The 2020 Democratic National Convention: Feel the excitement?
Not quite. The four-day celebration of the best the Democratic Party has to offer and John Kasich has its schedule set—and if you’re like me, you’re less than impressed.
Day 1 features Bernie Sanders and Michelle Obama as their top-billed speakers. Other than that, though, the list doesn’t exactly overwhelm. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Catherine Cortez Masto, fresh off not earning vice presidential nominations, are evidently set to inspire conventioneers with their newfound status. Ditto for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Sen. Doug Jones is there because…he has an election to try to win? Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has seen his star rise despite his state’s dilatory early response to news of positive COVID-19 tests and allegations of corruption will…call Donald Trump names?
In all, the speakers here seem to evoke an air of temporary/contextual relevance because they were once considered candidates for president or vice president or for their handling of the coronavirus. Bernie’s and Michelle Obama’s legacies seem pretty secure, but the others? Aside from Reps. Jim Clyburn and Gwen Moore, their records and future party standing are questionable. Clyburn’s and Moore’s inclusion itself speaks to the Democratic Party’s preoccupation with identity politics but only to the extent it reinforces “old guard” politics.
Day 2 features Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and is headlined by Dr. Jill Biden. Lisa Blunt Rochester is…from Delaware (not to downplay her significance as both the first woman and first African-American to represent her state in Congress, but she’s definitely not a household name)? Sally Yates is presumably there because of her defiance to the Bad Orange Man?
After that, it’s a trio of white dudes who definitely represent establishment Democrats. Chuck Schumer and John Kerry, one might imagine, will be on hand to deliver plenty of bland generalities. And then there’s Bill Clinton. If his association with Jeffrey Epstein and the “Lolita Express” aren’t problematic enough, there’s a good chance he’ll say something cringe-worthy just the same.
Day 3 has, um, Billie Eilish for the young folks? Seriously, though, she’s slated to perform. Newly-minted vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris and Barack Obama are the top political stars of the evening. As a whole, this day belongs to the ladies—and that’s pretty cool. Unfortunately, two of those women are Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, of whom to say they are removed from the concerns of everyday Americans would be an understatement.
Other than that? Meh. Gabby Giffords will be bringing her party loyalty and her obvious standing to talk about gun control to the table. Elizabeth Warren, the picture of party unity that she is, also will be delivering remarks. Michelle Lujan Grisham has…grit? And I don’t know what business Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin has speaking at this convention. This man made a late bid to postpone his state’s primaries, was rebuffed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and didn’t intervene in the same way Republican governor Mike DeWine did in Ohio to push back elections due to concerns about coronavirus infections at polling places. Even if spikes following the Wisconsin primaries can’t be definitively linked to in-person voting, failing to act to reduce or eliminate this risk is to be decried, not celebrated with a speaking slot.
The final day of the convention belongs, of course, to Joseph Robinette Biden. Andrew Yang is speaking—or he isn’t—or maybe he is again? We’ve got not one, but two Tammies—Tammy Baldwin (surprisingly progressive for Biden) and Tammy Duckworth.
Aside from these speakers, I could take or leave the rest of the program. With no disrespect meant to The Chicks (formerly known as the Dixie Chicks), OK, were party supporters clamoring for you to be here? Chris Coons once more fulfills the obligatory Delawarean portion of the program and that’s about it. Sen. Cory Booker, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms are present as not-too-old, not-too-young faces of the Democratic Party. Also, Pete Buttigieg is slated to gnaw on some cheese. Just saying—the guy looks like a rat.
This is what awaits viewers for the virtual Democratic National Convention, for the most part. As noted, John Kasich, who is still a member of the opposition party, should be speaking, though I didn’t see him listed on the official convention website schedule. All in all, with the Democratic Party speakers thus enumerated, there’s not a lot to excite prospective younger voters. A number of these political figures are either older, fairly obscure outside of political circles, or both, when not additionally owning problematic legacies (hello, Amy Klobuchar, Bill Clinton).
More critically, the attention to policy specifics, as it has been with Joe Biden the 2020 presidential candidate, will likely be sparing. In a political environment inextricably linked to the ongoing pandemic and impacted by the moment’s (overdue) push for economic, environmental, racial, and social justice, Americans hungry for substantive change want to know what the Democratic Party will do for them should the Democrats take the White House. The standard platitudes aren’t cutting it.
I refer to the “cold banality” of the Democratic National Convention in the title of this piece because, in addition to this event being a boring four-day celebration of Democrats not being Donald Trump, it largely freezes out progressives.
Bernie Sanders has been afforded a prominent role in the proceedings, though he has largely (and dubiously) tried to paint Joe Biden and his campaign as embracing a progressive platform. Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren will be also be delivering remarks, though on the latter count, it’s tough to know what exactly Warren’s commitment is to the progressive cause in the United States. She notably backed off her prior support for Medicare for All and took super PAC money during her own presidential campaign, trying to justify it by claiming everyone else was doing so and that she needed to follow suit. That doesn’t make you sound very principled, Ms. Warren.
And what about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? This is where it gets juicy, as they say. AOC’s entire involvement with the convention is reportedly limited to a one-minute prerecorded message. That’s it. Sixty seconds for one of the party’s rising stars and biggest fundraisers. If this sounds stupidly self-defeating, one has only to remember this is the Democrats we’re talking about here, masters of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
This goes beyond mere strategic miscues, however. The DNC knows what it’s doing, and Ocasio-Cortez’s effective snub is another potshot at progressives seeking authentic leadership from the Democratic Party. Furthermore, with 2024 chatter already underway, the party establishment is probably desperate to blunt any momentum she might have for a presidential bid. They don’t want her pulling a Barack Obama and using her speech at the convention as a springboard to a viable candidacy. If that were to happen, they might—gasp!—actually have to commit to policies that help everyday Americans.
The old guard of the Democratic Party knows its days are numbered. Progressives haven’t won a ton of primary challenges, but little by little, they’re scoring impressive victories and elevating recognition of outspoken leftists to the national consciousness. Policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal are resonating with the general public. Heck, a significant percentage of Democratic voters say they have a positive view of socialism. Dreaded socialism. When people are finally beginning to sour on almighty capitalism, you know a real sea change is in our midst.
It is because of this percolating progressive energy within Democratic ranks that, while it’s still frustrating that the progressive movement isn’t further along by now, leftists in the U.S. and abroad can take heart knowing that there is strength in grassroots organizing and people-powered solutions to society’s ills. The Democratic National Convention, in all its pomp and circumstance, already felt somewhat irrelevant given the fragmentation of the global media landscape in the social media age. With a global pandemic and economic, political, and social unrest altering the political calculus in 2020 even more, it seems especially so now.
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.
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.
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.
On January 26, the official Twitter feed for The Economist tweeted a link to a story titled “Could it be Bernie?” The tweet read: “The Vermont senator’s campaign slogan used to be ‘A future to believe in’; now it is just: ‘Bernie’.” The piece, accompanied by a drawing of Bernie Sanders that borders on the anti-Semitic, characterizes his campaign as that of a cult of personality and attributes his success to the weakness of the rest of the field.
Objectionable as Sanders supporters would find these sentiments and as reprehensible as even objective observers might find his cartoon depiction, what really infuriated myself and others was this business about the slogan. Because it isn’t true.
Though writers at The Economist may clutch their pearls at the sight of Bernie’s fanatical following, lamenting the “BERNIE” signs observed at rallies for their chosen candidate, Bernie’s real 2020 slogan is “Not Me. Us.”
