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.




As Clinton escalates war threats, Sanders begins campaigning for Democratic nominee

Bernie Sanders, left, speaks with Hillary Clinton during a break at a Democratic presidential primary debate Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

By Patrick Martin
3 September 2016

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders will carry out his first official activity as a drum major in the Hillary Clinton marching band Monday, when he takes part in Labor Day events in Lebanon, New Hampshire in support of the Democratic presidential nominee. It will be Sanders’ first campaign appearance on behalf of Clinton since his dismal “unity rally,” also in New Hampshire, on July 12.

According to the press release issued by the Clinton campaign, “Sanders will discuss Hillary Clinton’s plan to building [sic] an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top, and Donald Trump’s plan, which would benefit himself and other millionaires and billionaires.”

Sanders’ campaign appearance for Clinton comes as the Democratic Party is seeking to transform the elections into a mandate for war and aggression. In a speech to the American Legion on Wednesday, Clinton threatened to respond militarily to accusations of Russian cyberwar and hacking, pledged to carry out a nuclear posture review as her first act as president and called for an increased in military spending to ensure US domination of the world. (See, “Clinton’s ‘American Exceptionalism’ speech: A bipartisan policy of militarism and war”)

Sanders has maintained a complete silence on these war plans, which is in line with his role throughout the Democratic Party primary. He kept the issue of war largely out of the campaign, and when he spoke on foreign policy it was generally to endorse the Obama administration’s escalation of war in the Middle East, its drone assassination program and its threats against Russia.

The web site of Our Revolution, the vehicle set up by the Sanders campaign to continue to channel opposition behind the Democratic Party after his endorsement of Clinton, initially made no mention of foreign policy at all. A section has recently been added which, while including various gestures toward antiwar sentiment, insists: “We should protect America, defend our interests and values, embrace our commitments to defend freedom and support human rights, and be relentless in combatting terrorists who would do us harm.”

In other words, this “revolution” fully supports the propaganda justifications for American military aggression all over the world, from the “war on terror” to “human rights” imperialism.

Sanders’ appearance for Clinton also follows a week that put to the test Sanders’ claims that his supporters can carry forward a “political revolution” by working within the Democratic Party to elect “progressive” Democratic candidates.

Our Revolution’s campaign to support various local Democrats throughout the country fell flat on its first effort. Sanders-backed challenger Tim Canova was defeated in the Democratic primary for the south Florida congressional seat held by Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who won renomination with 57 percent of the vote. Schultz resigned her position as chairman of the Democratic National Committee last month after the release of emails showing the DNC had intervened in the primary contest on behalf of Clinton, despite its official posture of neutrality.

Our Revolution tried to make the best of the results of Tuesday’s primaries in Arizona and Florida, claiming in an email message “a tremendous night for our political revolution. Out of the five progressive primary campaigns we supported, three were victorious.” Two of the three, however, were incumbent Democratic Party officeholders, a further demonstration of Sanders’ integration with the Democratic Party establishment.

The email message reiterated the perspective that “as Bernie said, our job is to transform the Democratic Party and this country.” It claimed that the Canova campaign, while unsuccessful, had pushed Debbie Wasserman Schultz to shift her position “on a number of important issues, including fracking.”

In actual practice, however, the Canova-Schultz contest, in a heavily Jewish district centered on Ft. Lauderdale, devolved into a vulgar competition between the two candidates on who could best posture as a defender of Israel. Canova initially entered the race attacking Schultz ferociously from the right for her public support of the Iran nuclear deal, which he said endangered Israel’s security.

He repeated the charge during an August debate, only to have Schultz attack him for supporting “disarmament” in the Middle East, which she claimed would apply to Israel as well as Iran and the Arab states.

The email from Our Revolution also declared, referring to Schultz, that “because of the challenge we gave her, you can expect a more fair and impartial Democratic National Committee in the next presidential primary.”

