Like A Rolling Stone?

My days of reading Rolling Stone magazine go back to the early 1970s, when the undergroundish magazine was using newsprint and was full of strange and stimulating stuff about music and politics that a boy from southeast Kansas couldn’t easily find anywhere else.

Today, the now slicked-up version, still published by its co-founder Jann Wenner, endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. The editorial endorsing her was authored by Wenner, and I found it not only well-written, but well-reasoned.

Wenner compliments Bernie Sanders for proving “to be a gifted and eloquent politician,” who “has articulated the raw and deep anger about the damage the big banks did to the economy and to so many people’s lives.” He praised him for making it clear “how punishing and egregious income inequality has become in this country.” Wenner says his “heart is with him.”

But:

it is not enough to be a candidate of anger. Anger is not a plan; it is not a reason to wield power; it is not a reason for hope. Anger is too narrow to motivate a majority of voters, and it does not make a case for the ability and experience to govern. I believe that extreme economic inequality, the vast redistribution of wealth to the top one percent — indeed, to the top one percent of the one percent — is the defining issue of our times. Within that issue, almost all issues of social injustice can be seen, none more so than climate change, which can be boiled down to the rights of mankind against the oligarchy that owns oil, coal and vast holdings of dirty energy, and those who profit rolling stone header.jpgfrom their use.

Hillary Clinton has an impressive command of policy, the details, trade-offs and how it gets done. It’s easy to blame billionaires for everything, but quite another to know what to do about it. During his 25 years in Congress, Sanders has stuck to uncompromising ideals, but his outsider stance has not attracted supporters among the Democrats. Paul Krugman writes that the Sanders movement has a “contempt for compromise.”

Every time Sanders is challenged on how he plans to get his agenda through Congress and past the special interests, he responds that the “political revolution” that sweeps him into office will somehow be the magical instrument of the monumental changes he describes. This is a vague, deeply disingenuous idea that ignores the reality of modern America. With the narrow power base and limited political alliances that Sanders had built in his years as the democratic socialist senator from Vermont, how does he possibly have a chance of fighting such entrenched power?

I have been to the revolution before. It ain’t happening.

Noting that Clinton “is one of the most qualified candidates for the presidency in modern times,” Wenner reminds us about that infamous 2000 Bush v. Gore election and how, “The votes cast for the fantasy of Ralph Nader were enough to cost Gore the presidency,” a sin of the left for which we are all still paying. And as I have tried to do, Wenner compared this moment to a similar one and came to the same conclusion I have:

Rolling Stone has championed the “youth vote” since 1972, when 18-year-olds were first given the right to vote. The Vietnam War was a fact of daily life then, and Sen. George McGovern, the liberal anti-war activist from South Dakota, became the first vessel of young Americans, and Hunter S. Thompson wrote our first presidential-campaign coverage. We worked furiously for McGovern. We failed; Nixon was re-elected in a landslide. But those of us there learned a very clear lesson: America chooses its presidents from the middle, not from the ideological wings. We are faced with that decision again.

After pointing out that this election is “a tipping point like none since before the Civil War”—because “We are at the culmination of a decades-long effort by the right wing to take over the government”—Wenner writes:

When I consider what’s in their hearts, I think both Clinton and Sanders come out on the side of the angels; but when I compare their achievements in the past decades, the choice is clear. This is not the time in history for a “protest vote.”

No. It’s not the time merely to register one’s anger. As I have said and will keep saying, there is too much to lose. Look around you. Out there in the darkness of an easily-frightened, overly-anxious,  often ill-informed electorate, there lurks a Drumpf. Or possibly an even more dangerous beast: Cruz, The Christian Crusader.

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8 Comments

  1. Anonymous

     /  March 23, 2016

    Bernie still standing in the way! Go back to the Senate Bernie! Thanks for trying out. You can’t win!

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  2. Bernie has done one thing I think is important, he has pulled Hilary a little further to the left.

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    • Robert,

      Maybe a little. But as Paul Krugman has tried to argue, she started out to the left of Bernie on Wall Street reform, since she has a plan to deal with shadow banking. And she started out to the left of Bernie on gun manufacturing liability and related issues. Mostly I think Bernie has properly highlighted economic issues that might not have been given as much attention without a race on the Democratic side. Republicans haven’t had time to bring up many substantive issues because they are measuring each other’s manhoods and insulting each other’s wives.

      But if you watched Hillary’s remarkable speech on counter-terrorism the other day, one of others she has given, you would see that she has not moved much, if at all, on national security issues. In fact, some would argue that, in terms of how to fight the terrorist bastards and just what the size of our footprint on the world at large should be, she is to the right of Obama! But no matter how you interpret her foreign policy stance, I don’t think one can fairly say that Hillary has moved to left on those issues. And, as for me, I’m glad she hasn’t. National security and foreign policy positions advocated by many on the left are rarely the left’s finest moments.

