Why the Dems Need Bernie More Than Bernie Needs the Dems

One of the objections to Bernie Sanders’s candidacy that I keep reading on social media is that “he’s not even a Democrat.” People who say this appear to believe that it’s vitally important to be loyal to the institution of the Democratic Party as the last and only bulwark against the rising tide of insanity and chaos that the Republicans have become. And I’d like to address that.

For lo these many years — at least a dozen, maybe more — we liberal/progressives have been promised that some day demographics will turn the tide and make our policies viable again. Some day the knee-jerk right-wing voters will die off.  Some day voters will stop responding to racist dog whistles. Some day cultural conservatism will stop driving troglodytes to the polls to vote against their own economic interests. And when that happens, my dears, progressive policies can finally be enacted. But in the meantime, we must modify our positions and negotiate with ourselves and meekly propose only those milquetoast little baby-step policies that we might be able to sneak past The Right-Wing Beast.

This kind of thinking hamstrung the early years of the Obama Administration. Granted, he may have done about as well as anyone could have done passing the Affordable Care Act, given that even many Democrats in Congress were working against him and fought to water it down. But anyone who has been paying attention these past several years ought to have known there’s no working with foaming-at-the-mouth wingnuts. Attempts to be conciliatory will fail. To them, either you are avowedly 100 percent pure Hard Core Right, or you are the enemy.

So, we’ve been told, look to the young folks. They will save us. But younger people are notoriously bad about voting, especially in mid-terms. So The Beast owns Congress and and a large portion of state governments.

Enter the Democratic National Committee. For some reason beyond my comprehension, Decisions Were Made some time back that Hillary Clinton would be the Dem standard-bearer in 2016. No one else need apply. The establishment and the money people said so. Actual progressives were not consulted. I railed about this a couple of years ago. Why aren’t we having an ideological discussion on the future direction of the Democratic Party? (And yeah, I said back in 2014 that Sanders would be un-electable in a general election, but I’m less sure about that now. Depends on whom the Republicans nominate.)

But we had no discussion, and Hillary Clinton was presented to us as the nominee-presumptive. Without a big media build-up and the support of the establishment, Martin O’Malley probably was doomed. He should have just gone on the road with his Celtic rock band, O’Malley’s March.

I am hugely — should I say yugely? — ambivalent about HRC. No question she is very smart and very knowledgeable on both foreign and domestic policy. No question she knows how to work the buttons and levers in Washington. I do trust her on issues involving women and minority rights, so if she is the nominee she’s got my vote.

And, of course, the Right has been trying to pin something criminal on her for 25 years, and they always fail. I assume Benghazi! and email-gate are more empty issues that have been spun to look criminal, and when the dust clears nothing will come of either one. Just as nothing came of the Travel Office thing or the Vince Foster thing or Whitewater or anything else The Beast has been howling about all these years.

However, the Right has done a bang-up job persuading the average American who is not a news-politics junkie that she must be guilty of something. That’s not fair, but it’s the truth. And, to me, that would make her a lot less electable than a lot of other Dems the public never got a chance to know. And damn Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

My primary objection to HRC is that she’s the queen of self-negotiation and incremental baby steps. That might have been necessary in the 1990s, when the Right was on the ascendancy. But right now, the Right is in chaos. It is falling apart. It has never been so vulnerable. Yet the DNC and HRC seems stuck in self-negotiation, baby-step, kick-the-can-down-the-road mode.

Worse, HRC herself doesn’t seem to Get It. See, for example, “Hillary Not Truthful About Wall Street Speaking Fees.” Do read the whole thing; there’s a lot of really shoddy stuff going on with her regarding her Wall Street connections that she needs to come clean about now, but you know she won’t. This is just the executive summary part:

But the boarder reason may lie in the fundamental relationship between the Clintons and their wealthy friends and benefactors. Hillary, Bill and Chelsea (whose husband is a hedge fund partner) believe that Wall Street is a vital part of economy, composed mostly of very bright, honorable and talented people, like their classmates at Yale and Stanford. Sure, every now and again there are a few bad apples, but the barrel is fundamentally sound.

How could she be so politically tone deaf on this issue?

It’s because she still lives in world surrounded by so many of the best and brightest in and around Wall Street. Attacking them would be like attacking her community of friends and financial supporters. How could taking money from such decent, talented and productive people be wrong?