This isn’t a trivial matter either. It’s not just an aw-shucks aphorism designed to sell T-shirts. If you want to understand why Bernie is so popular with people like me and why he is surging in the polls, comprehending the meaning of this slogan is a good, if not essential, place to start. When you think about it, “Not Me. Us.” is a rather remarkable statement in the world of politics.
It certainly contrasts, for one, with Hillary Clinton’s all-eyes-on-me slogan from the 2016 campaign season: “I’m with her.” Even in a crowded primary field in 2020, this notion of togetherness stands out. Though not official slogans, the taglines “I have a plan for that” and “All in for Warren” which Elizabeth Warren’s supporters have embraced and, to some degree, that her campaign has too don’t convey quite the same sense of empowerment to the individual. Nor does Pete Buttigieg’s insistence on a “new generation of American leadership” or the need to “win the era,” whatever that means. And don’t get me started on Joe Biden’s promise of “no malarkey.” I thought this was the 2020 election, not the 1924 election.
Truly, no candidate emphasizes and embodies the spirit of grassroots fundraising and organizing like Bernie in this race. Though by now the concept of the $27 average contribution is ripe for parody (and in fact that per-contribution number may be even lower this time around), it isn’t simply a point of pride to be dismissed as an ineffective matter of principle. Bernie is consistently among the top fundraisers in the Democratic Party field, if not the highest. This reality flies in the face of the insistence you need big-ticket fundraisers and wealthy donors to power a presidential run. Looking at you, Mayor Pete, and your wine cave attendees.
Contrary to what Mr. Boot-Edge-Edge might aver, this is not some purity test by which to judge individuals’ personal wealth. These are values, plain and simple. If we are to believe that how someone runs their campaign is indicative of how they will govern, then every fear that someone like him or Biden will be compromised by their fealty to the rich and/or corporate interests is more than valid. So Bernie is a millionaire. So what. He’s certainly not sucking up to the billionaires the way his centrist political rivals are.
It’s more than just small individual contributions, though. In so much of his speech, Bernie stresses the importance of a movement to reclaim our democracy from moneyed interests and consolidation of power among the nation’s top earners and biggest companies. In this regard, he is keen to repeat the idea that real change happens not from the top down, but from the bottom up.
It’s a concept critical to Our Revolution, a political action organization inspired by Bernie’s stated values and 2016 campaign that has seen local and state activist groups spring up and work to effect real change in their communities and the political leadership that represents them. In a short time, OR’s influence has increased dramatically from its inception. Hopefully, long after Bernie Sanders and 2020, its members’ commitment to progressive values will continue to make a positive impact and help prepare individuals to be the kind of leaders our society needs. It’s why I’m not particularly worried about Bernie’s physical health even after a minor scare. The fundamental beliefs driving his campaign and his supporters matter more than any one person.
As such, for all the blather about Bernie’s political “revolution” as an ego-driven vehicle or a vanity project from his critics, his detractors have him dead wrong. Though he may not possess a bubbly personality and some may bristle at his constant yelling and finger-wagging to make his point (to be fair, he is a Brooklyn Jew and this should be, on some level, expected), Bernie is probably the least egocentric person in this race and certainly is the most authentic—take it or leave it.
Besides, it’s kind of hard to feel self-important when members of the press and other political figures are constantly attacking your credibility and reputation. On the latter dimension, Bernie wisely avoided a confrontation with Warren concerning her charge that he once remarked he didn’t think a woman could be elected president, an allegation seemingly rendered unsubstantiated by his record on advocating for women’s rights and for more female candidates (like Warren) to run for office.
He also refused to engage with Hillary Clinton regarding her comments that “no one likes” him and that he has achieved little to nothing in his time as a lawmaker. From someone who treated her stay in Congress like a stepping stone to higher office and who lost a presidential election in 2016 to an unpopular figure in Donald Trump in part due to her own sagging approval ratings, these are rather hollow criticisms. Then again, that’s just “Hill-Dawg” being “Hill-Dawg.”
All this before we even get to Bernie’s leadership on issues like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, stances that have, to a large extent, shaped the Democratic debates and primaries and have led to the support of progressive champions like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib. While one might deem it too far to call similar positions by Warren and other candidates as mere imitations of Bernie’s platform, he has been and continues to be the most consistent on these matters, unlike some people in this race (cough, Biden, cough). He also has been the most outspoken on protecting trade unions and seeking to expand union membership, and unlike Warren, voted against the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which critics have derided as “NAFTA on steroids.”
Going back to Donald Trump, meanwhile, and despite what pundits representing cable news outlets or major newspapers might put forth, Bernie may be the best chance of preventing a second term for the orange-faced, thin-skinned, and small-handed incumbent. Forget nebulous concepts like “electability” which lack a firm definition or predictive validity. Bernie consistently beats Trump in polls and fares best among the Democratic Party field on attracting younger voters and independents. Imagine that—a 78-year-old democratic socialist Brooklyn Jew appealing both to millennials and libertarians like Joe Rogan. It’s not because he’s selling something or promising them a pony. It’s because they genuinely believe in him, his ideals, and his vision. Imagine that.
So yes, Bernie is well-liked by voters and by his constituents (stay salty, Hillary), is remarkably consistent in his beliefs, and beats Trump in almost any scenario imaginable. At the end of the day, however, it comes down to his messaging above all else for me. Five years ago, I would’ve told you that politics is best left to the politicians and wouldn’t be as concerned by half as much going on in the world today as I am. Since then, I’ve realized this is absolutely the worst thing you can do re politics, mind you.
On that note, I owe Bernie a debt of gratitude. Maybe it was just that I was finally ready to pick up what someone like him was trying to put down, but when he ran in 2016, it was the first time I felt like someone was trying to talk to me on a personal level rather than simply trying to get my vote. That speaks volumes to me about his character and whose interests he serves. Call me corny, but I believed it then and still believe it now.
Thus spare me your qualms about Bernie Sanders’s age and that he’s just another white male running for office, or your doom-and-gloom prophecies for what a “socialist” (Boo! Hiss!) in the White House will lead to, or that he is the least likely candidate to help someone in need (really, Chris Matthews, really?). When Bernie says “Not Me. Us,” people listen and take it to heart. That may not mean everything, but it matters a great deal.
To everyone scaremongering and expressing existential dread over Bernie’s prospects of capturing the Democratic Party presidential nomination and winning the general election in November, then, I say with relish: Be afraid. Be very, very afraid. A revolution may just be on its way. The question I have for you is: Will you be ready to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work when it comes?
Despite Boris Johnson’s best efforts, his Conservative Party won in a landslide in the recent 2019 United Kingdom general election.
I say this because while Johnson is the bumbling incumbent prime minister whose role in advocating for Brexit on false pretenses is widely known at this point and while his government has yet to “get Brexit done,” this latest vote seemed to be more of a referendum on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn than anything.
Corbyn, assailed by critics on the left and right in the lead-up to this election, evidently could not shake the lack of public faith he and his party have engendered. Many Labour supporters would be quick (and perhaps justified) to point to British media’s vilification of Corbyn, not to mention the notion Johnson is a con man.
Still, the accusations of anti-Semitism dogging Corbyn’s party and his perceived inability or willingness to deal with them, as well as admonishment of Labour’s middling and muddied stance on Brexit, appear to have been too much for Labour to overcome. Corbyn will reportedly step down in the spring when his successor as party leader will be chosen. PM Johnson, meanwhile, has an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons by which to carry out his vision for Brexit. Whatever that is. Because he totally has a plan that will not meet any pushback from the EU. Right.
