Tag Archives: Sanders

This is Called Reality

The Presidential primaries are effectively over. Both parties have chosen their candidates (and it is worth reminding everyone that primaries are party affairs, not exercises intended for the general/unaffiliated public).

I am reluctant to re-enter the toxic primary debate between the “Bernie bots” and the Hillary supporters, and I will preface this post with a disclaimer that will no doubt be ignored: this is not an “endorsement” of either of them. I tend to agree with most–not all– of Sanders’ positions, and I have never been a particularly enthusiastic supporter of Hillary–not because I consider her corrupt or dishonest (I don’t), but because, despite her resume and formidable policy chops, she is a defensive and not particularly inspiring candidate.

I will support Hillary. Had Bernie emerged as the Democratic candidate, I would have supported him. But that is a far cry from believing that he would be the stronger candidate against The Donald.

A recent article from Slate spells out what most politically active people know: polls at this juncture in the campaign are absolutely meaningless. The reason Hillary’s negatives are high is that everything that the Republicans could possibly throw at her has been thrown (repeatedly) for the past 25 years. There won’t be any surprises.

Bernie, on the other hand, would go into this election facing the national GOP smear machine for the first time–and given that Trump is head of their ticket, that machine would undoubtedly go into overdrive. The Slate article spells out just some of the more obvious attacks (and no, they need not be fair or accurate–just as many of the efforts to bring Hillary down have not been fair or accurate). Just a few examples from the article:

[Sanders] has never been asked to account for his relationship with the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, for which he served as a presidential elector in 1980. At the time, the party’s platform called for abolishing the U.S. military budget and proclaimed “solidarity” with revolutionary Iran. (This was in the middle of the Iranian hostage crisis.) There’s been little cable news chatter about Sanders’ 1985 trip to Nicaragua, where he reportedly joined a Sandinista rally with a crowd chanting, “Here, there, everywhere/ The Yankee will die.” It would be nice if this were due to a national consensus on the criminal nature of America’s support for the Contras. More likely, the media’s attention has simply been elsewhere….

Imagine an ad drawing from the old Sanders essay “The Revolution Is Life Versus Death.” First it might quote the candidate mocking taboos on child nudity: “Now, if children go around naked, they are liable to see each others [sic] sexual organs, and maybe even touch them. Terrible thing!” Then it would quote him celebrating girls who defy their mothers and have sex with their boyfriends: “The revolution comes … when a girl pushes aside all that her mother has ‘taught’ her and accepts her boyfriends [sic] love.” Finally, it would remind viewers that Sanders was one of 14 congressmen to vote against the law establishing the Amber Alert system and one of 15 to vote against an amendment criminalizing computer-generated child pornography. The fact that these votes were cast for entirely principled civil libertarian reasons is, in the context of a general-election attack, beside the point…..

As the nominee, Sanders would have to address his former opposition to public schools and praise for parents who believe that it is “better for their children not to go to school at all than for them to attend a normal type of establishment.” He’d have to explain whether he still feels that sexual repression causes cancer, whether he still opposes the concept of private charity, and whether he still supports the public takeover of the television industry.

Anyone who believes that the GOP would not use–and abuse–these currently little-known positions from Sanders’ past, or that such attacks wouldn’t be highly effective, is being willfully naive.

Bernie Sanders has done the Democratic party an enormous service during this primary campaign. He has raised issues that needed to be raised, and he has moved Hillary Clinton from her more cautious and much more incremental positions. His arguments will strongly influence the party platform. He has brought enthusiastic young people into the political process, and I for one believe he will put the issues above his ego and work hard to keep them involved.

As an old political warhorse, I can tell you that winning an election is not the same thing as winning the argument. The “Bernie bots” can console themselves that he has already won that.

Finally, for those still insisting that Bernie can still win the nomination, or in the alternative, that he was somehow cheated out of winning, please read this.

What Winning Looks Like

Bernie Sanders won’t be the Democratic nominee. But he’s winning something more important.

Ed Brayton has the best–and most succinct–analysis of the challenge faced by Bernie Democrats. Over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, he writes:  

It’s time for Sanders fans — and again, I’m one of them — to shift their focus from winning the presidency to building a real movement to accomplish his primary goal, which is to get the influence of big money out of our political process as much as possible. So what does that entail?

First, it means supporting Hillary Clinton in the general election. What is it that is currently preventing us from passing any meaningful legislation to limit the influence of big money? The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. If the Republicans win, any hope of adding a liberal justice to the Supreme Court that could help overturn that ruling dies for at least the next generation, maybe more. On the other hand, a Democratic president gets to replace Scalia and there would then be a liberal majority on the court and overturning that ruling becomes entirely plausible. Bernie voters who refuse to vote for Clinton, even if they have to hold their nose to do it, will be cutting off their nose to spite their face and dramatically reducing the chances of achieving Bernie’s top policy priority.

