Monday, October 24, 2016

Growing the Warren Wing

I have no illusions about my political influence and the issue is probably moot. But I would like to appeal to the small number(1) of Bernie Sanders supporters who are considering abandoning the Democrats.

Don't worry, this is not a guilt trip. It's a strategic argument for progressives working toward a Democratic landslide in this year's election and sticking with the Democrats over the long haul. Bear with me.

Let's first allay a legitimate concern. You are probably wary that electing Hillary Clinton will validate every betrayal made by the Republican wing of the Democratic Party. Between NAFTA, DADT, DOMA, WTO, Welfare Reform, the Crime Bill, and wholesale deregulation and privatization, it is hard to find a Democratic Party constituency, policy, or principle they have not callously and conspicuously sold out. Rewarding bad behavior sticks in your craw, I know. And even if you cannot stop it, you do not want to be a party to it. That is entirely understandable.

But there is absolutely zero danger of a Democratic landslide legitimizing the Clinton brand. Everyone will remember that Hillary Clinton ran against Donald Trump and only won because it was universally understood that we had to stop fascism.(2) The orgy of misogyny, racism, and general bigotry that is the Trump campaign cannot possibly be forgotten. How could anyone forget the circus of absurdity that is this election? Future political scientists will envy us for living this experience. Oral historians will pester us in our hip Swedish-style nursing homes asking us, "What did you do in the shit-blizzard of 2016, na-na?"

Okay, some of the specifics of my predictions are uncertain. However, this will no doubt be a memorable election and nobody will forget that both candidates had abysmal approval ratings. As "Daily Show" host Trevor Noah explained, that makes them lucky because, "[B]oth Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are running against the only person they could possibly beat." And the only thing that could possibly alter that narrative is if Hillary Clinton actually turns out to be the progressive president her apologists insist she will be. If you think that is unlikely, then you have nothing to worry about. You need not fret that Clinton's magnetic personality will popularize Third Way politics. Not even Obama's gifts could accomplish that.

I am not going to enumerate the reasons it is important to stop Trump. They have already been made by countless other people and you have heard them all before. Instead, I am here to argue that stopping Trump is not enough and that we should go for a Democratic blowout.

If you are skeptical of Hillary Clinton's progressive credentials, there are two arguments for a Democratic Congress. First, it will deny her the pretty predictable excuse that Republicans prevented her from doing anything progressive or that they forced her to do more bad things like Bill did. Second, on a related note, they could prevent, or at least hamstring any Faustian collaborations with Republicans. In short, Congress is important. Indeed, as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) recently warned his fellow Republicans, "If we lose the Senate, do you know who becomes chair of the Senate Budget Committee? A guy named Bernie Sanders. You ever heard of him?" Sounds familiar: Refresh my memory.

This may explain why Bernie Sanders is campaigning so hard for Hillary Clinton. Yes, he wants to stop Trump. Sanders has always said that Clinton "on her worst day" was "infinitely" better than Trump on his best. But it is clear that he is also trying to transform Congress and sees a possible Democratic landslide as instrumental to that. Taking back the Senate would be a start. Indeed, he has been tirelessly fundraising toward this outcome. Of course, Elizabeth Warren has been campaigning hard as well.

And the possibility of a landslide is not necessarily out of the question at this point. About an hour or so after I first published this post, and ABC poll showed a sharp drop in the percentage of Republicans who say they will likely vote. This will impact down-ticket races.

The strategy is to elect Hillary Clinton with a Democratic Congress and then hold her accountable. Sanders has repeatedly vowed to do exactly that. Likewise, Warren has vowed to oppose any appointment that is too cozy with Wall Street: Indeed, she already has composed a list of "hell no" appointments. We need to join that fight now. But part and parcel of that strategy is strengthening their hand.

I do not mean to give all the credit to Bernie Sanders' campaign. I also have to credit pre-existing forces that helped him: Not just those Millennial voters who are so famously comfortable with socialism, but the increasing political polarization that is driving centrist quislings to extinction and growing the Progressive Caucus - which is already the largest Democratic caucus in Congress. And this has been going on since before Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy. The Blue Dog Democrats are dying off: We saw this in 2012 and again in 2014. We have more than just age and race demographics as the wind at our backs.