This underscores the real purpose of the Sanders campaign from its inception: to foster illusions in the Democratic Party and block any movement against it. Sanders sought to capture youth and working people who are moving to the left, and to divert them back within the blind alley of the oldest US capitalist party.

It is noteworthy that while endorsing Canova, and helping raise an estimated $3 million for his campaign, Sanders held back from actually going to south Florida and making a public appeal to voters there to defeat the incumbent representative, who was endorsed by Hillary Clinton, President Obama, Vice President Biden and a host of other top Democrats. It was a tacit message to the Democratic Party establishment that there are lines Sanders agrees not to cross.

Only days after the primary, Sanders sent out a message to his database of small contributors, some four million people, appealing to them to send money to four Democratic candidates in close contests for US Senate seats, in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Nevada.

He claimed, “The Democratic Party passed an extremely progressive agenda at the convention. Our job is to make sure that platform is implemented. That will not happen without Democratic control of the Senate.” A spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee gushed in response, “We are excited to have Senator Sanders’ help and support as we work to win back the majority.”

The big lie about the supposedly progressive Democratic platform was the basis of Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton in July. This platform, however, for all its small-bore pledges of modest improvements in domestic policy, is a full-throated defense of American imperialism, declaring that the United States must have the most powerful military apparatus in the world.

Sanders attracted the support of millions of youth and workers because of his claim to be a “democratic socialist” and his denunciations of economic inequality and the political influence of “the billionaire class.” But he never voiced the slightest opposition to a foreign policy based on the defense of the worldwide interests of that billionaire class.

The ignominious fate of the Sanders campaign is a demonstration of the political fact that there can be no struggle against Wall Street at home without an open repudiation of American imperialism abroad, and the struggle to build an international movement of the working class against imperialist war, based on a socialist program.


Nothing revolutionary about Sanders’ “Our Revolution”


29 August 2016

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders launched the successor organization to his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination with the rollout August 24 of “Our Revolution.” Despite the pretentious name and the slick video introduction on the group’s web site, there is nothing revolutionary about Our Revolution.

The video invokes “the idealism and the energy and the intelligence of millions of people” and suggests that their actions will be in line with a long tradition of popular struggle going back hundreds and even thousands of years. But according to the perspective laid out by Sanders in his live-streamed speech, this supposedly mighty river of struggle will deposit its waters into the cesspool of the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Our Revolution “will focus on three distinct areas of work,” according to email and Facebook announcements: “(1) bringing millions of working people and young people into the political system; (2) inspiring, recruiting and supporting progressive candidates across the entire spectrum of government—from school board to the US Senate; (3) educating the public about the most pressing issues confronting our nation and the bold solutions needed to address them.”

What this means in reality is (1) registering people as Democrats and encouraging them to vote for the Democratic Party; (2) supporting candidates in Democratic Party primaries and Democratic candidates in general elections; (3) conducting propaganda to portray the reactionary capitalist and imperialist politics of the Democratic Party as the solution to the social problems confronting working people.

Every one of the candidates endorsed on the Our Revolution web site is a Democrat, including such longtime party standard-bearers as former Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who is seeking his old job after being defeated in 2010 by a right-wing Republican; incumbent Democratic representatives Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio; and a slew of Democratic candidates for Congress and state and local office.

The only even nominally “independent” candidate associated with Our Revolution is Sanders himself, who resumed that purely token status when he returned to his post as a US senator from Vermont. Our Revolution thus reinforces the political monopoly of the two-party system, which enables the American financial aristocracy to control and manipulate the political life of the country.

While only a few hundred people attended the official launch in Burlington, Vermont, Sanders addressed an audience of some 2,600 house parties and over 200,000 Facebook Live viewers. In the four days since, the launch video has been viewed nearly 200,000 times on YouTube. These figures suggest that Sanders continues to attract considerable interest among working people and youth after a campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in which he won 22 states and 13 million votes.