      Duane

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  3. King Beauregard

     /  March 23, 2016

    Nice! Really the problem is that Bernie wants it both ways, and we see it in the term “political revolution”, which means nothing. It’s an oxymoron.

    I saw this the other day and thought of you:

    http://thebaffler.com/salvos/against-activism

    Super-briefly: activism has its place, but if it doesn’t lead to organizing, it will accomplish nothing.

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    • Thanks for that great article. I just now had time to read it.

      I like the term “easy romanticism.” It says so much about the Sanders phenomenon. And the distinction between “self-expression and movement building” perfectly describes what is wrong with Sanders’ campaign. Young folks want to make themselves heard. I get that. But Bernie, the adult, is in the position to use their activist instincts to build a real movement, something that could actually achieve something concrete. It appears to me, though, that Bernie is himself in self-expression mode.

      I don’t know why, other than ego, Sanders can’t see that he has the power this cycle to actually do something really radical. He has the money, the following, and the energy to actually do what I have been arguing he should do: take a stab at changing the Congress. I am increasingly worried that the opportunity to do that is quickly fading, and it will all but disappear if Bernie fights this thing all the way to the end.

      I want to say something about organizing. The writer makes the salient point that it has been bottom-up organization by conservatives that has led them to so many victories in state races around the country and, thus, to almost complete dominance in something like 30 states (including here in Missouri, even though, for now, we have a Democratic governor). I have tried to make this point repeatedly.

      Here where I live, the head of the Jasper County Republican Party has become something of an expert on such organization. He is a Christian fanatic and he recruits other fanatics to fill the bottom rungs of the state’s political organization. Then they move up to higher positions. Pretty soon, they are part of the state’s party leadership. After that, they are dictating the direction of the party, picking candidates, allocating resources, and so on. That’s how you actually get shit done. Not by talking about it, but by doing the hard work of organizing.

      I also want to note something important from the article:

      …education is not organizing, which involves not just enlightening whoever happens to encounter your message, but also aggregating people around common interests so that they can strategically wield their combined strength. Organizing is long-term and often tedious work that entails creating infrastructure and institutions, finding points of vulnerability and leverage in the situation you want to transform, and convincing atomized individuals to recognize that they are on the same team (and to behave like it).

      You know what’s missing from Bernie’s so-called movement? Oddly, despite his rhetoric, it is this: “aggregating people around common interests so that they can strategically wield their combined strength.” And this: “convincing atomized individuals to recognize that they are on the same team (and to behave like it).” If you haven’t seen Bernie’s interview with Cenk Uygur, you should. Especially when Uygur asks him (around 17:05 or so) if he would support the “establishment” candidate, Clinton. His answer is revealing. Instead of saying, “Of course we will work to see Clinton elected,” he says, so goddamned smugly, “What are the Democratic establishment gonna do for us?” That made me angry. The man simply cannot see who the immediate adversary is. He thinks his enemy is the Democratic Party itself! The more I see of Bernie, the more I realize how he is wasting a rather unique opportunity. Instead of “convincing atomized individuals to recognize that they are on the same team,” he wants to dictate what “the same team” is. It’s either his team or its no team.

      And that is a recipe for disaster in November, Drumpf or no Drumpf.

      Duane

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      • King Beauregard

         /  March 29, 2016

        When I was a kid, I used to contemplate metaphysics, and I got to thinking whether there could be such a thing as pure evil, as in a concentrated force that hates everything and wants to destroy everything. Eventually I decided that such a thing could not exist, not for long anyway, because its very nature would cause it to hate itself and seek to destroy itself.

        I think about that when I listen to Bernie trying to demonize “the Establishment”; what DOESN’T qualify as “the Establishment”? A guy who’s been in Washington longer than Hillary most likely counts as “Establishment”. He even has the telltale Establishment tendency of not returning the calls of black constituents.

        Bernie will be remembered as a never-was whose impact was to make Trump just a little bit stronger.

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  4. Good link, King B. The piece summarizes well at the end:

    It has always been easy for elites to dismiss those who challenge them as losers and malcontents, but it takes even less effort to ignore a meme. Successful organizers, by contrast, are more difficult to shrug off, because they have built a base that acts strategically. The goal of any would-be world-changer should be to be part of something so organized, so formidable, and so shrewd that the powerful don’t scoff: they quake.

    This indeed is Sanders’ weakness. He has a cause and slogans, but as Duane points out, the substance isn’t there. He has tactics but lacks strategy.

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    • King Beauregard

       /  March 24, 2016

      What’s more, it’s not even like the Sanders agenda is opposed by the whole of Washington; vote enough Republicans out of office and the new Democratic majorities will embrace most of it. Single payer might be a harder sell than a public option, but a successful public option is pretty close to single payer anyway, and we were only one Democratic Senator short of a public option.

      All Sanders’ “political revolution” has to do to succeed is get people to vote. That’s it. It doesn’t even require Sanders in the White House.

      (I still think controlling medical costs needs to be our next step, but I don’t mind passing a public option in parallel.)

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