With this result now in the books, most of America’s attention now turns back to the impending 2020 election and the clusterf**k the campaign has already been. Of course, with the Conservative Party’s drubbing of Labour fresh in our minds, it’s no wonder U.S. media has already taken to making the connection between the socialist Corbyn’s defeat and a potential loss for leftists next November.
It’s not just journos and “contributors” either. Both Joe Biden and Mike Bloomberg have taken the UK general election results as a “catastrophic warning” for Democrats not to move too far to the left. Donald Trump, the Boris Johnson of the USA, meanwhile, has professed he believes the outcome is a “harbinger” for things to come in the States. These sentiments coming from the president are no surprise. Although the use of the word “harbinger” is, quite frankly. Did he look that up before he said it? Or did he have an aide feed it to him before he spoke to reporters? I have questions. Many, many questions.
Trump’s limited vocabulary aside, it’s alarming to see how quickly candidates and pundits alike are jumping on the “Labour lost and so will the left” narrative. To be fair, it is a compelling one following the events of 2016. The Leave campaign’s narrow victory in the Brexit referendum presaged Trump’s slender electoral win over Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential election. Conservative and far-right candidates have been winning elections across the globe in the past few years too, whether it be Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil or Viktor Orbán in Hungary or any number of figures with a voice at the national level of the countries from which they hail.
So, if someone like Bernie Sanders were to lead the Democratic Party ticket, this would all but hand the presidency to Trump, right? Not necessarily. Christo Aivalis, Canadian historian, media commentator, and writer, in acknowledging the pain of Labour’s loss in the UK general election, highlighted several reasons why Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are not perfect analogs in a video essay titled “Don’t let Neoliberals use Jeremy Corbyn’s Defeat as an Attack on Bernie Sanders.”
In the essay, Aivalis highlights three salient points as to why Sanders is no Corbyn, despite Sanders being Corbyn’s closest spiritual comparison, so to speak, in the U.S. presidential race:
Brexit: Quite simply, there is no overarching issue facing the United States with the magnitude of a Brexit as it is with the United Kingdom. This is not to say America doesn’t have its issues—far from it actually—nor is it to suggest there aren’t legitimate points of worry on a global scale (cough, climate crisis, cough). Even so, there is no analogous central subject that binds American voters as it does their UK counterparts. Britain’s very economic future is tied to what kind of Brexit is negotiated and its subsequent ability to reach a new deal with the European Union, if possible.
With this in mind, even as the impeachment process unfolds, there is nothing quite like Brexit in the U.S. to fundamentally disrupt the workings of the left-right paradigm. To quote Aivalis, “Trying to graft the lessons from the British election onto the United States with Brexit alone already makes that whole idea suspect.”
Popularity: As much as leftists outside of the UK might revere Corbyn or at least understand how Corbyn’s positions are better for his country’s denizens, the man and his party have seen their popularity wane of late in part due to their positions on Brexit and charges of anti-Semitism within the ranks. Corbyn in particular has met criticism for his seeming indifference on the latter in past remarks, in addition to newer repeated denials which some leftists see as giving too much credit to a smear campaign designed to paint his anti-Zionist attitudes as anti-Semitic.
By contrast, Americans really seem to “feel the Bern.” Sanders consistently rates among the most popular politicians in the United States. Since entering the mainstream with his bid in 2016, the independent running as a Democrat has appealed to Democrats, independents, and even some Republicans with his attention to taking on corporate greed and addressing widening income and wealth inequality.
Even without strict adherence to policy positions both domestic and foreign, though, and even with a chorus of detractors among hardline conservatives and neoliberals, Sanders’ esteem hasn’t plummeted to the near-toxic levels of Corbyn’s. Quoting Aivalis again, “Personal popularity isn’t everything; it’s not the only issue. But especially when you’re talking about running for president, their personal approval rating in the minds of people really does matter.
Polls: OK, I get it—polling in 2016 was a disaster. Experts and talking heads predicted a narrow win for Vote Remain in the Brexit referendum vote. That did not happen. In the U.S. presidential election, Hillary Clinton was the odds-on favorite to emerge triumphant in her showdown with Donald Trump. The opposite occurred. With pollsters apparently getting things so wrong, some voters began to cast aspersions on survey science altogether. You can’t trust the polls. You can’t trust politicians. Nothing is what it seems.
Except in 2019, Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party were expected to win and they did. It might not have been been forecast as quite the impressive showing that it turned out to be for the Tories, but the outright victors were correctly assessed. In advance of 2020, several polls indicate a handful of Democrats beating Trump head-to-head, with Bernie beating the incumbent pretty much across the board.
In Aivalis’s words once more, “While the polls were accurate in projecting a Labour defeat under Jeremy Corbyn, the polls thus far in the United States all seem to be pointing to a victory for Bernie Sanders and a rather large one at that…If you want a bold, left-wing choice, you can make that choice with Bernie Sanders in the United States and not have to worry about handicapping yourself electorally.”
Christo Aivalis only makes these few arguments in his defense of Bernie Sanders or someone who fits the bill of a progressive like Elizabeth Warren. For their brevity and simplicity, however, these three key points are more than sufficient.
Treating Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s defeat as a “harbinger” of doom for anyone in his mold overlooks the 800-pound gorilla of Brexit, a significant complication to traditional two-party politics. Corbyn was also deeply unpopular, a quality shared more by Donald Trump than someone like Sanders.
Furthermore, surveys of prospective American voters aren’t favorable for Trump. Prior to November 2016, Trump at least had the benefit of the doubt that people could not be certain of what he would do as president. Now that he’s had some three years under his belt, the cat’s out of the bag. Sure, history favors the incumbent. That said, Trump is no normal president and he might not be so lucky this time around.
All this can be argued in service of refuting a narrative that only a moderate can win a general election—and that’s before we even get to the recent instance of the moderate losing a general election to a man who had and may still not have no idea who Frederick Douglass is and who would have his supporters believe wind turbines cause cancer.
Unmoved by their disappointment in 2016, establishment Democrats are content to go back to the well in 2020 with another centrist, getting behind a candidate without much in the way of a platform and playing not to lose rather than to win. The safe approach is often a poor strategy in sports when in the midst of a close match, and in anticipation of another hotly-contested election, coming with anything less than a full effort is ill-advised.
The postmortem pile-up on Jeremy Corbyn is an understandable one, particularly for those critics who reject various policy stances of his amid perceived character flaws. As bad as the results from the UK general election were, though, there are appreciable differences to be had in the trip across the pond. What’s more, as ordinary Americans continue to feel the pinch from laboring within a system rigged against their interests, a true embrace of progressive politics will be essential to creating a more just society, and with that, a Democratic Party that lives up to its name.
“Too far left?” As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would be keen to say, America’s progressives are bringing the party home. At the end of the day, embracing a leftist agenda might just be the country’s ticket to avoiding four more years of President Donald Trump.
Pete Buttigieg promises “a fresh start for America.” Joe Biden vows, in this new United States, there will be “no malarkey.” Evidently, the best remedy for this country is the equivalent of rebooting one’s computer, or in the case of the former vice president, to reset our abacuses. Or is that abaci? Are both acceptable? But I digress.
In supporting the centrist figures of Buttigieg and Biden, establishment Democrats and party supporters seek a return to how it was under President Barack Obama. In this respect, life under Donald Trump can be considered an aberration. When one of these men is in the White House, all the racists and xenophobes will go back into hiding and Republicans will magically come to their senses, ready to reach across the aisle and work together with their Democratic colleagues.