The speech Sanders delivered differed little from the threadbare platitudes of his stump speeches, except that it was even more tame. Not once did he mention the words “socialism,” “capitalism,” “working class” or “capitalist class.” He made no reference to the “millionaires and billionaires” whose political influence he regularly denounced during the primary campaign, but whose support may be required to sustain Our Revolution.

As was the case throughout the primary campaign, Sanders made no mention of the growing threat of war and no criticism of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, including the escalation of US warfare in Syria and Iraq, the widespread use of drone-fired missiles to assassinate those targeted by the CIA and Pentagon, and the continuing military buildup against Russia and China. The “Our Issues” section of the Our Revolution web site lists 17 subjects, every one of them related to domestic concerns. There is not a single reference to foreign policy or war.

Sanders’ silence on war was all the more striking since that very morning the Syrian conflict was dramatically expanded by the entry of Turkish ground troops, who crossed the border with the aid of US air cover and began to seize Syrian territory.

While making no reference to this ominous development, which increases the risk of direct military conflict between the US and nuclear-armed Russia, Sanders repeated his claim that the Democratic Party platform he negotiated with Hillary Clinton is the “most progressive” in history. That platform endorses the Obama administration’s war with ISIS, including its illegal intervention in Syria, as well as the US-NATO buildup along Russia’s western border and the Obama-Clinton “pivot” to Asia, which will place 60 percent of US naval and air forces within striking distance of China.

Answering critics who note that Democratic Party platforms are routinely ignored by Democratic presidents and their administrations, Sanders said, “If anybody thinks that that document and what is in that platform is simply going to be resting on a shelf somewhere, accumulating dust, they are very mistaken.”

When it comes to the tepid social reforms listed in the platform, Sanders’ statement is false, and he knows it. If Clinton wins the election, the promises of expanded healthcare, a massive jobs program, free college education and a $15 minimum wage will be unceremoniously scrapped. The platform’s pledges, on the other hand, to build the strongest possible US military and use it in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Asia-Pacific region will certainly be on Clinton’s agenda.

Sanders made only a single criticism of the Obama administration, and that was Obama’s support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal that seeks to mobilize Asian, North American and South American countries under US leadership against China—which is excluded from the agreement. Sanders wants an even more nationalistic economic policy, echoing the rabid anti-China chauvinism of Republican Donald Trump.

Of Our Revolution’s 15 original staff members, eight quit after Sanders named his former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, as president. There were objections to his decision to seek 501(c)(4) status, which allows the group to collect large contributions and keep donors secret.

The entire operation underscores the real political function of the Sanders campaign from its outset. It was not the political expression of the growing anti-capitalist sentiment of workers and young people in the US, but rather the response of a section of the ruling class to this alarming development. Sanders very consciously offered his services as a political lightning rod, using talk of a “political revolution” against the “billionaire class” to channel mass anger against social inequality and the domination of the political system by Wall Street back behind the Democratic Party, where it could be strangled and dissipated.

Sanders himself was shocked by the mass response to his rhetoric and the entire financial aristocracy was aghast when his claim to be a “democratic socialist” proved to be a powerful point of attraction.

The formation of Our Revolution shows that Sanders seeks to continue his services to the capitalist two-party system. But the conditions of capitalist crisis, unemployment, poverty, inequality and war that fueled the political radicalization of which Sanders was a temporary and initial beneficiary will not go away after the elections. The outcome of the contest between the fascistic billionaire Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the favored candidate of Wall Street, the Pentagon and the CIA, will be a further lurch to the right and a vast escalation of US military violence internationally.

In the impending mass struggles of the working class, it is critical that the lessons of the Sanders campaign be assimilated. The fight against war and inequality cannot be carried out within the framework of capitalist politics. There is no avoiding a direct assault on the wealth and power of the ruling class. The working class must break free of the Democratic Party and bourgeois politics as a whole and build an independent political movement to fight for workers’ power and socialism.

Patrick Martin