I dimly remember, some eight or ten or so years ago, some progressive activists wanted LGTB activists to back off and wait for the “right time” to push their issues. We had the Iraq War and George W. Bush to focus on, after all. We don’t want to hand the Right more wedge issues. And the LGTB community said, bleep that, there’s no time but this one, and went on pushing.
And they were right.
We seem to be having a similar discussion today about how far to push the progressive agenda. The cautious side can be found in this Politico article about how Bernie Sanders is giving the Dem establishment the vapors:
â€œI applaud the people of Greece for saying â€˜noâ€™ to more austerity for the poor, the children, the sick and the elderly,â€ Sanders said in welcoming Sundayâ€™s vote, even as it rattled world markets and provoked predictions of economic doom. The statement didnâ€™t just align Sanders with left-wing Europeans; it aligned him with lefter-wing Greek socialists who are too radical for some of those left-wing Europeans.
Democratic primaries have always featured liberal insurgent candidates, but perhaps none quite so liberal or insurgent as the socialist senator from Vermont. Sandersâ€™ comments are a reminder of just how far the second-place Democratic presidential candidate stands from the American mainstream on some issues, and the looming reckoning Democrats face with their partyâ€™s leftward drift. …
… Itâ€™s usually Democrats who play this game â€” as they did with Republican challengers to Mitt Romney in 2012, or with fringe characters like Todd Aiken. Now, itâ€™s Republicans seeking to use the Sanders surge to portray Democrats as radical and out of touch.
And thatâ€™s making many Democrats nervous, said Joe Trippi, who ran Vermonter Howard Deanâ€™s campaign in 2004.
â€œWe canâ€™t lose the presidency. We canâ€™t take a risk by nominating somebody outside the comfort zone. Thatâ€™s whatâ€™s driving the inevitable-nessâ€ of Clinton, said Trippi, speaking about the party establishmentâ€™s thinking.
It’s not for nothing that Charles Pierce calls Politico “Tiger Beat on the Potomac.” (For those who don’t remember, Tiger Beat is a teen “fan” magazine about entertainment and fashion marketed to adolescent girls.)
Anyhoo, that’s the establishment thinking: We can’t take risks now. We have to stay in the comfort zone, or risk losing the election. Hillary Clinton is a known product; she is marketable.
So along comes Bernie Sanders, and no question Bernie has some obstacles. His age, his Jewishness, and his embrace of the word “socialist” are all huge factors against him in the general election. If he wins the nomination, could he win the White House? And I honestly don’t know. In some ways it does seem unlikely. But it’s not as if HRC doesn’t have negatives of her own, some self-inflicted.
And doesn’t this amount to letting the Right choose our candidates for us? We’re choosing the candidate we think we can slip past the Noise Machine, not the one we really want?
And going back to Tiger Beat — First,Â a whole lot of people, including some world-renowned economists (Krugman, Piketty, Stiglitz) agree that punishing the Greeks further with austerity measures serves no purpose whatsoever. Second, by many measures Sanders is the mainstream candidate; his stands on many issues align with the American majority. See Juan Cole, “How Mainstream Is Bernie Sanders?”
Sandersâ€™s positions are quite mainstream from the point of view of the stances of the American public in general. Of course, the 1%, for whom and by whom most mainstream media report, are appalled and would like to depict him as an outlier.
Sanders is scathing on the increasing wealth gap, whereby the rich have scooped up most of the increase in our national wealth in the past twenty years. The average wage of the average worker in real terms is only a little better than in 1970; the poor are actually poorer; but the wealth of the top earners has increased several times over.
Some 63% of Americans agree that the current distribution of wealth is unfair. And in a Gallup poll done earlier this month, a majority, 52%, think that government taxation on the rich should be used to reduce the wealth gap. This percentage is historically high, having been only 45% in 1998. But there seems to be a shift going on, because Gallup got the 52% proportion in answer to the question on taxing the rich both in April and again in May of this year.
Bernie Sandersâ€™ position is that of a majority of Americans in the most recent polling!
My question to Joe Trippi et al. is, when do we get to stop finessing the right by settling for the most “marketable” candidate, who may or may not fight for what we want? When do we get to articulate what we actually want?
Elizabeth Warren caught fire with progressives not because she had “new ideas,” but because she spoke out loud what we already were thinking. She beautifully articulated the progressive position, in a way that signaled she really got it. It wasn’t just words and talking points. And Bernie Sanders is doing the same thing now. But we’re being told we have to kick him to the curb because the Right is really, really scary.
And I say, bleep that. Let’s trust the process. Let’s let the candidates step forward and make a case for themselves. Let there be debates. Let’s allow the American people to get a good look at all the candidates, including Martin O’Malley, who might still move up if he could get some media attention. Let’s let the American people hear what they have to say.
And then, let’s see what happens. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? What happens if America hears the progressive message directly from progressives? They might like it. Imagine!
I say we push for the policies we want and support candidates who pledge to work for those policies, and stop settling for the “safe” candidate. It’s likely Clinton will get the nomination anyway, but maybe the Sanders challenge will give her a clue that she has to actually deliver for progressives and not just make speeches at them.