Maybe that isn’t what she really thinks, but it sure as hell looks as if that’s what she thinks, and if so, we can count on a Clinton II Administration to be a big defense of the financial sector Status Quo. And that means the fundamental changes that we really need to move forward as an actual, functioning democracy and not an upscale banana republic will not happen in a Clinton II Administration.

What Clinton and the DNC don’t get is that it isn’t just the future of the Democratic Party, and the United States. It’s the future of capitalism. The day when a politician had to be 100 percent rah-rah on capitalism is, um, passing. And HRC and the DNC don’t see this.

See, for example, American capitalism has failed us: We’re overworked, underemployed and more powerless than ever before. Again, do read the whole thing. I just want to say that this exchange quoted in the article just plain disgusted me.

One night I tuned in to the Democrats’ presidential debate to see if they had any plans to restore the America I used to know. To my amazement, I heard the name of my peaceful mountain hideaway: Norway. Bernie Sanders was denouncing America’s crooked version of “casino capitalism” that floats the already rich ever higher and flushes the working class. He said that we ought to “look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.”

He believes, he added, in “a society where all people do well. Not just a handful of billionaires.” That certainly sounds like Norway. For ages they’ve worked at producing things for the use of everyone — not the profit of a few — so I was all ears, waiting for Sanders to spell it out for Americans.

But Hillary Clinton quickly countered, “We are not Denmark.” Smiling, she said, “I love Denmark,” and then delivered a patriotic punch line: “We are the United States of America.” Well, there’s no denying that. She praised capitalism and “all the small businesses that were started because we have the opportunity and the freedom in our country for people to do that and to make a good living for themselves and their families.” She didn’t seem to know that Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians do that, too, and with much higher rates of success.

The truth is that almost a quarter of American startups are not founded on brilliant new ideas, but on the desperation of men or women who can’t get a decent job. The majority of all American enterprises are solo ventures having zero payrolls, employing no one but the entrepreneur, and often quickly wasting away. Sanders said that he was all for small business, too, but that meant nothing “if all of the new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent.” (As George Carlin said, “The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.”)

See also Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton’s debate over capitalism, explained.

Young people are getting the short end of the stick, and all but the most privileged know it. Young people are not buying what the DNC wants to sell them. See Charles Blow, Hillary Has Half a Dream.

One of the most striking statistics to come of the Iowa caucus entry polling was the enormous skew of young voters away from Hillary Clinton and to Bernie Sanders. Only 14 percent of caucusgoers 17 to 29 supported Clinton, while 84 percent supported Sanders.

On Thursday, I traveled to the University of New Hampshire, site of a debate between Clinton and Sanders that night. Before the debate, I mingled on campus with people rallying for both candidates, with the Sanders rally many times larger than the Clinton one. The energy for Sanders at the school was electric.

For the actual debate, I went to a debate-watching party for Clinton supporters at the Three Chimneys Inn, just off campus. There were more heads of white hair in that room than a jar of cotton balls.

The two scenes so close to each other drove home the point for me: Hillary Clinton has a threatening young voter problem.

Young folks are facing a warming planet, exploding student debt, stunted mobility, stagnant wages and the increasing corporatization of the country due in part to the increasing consolidation of wealth and the impact of that wealth on American institutions.

Young folks are staring down a barrel and they want to put a flower in it, or conversely, smash it to bits. And they’re angry at those who came before them for doing too little, too late. They want a dramatic correction, and they want it now.

From this perspective, the difference between Clinton and Sanders is that one will try to change the system and the other won’t. Maybe Sanders will try and fail, but Clinton won’t try at all. She’ll just tweak it so that it’s slightly less pernicious.

And in four, or eight years, the Right may have self-corrected and be stronger than ever, and the can will be kicked down the road some more.

Let me add that I am a 64-year-old feminist. I have no illusions that Sanders will have an easy time of it, but I do hope he would make effective use of the bully pulpit and persuade America that we don’t have to put up with this crap.  And I have no illusions that he be an easy sell in the general. Yes, I remember the 1972 McGovern disaster. I voted for McGovern in that election. But we are living in a very different world now. I think too many Dems don’t see that.

Politics in the U.S. being what they are, it’s likely HRC will prevail and be the nominee. My fear is that the Democratic establishment will win a battle but lose the future. Good luck getting them ever to persuade the young folks to support them, no matter how awful the Right gets. Because if the demographic promise is ever going to come true, the Dems have got to offer something more than “we’re not as awful as those other people.”