Second, it means building up an organization that can recruit, train and fund candidates who share Bernie’s vision of not only reducing the influence of big money, but also favors stronger regulation of big business — the very thing that the outsized influence of their money seeks to prevent. Overturning Citizens United is just the first step. The second step has to be electing people to Congress who will vote for serious campaign finance reform, not the weak sauce that was McCain-Feingold. This requires money, organization, and professionals who know how to run campaigns and how tothink strategically in politics.

You can rage all you want about how unfair the system is, but that rage doesn’t actually change anything if you can’t translate it into effective legislative action. So yeah, Bernie is going to lose the Democratic nomination. That doesn’t mean he’s going to lose the larger battle. Winning that battle is up to his supporters and those who share his vision, but if all you’re going to do is kick and scream and cry about dark conspiracies, you won’t achieve a damn thing. So if you want Bernie to win something more important than the White House, get your heads out of the clouds and get to work.

Bottom line: Sanders faces a challenge. He cannot win the Democratic nomination. Will he do a reprise of the disastrous Nader “If not me, no-one” ego trip–a position that gave the U.S. eight years of George W. Bush and a vastly more dangerous world, or will he be willing to spend the time and political capital to lead the Democratic party to a more progressive place?

I think he has signaled his willingness to do the latter, because I think he cares about the issues he has raised more than his own importance. At a campaign rally in Oregon, he said

“We need to plant the flag of progressive politics in every state in this country.”

Echoing Howard Dean from an earlier campaign, Sanders also insisted that the Democratic Party as a whole must forge a 50-state strategy focused on restoring civic vibrancy and fueling meaningful outcomes on the key issues people care about.

“The Democratic Party has to reach a fundamental conclusion: Are we on the side working people or big money interests? Do we stand with the elderly, the children, and the sick and the poor, or do we stand with Wall Street speculators and the drug companies and the insurance companies?”….

Now our job is not just to revitalize the Democratic Party—not only to open the doors to young people and working people—our jobs is to revitalize American democracy.”

If Sanders can set the Democratic party on the road to realizing that goal, he–and the American political system– will be the ultimate winners.

Strategy and Delusion

This political season just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

As Indiana voters prepare to cast ballots in tomorrow’s primary, we are coming to grips with the fact that there is an unreal reality-TV personality leading the GOP field–a lead largely attributable to the repulsiveness of his nearest competitor. (I mean, when have we ever heard a Presidential candidate described by members of his own party as “Lucifer” and ” a miserable son-of-a-bitch”? When have we ever heard a U.S. Senator explain his  endorsement of that candidate as a choice between a gunshot to the head or poison? Because there might be an antidote to poison…)

Every day brings a new “you’ve got to be kidding me” moment. Last week, it was a story from Talking Points Memo, outlining the Trump campaign’s strategy for going after Bernie Sanders’ supporters.

Are you done laughing hysterically?

There are two ways to analyze the Trump plan. The approach most favorable to the Trump campaign begins with the thesis that Americans are irremediably ignorant. (It isn’t that farfetched; after all, the fact that Trump is winning the GOP nomination is pretty compelling evidence that a significant percentage of the population is missing a few synapses.) Sanders is attracting angry voters, Trump is attracting angry voters, ergo, Sanders’ voters will move to Trump.

If, however, as I believe (and devoutly hope!), Americans really aren’t that far gone, the notion that Bernie’s supporters would even consider Trump is ludicrous.

The rap on Bernie is that he wouldn’t be able to accomplish his campaign’s goals: greater social equity, more government transparency, fairer treatment for marginalized constituencies, a higher minimum wage, free university, more equality….in short, despite the decibels at which he delivers his message, the message itself is a kinder, fairer, gentler world–an aspirational social justice writ large.

The rap on Trump is that he doesn’t have positions on most of these issues (or, apparently, even know some of them exist), but to the extent he does, his goals are exclusionary and bigoted: deport immigrants, reject Muslims, put women back in the kitchen (unless they’re good-looking, in which case they can work–albeit for less pay than men), piss on America’s allies and assume the role of world bully. Trump’s goals–to the extent he can articulate any– are dangerous, mean-spirited, uninformed and frequently unconstitutional, and his rhetoric consists of playground-level insults.

Some of the people supporting Bernie may not like Hillary Clinton. Some of the more rabid among them may even stay home in November–unthinkable as I find that. (I also doubt that Bernie has Ralph Nader’s monumental ego and willingness to screw the country to service it.) But a strategy based on the notion that people rallying for economic justice and fundamental fairness can be convinced to go to the polls and vote for Donald Trump is just further evidence that Trump’s narcissism has overpowered his already tenuous connection to reality.

If there ever was such a connection.

Civic Literacy and our 2016 Election Choices

As Indiana’s primary approaches, it’s time to look at the 2016 election landscape as objectively as possible.

