Much was made of the decision to only offer a 60-second speaking slot to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at this year’s Democratic National Convention.
For some—myself included—what was especially galling was that Ocasio-Cortez got less face time than someone like John Kasich, who isn’t even a Democrat. Even among Democrats, her relative sparsity was confounding. Chris Coons? Catherine Cortez Masto? You chose these less-than-household names over someone like AOC, possibly the most exciting politician under the Democratic banner in decades? Really?
The inclusion which really rustles my jimmies, however, is the elevation of someone like Pete Buttigieg over AOC, precisely because he, like, Ocasio-Cortez, is young. On the whole, the Convention, a slow, solemn affair, was populated by politicians upwards of 50, capped off by an acceptance speech by the septuagenarian nominee Joe Biden. By this token, Buttigieg (38) and Ocasio-Cortez (30) were standouts.
That the Dems see someone like Buttigieg as more indicative of their future than AOC, a Spanish-speaking woman of color with a sizable following, is deeply concerning. Especially since “Mayo Pete,” as he’s derisively known in some circles, well, sucks.
Though the piece is almost a year old now, Ryan Cooper, national correspondent at The Week, has some valid insights about his fellow millennial as well as Joe Kennedy III, who he views in a similar light: that of the “entitled millennial” politician. As he makes explicit, Cooper does not have a problem with younger people running for public office—in fact, he thinks more of us should be doing it.
It’s Buttigieg’s choices, rather, that are damning in the author’s eyes. For one, there’s the matter of his employ at McKinsey, a consulting firm with a checkered track record, to say the least. As mayor of South Bend, Indiana, the relationship between his administration, the city’s police force, and the black community drew deserved criticism, a relationship that was further scrutinized after a fatal shooting by South Bend police last year.
In addition, his stint in Afghanistan, a conflict long since exposed as a quagmire of an occupation, seems designed more than anything to bolster his resume. All this on top of running for president of these United States despite a few years of mayoral experience in a small-ish city. As Cooper characterizes this last bit:
Being president of the United States is one of the most difficult, demanding positions in the world. It takes stupendous arrogance to think one can just pick it up on the job after running a city less than half the size of Spokane, Washington for a few years.
As for why Cooper takes issue with Kennedy, it’s not necessarily his politics or his vaulting ambition, but that he tried to take out a progressive in Ed Markey en route to a Senate seat and for no other apparent reason than his last name is Kennedy. Of course, Cooper wrote this well in advance of Markey’s sizable victory, but Massachusetts voters ultimately gave Kennedy their own rebuke that better decision-making on his part could’ve avoided.
In this regard, the author sees a stark contrast between the likes of Buttigieg and Kennedy (“men who think it all should just be handed to them”) and AOC (someone “attempting to actually stand up for her generation”). That contrast unfortunately also extends to how she is treated by some members of the media and members of her own party.
Ocasio-Cortez, for all her popularity, receives more than her share of abuse from establishment Democrats and right-wing provocateurs alike, the latter in particular alternating between jabs at her past work as a bartender (which isn’t anything of which to be ashamed, mind you) and her supposed elitist tendencies (and I guarantee you they wouldn’t be going after her like this if she were a man).
That Democrats see more in Barack Obama knock-off Pete Buttigieg than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or Julian Castro or Stacey Abrams) when younger voters and/or voters of color have told you pretty much all you need to know about him is therefore striking. For a party that at least pretends to give a damn about progressive politics, on the national stage, the Dems really seem like they’re taking a step backwards.
Pete Buttigieg is clearly an intelligent guy. That he achieved even a scintilla of success as an openly gay man campaigning for president is certainly laudable. For the record, too, I don’t wish ill upon him. He’s free to chat with Preet Bharara or anyone else he wants to chew the fat with on his new podcast. I won’t be listening, but you do you, Pete. If you can get people turned on to politics, more power to you.
That said, Mr. Buttigieg, I don’t want you anywhere near a position of influence within the Democratic Party. For all Former Mayor Pete’s trailblazing as a member of the LGTBQ+ community and his intellect, his pitch to voters was nothing but word salad and platitudes.
And the Obama allusions. On the campaign trail, Buttigieg didn’t just seek to emulate Barack Obama, with whom he has drawn comparisons for being similarly young and articulate at the point of his rise to national consciousness—he copied his manner of speaking right down to Obama’s cadence.
Pete the presidential candidate was an, ahem, pale imitation at a time when millennials, renowned for being better bullshit detectors than their progenitors, had already soured on the unfulfilled promises of Obama’s tenure and zoomers, just coming of political age, were less likely to have the same reverence for 44 as older party loyalists. Young people see right through Buttigieg. In case you were wondering why his cohorts would flock to Bernie Sanders instead of him despite his being some four decades Bernie’s junior, there’s a hint.
And yet, the Democrats look at Buttigieg like he has a real future in the party. He’s part of Joe Biden’s White House transition team and is among those being considered for a place in Biden’s Cabinet should he seal the deal in November. At a campaign event in April, Biden said he is a “transition candidate” whose job is “to bring the Mayor Petes of the world into this administration.” It’s clear that Biden views himself as a bridge to more candidates like himself who talk a better game than their record dictates rather than as the kind of leader who will usher in a new progressive direction for the Democratic Party.
I don’t doubt the Democrats want to win in November and would relish the chance to expand their base at a time when the Republican Party, despite its utter defiance of demographic realities, is registering more voters and generating more enthusiasm for its objectively worse candidates. That said, they can do better than President Joe Biden and Secretary or Ambassador Pete Buttigieg and they have to know that much.
Instead, they’re force-feeding us these men as the genuine article and expecting us not to be able to tell the difference or not to care. In the dumpster-fire year that is 2020, that’s an awfully cynical path forward when Americans need all the optimism they can get.
So said veteran lawmaker Steny Hoyer recently in a CNN interview, echoing the sentiments of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on whether $600 weekly payments to supplement unemployment insurance should be extended. Evidently, the Democrats are willing to negotiate—or capitulate, depending on your viewpoint—on the final figure.
This position of Democratic leadership comes amid gridlock in the Senate regarding an extension of federal unemployment benefits. Whereas House Democrats passed a bill in May that would have guaranteed the extension of $600 per week, Senate Republican leadership has balked at that figure, offering a counter-proposal of $200/wk. while states come up with a plan to satisfy their constituents’ needs with a mix of their own funds and federal dollars.
That Hoyer and other Dems have left the door open to compromise with the GOP is vaguely troubling, especially since Hoyer in that same interview parroted Republican talking points by expressing concern that people who receive a more robust stimulus check might not want to go back to work. It also renders Hoyer’s statement gobbledygook. “We don’t have red lines—we have values.” Right, but when “red lines” can be used to communicate one’s values, what is that even supposed to mean? It’s an illogical and unnecessary potshot at the Left.
In a similar vein, the recent reveal of the Democratic Party platform for the Democratic National Convention casts doubt on the party’s principles leading inexorably toward November. Upon its unveiling, the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee co-chair Denis McDonough referred to the Democratic 2020 party platform as the “boldest Democratic platform in American history.”
Progressives would beg to differ, meanwhile. John Nichols, national affairs correspondent for The Nation, underscores how without Medicare for All, McDonough’s assertion neither matches the substance of the platform as drafted nor matches this moment in history.
As an untold number of advertisements will tell you, we live in “extraordinary” or “challenging” times. It’s their way of saying we’re living in a global pandemic and people all over the world are getting sick and dying, but in a PR-speak kind of way where the actual problem isn’t mentioned as if refusing to utter the name of the disease either saps it of its power or prevents it from rearing its ugly head.
This is the moment in history to which I’m referring, and with it has come significant job loss and thus access to “affordable” health care. At a time when a safety net is needed (or three or four), being forced to worry about being plunged into medical debt is brutal, if not unconscionable.
As such, from a purely moral standpoint, the hour calls for single-payer healthcare. Beyond this, though, as Nichols explains, it’s not good political strategy to bar it from the party platform. For one, COVID-19 (gasp, he said it!) is disproportionately killing people of color, a reality about which patent refusal to entertain the mere possibility of M4A sends a bad message to a key portion of the Democrats’ base.
In addition, Medicare for All is popular with Democrats and non-Democrats alike. People, you know, generally like having healthcare and being able to afford it without having to mortgage property or sacrifice an internal organ. As Winnie Wong, former senior adviser to Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, is cited in Nichols’ piece, the Dems are “making a fatal mistake by turning their backs on Medicare for All.”
To this effect, some 700 delegates have signed a pledge refusing to back the party platform without M4A on it. At the very least, this show of opposition is a bad look for a Democratic Party touting its supposed party unity and counting on turnout from progressives to help push Joe Biden over the top in the presidential election.
We would be remiss if we were to say that the entire platform as drafted is without merit, a notion Nichols explicitly highlights. There are a number of elements within the party platform which might appeal to progressive voters and almost certainly reflect the input of progressive activists, notably a call for a $15 minimum wage and clear goals for climate change remediation. That said, historically speaking, these tenets do not in them of themselves make the platform the boldest on record and certainly are not to be lauded as uniquely courageous.
In short, the Democratic party platform as it is presently constructed is a mixed bag. What seems significant, however, is that not only are some of its recommendations rather tepid, but other provisions appear to be specifically designed to alienate progressives. The party voted against including marijuana legalization in the platform, for one.
There’s also nothing about ending qualified immunity for police officers, nothing about expressly condemning Israeli expansion/occupation in the West Bank, and no commitment to a climate change plan as comprehensive as the Green New Deal. In a game of party platform Bingo, progressives are struggling to fill one row or column, let alone the entire board.
By now, the Democrats’ agenda in advance of the general election is no surprise. As is their custom, they’re playing it safe and trying not to offend any big donors or moneyed interests in the process. The unique set of circumstances at work in 2020 might yet be enough to propel Joe Biden to victory in spite of, well, Joe Biden.
Possible short-term electoral success and fundraising goals achieved notwithstanding, encouraging antipathy from the party’s burgeoning leftist wing is quite a price to pay in service of these objectives. It’s one thing to enjoy winning or to be able to breathe a sigh of relief in avoiding four more years of President Donald Trump. It’s another to poke progressives in the eye and expect them to show their loyalty while you do it.
As it should be emphasized, for progressives critical of the 2020 party platform, while Medicare of All is a glaring omission, there is ample room for commentary. Patrisse Cullors, activist and Black Lives Matter co-founder, reportedly proposed about 10 amendments on various issues primarily impacting the black community and other communities of color which were rejected without a vote. If Cullors feels like less of an ally or a member of a party with principles, can you blame her? We’ve seen ordinary people protesting en masse IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC to bring attention to and demand change to combat systemic racism in our society. How can this platform possibly be construed to meet this historic moment?
Another criticism of the platform is that it underestimates both the durability and magnitude of COVID-19’s impact. In a separate article for The Nation by Emma Galbraith and James K. Galbraith, the authors outline how the Democratic party platform falls short in several areas related to coronavirus.
