpaying Americans.

And Republicans have very artfully created a counternarrative, turning the market into a synonym for liberty and defining it as an authentic expression of American grass-roots energy in which small businesses and entrepreneurs simply need freedom from government to shower benefits on us all.

Of course the market’s magic may be more mythical than real — given that powerful corporations and interests dominate and exploit it often at the expense of workers — but that inconvenient fact is immaterial to the brilliant messaging advantages Republicans have derived from it.

Indeed, in the Republican playbook it’s the teachers, unions, environmental groups, professors and civil rights organizations that constitute the establishment whereas Koch and other industry-funded astroturf groups are the real gladiators fighting the status quo.

But it’s not just the Democratic association with government that Republicans have used to brand it as the party of the establishment and elites. Republicans have also turned the table on the liberal values that Democrats embrace.

Beginning in the 1960s, liberals have sought to flush prejudice, bigotry and discriminatory attitudes from society by turning diversity into a moral value and creating a public culture intolerant of misogyny and intolerance. On the surface, that should be a sign of national progress.

But conservatives — with help from an unwitting or overly zealous slice of the left that too often overreaches — took these healthy normative changes and cleverly depicted them as an attempt by condescending and high-handed elites to police our language and impose a politically correct finger-pointing culture.

In effect, conservatives have rather successfully portrayed liberals and Democrats as willing to use cultural and political power against ordinary Americans. They want to take my guns, regulate my business, dictate who I can hire, and tell me what I can buy, which doctors I see, how I live, when I pray and even what I say — so goes the conservative narrative.

That their definition of “ordinary Americans” is quite narrow — meaning whites and particularly men — is beside the point because it’s the political branding that matters, not the fact that liberal economic policies and efforts against bigotry and discrimination have helped millions of ordinary Americans.

Our nation was founded on resistance to power, and it’s part of our political and cultural DNA to resent anyone who exercises or lords that power over others.

Taken together, Republicans have successfully defined Democrats as a party of bureaucrats, power brokers, media elites, special interests and snobs who have created a client state for those they favor, aim to control what everyone else does and look down their noses at the people who pay the taxes to fund the same government that Democrats use to control their lives.

And why is this so damning for Democrats? Because our nation was founded on resistance to power, and it’s part of our political and cultural DNA to resent anyone who exercises or lords that power over others.

Read past the first paragraphs of our Declaration of Independence and it’s all about King George III and his abuses of power. Our Constitution encodes checks and balances and a separation of powers. Our economic system rests on antitrust law, which is designed to keep monopolies from crushing smaller competitors and accumulating too much power.

So if large numbers of Americans see Democrats as the party of entrenched elites who exert power over the little people, then Democrats have lost the messaging battle that ultimately determines who prevails and who doesn’t in our elections.

And let’s be clear: Donald Trump didn’t originate this message in his 2016 campaign; he simply exploited, amplified and exemplified it better than almost any Republican since Ronald Reagan.

The Bernie Sanders answer, of course, is to train the party’s fire at banks, corporations and moneyed interests. After all, they are the ones exerting unchecked power, soaking up the nation’s wealth and distributing it to the investor class and not the rest of us.

And to some extent that has potential and appeal.

But remember, most Americans depend on corporations for their jobs, livelihoods, health care, mortgages and economic security. So it’s much more difficult today to frame big business as the elite and powerful establishment than it was when when workers manned the union ramparts against monopoly power. Working Americans today have a far more ambivalent relationship with corporate America than they did in the New Deal days.

Somehow Democrats have to come up with their own jujitsu maneuver to once again show that theirs is the party that fights entrenched power on behalf of the little people. Liberals have to figure out how to merge their diversity voice with the larger imperative of representing all of America’s underdogs. These are not mutually exclusive messages.

Democrats can preach all they want on health care and Trump and the environment. But if they don’t correct the larger narrative about who holds power in America — and who’s fighting to equalize that power on behalf of us all — then whatever small and intermittent victories they earn may still leave them short in the larger battle for the hearts and souls of American voters.