If this sounds absurd—which it should—we shouldn’t be surprised that these men’s platforms lack substance next to some of their primary competitors. Biden’s “vision for America” is little more than a love note to the Middle Class, the “backbone of the country.” (If you had the phrase “backbone of the country” in your presidential campaign drinking game, let this be a reminder to take a drink.) Buttigieg pledges to lead us to “real action,” someone who will “stand amid the rubble” and “pick up the pieces of our divided nation.” Presumably, he will also assemble all the king’s horses and all the king’s men to put Humpty Dumpty together again.
What is therefore evident is that these candidates are relying on something other than polished policy to elevate them to a potential showdown with Trump for the presidency. Mayor Pete admittedly talks a good game. He’s clearly intelligent and has charisma. Uncle Joe, well, really wants to remind you that he worked with Obama. Never mind the apparent decline of his mental acuity or his vague creepiness. He’s a good guy. Just ask Barack. Obama, Obama, Obama.
Speaking of Obama, it is in this context that we might consider who the closest logical successor to his political legacy is still left in the 2020 presidential race. After all, concerning candidates of color, Kamala Harris just bowed out of the race, Cory Booker may be next, and Julián Castro doesn’t seem to be tracking all that well in the polls. Also, Beto O’Rourke, who isn’t a person of color but is handsome, speaks Spanish, and rides a skateboard (so, um, cool?) has already dropped out. Is there no one young and articulate enough to pick up where his Barack-ness left off?
In his bid for unity, Buttigieg, who has enjoyed a recent surge in polling, most notably among prospective Iowa voters, seems ready to take on that mantle. Here’s the thing, though: America and its politics are a different bag than when Obama first got ushered into the White House. Freelance journalist Zeeshan Aleem, in a recent piece for VICE, asks the question, “Can someone tell Pete Buttigieg he isn’t Barack Obama?” To this effect, he avers that the mayor of South Bend, Indiana’s “quest for unity is about as naive as Obama’s.”
For Aleem, Buttigieg’s persuasiveness overshadows his blandness from a policy perspective. There’s also the matter of his seeming naivete, as outlined in a few examples. Buttigieg, for one, advocates for an impeachment process that goes beyond politics, evidently unaware that this matter is already and perhaps inextricably linked to partisanship. He also, in fighting the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on Medicare for all, appears to think Republicans are willing to compromise on health care. For that matter, Mayor Pete seeks to avoid any talk or policy directive that might be construed as “polarizing.”
Again, Buttigieg looks to be missing the mark. In this moment, congressional Republicans are as likely to compromise as President Trump is to voluntarily leave Twitter. Besides, despite his own charm and charisma, Obama wasn’t able to make much headway in working with the GOP—with Mitch McConnell among party leadership, it’s not hard to see why either.
As Aleem explains, moreover, when deals were struck, they weren’t necessarily a significant win for the average voter. The Affordable Care Act’s origins were steeped in conservative thinking, did not include a public option, and did nothing to challenge the power of the private health insurance industry. Obama’s economic stimulus package featured a concession to Republicans in the extension of the previous administration’s tax cuts and, as many economists and critics on the left argued, did not go far enough because it didn’t ask for enough.
So, here comes Mr. Buttigieg, ready to try a page from Mr. Obama’s playbook. If Obama couldn’t make his ideas work then, though, it begs wondering what chance Buttigieg has owing to a political environment that has only become more polarized. Aleem writes in closing:
Buttigieg’s talk about breaking the shackles of hyperpartisanship and coming together to save the republic is seductive, but nothing about the way politics has been evolving for decades suggests that it’s a sound strategy. Like Obama, he relies on charisma and optimism to make such a future seem possible. But the hard realities of polarization cannot be vanquished solely by good intentions.
In an age when widespread unity is a political impossibility, fear of being polarizing isn’t just out of touch—it could be an act of self-sabotage.
To say we are a divided United States is an understatement. Such a synopsis likewise ignores that it’s not just that we share different opinions depending on where we fall along the political spectrum or how much we engage with politics, but that depending on our immediate circumstances, we may as well be living in different countries. Add the magnifying effect residence in insular political “bubbles” has on polarization and the problem becomes that much worse, with discourse guided by mutual distrust and a failure to be able to agree on what is even factually accurate.
Mayor Pete wants a fresh start for America. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to grasp how fractured that America is, electorally speaking.
Looming over the ultimate decision Democratic Party primary voters will have to make is the concept of “electability,” a word underscored by red squiggles in my browser as if to showcase just how nebulous a concept it is. In the minds of voters and pundits alike, Joe Biden’s and Pete Buttigieg’s electability is key to understanding their prominence in the polls. By this token, “electability” is effective code for “ability not to alienate a wide enough portion of the constituency so as to defeat Donald Trump this coming November.” In other words, these men are the presumed safe bets.
If the last few election cycles in the United States have taught us anything, however, it’s that our ideas about electability may be built on faulty premises. How many people would’ve considered a relatively inexperienced legislator from Illinois—a man of color by the name of Barack Hussein Obama, no less—”electable” at the start of his campaign? Next to an unpolished outsider like Donald Trump, wouldn’t we have viewed Hillary Clinton a more “electable” candidate given her career in Washington, D.C. and her name recognition? That’s certainly not how the script played out.
Depending on how far we want to take our abstract notions of electability, we have the potential to talk ourselves out of plenty of good—if not great—candidates. Does it matter that Buttigieg is an openly gay man and, like, Obama, lacks the political tenure of other primary competitors? What about Bernie Sanders’s identity as a Jewish democratic socialist? Elizabeth Warren continues to be heckled for her claim of Native American heritage. Is she un-electable? Was Kamala Harris, a woman of color, too “tough” to be electable prior to dropping out of the race? Who decides these matters? And how do you reliably measure such a mythical quality?
As a progressive, I tend to feel I am more sensitive than most to ideas about who is “electable” and what is politically “feasible.” A majority of Democratic Party primary voters and delegates decided HRC was the best choice in 2016, a presumption of electability likely aided by major media outlets including superdelegate numbers alongside pledged delegate totals in delegate counts. As noted, the final outcome didn’t quite go to plan.
What if Bernie had won, though? Would we still have been hemming and hawing about his electability or would the Democratic National Committee have gotten behind him, exhorting prospective general election voters with full-throated cheers? With the role of superdelegates diminished and with Sanders in a real position to the capture the nomination this time around given his fundraising capabilities and his place in the polls, considerations of his viability are yet more relevant. Surely, in the name of beating Trump, establishment Democrats would be eager to support him as someone who consistently beats the orange-faced incumbent in head-to-head polls, right? Right?
Along these lines, policy positions continued to be argued about in terms of their pragmatism. Rather, time after time, what is apparent is that various progressive causes are not lacking the specifics or the public support to be “realistically” workable, but the political will. On the subject of climate change, facing a wealth of evidence that humans’ use of fossil fuels is helping accelerate a threat to the future of life on this planet, many Americans favor a Green New Deal or some comparable plan to address this catastrophe in a meaningful way. It makes political and economic sense. The biggest obstacle evidently is not our desire, but our fealty to the fossil fuel industry and other prime pollutors.
Therefore, when it comes to presidential candidates, we would do well to abandon thoughts of who “the best bet” is or which candidate preaches “political unity” the hardest. Both concepts are, at their core, illusory. A better tack is to identify the candidate who best elaborates our values and what is best for the country and the world—not just their careers.