In addition to, as mentioned, not embracing single-payer healthcare at a time when this pandemic has exacerbated a healthcare crisis, the platform insufficiently addresses our oil surplus, it undersells the blow dealt to the services and construction industries (among others), it offers minimal relief to renters and others facing homelessness, and it doesn’t fully comprehend the lack of trust America’s disastrous response to COVID-19 has engendered in its inhabitants. After all, faith in our political institutions was relatively low even before we started seeing cases in the States. Now? Memes about guillotines are on the rise, and while we’re yet on the level of dark humor, I feel like today’s politicians and others more removed from the struggles of everyday Americans shouldn’t push it.
I’ve heard it said that the DNC has effectively taken a victory lap with its elaboration of the party platform, an analogy I consider to be apt in how it reflects the dynamic between centrist establishment forces and progressives trying to reform the Democratic Party from the inside. What’s especially on the nose about this comparison, meanwhile, is that it resembles the attitude Democratic supporters had in 2016, which we all know was an ill-fated confidence. 2020 is already different in any number of ways and at this writing, things look good for Joe Biden. Very good. Just the same, the Dems would be well served not to press their luck. If anyone knows about losing winnable elections, it’s them.
Not everything is bad about the Democratic Party’s platform this election cycle. That said, it could be dramatically better, and furthermore, even if Biden wins, the U.S. will face huge structural issues that the policy positions enumerated within the platform won’t begin to fully address. Progressives will be holding Biden’s feet to the fire in that case. Democratic leadership better be ready for it.
Try to reform the Democratic Party from within or start a new party and overcome the two-party system of electoral dominance? It’s a fundamental question for leftists in the United States and one that hasn’t gotten any easier following Bernie Sanders’s now two failed bids for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.
Each option has its merits and demerits. Regarding an “insurgency” within Democratic ranks, progressives can, in part, utilize the existing party brand and infrastructure to help attract a following, though in doing so, they risk incurring the wrath of establishment members, notably the “elites” within. Re bypassing the two-party paradigm, progressives aren’t beholden to any “establishment,” but lose the clout a Democratic Party affiliation affords. It also means, in the specific case of forming a new party altogether, that time, money, energy, and people will have to be marshaled and put to work under a single vision. That’s no small task.
In the meantime, the debate rages on. Progressives are earning key victories in Democratic Party primaries, in some cases ousting entrenched incumbents of 10+ terms backed by party leadership. Thus far, however, the upsets have been fewer and further between than many on the left would like or perhaps even would’ve expected, signifying transformative change indeed can be difficult to achieve and slow to realize. The backlash primary challengers and their supporters have faced from party loyalists for merely daring to run against sainted incumbents, too, is a veritable cross for them to bear.
On a theoretical third-party alternative, at this point, a viable challenge to the Democrat-Republican binary is just that—theoretical. The Green and Libertarian Parties are reviled as potential spoilers more than valued as legitimate voting options, especially at the federal level. Meanwhile, the movement for a People’s Party has not translated to electoral gains despite support from notable figures in the entertainment and political spheres like Abby Martin, Chris Hedges, Cornel West, Jimmy Dore, and Oliver Stone. If reforming the Democratic Party from within is a slow burn, starting a party from scratch is downright glacial in its pace (note: this may not apply to the pace at which actual glaciers are melting).
In addition, and at the heart of this piece, while said debate is elaborated, leftists still don’t have a real home. Back in January, speaking an event honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stated this outright, remarking, “We don’t have a left party in the United States. The Democratic Party is not a left party. The Democratic Party is a center or center-conservative party.”
By now, if you’ve been paying attention to American politics over even the past five years, you understand ideas like those of AOC’s aren’t absurd and shouldn’t be controversial. Nevertheless, the first-term member of Congress (at least until she officially wins re-election in November) received flak from liberals when, earlier in the same month, she pointed out that, in any other country, she and Joe Biden wouldn’t even be in the same party.
However you perceive her comment—whether as a dig at Biden or not—she’s right. Because of the stronghold the two-party system has on U.S. politics, the likes of Biden and Ocasio-Cortez are forced under the same “big tent.” In Canada, for instance, AOC would at least have the safety valve of the New Democratic Party, led by Jagmeet Singh, rather than being simply lumped in with the Liberal Party of Justin Trudeau. She’d be able to trade her Democratic blues in for NDP orange. Hey, I think she could pull it off!
Despite being a member, AOC has been among the most frequent critics of the Democratic Party and its leadership, particularly that of Nancy Pelosi. Perhaps her most salient observation, though, is not about who calls oneself a Democrat, but what the Democrats stand for. For Ocasio-Cortez and her progressive brothers and sisters, their efforts to reform the party from within aren’t about taking the Democrats in a new direction, but steering them back on course.
As AOC opined back in November, leftists aren’t pushing the party left—they’re “bringing the party home,” citing achievements like the New Deal and the Civil Rights Act as evidence of the Democrats’ past progressivism. To this effect, what they hope to achieve isn’t “radical,” but in line with professed Democratic values, and in certain respects, bringing America in line with the rest of the world (looking at you, single-payer healthcare!). In fact, their policy goals are in accord with what a growing segment of the electorate, chiefly Democrats, want to see their elected officials pursue.
At the end of the day, votes matter. Joe Biden ultimately beat Bernie Sanders in resounding fashion for the nomination before the latter suspended his campaign in April. As Bernie himself conceded, he and his campaign did not make a strong enough case for his “electability,” with primary voters opting for Biden because they perceived him as more likely to get his policy initiatives advanced, they were more likely to have confidence in his leadership, and because they felt he would be better capable of handling the ongoing pandemic (note: all very debatable points).
However, Joe Biden’s comeback victory/misgivings about Bernie Sanders shouldn’t obscure the reality that, in state after state, voters indicated they support policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. At the moment, the Democratic Party might be able to get away with pointing to Biden’s victory as a justification for denying the American people these things. As time wears on and as progressives start notching more victories on their belts, though, these calls for more-than-incremental change will be tough to ignore.
The state of the progressive movement in the United States really feels like an exercise in optimism vs. cynicism. If you look at primary wins against entrenched incumbents for progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, your glass is likely half full. If you look outside the House of Representatives (and with that, outside the state of New York), your glass might be half empty.
I can’t say I consistently feel one way or another, hovering somewhere between half-full and half-empty on the progressive enthusiasm continuum. That more and more people are embracing policy goals like M4A and student debt cancellation (and, more recently, defunding the police and reparations) as part of mainstream political discussion is encouraging, for instance.
On the other hand, that voters will support these initiatives and still vote for the other candidate vowing not to implement them is more troubling, a notion exacerbated by the often-fragmented nature of the progressive moment. In theory, progressivism is, by its nature, meant to be inclusive and intersectional in its applications. In practice, though, factions within leftist spaces can feel like competing forces rather than sympathetic moving parts of the same whole.
Of course, the choice of whether to reform the Democratic Party or watch it burn to the ground and form a new party from its ashes isn’t necessarily an all-or-nothing enterprise. That is, there would appear to be room for progressive Democrats like AOC to try to “bring the party home,” and at the same time, for activists and organizers to pursue other avenues in the service of advancing progressive initiatives, working together on core issues in the process. Yes, that potentially means working with Green and Libertarian Party groups with the expectation that neither side is expected to “convert” the other to its way of doing business. It’s an alliance, not a takeover.
Despite my occasional bouts of bereavement, I ultimately believe progressives will win, broadly speaking. As the saying goes, the hardest part is the waiting. AOC is right: there is no party for the Left in the United States right now. But something has to give eventually and, through all the electoral defeats, the Left’s energy and passion puts it in a better position than the centrists of the present order would care or will allow themselves to admit.
As Democratic Party operatives would have you believe, if Joe Biden fails to win the 2020 presidential election, it won’t be because he’s a weak candidate who doesn’t generate enthusiasm. It won’t be that he squandered a double-digit polling lead running against a buffoonish, cartoonishly stupid incumbent in Donald Trump whose administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic leaves something to be desired—and that’s putting it charitably. It won’t be that he, the nominee with the backing of an entire party, failed to make his case to Americans of voting age.
Nope, if Biden loses in November, it will be because Bernie Sanders didn’t do enough to rally his base and donors. Oh, and something about Russia and China, too. Those countries are always lurking, waiting to mess with our steez.
While not to completely dismiss legitimate foreign attempts to hack or influence our elections, that Democratic loyalists are already concocting excuses for Biden should give us pause. For progressives in particular, it should be as galling as it appears.
What is Bernie doing or not doing to raise the concerns of Biden’s backers? Because everything ultimately comes down to money for the Democratic Party establishment, he’s not raising funds for the former vice president and is daring—gasp!—to focus on races other than the presidential race.
A June 21 report appearing in The Hill by Amie Parnes and Jonathan Easley found that some Democrats unaffiliated with the Biden campaign are “worried that their party unity is fraying five months out from the presidential election as several contested primaries pitting progressives against mainstream Democrats go down to the wire.” In particular, they are afraid that Bernie has been “consumed with down-ballot elections at the expense of promoting Biden’s bid for the White House” and that he “needs to do more to make sure progressives fall in line behind Joe Biden in November.”
The very language of these reservations fails to appreciate key elements of the progressive mindset. For one, Democrats—progressives included—arguably haven’t focused on down-ballot politics enough, the potential existential threat that President Trump represents notwithstanding. Establishment Dems tend to regard primary challenges from the left as threats to the order of things, believing the debates raised within this context to be divisive exercises that only serve to weaken the winner’s chances in the general election. Progressives, meanwhile, see these intraparty battles as needed efforts to push the party left if not remove do-nothing incumbents from their ranks. Progressive darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is so popular precisely because she symbolizes real, representative change for her district and for the Democratic Party as a whole.
In addition, the idea that progressives should be expected to “fall in line” reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about how many leftists approach politics. For progressives, especially younger voters, a candidate’s policies and their commitment to humanitarian values are what are most likely to drive turnout. It is not as if Bernie or any other progressive politician should be expected to be able to crack the proverbial whip and bring their followers to heel. These supporters are free thinkers who must be talked to and wooed, not talked at and coerced into making a deeply inauthentic choice. In this sense, the voters have the ultimate power, not the political figures and party leaders seeking to dictate their agenda.
With these things in mind, that even someone as revered on the left as Bernie couldn’t be expected to compel some progressives to vote—let alone spend their hard-earned money during a period of pandemic-fueled economic downturn to bolster a candidate they have to accept begrudgingly—should be well understood to someone like Philippe Reines, a longtime Clinton adviser cited in the piece.
Instead, Reines et al. either don’t understand this much—or they do and just willfully disregard it. From the article:
Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser to Clinton, said that the biggest area of need from Sanders is on the fundraising front. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) raised $6 million at a virtual fundraiser for Biden. Another event co-hosted by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) raised $3.5 million.
Sanders, who crushed his competitors in fundraising during the primary “could in one hour raise Biden north of $10 million, and the symbolism would be worth twice that,” Reines said.
“The opportunity cost of him not doing significant events of any type isn’t simply leaving money on the table. It can be construed that he’s not fully on board,” Reines added.