33 thoughts on “Why the Dems Need Bernie More Than Bernie Needs the Dems

  1. Yeah, too often in the past few decades, we liberals and progressives sit and wish up on a political star, that our Prince will come:
    See – Clinton, Wiĺliam J., and Obama, Barack H.

    We’ve dodged getting a ‘Prince of Darkness’ or a ‘Machiavellian Prince,’ ‘but had to settle for a ‘Prince of Triangulation’ and ‘Prince of a Guy!’

    I’ll be 58 in a few weeks, and I grow weary of waiting for the promised demographic changes, and the long awaited “Rude Rube Awakening,” where the griftee’s turn on the grifters.

  2. The party hasn’t in past decades listened much to progressives/liberals because said groups have never shown the all important ability to actually get people reliably elected. We get a few in (Grayson, Warren, etc), but where’s the broad pressure to move to the left?

    Maybe Bernie will catch fire and ignite a “political revolution” but there’s little evidence of this as Iowa returns didn’t show any sort of Democratic surge, nor did Bernie bring new groups to the table. His policies do appeal to the progressive/liberal wing of the party, but that wing is only about a third of Democrats (who’re actually over-represented in IA and NH Democratic primary voters).

    The problem here is that everyone’s focusing on the Presidency as the source of all change rather than do the ugly and thankless work to actually change the party and electorate. Electing a fairly far “left” President won’t get you very far unless the infrastructure is fixed.

    So, to me, Bernie’s a “high-risk, low-reward” candidate at present. I can’t shake the feeling that him in the general election would be like him walking into a wood-chipper. As interesting as it’d be hearing him re-iterate for the umpteenth time how Democratic Socailism and Communism differ, I somehow suspect that the nuance might be missed by the generally disengaged electorate given the utter brokenness of the MSM (“Is Sander’s a Communist? Opinions differ!”) and the effectiveness of the right-wing noise machine in getting things “out there”.

    Hillary has her own set of issues, of course, but she’s largely a known quantity so far as how she’ll face the republican onslaught, so while I’ll probably not get a pony were she to win, we’d still be in a far, far better place than consolidated republican control over all three branches.

    It helps that I don’t consider Hillary a “lesser evil”, of course. I think that she and Bernie overlap more than they disagree, but that they have markedly different ways of pursuing their aims.

  3. Actually, upon further thought he wasn’t a Dem, but we did have a “Prince of Darkness” – Dick Cheney.
    And W., was the head of “The Mayberry Machiavelli’s.”
    So, I was off on both points.

  4. I enjoyed your analysis, and I have to agree. I’m still torn between the dream of a better society and the reality of electability. Pooh.

  5. Well, support Bernie in the primary, and if he wins, the reality of his electability will have already been established.

    Great post, Maha. I’m at that point also where life’s shadow is being cast to the east and I’m ready to follow that voice that’s telling me there can be a better America. The choice is ours.
    I see the economic tyranny that is settling upon us as a nation and if we are to survive as a true functioning democracy then we have to change the trajectory of the prevailing political discourse. I don’t consider myself a gloom and doomer, but it doesn’t take much to see where we’re headed if we don’t bring our country back into balance and equality.

  6. My fear is that Hillary Clinton is the Democratic version of Mitt Romney. She has a tin ear for what moves people, has the worst possible instincts when it comes to being open and lacks any sort of strategic vision or boldness. If you want another more remote historical comparison, she’s General George McClellan in a pantsuit I think it is frighteningly likely that she’ll lose the presidential race to whichever corrupt theocratic warmonger the GOP nominate. Ironically, blowhard thug that he is, Trump might just be the least worst of the available choices on that side of the aisle. At least he occasionally seems open to the idea that starving Americans to death in pursuit of a few more bucks for the Kochs isn’t really what the Founding Fathers had in mind.

  7. Very good post, Maha. It seems that we all want to see our president as a savior. I have a hard time falling in love with a pol, much as I may want to, but at this time I feel compelled to believe in the one I can trust on women’s issues.

    I know that Hillary has had to shine people on to make her way in that world, as had Barack Obama. I’m grateful that the republicans can’t seem to find anybody with as much skill in our government.