Joe Biden wants a return to a fabled time when Democrats and Republicans worked arm in arm, pitching a vision in cringe-worthy fashion of an America that was problematic in his heyday and hasn’t aged well. Pete Buttigieg wants a fresh start to set America back on track, emphasizing a reboot (Reboot-Edge-Edge?) over substantive change, to a time when we weren’t embarrassed by our president, but when things weren’t as rosy as our retrospective glasses might reveal.
What America really needs, meanwhile, is more than either of those plans. We need a revolution inspired by someone like Bernie Sanders or at least someone with the reformist mindset of an Elizabeth Warren to level the playing field between everyday Americans and corporations/the wealthiest among us. Accordingly, and when we tell our children to dream big, we need to follow our own advice.
As a Bernie supporter dating back to 2016, many things stick in my proverbial craw, but one turn of phrase even today still grinds my likewise proverbial gears. When asked during a Democratic debate in October 2015 by Anderson Cooper whether she is a moderate or a progressive, Hillary Clinton remarked, “I’m a progressive, but I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.”
Ooh! Sen. Sanders, did you feel that sick burn?
Without wanting to delve into Clinton’s history and go tit for tat, pointing out all the things she may not have “gotten done”—like, for instance, actually winning the 2016 presidential election—the litmus test of getting things done remains problematic because of how unevenly and borderline disingenuously it gets applied, specifically as it concerns authentically progressive candidates.
For that matter, I’ve witnessed it being used by supporters of one progressive candidate against another. You probably have an idea about where I’m going with this. Anecdotally, I’ve seen some Elizabeth Warren fans take shots at Bernie, asking, for all his 28 years in the House of Representatives and the Senate, what has he, you know, done? Presumably, some of these Warren supporters were Hillary supporters from the last campaign cycle, so the same line of attack about what the senator from Vermont has accomplished may yet be fresh in their minds. For a select few, there may additionally be some misdirected resentment in accordance with the notion Bernie is not a “true Democrat” and was a chief reason why Donald Trump won. Poor Hillary. It’s never her fault.
Key to the do-nothing-Bernie argument is a glance at his legislative record, particularly the legislation for which he was primary sponsor actually getting enacted. His objectors will point out that, in over two decades in Congress, Sanders has only had seven of his resolutions/bills ratified: four from his time in the House, three in the Senate. Five of these motions enacted are germane mostly to his home state, including two pieces of legislation which served to designate post offices after someone specific. Not altogether scintillating stuff. The other two specifically addressed cost-of-living adjustments for veterans and updating the federal charter for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Again, you may find yourself uninspired unless you were specifically impacted by these changes.
What this line of thinking fails to account for is the context in which these bills were introduced. After all, this is Congress we’re talking about here, an institution not exactly known for its prolific productivity. The very GovTrack.us showcase of Sanders’s sponsored legislation linked to above helps explain this reality.
Does 7 not sound like a lot? Very few bills are ever enacted — most legislators sponsor only a handful that are signed into law. But there are other legislative activities that we don’t track that are also important, including offering amendments, committee work and oversight of the other branches, and constituent services.
Right. There’s a bigger picture to be appreciated. On the subject of committee work, Bernie is a ranking member of the Senate Committee on the Budget and a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; Energy and Natural Resources; Environment and Public Works; and Veterans’ Affairs committees. So there’s that.
Such analysis also doesn’t consider the over 200 bills/resolutions signed by the president to which Sanders added his name as a co-sponsor since being sworn in as a U.S. Representative in 1991. As it must be clarified, not all of these are watershed legislative achievements. I mean, from my count, nine of these co-sponsorships were related to commemorative coins. Still, to imply inaction on Bernie’s part is misleading.
Moreover, this ignores all the times Sen. Sanders has shown leadership on a bill that, through no fault of his own, hasn’t been passed. Look at his recent offerings. Recognizing the “climate emergency” for what it is. College for All. Medicare for All. Social Security expansion. Raising wages. Lowering drug prices. These were all proposed this year. Just because this legislation is dead on arrival in a GOP-controlled Senate with a Republican in the White House doesn’t confer meaninglessness. It signals the individual proposing it is willing to fight for things worth fighting for.
This is before we even get to the issue of when political expediency “gets things done” but not necessarily in a way that is productive for all Americans. Back in June, Joe Biden touted his ability to work with the likes of James Eastland and Herman Talmadge to pass legislation, waxing nostalgic on the “civility” that could be afforded to all parties.
Beyond the obvious problem that Biden is touting his ability to work with Southern segregationists in—let me highlight this in my notes—2019, that communal effort may not be what it’s cracked up to be. The former VP has received his due criticism from Kamala Harris and other Democratic rivals for allying with segregationists in opposition of busing to integrate schools. Next to his legacy as “an architect of mass incarceration,” as Cory Booker put it, Biden’s willingness to compromise paints him in a rather poor light. It certainly clouds his purported credentials of being a champion of civil rights.
It’s not just with Bernie either. Across the board for Democrats, it seems instructive to view legislative efforts through the lens of what party controls each house and who is potentially waiting to sign a passed bill in the Oval Office. Republicans, led by shameless obstructionist and judiciary stacker Mitch McConnell, control the Senate. Donald Trump, who appears to have a death grip on today’s iteration of the GOP, is president. Should we fault Sen. Warren for watching Trump and Co. dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before her eyes? Should we admonish Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other members of The Squad for voting their conscience only to see Senate Republicans or moderate Democrats in either house stand in their way?
Centrists like Nancy Pelosi may sneer at progressives who “have their following” only to see their votes outnumbered or their voices drowned out by appeals to civility and expediency. Absent the ability to lead, however, the progress they seek is all but nullified. There’s a reason why figures like Sanders and AOC are so popular when Congress as a whole is not. The policy positions they embrace are, by and large, supported by the American public. What’s not lacking is their commitment. It’s the political will to see their initiatives through.
Key to the Clintonian-Bidenesque “getting things done” mentality is a firm belief in the value of bipartisanship, of reaching across the aisle in the name of advancing legislation. Say the right things. Make the right amendments. Pull the right levers. Eventually, a workable bill will come out. That’s how things are supposed to work, in theory. Reasonable people making reasonable policies.
Amid the dysfunction of today’s Congress, this ideal still appears to hold water with the general public. How else to explain Joe Biden’s continued hold on the top of Democratic Party polls after two poor showings in the debates and despite a history of gaffes and poor decisions? Unless some voters are simply happy enough to have some semblance of Barack Obama’s presidency back. If we could just go back to the days before the era of President Donald Trump, everything would be back to normal, right?
Maybe, maybe not. Biden may reminisce fondly about the days when Democrats and Republicans could get along peaceably or believe that once “sensible” leadership is restored to Washington, the GOP will cut the malarkey and retake the mantle of responsible stewards of the country. He arguably both underestimates the polarization of the current political climate and overestimates his own deal-making ability in doing so, though.
Today’s Republican Party isn’t your granddaddy’s Republican Party, simply put. Not when the president is lashing out against his critics on Twitter daily, getting policy directives from FOX News, and putting the nation on the path to a dictatorship. Not when members of the party are actively denying the severity of our climate crisis or pretending that white nationalism doesn’t exist. Not when party leaders are defending the inhumane treatment of migrants at our border and are sharing derogatory memes about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her progressive colleagues with impunity.