It can be construed that way, Mr. Reines, yes—if you’re a f**king idiot. Bernie dropped out in April, before many of his supporters and likely some objective observers were probably anticipating he would, his mounting primary losses aside. Even while campaigning, he repeatedly referred to Biden as his “friend,” seeming to pull punches when he perhaps should’ve gone for the jugular. As the Parnes and Easley piece also notes, he has appeared in a virtual event with Biden and has told his supporters to tone down their attacks on Biden, saying publicly it would be “irresponsible” not to vote for his one-time rival for the Democratic Party nomination.
Anyone remotely familiar with the state of U.S. politics today gets it—winning elections costs money. At least as far as the current system is construed, even down-ballot races can cost millions and millions of dollars. By the same token, however, money isn’t everything. At this writing, Charles Booker is leading Amy McGrath in the Kentucky Democratic Party primary for the right to take on Mitch McConnell and oust the Senate Majority Leader despite being more than $40 million short in the fundraising department.
What’s more, the Biden campaign reportedly raised more money in May than the Trump campaign—even without Bernie’s help. Sure, there’s something to be said for not being complacent even with Biden’s advantage in the polls. Then again, if the aim is to change the hearts and minds of members of problem constituencies on an ideological front, throwing more money at them isn’t necessarily going to do the trick when money in politics is already seen as a big problem and when the core message hasn’t much changed. When Medicare for All is automatically off the table, for instance, how do you appeal to people who are struggling financially and might have lost their health insurance as a function of losing their jobs? Having “access to affordable health care” means less when you’re struggling to meet even your basic needs.
Instead, as noted earlier, the focus is on what Bernie is doing or not doing, as it was with Hillary Clinton in 2016. Not, you know, why Joe Biden isn’t more visible or whether he can get through a scripted event with a teleprompter, let alone lead the country. As usual, it’s progressives who have to answer for the theoretical failures of the centrist candidate—and more than five months from the general, this is all pure conjecture—because they didn’t win the election for them. Evidently, seeing Bernie lose in back-to-back primaries isn’t enough salt in the wound.
At this point, the Democratic Party’s inability to accept responsibility for its absence of a coherent winning electoral strategy or party platform borders on the pathological. Picking up with Hillary, she evidently hasn’t forgiven Bernie Sanders for—allow me to check my notes here—doing all that campaigning for her leading up to the election four years ago.
Rather than own up to her own shortcomings and acknowledge where her campaign went wrong, she’s opining from her Hulu documentary series (!) about how no one likes Bernie and how no one wants to work with him. After seeing her endorse Eliot Engel only to see him fall to earth against his progressive primary challenger Jamaal Bowman in New York’s 16th congressional district, Hillary’s negative appraisal might be more of a blessing than a curse. Besides, one shouldn’t go to Capitol Hill expecting to be well liked or to sit at the cool kids’ table. You’re there to represent and serve your constituents first and foremost.
Alas, this is the pattern with the Democrats. Al Gore didn’t lose to George W. Bush because he is a cyborg. No, it’s because of Ralph Nader and third-party voters. Forget all the Florida Democrats who voted for Bush instead of Gore. Forget that Gore couldn’t even carry his own home state. 20 years after the fact, Dems are more apt to forgive Bush himself, a bonehead who, with his administration’s help, manufactured an entire g-d war, than Nader, a lifelong consumer protection advocate and champion for environmentalism and governmental reform. This would all be laughably absurd if not for the fact that the Democrats outside of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have been losing winnable elections for the better part of three decades. Some have been close calls and not without their share of shenanigans, but some might argue they shouldn’t have been that close to begin with.
Could Bernie do some fundraising for Joe Biden? Sure. Knowing Bernie’s draw, with the backing of the Democratic Party national infrastructure, he probably would do quite well. As critically important as this upcoming presidential election is, though (when isn’t the election an important one?), the movement progressives are building is also vital in breathing life into a party and a political system marked by rigid exclusion of people outside “elite” spheres of influence.
To have one of its standard-bearers shill for donations and risk alienating adherents, thereby blunting that momentum, would be counterproductive in its own right. Disappointed as I was by Bernie’s early departure from the presidential race and subsequent endorsement of Biden, I’ve never felt outright betrayed by him. To have him pump me for money or if—God forbid—Bernie ever gave away access to his campaign’s donor roll to the DNC, I know I’d feel different. People less forgiving than me might up and revolt against the Democratic Party altogether. You can only mess with people for so long.
The Democratic Party is a “big tent” party to be sure. Being petty and accusing certain members of not doing enough—members who are technically independents, a notion party leaders and supporters alike will invoke whenever they choose to denigrate progressives in the Sanders mold as not “true Democrats,” mind you—obscures the structural deficiencies the party faces.
“When in doubt, blame Bernie.” Fine, but if one man who’s no longer running can bring down an entire party infrastructure, quite frankly, that says more about the party than him.
Speaking as a progressive, the fight for economic, political, and social justice is such that, despite any setbacks, there are always more battles to fight. In other words, there is always work to be done and voices to be amplified. But damn if it doesn’t get disheartening sometimes.
Of course, as the death count related to COVID-19 in the United States makes its inexorable climb toward 100,000-plus, the immediate health and safety of all Americans is of paramount importance. Still, taking a snapshot of progressive politics at this moment in time, it’s worth noting that, at the national level, progressive leadership and power doesn’t seem all that it’s cracked up to be or could be.
Let’s start with the Senate. Who are your progressive leaders and how do you feel about them lately? Bernie Sanders, who has missed at least one key vote in recent memory, is reportedly asking some delegates to sign agreements barring them from attacking other candidates or leaders, getting involved in social media confrontations, or doing interviews with reporters without approval. If true, it’s a disappointing development from a man who suspended his presidential bid with a whimper and gave up the fight with so much at stake and with so little conceded from Joe Biden’s camp.
Elizabeth Warren? After a disappointing campaign that ultimately saw her fail to catch on with progressives and party loyalists alike and only manage a third-place finish in her home state, her progressive credentials are in question now more than ever. Her attacks on Bernie, her reversal on super PAC funding, and her self-identification alongside Amy Klobuchar from primary season notwithstanding, her apparent abandonment of Medicare for All, a central tenet of the progressive movement in the U.S., invites charges of selling out for a chance to be Biden’s vice president—an unlikely eventuality to begin with given Joe’s ties to the banking industry.
Kamala Harris? Kirsten Gillibrand? Cory Booker? Like Sanders and Warren, they’re all carrying water for Biden despite a credible sexual assault allegation against him and other claims of unwanted touching or close physical proximity. Poor Ed Markey might not survive a primary challenge from Joe Kennedy III, the Pete Buttigieg of the Senate Democratic races—and no, that “Mayo Pete” comparison is not a compliment. Jeff Merkley. Mazie Hirono. Sherrod Brown. They’re not exactly household names outside of progressive circles and none are younger than 60.
In the House of Representatives, meanwhile, we thankfully have members who are making a name for themselves as progressives on the national stage—and younger ones at that. The problem here is that these reps are seemingly having their influence circumscribed at every possible turn (or at least the attempt is there) by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other dyed-in-the-wool establishment Democrats.
Faced with an unprecedented economic and health crisis, Pelosi and Co. have largely capitulated to moneyed interests, offering little in the way of substantive relief to everyday Americans beyond the minimum standards Republicans have proposed. All the while, Pelosi, like her other moderate colleagues, has endorsed Biden’s presidential bid and has allowed herself to get dragged down in the mud with Donald Trump, making references to his weight and other performative gestures which neither do anything to help people in need nor do they help rally support for the party cause outside of loyalists (and also risk alienating people who don’t take kindly to body shaming regardless of the source).
To recap then, we have a promising group of younger progressives in the House amid Democratic Party control, but old-guard leadership is evidently determined to thwart them as part of a last-gasp effort to flex its might. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell is majority leader, Chuck Schumer is the party’s face, and even the members with the best voting records have made questionable alliances/decisions of late. In addition, as alluded to, the most progressive options of the 2020 presidential campaign saw their hopes dashed in dramatic fashion following Super Tuesday.
All of this on top of a coronavirus crisis that has seen tens of thousands of Americans die, millions of people file for unemployment and/or lose health insurance, and the world’s richest individuals get even richer as a direct result of the global pandemic has made the first half of 2020 so far a little frustrating, to put it mildly. What’s more, it doesn’t appear things will improve over the rest of the year or anytime soon for that matter.
Small businesses will continue struggling to survive in the absence of needed aid from the federal government. Another wave of COVID-19 infections is probable if not certain. And while Biden is enjoying a national polling lead in some cases of eight or more percentage points, that he’s not doing better given the depths of Trump’s inadequacies and that he continues to lag behind in the enthusiasm department is deeply troubling with November fast approaching. In short, 2020 has sucked royally—and for progressives in particular, there is every reason to worry the worst is yet to come.
Lest I relegate myself purely to the realms of doom and gloom, it’s not all bad for the progressive movement in the United States of America. If the popularity of figures like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez is any indication, it’s that there is a real appetite for new leadership within a growing subset of the left-leaning electorate. As ignominious as the end to Bernie Sanders’s 2020 campaign was, too, exit poll after exit poll showed that despite primary voters’ preference for Joe Biden to take on Donald Trump, on issues like Medicare for All, they favored the progressive position over the standard alternative. So many voters are desperate for real change.
As the late great philosopher Tom Petty once said, however, the waiting is the hardest part. Whilst progressives helped organize a campaign for Bernie that was poised to go the distance—and there’s much to discuss in the postmortem period of analysis about why it didn’t but there’s not enough space in this article or perhaps one article in it of itself to do that—the Biden campaign struggled to raise finances, limped out of the gates in early contests, and didn’t even have a presence in a number of bygone primary states.
And yet he still romped in the South and managed numerous upset wins following his dominant showing in South Carolina. Whether Elizabeth Warren’s presence in the race long after it was clear her electoral chances were dead on arrival hurt Bernie is yet a subject of debate in leftist circles (among Sanders supporters, I feel like this may be overblown), but regardless, the two best candidates to ever be in striking distance of the overall polling lead came up well short of winning the nomination despite being better-funded and better-organized than the campaign that actually has Biden on a path to win the Democratic Party nomination and maybe even defeat Trump in November. That’s a tough pill to swallow, and increasingly so as real life proves candidates like Sanders, Warren, and even Andrew Yang on the topic of universal basic income right.
The news is better further down ballots, where there are real electoral successes to be found. AOC’s meteoric rise to prominence aside, though, primary challenges ending in progressive wins are fewer and farther between than eager leftists sifting through voting results would obviously like to see. The Democratic Party establishment has been more than hostile toward primary challenges from the left. (If you’re Ed Markey and facing a challenge from the right in the form of a corporate-funded candidate with the Kennedy name, that’s apparently fine.) Though this doesn’t mean that challengers’ efforts aren’t worthy if not necessary to compel Democratic incumbents to actually try to earn their votes, it’s nonetheless deflating when effort and good intent alone can’t overcome voter aversion to change and a party apparatus specifically constructed to quell dissent.