None of us is truly objective, of course. I look at the “still standing” Presidential candidates from the perspective of someone who teaches public administration, supports civil liberties, and has had a fair amount of first-hand political experience. I’m also old enough to have some historical perspective. Those attributes, for good or ill, shape my opinions.

It will come as no shock to anyone who has followed this blog that I find all of the Republican candidates appalling. Donald Trump is arguably the most ignorant person ever to win a Presidential primary. He quite clearly knows nothing about the world, the Constitution, about how government works, or policy…And worse, he’s aggressively uncurious about any of those things.

Ted Cruz, a Dominionist, is actually more dangerous than Trump. The term “Dominionism” comes from Genesis, in which God gives Adam and Eve “dominion” over the Earth and its animals; it’s the belief that Christians are biblically mandated to control all earthly institutions until the second coming of Jesus. Sometimes called Christian Reconstructionists, Dominionists like Cruz believe biblical law should replace secular law. Cruz opposes abortion even in the case of rape or incest; is unalterably opposed to equal rights for the LGBT community and promises to appoint Supreme Court Justices who agree with him.

Fortunately, neither of these characters is likely to win a general election. Polls suggest that most Americans detest Trump, and even his colleagues in the GOP loathe Cruz. John Kasich would be a far more effective candidate, but not because his policy views are significantly more palatable. He is a hard-right ideologue, but he does actually know what government is and  (at least compared to the other two) exhibits some human compassion.Not enough compassion to keep him from closing all of Ohio’s Planned Parenthood clinics and depriving poor women of health care, but some.

Which brings us to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders–either of whom, despite their flaws, would be massively preferable to any of the GOP candidates.

I have never been a big Hillary fan, not because I believe the rap about her “dishonesty.” (Let’s get real: Republicans have spent millions of dollars for 20+ years throwing everything but the kitchen sink at her–if anything had been there, we’d know it.) My criticism is that she is a defensive and awkward candidate–in fact, she reminds me in that respect of “Poppy” Bush, who was always much more interested in governing than campaigning. As a result, she often doesn’t seem authentic. She is basically a technocrat who lacks Obama’s (and Sanders’) ability to inspire.

That said, she may be the most qualified person ever to run for President. She has seen government from multiple perspectives–from the White House, to the Senate, to the State Department. I don’t agree with every vote she’s ever cast or every position she’s ever taken, but let’s be fair: no one with a resume that long and varied is going to avoid positions with which I disagree.

I initially welcomed Bernie Sanders’ candidacy because I saw Hillary as too cautious on the campaign trail. Without his prodding, she was unlikely to address several issues that, while divisive, needed to be addressed. Despite the fact that their voting records and positions are very similar (she’s always been more progressive than Bill), Sanders pushed her to publicly discuss issues she might not otherwise have highlighted in the campaign.

So what about Bernie? He’s been able to generate lots of enthusiasm. He has raised a limited but important set of issues that we need to be talking about. I tend to agree with him about most of his “signature” issues: we should have universal health care, free higher education, more economic equity. But if lightning were to strike, and Bernie were somehow to become the nominee (of a party he doesn’t belong to, I should note), it’s pretty obvious he would not be able to deliver. As Paul Krugman recently wrote (in a must-read analysis):

On many major issues — including the signature issues of his campaign, especially financial reform — he seemed to go for easy slogans over hard thinking. And his political theory of change, his waving away of limits, seemed utterly unrealistic.

Let me just point to one little-noted difference between Clinton and Sanders. Clinton has spent years and considerable effort helping to elect down-ticket Democrats, and she is continuing to do so. Sanders has not, and recently indicated that if he were the nominee, he wouldn’t bother.

People who understand how our government works (or doesn’t) recognize that we have this pesky system called “checks and balances.” We don’t elect a monarch who gets to wave a magic wand for four years (it drives me nuts when people on the left–evidently oblivious to the degree of Republican obstruction he’s faced–criticize Obama because he didn’t do everything he said he wanted to do).

Elect either Hillary or Bernie–it won’t matter unless Democrats control the Senate and have far more sway in the House. Having great goals and values won’t matter if there is no realistic path to their realization. Civically-literate partisans understand that. (There’s a reason that Bernie’s wins have all come in states that allow independents to participate in the Democratic primary or caucus, while Hillary has won an overwhelming majority of registered Democrats.)

There isn’t going to be a revolution. Perhaps there should be, but it isn’t going to happen.

Americans are stuck with a system that is not working, and we need to put people in charge who know that fixing it requires mastery of boring and annoying details, people who are prepared for a hard, long, maddeningly incremental slog. Like her or not, that’s Hillary.

Bernie may be a one-note Pied Piper. Hillary may be uninspiring. But a President Trump, Cruz or Kasich, abetted by a Republican Congress, would be a disaster from which this country might never recover.

Vote like your grandchildren’s lives depend on it, because they do.