For those of us who aren’t old enough to recall an environment like the one Biden envisions, this is all we know of the GOP, and based on how low it has sunk and continues to sink, there’s every reason to believe it has reached the point of no return—if things were even that good to begin with. Once we take off our rose-colored glasses and re-appraise past decisions from intersectional perspectives, we may come to realize just how devastating certain policies spearheaded by both parties have been for Americans outside the so-called ruling class.
In addition to his checkered civil rights record, Biden’s cozy relationship with the banking, financial services, and insurance industries contrasts starkly with his image as a blue-collar champion. Given a crowded Democratic primary field and ample resources with which to evaluate his overall record, this may turn out to be a liability. That is, even if he earns the party nomination, there’s still the matter of the general election. Trump seemingly defied the odds against Hillary Clinton, in many respects a superior candidate. Who’s to say doubling down on someone like Biden won’t backfire, leaving us with a second term of President Trump? If he’s doing and saying all these reprehensible things now, what will this mean when he gets re-elected and has nothing to lose?
Going back to the days of bipartisan cooperation under past administrations may have its superficial appeal to voters, especially moderate whites who can better afford to be casual political participants. Even that relative comfort may be illusory, however. The climate emergency is not going to fix itself. Nor is the student debt crisis or the health care affordability crisis or our crumbling infrastructure or any other serious dilemma facing our world. Simply put, the stakes are higher now and Obama-era notions of hope and change dissolving into incrementalism aren’t sufficient. It’s going to take more than that. It’s going to take real people power.
Let’s therefore put aside vague, top-down conceptualizations of “getting things done” in favor of mobilizing voters and encouraging citizens to get involved at various levels of government. We’ve got the people. We only need the conviction to see it through. If you’re not on board with a progressive vision for our future, don’t worry about what is politically “feasible” or what can get done. Worry about getting out of the way of those determined to lead.
Donald Trump won the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Sure, he may have had a lot of help in doing so. After all, it was, ahem, awfully fortunate to have Russia meddle on his behalf. Also, there was that whole suspiciously-timed letter by James Comey to Congress about reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private E-mail server.
And WikiLeaks had that whole DNC E-mail dump. Oh, and Trump lost the popular vote, but because of our crazy, mixed-up Electoral College, he still won (and subsequently gets to promote conspiracy theories about electoral fraud on the part of Democrats from his bully pulpit). Plus, income and wealth inequality, low turnout, racism, sexism, strategic mismanagement from the Clinton campaign and the Democrats in general, and other factors played a probable role in the final outcome.
But yes, strictly speaking, Trump won in 2016. Do I think he deserves some great degree of credit for this, however? No, I don’t, and my question to you is this: for what do you think he merits praise exactly?
From the very beginning of his campaign, Donald Trump ran on a platform of divisiveness that would be laughable today if A) it weren’t so reprehensible and B) he didn’t actually win. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. By now, this is one set of remarks in a long line of boorish, ignorant rhetoric on Trump’s part. At the time, though, it was stunning to have someone with presidential aspirations utter these words with a straight face. This didn’t come from some character on HBO’s Veep. This was a real person really saying these things. But give the Devil his due, right?
In spite of the expert predictions, Trump didn’t sink his chances right then and there. Instead, he flourished, all the while going after his political rivals on both the left and the right, going out of his way to criticize those who dared to challenge him. Megyn Kelly was only asking him tough questions because she was on her period. John McCain was less of a man because he got captured while serving in the Vietnam War (never mind that Trump himself never served because his father used an allegedly fabricated diagnosis of bone spurs to get him off the hook). Carly Fiorina was ugly. Marco Rubio became “Little Marco.” And was “Lyin'” Ted Cruz even eligible to run for president because of the whole being-born-in-Canada thing? With every jab at a fellow Republican, Trump revealed a new ugly dimension to his character. And his supporters reveled in it.
Truth be told, they still are. Long before potential Democratic challengers were lining up to be the one to take a shot at making him a one-and-done president in 2020, the man was holding the same type of rallies he held in advance of 2016. Eschewing teleprompters, he continued to rage against the changing face of America and to harp on Hillary’s conduct despite having won, all the while taking potshots at the likes of Maxine Waters and suggesting that, as a black woman, she was fundamentally less intelligent than him. LOCK HER UP! IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, GET THE F**K OUT! To you or I, this might feel like Hell on Earth. But to these attendees, it was a party. And for once, they felt like they were winning. Whoever they were anyway.
In Trump, they saw a figure who made them proud to be Americans, who they felt understood how they were being ignored, replaced, talked down to. He tells it like it is. He’s not a politician. He’s the epitome of success. Hey, at least with him it won’t be boring. For whatever reason or mix of reasons, they celebrated his political ascendancy. So what if he allegedly cheated on his wife with an adult entertainer and paid her not to talk about it? So what if he claims to be a religious man but won’t (or can’t) name a particular chapter or verse of the Holy Bible he finds illuminating? So what if he said he would be too busy during his tenure to play golf but has already outpaced Barack Obama in time spent away from the White House with clubs in hand? We’re making America great again. Even if we have to drag you kicking and screaming into that new America which looks a lot like the old America.
Regarding the voters who opted for Trump, then, while we might not absolve them completely for their questionable decision-making and should press them on why they continue to support the president if they still do, we can keep in mind that they are not political experts. They are flesh and blood, not necessarily guided by reason, prone to failings as we all are. It is Trump, meanwhile, who primarily deserves admonishment herein. Purporting himself to be a man with all the answers who alone can fix America’s ills. A man of the people, one lacking polish but one who connects with everyday voters. He’s not politically correct. He’s not a Washington, D.C. insider. He gets it. TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP! Promises made, promises kept.
Except he hasn’t. Where is the wall that Mexico is going to pay for? Where is that big replacement for the Affordable Care Act that is supposed to be loads better than Obama’s signature achievement? Where is the infrastructure investment he promised? What about his vow that we’d make no cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security? Or the improved Iran deal we’d be negotiating? Or the notion we’d eliminate the federal debt in eight years? Or that he’d willingly release his tax returns? I’m not saying Pres. Trump has broken all of his campaign promises, mind you. Disappointing as actions like taking America out of the Paris climate agreement and keeping the prison at Guantanamo Bay open are, Trump said he’d do them and he did.
Given how much he boasted he would do, however, to brag now about “promises made, promises kept” is to engage in disingenuousness. Judging by PolitiFact’s scorecard, more than half of Trump’s promises have either been broken, have stalled, or have been subject to some sort of compromise. If you include initiatives in the works which have yet to come to fruition, the percentage of promises kept grows yet smaller. This is especially notable for Trump’s most chant-worthy agenda items. BUILD THE WALL? We’re not even close on the steel slat barrier Trump and Co. have envisioned. LOCK HER UP? Last time I checked, Hillary Clinton isn’t behind bars. DRAIN THE SWAMP? Lo, but the president has done nothing but feed its alligators, populating his administration with appointees with ties to Goldman Sachs.
To put it another way, for all Trump has pledged to do, how often has he followed through, and along these lines, how beneficial have these policies actually been for the average American? Probably the biggest “achievement” Trump and his party can claim during his presidency is passing tax legislation that primarily benefits corporations and the wealthiest among us. There’s also Trump’s liability for getting involved in trade wars that see the cost of goods and materials passed on to consumers and put American jobs in danger. Even the relatively strong economy Trump has enjoyed as POTUS was inherited from his predecessor. Though come to think of it, it is rather on-brand for Trump to get a favorable situation handed to him and try to take credit for it afterwards.