Leonard Steinhorn is a professor of communication and affiliate professor of history at American University, a CBS News political analyst, author of The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy (2007) and co-author of By the Color of Our Skin: The Illusion of Integration and the Reality of Race (2000).

http://billmoyers.com/story/how-did-democrats-become-the-party-of-elites/

Will the Democrats ever stand for something?

If Democratic Party leaders want to be an alternative to the Republicans, they sure have a funny way of showing it, writes Elizabeth Schulte.

Clockwise from top left: Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer

Clockwise from top left: Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer

HILLARY CLINTON resurfaced last month from her long post-election hibernation with a message: “I’m back to being an active citizen–and part of the resistance.”

And just so everybody knows, if it hadn’t been for Russian hackers and FBI Director James Comey bringing up her e-mails, “I’d be your president,” she told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

Considering the crisis of the Trump administration right now, the Democrats’ claims about Russian meddling in the election look more believable than before. But as for this losing the election for Clinton, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

And as for Hillary Clinton being part of a “resistance,” well…come on now.

All the Russian meddling in the world wouldn’t change the fact that core supporters of the Democratic Party didn’t turn out for Clinton because she represented everything they didn’t like about Washington politics–a devoted servant of Corporate America and the political establishment’s status quo.

So even though she won the popular vote by nearly 3 million, Clinton let Donald Trump, the anti-immigrant, misogynist, Islamophobic billionaire, get close enough to steal an Electoral College victory because the Democrats offered so little for voters to turn out for.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

DESPITE THIS, the Democratic Party–which ought to be in a good position to challenge a politician as unpopular as Trump–is still debating what it should do next. Some party leaders are concluding this isn’t time to lead, but time to start compromising on key issues.

Issues like abortion.

In April, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) threw its support behind Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello, a self-described “pro-life” Democrat.

After a storm of criticism from pro-choice forces, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, DNC Chair Tom Perez–who appeared on a stage with Mello alongside Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders–was forced to publicly reaffirm the party’s support for women’s right to choose.

But some Democrats didn’t get the memo.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made sure instead to emphasize that, yes, the party welcomes anti-choice Democrats. “It’s kind of fading as an issue,” Pelosi told the Washington Post. “It really is.” Pelosi advised Democrats to concentrate more on the issues that affect “working families.”

Of course, abortion isn’t a fading issue–the Republicans have made sure of that by successfully restricting women’s access to abortion services in dozens of states.

Furthermore, characterizing reproductive rights as an issue that “working families” don’t care about–in a country where one in three women have an abortion, many likely in “working families”–is out of step with reality.

Support for abortion rights is one of the main issues that at least rhetorically distinguished the Democrats from the Republicans, and now at a time when it’s so important to take a side, party leaders are discussing whether it might alienate voters they want to attract.

“You know what?” Pelosi said to the Post. “That’s why Donald Trump is president of the United States–the evangelicals and the Catholics, anti-marriage equality, anti-choice. That’s how he got to be president. Everything was trumped, literally and figuratively, by that.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

SO UNDERLYING this dispute about whether abortion is a Democratic issue is another discussion about what the party has to do to win over the audience of people who were attracted by Trump’s populist campaign rhetoric in 2016. Leading party figures are opting to downplay so-called “social” issues, like abortion, racism or LGBTQ rights, in favor of “economic” issues.

This warped view of who workers are–the workforce is disproportionately female, people of color and LGBTQ people–and what their concerns include reveals how out-of-touch Democrats are with the people who vote for them. It’s also the case that even by these wrongheaded standards, the Democrats’ populist economic rhetoric is no better in practice for working people than Trump’s.

The fight over health care is an excellent example. In May, House Republicans went after the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), voting for a plan that would eliminate some of the few positive aspects of Obamacare, such as the expansion of Medicaid and a guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

And what was the reaction from Democrats? Something close to rapture. The party that claims to stand for working people stood by and watched as Republicans shredded the ACA in the hopes that this would fatally damage the Republicans with voters.