Inherently, these circumstances promote tension, for while progressives ideally would like to think about how to organize over the long term, the realities of the short term compel action even at the expense of immediate political capital. Regardless of the “color” of one’s district, someone should be running to represent policy goals like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, a $15 minimum wage, cancellation of student debt, universal basic income, and other progressive priorities. No one wants to be running without a genuine chance at winning when the optics surrounding a landslide loss loom large. The need for involvement at the lower levels of government because of the magnitude of suffering for millions of Americans creates urgency, and progressive groups across key voting blocs are often fighting one another for relevance when cooperation should be the order of the day.
For me, what is especially challenging about all of this is how, despite progressives’ collective efforts since the 2016 election, we yet find ourselves in a precarious position. After Hillary Clinton’s defeat, Democrats haven’t learned their lesson, that much more determined to return to the days before President Trump no matter what in coalescing behind a candidate in Biden who generates even less enthusiasm than the woman who just lost.
Regarding COVID-19, America lags behind the rest of the world in curbing the spread of infection despite its wealth of resources, and at a time when we should be rethinking the role of capitalism in how our society functions (or doesn’t), some people seem only that much more willing to sacrifice others on capitalism’s altar so they can get a haircut or prevent a decline in stock prices. If there is a lesson to be learned herein, it’s sadly that 90,000 deaths is not enough to spur a movement of sufficient size toward fundamental change. A few months into widespread quarantines across the country, many of us are restless to the point of advocating for armed rebellion. What happens when the ravages of climate changes really start hitting home? If current developments are any indication, it, um, won’t go well.
In belaboring progressives’ struggles within the Democratic Party, I don’t mean to paper over the differences between the Dems and the death cult that is the Republican Party. For example, Joe Biden deserves your vote more than Donald Trump—full stop. I also don’t mean to insist that leaving the Democratic Party altogether is necessarily the correct tactic. The #DemExit movement is fraught with its own difficulties and potential shortcomings, though I also don’t blame progressives for wanting to move on after the litany of abuses they’ve suffered in such a short time, only wanting to do their part to make the Democratic Party better.
Though I think progressives might do well to place a greater emphasis on winning and grassroots organizing at the lower levels of government and though I have reservations about watching the Democratic Party burn to the ground, politics is ultimately a two-way street. Democratic leadership would do well not to take progressive votes for granted and offer at least some meaningful concessions to the left rather than mere table scraps. 2020 has been a disaster for progressive politics on the national stage thus far, but it doesn’t have to end that way—and the Democrats would be all the stronger by recognizing it.
Amid her 2018 take-down of President Donald Trump, members of his administration, media networks and their on-air personalities, and leaders of the Republican Party at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, comedienne Michelle Wolf took a brief moment to assail the Democratic Party. From the speech:
Republicans are easy to make fun of. You know, it’s like shooting fish in a Chris Christie. But I also want to make fun of Democrats. Democrats are harder to make fun of because you guys don’t do anything. People think you might flip the House and Senate this November, but you guys always find a way to mess it up. You’re somehow going to lose by 12 points to a guy named Jeff Pedophile Nazi Doctor.
Wolf’s armchair prognostication didn’t quite hit the mark. Riding a “blue wave” of sorts, Democrats did manage to take control of the House of Representatives, gaining a net total of 41 seats. Conversely, they further lost ground in the Senate, with Republicans adding two seats to their advantage. Nancy Pelosi soon became the Speaker of the House. Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, tightened his grip on the role of Senate Majority Leader.
It’s 2020 now. Once again, every seat in the House will be contested as well as 35 Senate seats, with both parties likely to retain a majority in their respective houses of Congress. (Then again, this year has been so wacky who knows what’s in store.) The one that looms largest, however, is undoubtedly the presidential election. In a virtual walkover, Pres. Trump won the Republican Party primary, meaning he will officially be vying for a second term.
On the Democratic side, meanwhile? The presumptive nominee is Joe Biden, who is on pace to secure enough delegates to win the nod outright but at this writing has yet to do so. Following Bernie Sanders’s suspension of his campaign and endorsement of Biden (barring rule changes at the state level, Sanders will continue to appear on primary ballots and accrue delegates in hopes of being able to influence the party platform), the former senator from Delaware and vice president has fully pivoted to a prospective November showdown with the incumbent.
The Biden-Trump match-up is one many would have predicted in advance of primary elections. For a while, it looked as if Bernie might run away with the nomination with Biden struggling to stay relevant. Then came a big win for Joe in South Carolina and a winnowing of the moderate portion of the field, followed by a Biden romp on Super Tuesday and decisive wins on successive “Super Tuesdays.” In the end, the early forecasts were right.
In advance of the general election, meanwhile, it’s anyone’s guess as to who would triumph in a theoretical face-off between these two men. Politico, for one, labels the race “too close to call.” The website 270toWin gives the edge to the Democratic Party nominee, but notes that critical states like Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania are effective coin flips. Regarding polling, various survey sources give Biden a lead of anywhere to two to 10 percentage points nationally, with none of the recent polls referenced by RealClearPolitics giving Trump an advantage.
Of course, polling doesn’t necessarily translate to votes, much in the way support on social media doesn’t necessarily translate to votes (thank you, Bernie detractors, we get it). This is beside the notion that the Electoral College decides matters, not the popular vote, as any Democratic Party supporter ruefully recounting the 2016 presidential election can tell you. The 2020 election will be decided on a state-by-state basis.
And while, as with national polling, Biden is ahead in numerous cases, re swing states, his are not overwhelming leads. Factor in margin of error and these numbers are somewhat worrisome. Not merely to invoke Hillary Clinton’s infamous line, but why isn’t Biden 50 points ahead or at least better off than current polling dictates? As many would reason, Trump is a terrible president and the depths of his depravity and incompetence have only become more apparent in his administration’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. What gives?
With all due respect to the “blue no matter who” crowd and even noting how difficult the threat of spreading coronavirus has made traditional campaigning, Joe Biden is a terrible candidate, especially noting the pitfalls which led to 2016’s debacle. What’s more, at a time of great need for so many Americans, he hasn’t been nearly as visible as he could or perhaps should be.
Let’s start with the whole missing-in-action business. Sure, there have been various public appearances by Joe via cable news outlets and online town halls, but these have been fairly sporadic. Additionally, when they have occurred, they’ve been marked by Biden’s trademark gaffes, mental lapses, technical issues, or have otherwise been led by to a considerable extent by Dr. Jill Biden, his wife.
If anything, Biden and his team seem content to try to hide him rather than make him more accessible, concerned that he will do or say something to hurt his chances in the fall. His absences, sometimes spanning days, have prompted the creation and promulgation of the #WhereIsJoe and #WhereIsJoeBiden hashtags on Twitter, and speaking of Twitter, we can be reasonably sure Joe himself is not the one publishing those tweets. Facing the rabid army of supporters that is Trump’s following, this is not a strength.
As for why Biden is a bad candidate, ahem, how much time do you have? Though, in Biden’s defense, that he’s merely “another old white guy” gets perhaps unfairly dwelt upon in an era of seemingly increasing sensitivity to identity politics, his policy goals aren’t doing him many favors in countering the narrative that he’s out of touch. To this effect, most of us seem to be unaware what his actual policy goals are, an idea reinforced by his and his campaign’s insistence on his decency and leadership rather than specifics. Granted, not everyone is a policy wonk or needs to know the nittiest and grittiest of the details of a candidate’s stances on issues, but for younger and more idealistic voters, in particular, their omission is troubling.
Given a dearth of elaboration on what Biden would hope to accomplish as president, we have only his record and his ties to certain industry groups as a large part of his donor base to rely on. That’s not a good sign either. As a senator, Biden took numerous positions/cast votes that haven’t aged well. Voting in favor of the Iraq War. Leading the charge on a 1994 crime bill that helped accelerate mass incarceration. Favoring cuts to social safety net programs like Social Security in an effort to reduce deficit spending. Siding with credit card companies and predatory lenders on 2005 bankruptcy law reform.
Biden’s participation on these fronts suggests fealty to donors and lobbyists or at least acting in the name of political expediency rather than genuine concern for his constituents. What’s worse, in his run-up to the nomination, Biden has either defended a number of these positions or has sought to obfuscate his role in the passage of key legislation. True, he has apologized for certain elements of his record and has backtracked on specific stances that would put him at odds with the rest of the Democratic field, such as his support for the Hyde Amendment, which limits the ability of federal programs like Medicaid in paying for abortions. One gets the sense, however, that his admissions and his reversals are begrudging ones, forced by a recognition of the damage his electoral prospects might incur by refusing to accommodate voter reservations.
On top of what we know about Joe’s votes and past public statements, there’s also the matter of proven falsehoods he has stated as well as questions about his conduct. Biden is a serial liar who had a previous presidential bid derailed by accusations of plagiarism. Just this election cycle, he and his campaign repeated a fabricated tale of his arrest in South Africa en route to see Nelson Mandela and have trumpeted an inflated image of his involvement in the civil rights movement, one Biden himself has promoted over the past three decades and change despite a lack of corroborating evidence. For all the insistence of Biden as a “good guy,” he sure has a problematic relationship with the truth that speaks to his identity as a career politician.
And then there’s the Tara Reade scandal, an ongoing and apparently worsening development for Biden. Initially slow to be recognized if not outright ignored by major media outlets, Reade’s claims of sexual harassment and eventual assault have gained traction even from publications and other sources who tend to be sympathetic to Biden and the Democratic Party. Biden, for his part, vehemently denies the allegations. But his penchant for spinning a yarn as well as his exhibited proclivity for, well, touching girls and women in a manner definitely considered inappropriate by today’s standards casts at least the shadow of a doubt on his dismissal of Reade’s account. It’s circumstantial, yes, but in an era where optics matter more than ever, the associations voters might make are potentially damaging.
Other politicians have been asked to resign or have bowed out of races for less. Here we are, though, in 2020 and with the #MeToo movement firmly established, and Joe Biden is the presumptive nominee. All this despite the allegations against him, his checkered voting record, his fabrications, his obvious cognitive decline, and his sagging enthusiasm among younger voters. This is the face of the Democratic Party and the person who is supposed to usher in a new era of bipartisan cooperation and be a bridge to a new era of Democratic leadership. This is the man who party leaders have hitched their proverbial wagon to and who party supporters are backing substantially in the primary.
The question of “What should we do?” in both the short term and long term is one being bandied about at a fever pitch by progressives since Bernie Sanders’s suspension of his presidential campaign. How did we lose and so decisively? Who will run in 2024? Should we vote for Joe Biden? Should we endorse Joe Biden? Are we not focused enough on winning races at the local and county level? Is there too little organizing among similar-minded groups and too much infighting? Where have all the cowboys gone?
OK, that last one was a joke. (Anyone here remember Paula Cole?) In all earnest, though, there’s a lot of uncertainty on the left right now and a big part of it involves whether progressives can co-exist with the rest of the Democratic Party or whether an existing or new party needs to be built up to challenge the duopoly the two major parties currently have on the American political landscape.