When it boils down to it, the only thing for which we possibly could be giving credit to Donald Trump is being a fraud—and that’s not something most of us would agree deserves applause. He connived his way to the White House like his father connived his way out of the draft on his behalf, and later in life, he sold Americans a bill of goods they were only too willing to pay for. As president, he has continued his faux populist charade, all the while making everyone not like him—a rich white Christian male who shares his worldview—either a mark for the con or a target for abuse.
Adam Serwer, staff writer at The Atlantic, wrote about this “skill” of Trump’s amid his penchant for cruelty back in October 2018:
Trump’s only true skill is the con; his only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright. The president’s ability to execute that cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united. And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get away with anything, no matter what it costs them.
This is the United States in the age of Trump, and that he seems to have taken so much of the Republican Party with him is startling. The GOP as a whole merits scorn for their wholesale failure to adequately condemn him and/or their utter abandonment of their stated conservative principles, as well as their identities as ostensibly decent human beings.
Lindsey Graham? He has turned from a sometimes-critic of Trump to his sycophantic defender. Mitt Romney and Susan Collins? They’re “troubled” by Trump’s actions to the point when they actually have to stand for something—and then they end up toeing the party line when it comes time to vote. Mitch McConnell? He got Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court by refusing to do his job, has obliged the president on the use of the “nuclear option” to confirm his awful nominations for key government posts, and has reflexively stonewalled legislation advanced by a Democrat-controlled House as a matter of partisan gamesmanship. And this is what deserves applause?
I’ve heard it said that whereas Democratic supporters feel they need to fall in love with candidates, Republican supporters fall in line and that’s why they keep winning. Based on their control of the White House, the Senate, and numerous state houses and governorships, this may be true in part. Again, though, do I hold this “strategic” approach in any high esteem? No, I don’t. Not when Trump and the rest of his party are pandering to the lowest common denominator, lying, cheating, and stealing their way to victory.
Do the rest of us bear at least some responsibility for allowing ourselves to be manipulated in this way? Hell yes. Our disorganization, shortsightedness, and silence help fuel their misdeeds. But do I propose that the GOP get credit for playing one big shell game and reaping the benefits? Hell no.
It is in the context of us-versus-them, Democrat-versus-Republican, winning-versus-losing binary paradigms that Rep. Justin Amash’s breaking of ranks with his GOP brethren to indicate Pres. Trump has “engaged in impeachable conduct” after reading the unredacted Mueller report is so intriguing. That he would make his conclusions known publicly, jeopardizing his standing within the party and, perhaps more significantly, his financial backing suggests some level of courage more tepid challengers such as Jeff Flake and Mitt Romney lack.
Of course, we the American public may cheer Amash’s going out on a proverbial limb without necessarily subscribing to all his political views. Awash in a cultural tide of black-and-white depictions of public figures and “canceling” anyone who utters something out of turn, we can appreciate Amash’s candor on this issue while still acknowledging the need to hold him accountable on less agreeable positions. This is a conversation about impeachment, not an ideological purity test.
Amash’s defection, if you will, is made doubly noteworthy by House Democrats’ reluctance to push for impeachment as steered by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It certainly eats away at the narrative put forth heretofore that Trump “isn’t worth impeachment.” Here’s a Republican—a Republican!—saying that the contents of the Mueller report are grounds for impeachment.
Elie Mystal, contributor to The Nation, takes it one step further by declaring that Amash “is putting the Democrats to shame.” As Mystal sees it, the Dems should’ve been making the case for impeachment since taking back the House in November but they’re too scared, “as if merely uttering ‘the I word’ will bring a curse upon their house.” He writes:
The Democratic Party strategy has been to wait for somebody else to make the argument that Trump should be impeached, then glom onto it. They’ve been waiting for somebody else to do the hard work of convincing people for them. The New York Times reports that some Democratic leaders are now privately more insistent on starting impeachment proceedings, if only to counter the hardball tactics being employed by the White House. It would seem sheer embarrassment is pushing the House towards the option they should have been advocating for all along.
The Democrats were hoping for Robert Mueller to take care of things on his own, but that didn’t pan out. Or maybe a different Republican “with honor and decency” might have come forward, the expectation of which Mystal characterizes as a “disease” Democrats like Barack Obama and Joe Biden appear to get when winning an election. Former White House Counsel Don McGahn has reportedly defied a congressional subpoena, so he’s out too. Now, against the odds, a “Tea Party joker” who “has positions [Mystal] could easily spend the rest of [his] life opposing” has taken the initiative to assent to impeachment. The Democrats’ cover has effectively been blown.
Mystal ends his piece with this stinging criticism of the Democratic Party:
[Amash] is out there looking like he’s got actual convictions, even as Republicans gear up to primary the hell out of him. He’s not waiting for Democrats or Republicans to make the argument that Trump should be impeached. He’s making it himself. He’s taking it directly to his voters. He’s trying to convince them that he is right. It’s dangerous. He might lose his seat. But as they’d say in the neighborhood: he ain’t no punk.
The Democrats look like the punks. They’re standing on top of a diving board, scared and shivering, hoping somebody would just push them in already and save them from their embarrassment.
Bringing the conversation back to the central issue of who deserves credit, Justin Amash earns some on the subject of impeachment, putting his views above the public stance of party leadership and risking a backlash from party organizers and voters alike. But that’s as far as it goes.
Along these lines, the Democrats get some credit for generally adopting more progressive policy positions than the Republicans. That, however, isn’t that onerous a task given how far off the deep end the Republican Party has apparently gone, and what’s more, the Dems (with a few exceptions) have blown a good chunk of that goodwill in not pushing for impeachment and therefore not communicating they care to hold President Trump accountable. Forget what the Senate will (or won’t) do. Forget how Trump will take it (um, guessing he won’t like it). At a point, you have to stand for something.
As the saying goes, give credit where it is due. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of reason to give credit in Washington these days, least of all not to Donald Trump and his Republican enablers.
Since Bernie Sanders made official what has long been suspected in that he would run again for president in the 2020 election, for his detractors, the reasons abound why they don’t “feel the Bern.” He’s too old. He’s too socialist. He’s another white male. His policy goals are untenable. He’s too full of himself. He cost Hillary Clinton the last election. He has done irreparable harm to the Democratic Party. He hasn’t done enough to rein in the sexism of his campaign or his supporters. He’s out of touch. His time has passed. He needs to step aside.
As a confessed Sanders supporter from 2016—and thus someone making no claims to objectivity—I bristle at a number of these concerns. Especially the ones about Bernie costing Hillary the election or doing major damage to the Democrats. Some people seem conveniently to forget that Bernie campaigned for “Hill-dawg” after ending his own bid. As for the party’s integrity, if one person is capable of causing such profound destruction to the Dems’ infrastructure, to me, that says worse about the party itself than the one supposedly wreaking havoc. Just saying.
The objection heretofore unnamed which particularly galls me, however, is the notion Sanders isn’t a “true Democrat.” True, Bernie isn’t a Democrat; he’s an independent. He caucuses with the Democrats, but he identifies primarily as an independent.
Admittedly, as fact-checker Linda Qiu, working then for PolitiFact and now for the New York Times, explored back in 2016, Bernie has had a problematic association with calling himself an independent vs. identifying as a Democrat, particularly as it pertains to his candidacy for president. On his Senate website, he listed himself as an independent. On his campaign website, he identified as a “Democratic candidate.” He has frequently criticized the Democratic Party and has rejected the label of Democrat in the past, but he has campaigned for Democrats.