While most human beings reacted with shock and outrage, Democratic leaders celebrated the fact that the Republicans’ nightmare might help them win a victory in 2018 congressional elections. Democratic strategist Caitlin Legacki summed up the strategy to the New York Times: “Our best shot at stopping the Republicans has always been to let them cannibalize themselves, and this proved that.”

Meanwhile, as Democrats cheered on the Republicans’ passage of Trumpcare, real people with real health care needs face the daily threat of not being able to afford to get well.

Trumpcare is highly unpopular–only 17 percent of the population said it supports repealing and replacing Obamacare with the Republican plan, according to a Quinnipiac Poll. But there is growing frustration with Obamacare, too.

Obama’s health care plan may have included some important reforms, but it also kept in place the worst aspects of for-profit health care, and the result was that insurance became even more expensive for workers.

When Trump and the Republicans threatened to make health care even more inaccessible, they gave Obamacare and the Democrats a lifeline, at least as far as public opinion is concerned. In this context, many people felt they had no choice but to defend the lesser-poison status quo of Obamacare.

Democratic politicians are making similar political calculations when it comes to protecting immigrants under attack from Trump’s new amped-up deportation regime.

In April, as state lawmakers debated making California a “sanctuary state” to stand up to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threat to cut off federal funding to states that didn’t cooperate with ICE and immigration enforcement, some Democrats were cautioning against going too far.

“It may feel good to take certain actions, but that could result in real hurt on the ground,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told the New York Times. “My responsibility is to make sure that I bring resources back to my city that come from tax dollars we send to Washington.”

“The civil rights movement was not won by calling Bull Connor a racist,” Garcetti said. “He was a racist. But it was won by saying we should be at that lunch counter.”

Garcetti is forgetting the most important thing that happened at those lunch counters: protest.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IF GARCETTI’S strategy of concede and retreat sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The Democrats used the same strategy during Election 2016–when they nominated Hillary Clinton, the status quo candidate with a history of serving wealth and power, as the candidate they were sure would win easily against Trump.

The party behind Clinton’s “campaign of militant complacency,” as author Thomas Frank put it, never even considered that the people who actually vote might be dissatisfied with the status quo she embraced.

In other words, at a time when many people are looking for more radical solutions, the mainstream Democrats are offering something that’s even further to the right of what already exists. And since they won’t actually stand for something, they continue to fall back on the fact that Trump and the Republicans are just worse.

This reality will lead even the best activists–people who care about changing the world a thousand times more than Nancy Pelosi–to conclude that the most important thing we have to do in the next year is get more Democrats into office, no matter what the compromise.

Thus, Bernie Sanders, who himself is staunchly pro-choice, reached the same conclusion as Pelosi that not every Democrat has to be pro-choice to get his support.

The Democratic Socialists of America unfortunately succumbed to this pressure too when it issued a statement in response to Sanders’ support for Heath Mello in Omaha that refused to take a stand and instead advised its members to “trust our grassroots.”

But trusting the grassroots means taking a stand for its political concerns.

It goes without saying that Hillary Clinton isn’t part of any “resistance.” There is, however, a resistance being built. It had its beginnings before the 2016 election, but having Donald Trump in the White House has led more people to think about that we need to get ourselves organized.

Many people will look to the Democratic Party to take the lead in the anti-Trump opposition, but the Democrats haven’t yet, and show no signs at all of doing so. We have to take part in grassroots organizing that stands up to the attacks of both Republicans and Democrats–and that offers an alternative to the status quo Washington politics we’re expected to accept.

 

https://socialistworker.org/2017/06/01/will-the-democrats-ever-stand-for-something

What Do the Democrats Want? No One Knows

She was a Democrat, obviously. Still, I’m sure Republican families had their version of my mom’s binary, perhaps something along the lines of: “Republicans believe in less government and more hard work. Democrats want high taxes and welfare.”

The two-party system was easy to understand.

Now it’s a muddled mess — especially if you’re a Democrat.