Concerning the former, if Bernie’s late struggles in the primary and the tone of the party establishment following his dropping out are any indication, progressives have a long way to go. Sure, a few younger progressives have begun to make a name for themselves. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Ayanna Pressley. Ilhan Omar. Katie Porter. Pramila Jayapal. Rashida Tlaib. Ro Khanna. Despite the popularity of these figures, however, Democratic Party leadership still appears dead set on keeping them at somewhat of a distance.
Also, for every upset win like that of AOC’s, there are that many more blowouts in favor of the more moderate incumbent. By and large, Democratic voters are reasonably satisfied with their elected representatives. Either that or they are too afraid to take a chance on an alternative, too uninformed to make a decision on an unfamiliar candidate (primary voters tend not to be low-information voters but just raising the possibility), or simply convinced that no matter who they choose it won’t make a major difference in their day-to-day lives. The battle to reform the Democratic Party is one being fought tooth and nail by establishment forces and hasn’t yet caught on with a large enough subset of voters.
As for the state of the presidential race, if Biden’s camp and the DNC have made any meaningful concessions to progressives in hopes of winning their votes, er, most of us haven’t seen them yet. Lowering the age for Medicare enrollment to 60, for example, is a slap in the face to Bernie supporters, many of whom are younger and therefore nowhere close to qualifying. In fact, Biden’s refusal to even entertain a single-payer insurance system is, to many leftists, absurd given record numbers of people losing their jobs due to the spread of coronavirus and, with that, access to affordable healthcare.
Rumors of Cabinet appointments for people with ties to Wall Street and/or bailouts for “too big to fail” institutions. Virtual fundraisers starting at $2,800 to participate. Biden himself has been recorded saying that he “has no empathy” for younger generations and telling donors that “nothing will fundamentally change” if he’s elected president. On top of this, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and other high-ranking Democrats have offered milquetoast remedies to the economic hardships facing the electorate, allowing Donald Trump, in all his bombast and cluelessness, to hijack the domestic COVID-19 conversation. I don’t doubt the Democratic Party is willing to win in November, but it seems unwilling to do so at the expense of its contributions from certain industries and lobbying groups.
Indeed, the playbook from Biden and Co. for 2020 is evidently to try to court white suburban voters and persuade Republicans to go against Trump while it all but ignores the insights from the energetic progressive wing of the Democratic Party. In doing so, they’re pitching a return to “normalcy,” trying to win without younger voters and independents, or otherwise trying to hector undecided voters into submission, throwing everything from kids in cages to the potential death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as reasons to vote for Biden and not against Trump. That didn’t work in 2016 and, for a segment of the electorate convinced the progressive option was screwed not once but twice, that’s arguably not going to cut it.
And yet, Joe Biden may still win! The closeness of the race as evidenced by polling lends itself to the notion Democrats are wedded to Joe for better or for worse. Take him or leave him. But if you’re a progressive being told that Medicare for All and the Green New Deal are a discussion for “later,” that it’s OK that Biden may have committed sexual assault because “look at Trump,” and that top party brass would rather have someone who struggles to complete sentences versus a much sharper candidate in Bernie Sanders, one who isn’t beleaguered by scandal and who has an army of fanatics waiting to help turn out the vote for him, how are you supposed to feel welcome? Where is the moral compass of this party?
Bypassing the Democratic Party completely, meanwhile, has its own complications, namely that it takes a lot of time, effort, and resources to establish a party. Granted, there are existing third-party options like the Green Party and Libertarian Party available, but so far, they have faced many of the same challenges progressives as a whole have faced in terms of funding, organization, and electoral logistics. Widespread voting reform including ranked-choice voting may help overcome this reality or at least mitigate the argument that “X cost us the election.” In the meantime, trying to draft progressives as Greens or Libertarians is a hard sell.
That brings us back to the notion of transforming the Democratic Party from within. As with fashioning a new political entity, it’s going to take time, money, hard work, and a vision forward. Simply put, it’s no small task, and with a party infrastructure in place that is specifically designed to check progressive momentum and stifle dissent, it begs wondering whether the Democratic Party, well, can be saved from itself or whether, even with the very real possibility of a second term of President Trump existing, the party has to fail and be dismantled for substantive progress to be made.
If letting the Democratic Party burn to the ground sounds crazy, as a reminder, in the midst of a pandemic, its presumptive presidential nominee, who has promised to veto M4A if it somehow clears Congress, has trouble navigating his way through an online forum and its congressional leaders have made more concessions to moneyed interests than average people. For a party that is ostensibly a working-class organization, it’s not living up to its mission.
In highlighting the different ways of addressing a broken political system, I don’t mean to dismiss reform efforts as worthless, but only to underscore the difficulties therein. Already, many of us on the left have seen the fight for recognition as the fight of our lives. The global pandemic has only intensified those sentiments.
I, for one, remain optimistic that changing the Democratic Party from the ground up is possible. At the same time and on the road to a more democratic Democratic Party, I feel it’s fair to wonder how many indignities progressives are meant to endure and whether establishment Democrats will ever learn their lesson from their electoral failures.
Down by about 300 delegates, Bernie Sanders has an admittedly narrow path to victory in the race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. An essential element of the argument against Bernie and thus for Joe Biden is that Bernie is simply “not electable,” while Biden, who had never won a state primary in three campaigns until this year, will beat an overall unpopular incumbent in Donald Trump.
As a counterpoint to this prevailing narrative of electability perpetuated by professional pundits and corporate hacks, everyone is electable if you vote for them. Moreover, with roughly half of states yet to vote, it’s not too late to vote for Bernie Sanders. Amid a global pandemic which has seen over a million cases worldwide, has killed more than 50,000 people, and is responsible for sickness, death, and surging unemployment claims here in the United States, he is unquestionably the leader for this moment.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University and author, expresses this sentiment beautifully in a recent piece for The New Yorker titled “Reality Has Endorsed Bernie Sanders”. As she finds, Sanders’s “policy proposals are especially apt now, when the coronavirus crisis is revealing an economy organized around production for the sake of profit, not need.”
In meditating on the alacrity with which the U.S. and the world at large has found itself in an existential crisis, Taylor underscores the reality that the state of America’s welfare state, precarious to begin with, has been steadily worsened by the marginalization of the individuals and families who rely on it. The poor, despite numbering in the tens of millions, are mostly ignored except to be demonized as fundamentally lacking in effort, intelligence, and social graces. All the while, rent goes up and salaries/wages don’t, leading to a national housing crisis, and as a function of racial injustice, black and brown Americans feel the pinch worst of all, including having reduced access to affordable, high-quality healthcare.
Throw in a highly infectious and deadly novel coronavirus and the byproduct is brutal, if unsurprising. People of color, particularly those who live in poverty, are at greater risk for contracting and for suffering severe complications from COVID-19 because they are unable to afford the kind of social isolation “flattening the curve” merits, whether as a function of their living arrangements, jobs/professions which pay little and expose them to the public (e.g. home healthcare, retail, service industry), or both. The greater the economic and racial inequality, the more pronounced the racial disparities are liable to be.
As Taylor makes the connection, looking back at U.S. politics of recent decades, it is no wonder why both major political parties’ responses to the spread of coronavirus have been lacking. During Richard Nixon’s presidency, conservatives did their part to undermine the welfare state by depicting entitlement programs as rewards for laziness or a form of privilege, while at the same time pushing for corporate tax cuts and profits. In response, Democrats followed suit, echoing concerns about Americans “taking advantage” of welfare and advocating for criminal justice “reform” in the form of harsher attitudes and penalties for violators, predominantly those from communities of color. Today, Democrats and Republicans alike elevate profligate spending on the military and the perpetuation of a cruel and unjust criminal justice system above investment in and protection of an adequate social safety net. They have done little to change course since the start of the crisis in the United States because they don’t know how, a slave to the ideologies they have elaborated for more than a generation.
This is where Bernie Sanders and his campaign come in. Previously derided by his political rivals, their supporters, and armchair political theorists, Sanders and his policy goals sound more than plausible in the current climate, political or otherwise. It is this global crisis which has brought clarity to the notion that Bernie’s active bid for the White House isn’t just the one that best elaborates the antidote to what’s happening now, but to the underlying conditions that preceded it too. In theory, the idealized “free market” should have an answer to the present economic crunch and health care emergency. Instead, free testing and treatment for COVID-19 is a “debate;” PPE, tests, and ventilators (not to mention the essential personnel to tend to the sick and dying) are in dire supply, overpriced or overtaxed; the cruise industry is asking for a bailout despite not paying U.S. income tax; and others are actively seeking ways to profit from this disaster. Does that sound acceptable to you?
Consequently, any set of solutions going forward must rethink our paradigm, embracing collectivity, connectivity, and personal responsibility over illusory top-down solutions. It is in this sense in which Bernie’s emphasis on big-picture thinking and grassroots organizing is thankfully distinct from that of Joe Biden’s and Donald Trump’s hyperpartisan rhetoric. Taylor closes her column thusly:
The class-driven hierarchy of our society will encourage the spread of this virus unless dramatic and previously unthinkable solutions are immediately put on the table. As Sanders has counselled, we must think in unprecedented ways. This includes universal health care, an indefinite moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, the cancellation of student-loan debt, a universal basic income, and the reversal of all cuts to food stamps. These are the basic measures that can staunch the immediate crisis of deprivation—of millions of layoffs and millions more to come.
The Sanders campaign was an entry point to this discussion. It has shown public appetite, even desire, for vast spending and new programs. These desires did not translate into votes because they seemed like a risky endeavor when the consequence was four more years of Trump. But the mushrooming crisis of COVID-19 is changing the calculus. As federal officials announce new trillion-dollar aid packages daily, we can never go back to banal discussions of “How will we pay for it?” How can we not? Now is a moment to remake our society anew.
A mere two election cycles after Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House, the promise of “Yes, we can!” has given way to the notion we not only can work together for a better future, but must do so if we’re to have a future at all. Bernie Sanders’s movement, of which the slogan is “Not Me. Us,” is the human-powered political force that best articulates the paramount importance of putting people and the planet over profit. The rest is just noise at this point.
Touching again upon the insufficiency of both parties’ responses to the coronavirus pandemic gripping the nation, unless you are a steadfast party supporter or backer of the president, you probably don’t need an explanation as to how poorly the Trump administration has handled this situation. I mean, Jared Kushner has a functional role in the response. That’s a red flag right there.
Reports of Donald Trump showing favoritism to red states in the availability of supplies. Press conferences that are more likely to feature the creator of MyPillow than usable information. Considering 200,000 deaths due to COVID-19 a “very good” result of the virus’s spread. The Trump White House is showing its lack of preparedness for an emergency of this magnitude atop its standard incapacity for empathy for people unlike the president. That Mitch McConnell and his ilk would try to blame the “distraction” of impeachment for Trump not doing his job or to create their own distraction by pivoting to talk of Hunter Biden merely adds insult to injury. We’ve seen him at his rallies. We know about the golf. This isn’t fooling anyone except the gullible members of his base.