  8. “From this perspective, the difference between Clinton and Sanders is that one will try to change the system and the other won’t”

    Right and the way I see it one believes their message and one does not necessarily! Bernie believes what he says he been saying it for forty years, Hillary is saying what she and her campaign think will get her elected. I’ll vote for either one in the General but I’m starting to doubt that Hillary will make it? David Axelrod had a good quote yesterday:

    “When the exact same problems crop up in separate campaigns, with different staff, at what point do the principals say, ‘Hey, maybe it’s US?'”

  9. ….”bring our country back into balance and equality”. Swami, with all due respect, this sounds like the repugs talking points. “Take our country back, make our country great again.” This country has never had balance and equality. There has always been one or another group being discriminated against. Being a woman, I have experienced it. I think I even believed in it in my naive youth. My feelings have evolved over the years. We do need balance and equality not only in this country but all over the world. But what is there to go back to? I certainly want change but we need to accept what is and go from there. We cannot go back.
    I’m with Stella, the president is not a savior nor a hero. HRC is not exactly what I want in a president but at this point she seems like the best choice. I admit part of that view is that I want a woman president and also the entertainment of seeing Bill back in the White House but in a “lesser” role. I’m only human.

  10. grannyeagle… I should have been more explicit. I was thinking in terms of economic disparity rather than social injustice. Many times I’ve thought to myself and voiced to other people that I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be starting out in today’s economy. Young people coming up today are faced with an ominous prospect of attaining financial security. The system is out of whack and growing worse.

  11. Too bad that Feminism (TM) has become a shill for the truthiness campaign: elect HRC because and only because she is a woman.


  12. Oh yeah, it’s heartbreaking that my version of feminism is less than perfect. I WAS pure once- really!

  13. Haven’t followed your links yet but did find this earlier in the week.

    Just How Cozy Is Hillary Clinton With Wall Street?
    —By Kevin Drum| Mon Feb. 8, 2016 6:00 AM EST
    Hillary Clinton has received a lot of campaign money from the financial industry over the years, and after she left the State Department she gave several lucrative speeches to Goldman Sachs and other big banks. As Michael Hirsh puts it, this has given her a reputation for being “more than a little cozy” with Wall Street.
    But is she? The truth is that I haven’t paid much attention to this question. In terms of the presidential campaign, it’s pretty obvious that Bernie Sanders is a lot tougher on the financial industry than she is. The details of their plans don’t really matter. Sanders has practically made a career out of attacking Wall Street. As president, he’d make financial regulation a top priority; he’d appoint tougher watchdogs; and he’d use the bully pulpit relentlessly to call out Wall Street’s sins.
    Still, what about Clinton? How cozy with the financial industry is she? I asked about this on Twitter over the weekend, figuring that all the Bernie supporters would give me an earful. But no such luck. Mostly they just told me that she had taken Wall Street money and given Wall Street speeches. The only concrete criticism was one thatElizabeth Warren made in 2004: that Clinton had changed her view on the bankruptcy bill after she accepted lots of Wall Street money to get elected to the Senate.
    But that didn’t really hold water. She opposed the bill in 1999 because she wanted alimony and child-support payments to take precedence over credit card companies during bankruptcy proceeding. The bill passed anyway, but Bill Clinton vetoed it. In 2001, she brokered a compromise that gave priority to alimony and child support, and then voted for the bill. It didn’t pass at the time, and in 2005 her compromise was removed from the bill. She said then that she opposed it.
    This is classic Hillary. Once George Bush was president, she had no way of stopping the bill—so she worked hard behind the scenes to get what she could in return for her vote. Love it or hate it, this is the kind of pragmatic politics she practices. But there’s no hypocrisy here; no change of heart thanks to Wall Street money (she supported the bill when it protected women and children and opposed it when it didn’t); and no real support for the financial industry.
    What else? Clinton says she gave several speeches in 2007 warning about the dangers of derivatives and subprime loans, and introduced proposals for stronger financial oversight. Apparently that’s true. I’m not aware if she took a stand on the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999, but I don’t think this was responsible for the financial crisis and wouldn’t hold it against her either way. (And it was supported by nearly the entire Democratic Party at the time.) The CFMA did make the financial crisis worse, but Bernie Sanders himself supported it. Clinton voted for Sarbanes-Oxley, but everyone else did too.
    Clinton has consistently supported increasing the minimum wage—though not to $15. She supported the Lilly Ledbetter Act. She supports higher taxes on the wealthy. She supported repeal of the carried interest loophole in 2007. The Boston Globe, after an extensive review of her voting record in the Senate, summed up her attitude with this quote from a lobbyist: “The financial sector viewed her as neutral. Not helpful, but also not harmful.” Citizens for Tax Justice gives her a generally favorable grade on financial issues.
    The word “cozy” does a whole lot of heavy lifting in stories about Hillary Clinton and Wall Street. But what does it mean? Does she have an actual record of supporting Wall Street interests? By ordinary standards, is her current campaign proposal for financial regulation a strong one? (I’ve been impressed by her rhetorical emphasis on shadow banking, but it’s not clear just how far her proposals go in real life.) Has she protected financial interests against the Bernie Sanders of the world?
    I think it’s safe to say that Clinton has hardly been a scourge of the banking industry. Until recently, her main interests were elsewhere. But if there’s a strong case to be made for “coziness,” I’ve failed to find it. Anyone care to point me in the right direction?