Today’s Democratic Party relies on big corporations, especially big Wall Street investment banks, for campaign donations. The old alliance between the party and labor unions is dead. Democrats support trade deals that hurt American workers. When the economy tanked at the end of the last decade, President Obama left laid-off workers and foreclosed-upon homeowners twisting in the wind; he bailed out the banks instead. Hillary Clinton, who supported the TPP trade deal before she was against it, promised bankers she’d their friend if she won. Whatever the Democrats are now, they’re not the party of working Americans.

So what is the Democratic Party now? What does it stand for and against?

I honestly don’t know. I’m obsessed with politics. So if I don’t know what Democrats want, it’s a safe bet no one else does, either.

“It’s all well and good — and really very satisfying — to harp constantly about the terribleness of Donald Trump,” observesNew York Times columnist Gail Collins. “But people need to see the Democratic line on the ballot and think of something more than Not as Dreadful.”

Yes they do.

Failure to articulate an affirmative vision of what she was for, not just against, was largely to blame for Hillary Clinton’s devastating defeat. Trump Is Evil and Dangerous wasn’t enough to win in 2016. It probably won’t be enough for 2018 either. Yet party leaders still haven’t begin to say how they would address the problems voters care about.

Like healthcare. The Clintonistas, still in charge of the Democrats despite their incompetent stewardship, believe that Obamacare will survive because the Republicans’ Trumpcare alternative is unpopular even with Republicans. But they’re wrong. In one out of three counties, there is only one insurance company in the local healthcare “exchange.” Zero competition guarantees skyrocketing premiums and shrinking benefits. The collapse of Obamacare makes healthcare the #1 concern for American voters.

What would Democrats do about healthcare if they were in charge?

As far as I can tell, nada.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s website brags about Obamacare and its achievements. “House Democrats,” it says, “continually work to implement and improve health care reform to ensure that the best healthcare system in the world only gets better.” Newsflash to Ms. Pelosi: Actually, the U.S. has the worst healthcare system in the developed world.

When it comes to healthcare, Democrats are just like the Republicans on global warming. They won’t admit there’s a problem. So how can they offer a solution?

They don’t. Even though 58% of American voters want a European-style taxpayer-subsidized single-payer system, the Democratic Party platform does not propose significant reforms to Obamacare.

The wreckage of deindustrialization in the nation’s heartland is widely viewed as key to Trump’s surprise win. So what is the Democrats’ plan to create jobs, increase wages and help victims of the opioid epidemic?

Aside from “Trump sucks,” Democrats don’t much to say.

“We will create jobs that stay in America and restore opportunity for all Americans, starting with raising the minimum wage, expanding Pell grants and making college tuition tax deductible,” the party said in a statement a few days before Election Day 2016. Sounds great! But details are hard to come by.

Last year when it mattered, $225,000-a-speech Hillary asked workers to settle for a $12/hour minimum wage. Now, finally, Democrats are officially endorsing Bernie Sanders’ $15/hour. But it really should be at least $22/hour. And anyway, how would a minimum wage increase, or Pell grants, or tax-deductible tuition, “create jobs”? They wouldn’t. We need a big WPA-style federal hiring program. A law mandating that evil outsourcing companies like Facebook start hiring Americans wouldn’t hurt. But the Dems won’t get behind either.

When Democrats do have something to say, it’s trivial and small-bore, like making college tuition tax deductible. Why not go big? Did you know that the U.S. could make four-year college tuition free for the price of the ongoing war against Iraq?

Why are the Dems so lame? Suspect #1 is the lingering rift between the Sanders and Clinton wings of the party. “There is this grassroots movement voters’ arm of the party, and the more corporate, institutional part of the party. And the movement arm is tired of the institutional part telling us the only place for us is in the streets,” says Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb, a Sanders supporter. A party split by a civil war between a populist left and a corporatist right can’t articulate an inspiring platform of exciting solutions to American’s big problems. A purge, or a schism, would fix this.

Trump is already one of the most unpopular presidents in history. Going against him ought to be easy. But Democrats are about to find out — again — that people won’t vote for you unless you give them a good reason to get off their couches and drive to the polls.

Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower.

 

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