Unfortunately, establishment Democrats haven’t really seized the advantage. As usual, rather than offering a substantive vision for how to move forward in this time of crisis, they’re hoping and waiting for Trump to self-destruct, all the while coalescing behind a man in Joe Biden who seems patently incapable of making a media appearance without glitching or lying. In the face of millions of Americans losing health insurance as a result of being newly unemployed or having to pay through the nose for testing/treatment for COVID-19, Biden appears unmoved on the subject of single-payer healthcare. When appearing in an MSNBC interview with Yasmin Vossoughian on the matter, here was his response:
Single-payer will not solve that at all. The thing that is needed is, for example, we have a whole number of hospitals that are being stretched, including rural hospitals, they are going to need more financing. That doesn’t come from a single-payer system. That comes from the federal government stepping up and dealing with concerns that they have. The reimbursement they are going to get, how they’re going to be able to move forward.
At one point, Biden also referenced the way Italy has been impacted by the pandemic, saying that single-payer couldn’t prevent coronavirus from spreading. Right, Mr. Biden, but you’re missing the point. Meagan Day, staff writer at Jacobin, details what the former vice president either doesn’t get about single-payer or doesn’t want to admit owing to his fealty to the health insurance industry.
Addressing Biden’s comments re Italy, Day points out, citing responses from Italians across the political spectrum, that the death toll would’ve been much worse had it not been for universal healthcare. Here in the United States, the number of tragic stories grows seemingly day by day of individuals who are dying because they can’t afford treatment/testing or are otherwise reluctant to seek it out because of the cost. A system like Medicare for All would ensure nobody is denied the care they need because they can’t afford insurance. Bernie’s critics have lashed out at him for continuing to champion M4A amid this catastrophe, but this isn’t just politics as usual for millions of Americans. It quite literally could mean the difference between life and death.
In fairness to Biden, he isn’t the only Dem offering weak sauce to a divided electorate desperately seeking a direction forward. Days after the passage of coronavirus stimulus legislation that saw, among other things, Senate Democrats largely capitulate to the GOP on a one-time $1,200 payment and give Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin largely unchecked powers over a $500 billion bailout “slush fund,” Nancy Pelosi’s big idea evidently is to…revisit a repeal of the SALT deduction cap that would largely benefit wealthy earners? What?
As un-presidential as Trump proves with every briefing, he’s speaking directly to the public, controlling the narrative on COVID-19 in the United States. What’s worse, it seems to be working for his popularity, which is on the rise as of this writing. He’s also gaining nationally in polling on Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee who has been invisible at times during this crisis and even when making remarks is a gaffe machine. That Democrats would even casually float New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s name as someone they might rather support in the lead-up to November (another leader who has a sizable audience these days) should be deeply concerning to party leadership. Biden’s campaign doesn’t inspire nearly as much confidence or excitement among Democratic supporters as Trump’s does for his base, which could spell disaster close to six months from now.
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has been front and center during this crisis, doing regular livestreams answering questions about our coronavirus response and featuring legislators and experts in various fields as part of the broadcasts. He also memorably stood up to Senate Republicans in the stimulus bill negotiations, threatening to hold up its passage unless a handful of them backtracked on stripping unemployment insurance expansion for millions of workers. That’s the kind of real leadership hiding in plain sight that the Dems have been looking for.
Alas, down by about 300 delegates, Bernie Sanders has an admittedly narrow path to victory in the race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Win or lose, though, his candidacy matters. For those who have yet to cast their ballots in 2020, it’s not too late to vote for Bernie Sanders. He’s the only candidate left who has the mindset and the wherewithal to steer the country as it should be steered in these perilous waters.
In a better world, Elizabeth Warren would be one of the final two (technically three if you count Tulsi Gabbard and her two delegates) candidates in a Democratic Party primary that has seen the field shrink dramatically just since Super Tuesday, if not the front-runner outright. She has the smarts and credentials to be president, not to mention her policy plans were remarkably detailed and she inspired an intense devotion from her supporters.
Instead, Warren, following a disappointing Super Tuesday in which she failed to win any state—including her own, only managing third—has decided to bow out of the race. At this writing, she has yet to endorse either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, though both campaigns are eager to add her to their ranks. Hell, if she does decide to back either one, she might earn herself a chance to be a vice presidential pick.
Warren’s departure from a race that already saw most of its women and candidates of color fall by the wayside is deeply disappointing to many observing the presidential race. It all but guarantees that America will have to wait at least four more years for a female president to break apart the stronghold men have had on the office, a reality especially galling when considering that Warren has less baggage than Hillary Clinton and was, by many accounts, the most intelligent and qualified candidate of the 2020 field.
While Elizabeth Warren’s supporters deserve the time and space to mourn their candidate’s exit from the primaries and while she is under no absolute obligation to get behind either of the last two survivors, if her followers are to truly embrace the kind of vision that Warren put forth, the choice of whom to vote for now is painfully evident: they must back Bernie Sanders.
Though not to say that Warren’s and Sanders’s visions for America were identical, there are a lot of similarities to be appreciated. Both candidates put the climate crisis front and center as part of their platforms. Both made ending political corruption, fixing our democracy, and making the wealthiest Americans and corporations pay their fair share central to their campaigns. Both made repairing a broken health care system and addressing the rising costs of college that are plunging scores of Americans into debt critical tenets of their policy fixes. Economic and racial justice for all. Raising wages. Putting a stop to the country’s promotion of endless war. As progressives, Liz and Bernie tick off many of the same boxes.
Such is why it’s disturbing to go on social media and see Warren supporters indicating they will now switch their allegiance to Biden, not Bernie. Granted, not every Warren stan is guaranteed to be a progressive. Within any candidate’s base of support, there is any number of reasons why voters may get on the bandwagon. American Samoa gave its majority of delegates to Mike “Stop and Frisk” Bloomberg and the rest to Tulsi Gabbard (Gabbard was born in American Samoa). Presumably, Bloomberg won there because he inundated the islands with advertisements like he did, well, pretty much the rest of the United States and its territories. Or—who knows?—maybe the Bloomberg campaign slipped money under everyone’s pillow on the eve of the primary. At this point, would you really be so surprised?
Still, Joe Biden’s policies? First of all, do you know what they are? No peeking, either. I admittedly don’t and I doubt you’ve gotten a sense of this from the ten (!) debates the Democrats have had so far. I’ve even been to his official campaign website and still don’t have a solid idea.
Beyond supporting a $15 minimum wage, which should be seen as mandatory for all Democratic candidates in this election cycle, Biden speaks about about restoring the “dignity” and “respect” of work, especially that of the middle class, in broad strokes. He talks more about a “public option” and the Affordable Care Act than universal healthcare even in the face of the exigent need of many. His timelines for ending our dependence on fossil fuels and fracking are too far in the future, if disturbingly undefined. He emphasizes enforcing existing trade laws and vaguely upholding a “modern, inclusive process” for addressing international trade rather than explicitly re-writing these rules with workers and activist groups at the table. He advocates securing our border to the south over reforming our immigration enforcement system and reinstating/expanding DACA. Across the board, Biden’s policy goals fall far short of what Sanders and Warren have asked for. Given his legacy as the quintessential moderate, one gets the sense this is by design, too.
Biden has also been—and I’m putting this delicately—less than forthcoming on his record, if not proliferating falsehoods on elements of his legacy. Despite his insistence otherwise, as part of his identity as a budget hawk in the Senate, Biden repeatedly called for cuts to popular entitlement plans like Social Security. He and his campaign for weeks adhered to a completely fabricated account of his arrest in South Africa en route to supposedly trying to meet with Nelson Mandela. He has a habit of plagiarizing others’ speeches. He practically wrote the book on partisan obstruction of Supreme Court candidates with what some have derided as a “smear campaign” against judicial nominee Robert Bork in 1987. As he has done his whole career, Biden is playing the role of the consummate politician.
His authorship of a disastrous 90s-era crime bill that helped fuel America’s history of mass incarceration. His vote on the Iraq War. His touting of working alongside segregationists. His siding with banks and with predatory lenders on the subject of bankruptcy protection for consumers and siding with the health insurance industry against Medicare-for-all. Anita bleeping Hill. So much is problematic about Joe Biden’s record and this is all before we get to present concerns about his cognitive decline.
Biden has long been regarded as a gaffe machine, but this goes beyond the pale. Forgetting Barack Obama’s name. Mixing up his wife and sister. Forgetting what state he’s in or what office he’s running for. It would be laughable if we weren’t staring at a second term (let’s hope it would end there, the way he talks) of President Donald J. Trump. This is the man who may stand between us and that eventuality. If you’re a Democratic Party supporter, can you honestly tell me you feel good about this?
Sure, no one knows who would truly be “electable” in this race and who wouldn’t be. That’s something that can only be assessed in retrospect after testing a candidate in the general election. Nevertheless, Biden’s baggage, his health, and—hello!—certain Republican attacks on him and his son Hunter’s involvement with Ukrainian gas producer Burisma Holdings, however, ahem, trumped-up they may be all make for significant liabilities in a showdown with Trump.
Bernie Sanders, of course, is not without lines of attack, disingenuous as they may be. He’s a socialist (or communist)! He wants to give away free stuff without regard for the cost! He praises brutal dictators! Unlike Biden, though, he actually has a vision for the United States beyond mere “civility,” a quality championed in the former vice president despite his public rebukes of voters, calling them everything from overweight to lying, dog-faced pony soldiers—whatever that means.
Moreover, if Bernie’s the Democratic Party nominee, he is far more likely to generate much-needed turnout from younger voters than “Uncle Joe.” For all Warren’s insistence on being the “unity candidate” Democratic supporters have sought, Sanders has broad appeal and is well-liked by Americans across the political spectrum. In a showdown with someone in Trump who has his own fervent backers, his coalition could prove pivotal to Democrats looking to regain control of the White House.
One of the biggest knocks I have seen against Bernie Sanders from Elizabeth Warren supporters and fans of other candidates is the supposed vitriol that is unique to Bernie and his ilk. It’s Bernie’s fault for stirring up all that anger! All that sexism! Anyone who disagrees with him is a corporate sellout or member of “the establishment!” The Bernie Bros! The snake emojis! The yelling!
Speaking as a Bernie supporter, I’m not going to deny that there is bad behavior on some of our parts. With Warren in particular, disparaging comments about her appearance (out of bounds for anyone but especially egregious coming from male chauvinists), her claims of Native American ancestry (enough with the “Pocahontas” jeers; it’s a tired line), and even that she used to be a conservative Republican (people do change) do nothing for the creation of a unified progressive front. And seriously—cut it out with the snake emojis. I may not be a fan of how Warren ran her campaign in several respects (the allegation that Bernie said a woman couldn’t be president, her girl-power allegiance with Amy “I Throw Things at My Staffers” Klobuchar, her reversal on taking super PAC money), but she is one of the most progressive lawmakers in the Senate. Full stop.