Four years down the road, the electorate will be even more progressive than it is now. Hillary Clinton, is sympathetic to the rich, but I think she is ambitious enough to prioritize her own political career and we're where the votes are. Plus, she probably won't have Trump to run against in 2020, so there goes that advantage. Hillary Clinton squeaked a win in the primary thanks in large part to the press studiously ignoring Sanders' campaign as long as possible. It will be much tougher for her later on. Self-interest says court the left by proving your progressive skeptics wrong. That's the long game. She does not seem to have figured that out yet - hence her VP appointment. The sooner she does, the better for everyone.

Some say it is privileged to vote third party.  I actually think there is some validity to that argument - IF you live in a swing state, which most don't, so shaming you only serves the political scold's ego. Moreover, I would also point out that if the scolds think Bill Clinton's administration was Camelot, they either live in an opaque, hermetically-sealed sphere of privilege or are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

I say go ahead and vote third party for president if you live in a safe state, but don't forget the down-ticket races. Those "Berniecrats" that Sanders had endorsed need your votes. And toward that end, I'd rather you vote third party than stay home. Get into the voting booth and stay engaged after election day. Write-in Eugene V. Debs, Vermin Supreme, Joe Exotic, or the Icelandic Pirate Party for president, but don't forget to support good Democrats in congressional races.

But if you live in a swing state, I would urge you to hold your nose for Hillary. Vote straight party Democrat if the Clinton name is viscerally prohibitive for you. You can truthfully say you were voting for the progressive party platform that Sanders had won. But, in any case, back the strategy of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. I trust their judgement. Ditto the opinions of Robert Reich and Noam Chomsky. This is good company. They have not sold out.

With the Sanders campaign, we progressives discovered our collective strength and it is impossible to ignore. Centrists are certain to call that moment a fluke - both in order to comfort themselves and sow discouragement. (Demoralizing the party base is a penchant of theirs, in case you haven't noticed.) They will call it an irrational eruption of naïve passion that Millennials will age out of as they "mature." Don't buy it. Don't abandon the Warren Wing of the Democratic Party - what the late Senator Paul Wellstone so often called "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." We need to take the long view too. Bernie Sanders built a movement and movements should last longer than one electoral cycle.

Stay and finish taking back the party. We nearly did it on our first try.


(1) I say "small" because, contrary to certain self-appointed Clinton surrogates who remain in primary mode, Sanders fans support Clinton more strongly this year than Clinton fans supported Obama in 2008. As I wrote before back in early August, just after the Democratic Convention:
Hand-wringing aside, 90% of Sanders supporters already say they intend to vote for Clinton. That's pretty stunning considering that these numbers typically climb. Shortly after the 2008 Democratic Convention, only 47% of Clinton supporters were decided on voting for Obama. Her PUMA supporters were pretty vocal about voting for McCain. And voting for the opposition is twice as bad as voting for a third party candidate because you are not just denying your vote to the Democrats, but giving it to the Republicans thus doubling the effect. Had McCain won, we would likely be in four wars in the Middle East, plus another in North Korea. And if some magnifying calamity had made Sarah Palin president ... well, Palin is basically Trump with a side of word salad. Eventually, 83% of former Clinton supporters voted for Obama, but before there was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. 
(2) This is not hyperbole. The mainstream media is routinely refuses to call-out fascism unless it parades swastikas. When fascist antisemitic parties sprang up in Eastern Europe shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the press cautiously spun them as "anti-communist" and "pro-Christian" - which, incidentally, is precisely how legitimacy-seeking fascists describe themselves here. Until he broke with the GOP establishment over free trade, Pat Buchanan's galloping fascism was politely ignored for decades. The media's spectrum of acceptable opinion runs "from centrism to antisemitism" - so long as the later practices a token amount of genteel plausible deniability. Growing up, I routinely saw Pat Buchanan on television. By contrast, the same could not be said for leftists like Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn. They were considered beyond the pale. Erring on the side of caution is certainly a laudable default. It is a crucial institutional habit for the Fourth Estate to have. But the verdict was in on the hard right ages ago. 

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