    • Sondra — The link would have been sufficient. And I did read that a couple of days ago. It doesn’t actually address my concerns.

  14. “where life’s shadow is being cast to the east”

    Swami, no one will read this, but, I have to say that this is a beautiful metaphor, and it might allow one to use the word “gnomen” without wrinkling any brows.

    • eddie.clever: Nobody cares. Mention “Hillary Clinton” and “Vince Foster” in the same breath, and most rational people will assume you either are making a joke or are some sort of tin-foil-hat-wearing wingnut. I assume that also. The point being that the Vince Foster thing is over and gone, as far as today’s politics are concerned.

  15. I can’t say that I understand the metaphor of “casting life’s shadow to the east”. However, it brings to mind an old song of which I don’t recall the title but it goes like this: “East is East and West is West and never the twain will meet”. For some reason I can’t explain, it looks like the twain is about to meet and it will change the course of history and evolution. This may sound crazy, even to me, cause I can’t explain it. It’s just what I’m thinking.

  16. grannyeagle.. I think that song title you mentioned was called Mecca..sung by Gene Pitney.
    That metaphor about life’s shadow is a different way of saying I’m in my sunset years. I should have said I’m wading in the Jordan because that’s a closer picture to my overall health condition.

  17. Swami: I’m feeling really dumb cause I don’t understand “wading in the Jordan” either.

  18. Pingback: Links 2/17/16 | Mike the Mad Biologist

  19. While I agree the Dems need Sanders, one quibble: Obama is part of the problem, as shown by his early decision to take universal health care “off the table” and work on a sweetheart deal for the insurance companies instead. He has always been the man Adolph Reed identified in ’96: “In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics, as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway.”

    • will — I do not believe that in 2009-2010 Obama had any choice but to take universal health care off the table. It was a non-starter. Even most Democrats were afraid to touch it. As it was, he had to water down the ACA nearly to death to get the Democratic Blue Dogs to vote for it.

  20. Actually, one more quibble regarding McGovern: the Dems threw him under the bus, and Sanders supporters have to be ready for something similar to happen to them.

    “McGovern was probably the most radical candidate to run for president on a major party ticket in the 20th Century. Among other items, he called for an immediate end to the war in Vietnam, a guaranteed annual income for all Americans, and reproductive choice for women. He won the series of primaries and was nominated as the Democratic candidate. Before he even gave his acceptance speech, the Democratic leadership was at work sabotaging his campaign. The rules committee played around with floor activities ensuring that his speech would be delivered at 2:00 in the morning. News organizations were provided with unfavorable information regarding his vice presidential nominee’s health. Party conservatives like Henry “Scoop” Jackson (the first neocon) mounted a campaign within the party and in the press designed to prevent McGovern from winning. After the landslide victory of Richard Nixon in November 1972, the party leadership began implementing rules changes that would forever prevent someone like McGovern from gaining the nomination. As Selfa points out, it’s not that McGovern was a radical; it’s that the Democratic Party does not represent the people (who by 1972 wanted out of Vietnam no matter what), but the corporate class.”

    From http://www.counterpunch.org/2009/02/01/return-of-the-democrats/

  21. Maha, I have to disagree. One trait of a great president is the willingness to use the bully pulpit, and Obama has always shied from it. Check the polls: the majority of Americans wanted universal health care in 2009. Obama had every reason to fight and chose to go with a plan that would please his major sponsors.

    • will — I agree Obama hasn’t used the bully pulpit nearly enough; I disagree that universal health care was viable in 2009 given the makeup of Congress at the time.

Comments are closed.