Personal attacks by users online and in comments sections aside, what exactly would we have Bernie do? Sen. Sanders is not the boss of the Internet. He has condemned his supporters’ “ugly, personal attacks” on Warren and other candidates in the past and recently re-upped on his disgust for this conduct following Warren’s departure from the race. Bernie shouldn’t be expected to police his fans’ posts any more than Warren did or Biden should, at that.
Speaking of the Internet, um, it’s the Internet. Like, you’ve used it, right? I’m not saying I condone sexism and other forms of bigotry, and certainly, death threats, doxxing, and other forms of intimidation are to be roundly decried. People say awful things on social media and in other forums in which public accountability is limited, if not absent altogether. It sucks. It’s not a great reason to abandon one’s principles, however, assuming these beliefs are firmly held to begin with. I don’t know about you, but people being mean to me wouldn’t dissuade me from believing that health care is a human right. It’s a matter of conviction, even in the face of disinformation, misinformation, and hostility.
One thing that is abundantly clear from political campaigning in the era of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media outlets is that enthusiasm among users doesn’t always translate to the real world. Sanders and Warren supporters alike should understand this after a disheartening Super Tuesday that saw Joe Biden leverage an impressive showing in South Carolina days before into a dominating performance.
Biden, likely aided by last-minute dropouts and endorsements from Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, as well as a seal of approval from Beto “I Eat at Whataburger” O’Rourke, won states he barely even campaigned in, if at all. Sanders went from presumptive front-runner to trailing Biden and looking much in doubt of capturing the necessary 1,991 pledged delegates to avoid a second round of voting at the convention. Warren saw her path to the nomination effectively closed.
In a rather deflating sense, what we see online and what we hear on cable news may not be reality. There’s a reverse to this, meanwhile, and it is much more encouraging. I may be biased, but so many of my interactions with Bernie supporters outside of chats and tweets have been positive. I think this speaks to a larger social phenomenon. I know plenty of Elizabeth Warren supporters who are terrific people and want substantive change. Getting to know and speak to them in person has been critical to my positive appraisal therein. Much has been made of political “bubbles” and “echo chambers” which make all of us susceptible to groupthink and persuasion at the hands of misleading data, and there is at least some degree of validity to this effect.
I get it—Elizabeth Warren didn’t get a fair shake in her presidential run. Sexism definitely played a role for many of her detractors and the coverage she didn’t get enough of during the campaign is bittersweet as part of the flattering postmortem analysis she’s receiving now that she’s suspended her bid. I also get that Bernie Sanders is, yes, another old white guy. On the other hand, let’s not rush to conflate him and Joe Biden. For one, Bernie winning the nomination and/or the presidency would be historic. No Jew has ever accomplished that feat. That’s no small potatoes if he does clinch one or both.
Religion aside, and more to the point, Sanders and Biden are miles apart on policy and vision. Bernie has a movement behind him and his ideas have, to a large extent, shaped the 2020 presidential race. Biden has his association with Barack Obama and a romanticized version of his career to rely on, but no clear path forward for the nation. At a time when real progress is called for, Biden’s incrementalism doesn’t rise to the occasion. Simply returning to a time before the rise of Trumpism is insufficient and illusory now that the proverbial cat’s out of the bag.
Whether you’re a progressive or a moderate Democrat who only wants to see Donald Trump defeated in November, Bernie Sanders, not Joe Biden, is the imperative choice for the Democratic Party come the fall. If you’re not convinced yet, read his stances on the issues on his campaign website. Come out to a Bernie Sanders event. Get to know some of his supporters. He may not be the candidate you envisioned at the start of primary season, but he is our best hope.
Mike Bloomberg has yet to appear in a Democratic Party presidential debate and did not earn any delegates in Iowa or New Hampshire. Despite this, and according to the results of a recent Quinnipiac national poll, the billionaire and former mayor of New York City is polling third among Democrats, overtaking Elizabeth Warren for that position and trailing Joe Biden by a mere two percentage points for second.
As it would seem then, we need to acknowledge that Bloomberg is a legitimate candidate in the Democratic Party primary. In doing so, we also should recognize he’s a terrible candidate and nominating him runs the risk of handing the presidency to Donald Trump for a second time.
In service of his late-start bid to capture the nomination, Michael Bloomberg has spent tens of millions going on hundreds of millions of dollars of his personal finances, pouring money into advertisements, field organizer salaries, and Internet meme campaigns (really), among other things. If his ascendancy in polls is any indication, the strategy is paying off so far.
Then again, Bloomberg’s newfound prominence in the 2020 presidential race is certainly tied to presumptions of his electability as a “sensible” moderate. For what it’s worth, this comes part and parcel with the notion he hasn’t faced the same scrutiny as other candidates by sitting out the early contests and because people unfamiliar with New York City politics might not be aware of what happened during Bloomberg’s three terms as mayor.
As with Joe Biden, the once-presumptive nominee who has seen his electoral prospects dip following disappointing fourth- and fifth-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively, Mike Bloomberg’s record, when viewed more closely, tells a problematic tale for many Democratic Party supporters and outside observers. This is all before we get to his current level of spending, which seems all too emblematic of the issue of money in politics that so many rank-and-file voters profess is a problem.
In a piece for the UK’s Independent, journalist Lauren Duca warns that Bloomberg doesn’t just want to buy memes—he wants to buy your principles. To this effect, she wonders from what some people see as the needed antidote to someone like Bernie Sanders is really saving us.
Duca’s consideration of Michael Bloomberg’s profligate spending forms the basis of her op-ed arguing against a man derided by progressive voters as an oligarch, but this is not to say she neglects other troubling elements of his profile. By this token, that he has used his money to try to obscure those unsavory bits of his legacy speaks to the gravity of his increased visibility as a presidential candidate.
For one, contrary to his insistence that he inherited the practice from his predecessor, Bloomberg didn’t just continue the racist policy of stop-and-frisk from the previous administration—he accelerated it. In fact, as recently as last month, he was defending his administration’s emphasis on a practice that was carried out in an unconstitutional manner as ruled by a federal judge. This defense came, strangely enough, amid a public apology for the incidence of stop-and-frisk during his tenure and NYC mayor. Very clearly, Bloomberg is speaking out of both sides of his mouth on this front.
But wait—there’s more. Though Duca doesn’t go into it, on top of Bloomberg’s bigoted remarks and past practices, there is also a history of misogyny for which he has apologized. As the head of his namesake company, he is alleged to have made numerous disparaging comments about women’s appearances and for presiding over a sexist workplace environment that was hostile toward pregnant women, a company which fielded four separate discrimination/sexual harassment suits in two years in the 1990s. Just Google “Mike Bloomberg I’d do her” and see for yourself. If the plan is to fight fire with misogynistic fire, the Democrats (unfortunately) have their man in Bloomberg.
And again, we still haven’t really explored the concept of Michael Bloomberg using his considerable fortune to try to buy the nomination, saturating regional markets with television ads and green-lighting a meme campaign that would appear to be destined to fail with voters disinterested in disingenuity, notably younger voters, but nonetheless has garnered considerable attention by the press (and according to Facebook, is totes kewl despite a previous prohibition on Instagram on the use of branded content by political campaigns). So far, critics have derided the latter strategy in particular as a failing attempt to make Bloomberg seem relatable, but until all the receipts are in, who knows?
These are the messages we’re intended to see, moreover. Though a matter of public record, Bloomberg’s political donations and the endorsements they effectively buy should give us pause. Several congressional Democrats and mayors who have endorsed Bloomberg’s campaign received millions in contributions from super PACs linked to him for their own bids for public office. Of course, one can’t prove these politicians are endorsing Bloomberg simply because they received donations authored by Bloomberg’s checkbook. At the same time, however, you can’t rule the possibility out.
Duca, wondering if establishment Democrats “stand for anything other than gaining power,” closes her column with these thoughts:
The sickness ailing our political process is not only the racist criminal presiding over our nation, but a system that has effectively silenced the majority of the public, while money screams loud enough to bend national attention to its will. To run Bloomberg against Trump is, to my mind, to swap one demagogue for another. The only significant difference in their respective relationships to capitalism and racism seems to be more to be a matter about how open they are about using public resources to prioritize white citizens.
This primary is a chance for the Democratic Party to truly stand up for the equality it has always professed to prioritize. Otherwise, we will remain confined by a political system that is content to win power by nominating a meme of Mr Monopoly.
It does seem absurd that in 2020, the election year after 2016 saw a rejection of traditional political norms in the elevation of a faux-populist in Donald Trump to the presidency and of a democratic socialist in Bernie Sanders, we could potentially be heading to a clash of old white male billionaires with separate track records of controversial conduct and public statements. These men tout not being beholden to special interests. But as Jumaane Williams, New York City Public Advocate, points out, the boast that “you can’t be bought” rings hollow when you’re the one doing the buying.
Bloomberg is trying to buy the Democratic Party nomination. What’s worse, the Democratic Party establishment appears content to let him do so.
We need to beat Trump. Vote blue no matter who. We need to beat Trump. Vote blue no matter who.
In reading online replies to commentary from anguished leftists and others sympathetic to the Dems’ cause in wonderment that no one seems to care that Michael Bloomberg is setting out to nakedly subvert democratic principles, I’ve encountered a fair amount of indifference to his litany of past missteps and unapologetic mindsets. Some users believe that Bloomberg is not only the best shot to defeat Donald Trump in November, but that he’s the only one who can—full stop. In their minds, he’s the only one with the organization, the resources, and the smarts to take on the incumbent. Evidently, their appraisal of the former mayor is quite high—or their appraisal of the rest of the field is damningly low.
Other Democratic Party supporters, while not altogether a fan of Bloomberg, are committed to voting for the Democrat no matter what, presumably short of him actual murdering someone—and then maybe even so. As is the classic trope, they are prepared to hold their nose, pull the lever, and cast their ballot for the lesser of two evils. Better our authoritarian than theirs. We’ve seen what Trump will do when he’s still in jeopardy of losing a second term. What will happen when he has nothing left to lose? It’s a scary thought.
I realize that votes for president are not made in a vacuum. Voting one’s conscience invites criticism—fair or unfair—of privilege for those who are not members of vulnerable populations under a Trump presidency. For voters in swing states, due consideration must be given to the notion of voting strategically. While we’re speaking in hypotheticals, meanwhile, and before we get to the Democratic National Convention, let’s consider that Mike Bloomberg as the Democratic Party nominee might not be the bastion of electability some conceive of him to be.
First of all, electability is a phenomenon about which many talking heads feel qualified to wax philosophical, but few—if any—can define or fully comprehend. It’s something of which cable news prognosticators claim has predictive validity but of which the proof is borne out solely by the proverbial pudding. This is to say the only way you know how whether someone is electable is to nominate them and see what happens. To say someone is “unelectable” is therefore to fall prey to the trap of the self-fulfilling prophecy. And this assumes such analysis, though inaccurate, is made in good faith. For an increasing segment of Americans dissatisfied with the bias of corporate media, there’s plenty of reason to suspect otherwise.