As I saw one Internet commentator put it, Bernie’s like the guy who goes to bed with you and doesn’t call you back the day after. As he caucuses with the Democrats, serves on Senate committees with them, and frequently co-sponsors bills with them, I think this criticism is a bit overblown. At the very least, Sanders’s ambiguity is confusing to the prospective voter. From the party’s perspective, too, they might not feel too jazzed up about a candidate receiving the apparent benefits of associating herself or himself with the Democrats without willing to link herself or himself definitively with the party. Fix your heart or die! Wave that blue banner! What’s so bad about the Democratic Party that you don’t want to join?! (Wait, that was rhetorical—don’t actually tell us!)
For the individual voter, however, despite the confusion and whatever self-serving advantages an uneasy alliance with one of the two major parties might hold, the litmus test of whether someone is a “true Democrat” makes less sense to me. Of course, if you’re a diehard Democratic Party supporter, I get it: you probably feel a sense of umbrage about Sanders’s awkward dance with the Dems. What, Bernie, you’re good to be a member? If you don’t want to call yourself a Democrat, we don’t want you! And take your “Bernie Bros” with you!
Such a response to Sanders’s candidacy is understandable, if impractical. Much in the way we might insist on ideological purity tests for political candidates or even people/organizations that we admire and materially support, some of us who have long backed the Democratic Party regard upholding the party’s ideals as important. It’s not just a matter of intellectual attachment. It’s a matter of the heart or even the soul. As imperfect as her actions have been and her reasoning may yet be, Donna Brazile’s complaint about reducing the influence of superdelegates because of the blood, sweat, and tears she shed for the Democrats speaks to the seriousness with which she treats these affairs. Simply put, it’s personal.
With all this acknowledged, there are two big reasons why Bernie running as a Democrat in 2020 seems desirable: one more general in relation to our political system, the other specific to present circumstances. The first reason is that independent candidates face an uphill electoral battle and their very candidacy risks swaying the election. At heart, I tend to dismiss the third-party/independent-candidate-as-spoiler diatribes that periodically manifest after close races. Given the current dominance of the two major parties, a Democrat’s or Republican’s loss in a contested race should be seen mainly through the lens of that candidate’s and that party’s failure to seal the deal. Besides, it’s your right to vote however you want.
Independent as he may be, though, and as disagreeable as you may find some of his positions on issues, Bernie’s no dope. He doesn’t want to split the electorate any more than you would plead with him not to. Along the same lines, he has rejected overtures from third parties—both existing and theoretical—because of the time, effort, and organization it would take to bolster and sustain the ranks of such a progressive faction.
Then again, he could always not run. In fact, some of his 2016 supporters might share these sentiments. For all the criticism and mudslinging a presidential campaign brings with it, not to mention the strain of going from city to city doing debates, interviews, speeches, and the like, there’s a lot for one person to endure and the risk of damage to one’s political career for all the scrutiny. See also “Howard Dean Scream.”
The other major reason why Democratic Party supporters should encourage the strongest possible pool of candidates is the man who currently resides in the White House—you know, when he’s not at one of his resorts. The Dems and their supporters are deservedly riding high after their party took back control of the House subsequent to the midterms. Still, nothing is guaranteed for 2020, and especially after Donald Trump’s upset win in 2016, the Democrats would be loath to take anything for granted. Trump, for all his malapropisms and missteps, maintains a base of fanatical backers. And this is before we even get to disinformation campaigns about individual candidates that surely are underway—foreign or domestic.
To reiterate, I voted for Bernie in the Democratic primaries in 2016 and still admire him, so I’m not unbiased in expressing my opinions. Just the same, I’d like to think that if he were 100 and purple, I’d support him nonetheless. For me, it’s a matter of his stated ideals. This is not to say that other candidates don’t share similar views or possess their own strengths. It’s a crowded field and a deeper one this time around, at that. For the pragmatists among us, however, his bid for the presidency as a Democrat shouldn’t be an issue, assuming the proverbial cream will rise to the top and that the primary process is a fair one. Bernie diehards, you don’t have to say it; I can already see you wagging your finger at the DNC.
What is truly problematic about the argument Bernie Sanders isn’t a “true Democrat” is that this distinction, much like Sanders’s identification with the Democratic Party, appears to be nebulous. How does someone get classified as a true Democrat? Is it based on time served in office under the party banner? Dues paid or donations raised? Commitment to the party ideals? Some combination of the above? Does the definition change over time? And who decides such things?
Briahna Joy Gray, senior politics editor for The Intercept, for one, celebrated in 2017 that Bernie is not a Democrat because that apparently leaves him free to advance the party’s ideals while the actual Democrats lament political “realities” and revert to the same faulty electoral strategies. Gray closes her piece with these thoughts about the charge levied by Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, and their establishment ilk that Sanders is “not even a Democrat”:
The implication that non-Democrats would fail to live up to Democratic values, when those values are precisely the ones the Sanders movement aims to push forward, is partially why the “not even a Democrat” smear is so grating to progressives. That the party is moving leftward should provoke warm-hearted optimism and encouragement from Democrats; after all, those are ostensibly their values, too. Instead, the petty and territorial response from some Democrats reminds one of the line from Mean Girls: Bernie Sanders “doesn’t even go here!”
Political parties aren’t sports teams. Politics are about principles and results, not tribalism. As Marc Munroe Dion, quoted in Thomas Frank’s Listen Liberal, put it when describing the despair that had settled on a dying manufacturing town, those still invested in party affiliation itself are performing “political rituals that haven’t made sense since the 1980s, feathered tribesmen dancing around a god carved out of a tree trunk.” Affiliation is not a birthright or an immutable characteristic, but an expression of personal ideals. If Bernie Sanders, the most popular politician in America, is not a Democrat, it is the Democrats, not Bernie, who need to consider redefining themselves.
From where Gray is standing, Sanders’s candidacy and lingering popularity should only be threatening for Democrats if his core values and theirs fail to align. That their ideals aren’t that dissimilar and yet a tension between the two sides exists suggests it’s the Democrats who have trouble articulating or defining their ideals, notably because they’re, in part, compromised by their fidelity to “banking interests and the technocracy” as opposed to the interests of labor that at least once formed the backbone of the party’s support. It’s hard for us to be “with her” or “stronger together” when it’s difficult to know whose designs are being considered alongside our own expressions of what we need.
As of February 23 and as calculated by FiveThirtyEight, in the U.S. Senate during the era of President Donald Trump, only Kirsten Gillibrand (12.2%), Jeff Merkley (13.3%), and Elizabeth Warren (13.3%) have voted in line with Trump less often than Bernie Sanders (14.6%). That puts Sanders in line with other contenders like Cory Booker (15.6%) and Kamala Harris (17.8%), significantly better than declared or rumored candidates like Sherrod Brown (29.2%) or Amy Klobuchar (31.3%), and miles ahead of someone like Joe Manchin, who has voted in line with Trump’s position 60% of the time. West Virginia’s identity as a “red” state notwithstanding, and noting that a party is only as good as its weakest link, how silly does it look to cast aspersions on Bernie when he fares better on the ideological purity test than the majority of his Democratic colleagues and when someone like Manchin seems like the living embodiment of a DINO (Democrat in Name Only)? This is not a good look for the Dems.
True, Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat. But so what? He’s done as much as anyone in recent memory to help save the Democratic Party from itself, and while it can’t be assumed that he would’ve won the 2016 election had he won the nomination, he may just be the Democrats’ best option in 2020.