In addition, and to drive the larger point about electability home, those individuals anointed as the one or ones to take on Trump might, months or even weeks later, lose favor to the extent they are effectively ghosted by the likes of CNN and MSNBC. At one time, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren were looking like the duo to beat in the race to the magic number of pledged delegates. Now, anchors and guest commentators are pinning their hopes on Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, or Amy Klobuchar rather than Biden and Warren is lucky if she can get her post-primary speeches aired in their entirety.
Bloomberg, doing well in national polls at this moment, might continue to rise in the polls. Or he might not. Many expected Hillary Clinton to win in 2016. She did not, in part because voter turnout wasn’t good enough to push her over the top. Bloomberg may be even more out of touch and less likable because billionaires aren’t the most popular subset of the electorate right now. With him as the face of the Democratic Party—a party he has only recently switched back to, mind you—there is real risk of turning off progressives, voters of color, women, and every intersection therein. Take him or leave him, huh? How lucky are you feeling exactly?
I get it—many of us on the left side of the political spectrum are desperate to find a nominee, coalesce around him or her, and prepare for the most important election in our lifetime (isn’t it always?). As it must be stressed, though, that’s the function of a primary. Fatiguing though it may be, the system is designed to produce a winner with enough time to prepare for November.
Plus, in contrast to doom-and-gloom sentiments about the confrontational nature of candidate interactions, hard-fought primaries produce stronger candidates, not weaker ones. Besides, if Republicans want to attack the eventual nominee, they don’t need help. Trump already has nicknames for most of the field. Democratic Party leadership should be concerned with choosing the best candidate, not with what names he or she might be called.
Could Mike Bloomberg beat Donald Trump? Sure, a generic Democrat wins most match-ups with #45. Putting pundits’ preferences aside, though, there are better options to be had out of the remaining candidates, ones with much less baggage. Accordingly, don’t let Bloomberg buy the Democratic Party nomination. The implications for this election and those beyond and for democracy as a whole are more than trivial hand-wringing.
This was the scene at Donald Trump’s recent rally in Greenville, North Carolina, evidence that every time we think Trump and the GOP have hit rock bottom, there is a new low to which to sink. The audience’s chant was in response to the president’s remarks on Ilhan Omar, which wrongly characterized the first-term representative from the state of Minnesota as an anti-Semite, someone who “looks down with contempt on the hardworking American.”
Trump also criticized fellow freshman Rashida Tlaib, like Omar, a Muslim, as “not somebody that loves our country,” lashed out at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (eventually just calling her “Cortez” because he decided saying “Ocasio-Cortez” is too much work) for sponsoring the Green New Deal and for correctly reporting that the “concentration camps” at our southern border holding detained migrants offer substandard, inhumane conditions, and ridiculed Ayanna Pressley (“Is she related in any way to Elvis?”) for supposedly saying that “people with the same skin color all need to think the same” and somehow connecting her to violence committed by some anti-fascists (which pales in comparison to atrocities committed by white supremacists, but whatever).
Trump’s attacks on Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib amid his jabs at potential 2020 election rivals including “Sleepy” Joe Biden, Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Bernie Sanders are no accident. He’s painting these newcomers to Congress as leaders of the Democratic Party, thereby trying to get his supporters to fixate on them, their ideals, their ethnicities, their religions, their identities as strong, outspoken women, and reject them and other Democrats as a function of subscribing to an anti-liberal, racist, sexist, xenophobic outlook on life.
As Trump would have it, these critics of his are the face of a party that hates America and everything it stands for, and if they don’t like it, they should leave or, more specifically, “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.” Trump also tweeted that these “Progressive Democrat Congresswomen… (“progressive” in quotes, as if to doubt how interested in progress they really are) originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe.”
Trump’s public comments, as per the usual, are riddled with inaccuracies and intentional falsehoods. These particular diatribes against the four aforementioned women, however, are especially onerous and reflect egregious and dangerous rhetoric.
First things first, there’s the matter of labeling these women as “originally” from another country, as if they aren’t truly Americans. Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx and is of Puerto Rican descent. Pressley is black and was born in Cincinnati, raised in Chicago, and eventually relocated to Massachusetts. Tlaib was born in Detroit, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants. Omar is the only one of the four born outside the United States, originally from Somalia, but her family sought and secured asylum in 1995 and she became a U.S. citizen in 2000. These women are all American citizens and were duly elected to their positions in Congress by their constituents. Referring to them in any other capacity is to engage in unadulterated bigotry.
Well, that is, unless you ask Republicans or the president himself. Trump’s initial “go back” rant directed at AOC et al. sparked international outrage and condemnation. In the aftermath, the hashtags #RacistInChief and #TrumpIsARacist were trending on Twitter and continue to be used as part of the ensuing conversation about his verbal assault on the first-term congressional quartet. All the while, most members of the GOP have defended Trump against claims he is a racist. He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body! He’s saying what many people are thinking! On the latter point, saying average Americans agree with Pres. Trump means that he’s not a racist is a logical fallacy. Popularity is not an indicator of moral rectitude.
On the Democratic side, meanwhile, the House voted 240 to 187 to condemn Trump’s use of racist language. All House Democrats recorded an “Aye” vote. Newly-minted independent Justin Amash joined them, as did Republicans Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Susan Brooks of Indiana, and Will Hurd of Texas. Of course, Nancy Pelosi was quick to specify that this was a vote to condemn Trump’s comments as racist, not the man himself. It would apparently be untoward to level such charges against him. Or to hold him accountable in any meaningful way. (But let’s bank on 2020 when we lost in 2016, right?)
Speaking of the Speaker of the House, it bears underscoring that it was her derisive remarks about Pressley, Tlaib, Omar, and Ocasio-Cortez which helped lead to the group receiving their unofficial nickname: “The Squad.” Back in November, Ocasio-Cortez posted a picture of the four of them together with the one-word caption “Squad” on Instagram. This moniker was invoked again by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd in her profile earlier this month on Pelosi, in which the Democratic leader panned their vote against the House’s version of an emergency border funding bill, saying, “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world. But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”
Since then and notably following Trump’s personal attacks, the use of the Squad nickname has increased exponentially. The widespread employ of this term is not without some pushback, to be sure. Some might see it as appropriative, deprecating, or sexist. On the other hand, it might be conceived of as intentionally exclusive on the representatives’ part.
These four congresswomen, however, have clarified that their “squad” includes, as Rep. Pressley puts it, “any person committed to creating a more equitable and just world.” Which, in response to a piece by The Onion, evidently includes the octogenarian Bill Pascrell, my district’s representative. (Props, Bill, props.) By this definition, you or I might be considered members. It’s a concept with real grassroots appeal.
Trump’s harsh rhetoric hasn’t met with much approval outside his most ardent backers and his most shameless apologists on Capitol Hill and in the media. Moreover, his attempted claim that he denounced the “Send her back!” chant during the event is verifiably false, earning him further censure for trying to gaslight everyone.
As for Speaker Pelosi, her downplaying of The Squad’s influence as one segment in an ever-lengthening line of reprobation and dismissal of progressive Democrats has earned her scorn in her own right as out of touch, markedly from leftists and others who have remained critical of her steering of the Democratically-led House. If nothing else, her repudiation of these women of color and failure to come to their defense except when called out by the president is bad optics for a party that touts its diversity among its strengths. In fact, as Ocasio-Cortez believes, this pattern of behavior on Pelosi’s part doesn’t speak to some innocuous, unprejudiced treatment of The Squad—and she’s not alone in this assessment.
Through all of the slurs, the death threats, the denigration, and the lies hurled at these women, their commitment to their principles and their resolve hasn’t wavered. Consequently, their stars are only shining brighter. Rep. Omar, who received a hero’s welcome when she returned to her home state, addressed Trump’s vitriolic barbs directed at her, defiantly promising to be the “nightmare” the president has made her out to be. Hers was not a threat, but a warning: mess with The Squad and prepare to live with the consequences.
The comments Donald Trump made denigrating the members of The Squad and his refusal to squelch the chants of his attendees aimed at Ilhan Omar speak volumes about the president and the current state of the GOP. A common refrain from those paid to be in attendance and/or professionals within the political sphere (and thus presumably with at least a modicum of discernment apart from Trump’s faithful) as gleaned from social media was that it was one of the most frightening sights they had ever witnessed in the world of politics. Many of those same people felt a sense of dread, suggesting Trump was doing his best to get Rep. Omar killed. Other onlookers professed they’re beginning to understand how the atrocities of Nazi Germany could’ve happened from the very tenor of the event.
The few defections on the resolution about Trump’s racist language aside, Republicans’ inaction and silence on this front make one wonder what line could be crossed that would result in substantive intercedence on their part. For example, Lindsey Graham, one-time Trump critic, has apparently become a full-time sycophant, reversing course on the president after calling him a “race-baiting bigot” in 2015.
Mitch McConnell likewise defended Trump against allegations he is a racist, saying the president is “on to something” in his claims that these women want “to turn us into a socialist country,” dodging questions about the “Send her back!” chorus of nights earlier. Mitt Romney, in true Mitt Romney fashion, said Trump “crossed a line” but isn’t a racist. Marco Rubio. Ted Cruz. Paul Ryan, where was this semblance of a spine when you were Speaker of the House? Where is the conscience of these men, some of whom thought they could represent the entire country? Or was it all a big con, a ploy motivated by political opportunism? Can the same be asked of Trump and the Republican Party at large?
Lest we give the Democrats too much credit, leadership’s inability or unwillingness to rein in moderates bent on opposing the “far left” or defend The Squad against baseless accusations of anti-Semitism further emboldens Trump and his enablers. As far as the “Racist-in-Chief” is concerned, it may as well as be open season on Reps. Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, and Omar. I mean this in terms of his wont to say anything he wants without fear of reprisal, but returning to reported instances of death threats and even a planned plot to kill Omar, he doesn’t need to pull the trigger. Putting a target on their backs is enough. The Democratic Party bears some culpability here beyond signing onto a toothless House resolution admonishing the president for spreading hate from his bully pulpit.
The ugliness of Pres. Trump’s remarks, whether or not it’s a distraction from the horror of the concentration camps at the border or Jeffrey Epstein’s depravity or the implications of the Mueller report, drives home the notion that representatives of both major parties sooner or later need to take a stand. Republicans must decide at what point political expediency has its limits, consider whether they’ve ceded full control of their party to a fascist, and confront what this arrangement means for the long-term viability of the GOP. Democrats have to face the possibility that waiting for 2020 could take too long, not to mention that standing for something—anything—signals to their base that their cause is worth fighting for. Not merely to be hyperbolic, but the future of these parties and the concept of American democracy as a going concern might just depend on it.
As suggested earlier, popularity doesn’t equate to moral rectitude nor does it necessarily translate to votes or other forms of political engagement. For Democrats and Republicans alike, though, going after The Squad is ill-advised. In the face of adversity, these women are proud inspirations to other political entrants like them. To underestimate them and their supporters is to underestimate the power that everyday people coming together at the grassroots level possess when fully realized. In the end, it could be a costly miscalculation to make.