The Message, The Messenger, And How Democratic Party Unity Is A Two-Way Street

The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

—Matthew 8:30

A after a recent piece I posted on a reported stupid move being considered by Senate Democrats (“Some Senate Democrats Are, Well, Idiots“), one writer, Jim Hight, told me the following:

Yes, Democrats are their worst enemies. I hope Elizabeth warren takes over the Majority Partly Leader when (and if) Democrats take the Senate. I write “and if” because the party will always lose unless this tiff with the Bernie supporters ends. As long as the in-fighting continues, Republicans will continue to tear the country apart.

Another writer, DG, commenting on Jim Hight’s observation, said this:

…a united party must appear very shortly. Jim Hight suggests Elizabeth Warren as a possible leader to unite the scaredy cats on the left. That may well be a good start but we need more. […]

Of course I voted for Hillary, but I am a Bernie supporter. That is, I very much support his views…we need a very progressive movement. Bernie has started one. You can see it with the protests and marches that are taking place everyday somewhere in this country. It’s an angry, disgusted and desperate cry to stop this dangerous bullshit republican take over before it gets way out of hand. Thank God they are!

I know what I have to say below, which I write with some trepidation, will make some people mad. It will upset some folks. But so be it. I’m here to express my opinion. As a Democrat, I’m here to give you my honest take on what I see and where I think we are going as a party and who should lead us there. Here goes:

It happens that Bernie Sanders was on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes” on Tuesday. Sanders appeared with the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, who is, bless his heart, trying like hell to hold onto the Sanders folks, trying to keep them from bolting from the Democratic Party when it comes time to vote. Sanders and Perez are on what they are calling a “Unity Tour.” Hayes played a video clip of Sanders saying the following:

Our job is to bring millions of people into the political process. Our job is to radically transform the Democratic Party. And when we are united, we are strongest as a party, as a  nation, as a resistance movement.

Hayes then asked Sanders the obvious question:

You’re talking about reforming, reviving, transforming the Democratic Party.  Do you consider yourself a Democrat?

That’s a fair question, isn’t it? Sanders ran as a Democrat in last year’s presidential primaries. His campaign manager said a year ago that Bernie would remain a Democrat after it was all over. And Bernie just said “when we are united, we are strongest as a party.”  But here is how Bernie answered Hayes’ “Do you consider yourself a Democrat?” question:

No. I’m an independent.  And I think if the Democratic Party is going to succeed—and I want to see it succeed —it’s gonna have to open its door to independents. There are probably more independents in this country than Democrats or Republicans. It’s got to open its doors to working people and to young people, create a grassroots party. That’s what we need.

With jaw-dropping audacity, Sanders sat right next to the DNC chairman (whom Sanders opposed during the DNC election process) and said that although he, Bernie Sanders, wanted to “radically transform the Democratic Party,” he didn’t want to become a Democrat. He essentially said he is happily married to some gal named “Independent.” It is that gal, Ms. Independent, to whom he owes his fidelity, his first and final allegiance and loyalty. Okay. I get it. In other words, Bernie wants to not only go home to Ms. Independent at night, but he wants to have a girlfriend on the side in the daytime, one whom he isn’t quite ready to leave Ms. Independent for, but nevertheless one whom he thinks he should get to sleep with while he simultaneously demands she radically change her ways and become the girl of his dreams. Apparently, he wants the Democratic Party to become his perfect mistress.

Well, to hell with that nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, I think many of Bernie’s ideas are something that Democrats could hang their hats on, could run on and win on (Hillary actually ran on many of them, which is why Bernie’s call for “radically” transforming the party makes little sense to me). But we need someone to come along and talk a lot like Bernie does, but do so while actually marrying the party, committing to it, warts and all. Bernie isn’t that guy. Weirdly, he thinks he can reform the party from the outside; he thinks he can change her ways while still going home to Ms. Independent at night. He thinks he can still retain what he thinks is his moral integrity even while he is flirting, sometimes with the crude entitlement of a Bill O’Reilly, with Ms. Democrat. He flirts while talking smack, enticing her with his rap about rich people getting away with murder while the lower and middle classes suffer, using his position of power to dominate her, to exploit her weakness, to make her give in to his demands. In Bernie’s case, the Democratic Party was a campaign fling, the handy dame he used to run for president against Hillary Clinton. He used the party when he wanted something, even if it was something many Democrats wanted, too. But Bernie’s would-be mistress is not, and apparently never will be, his wife. Why? Because the Democratic Party is not something Bernie wants to come home to at night and snuggle with. He’s not the snuggling, spooning type. He seems to be, to put it crudely, the O’Reilly of party politics.

And make no mistake about it. Bernie can talk the talk. He can paint a broad picture of the economic and political landscape that most Democrats, but not all, find appealing. He is the Picasso of populism on the left. Mind you, he’s short on details, but, as we found out from Tr-mp’s Russian-aided triumph, details don’t really matter all that much to the electorate these days. You merely have to have a monster to attack. You have to have a villain to gun down (as Chris Hayes suggested during his Bernie interview). You have to Image result for demon and the pigshave a devil to cast out. How you gun down your villain, how you cast out your devil, is the hard part, of course. But Tr-mp’s razor-thin Electoral College win shows us that the “how” doesn’t much matter, doesn’t interest people all that much in the voting booth. What does interest them, what does matter, is that you say you want to gun down the villain, shoot the bad guy; you say you want to cast out the demon from a possessed system and send it into the swine, and then send the swine over the cliff.

Bernie told Chris Hayes:

What the party has got to focus on are the most important issues facing working people – that’s the decline of the middle class; that’s the need to take on the billionaire class and Wall Street and the insurance companies and bring people together, a) against Trump`s absolutely reactionary agenda, and, b) fight for a progressive agenda which, among other things, includes a Medicare for all single-payer program.

As I said, Bernie is short on details on how to get all that done. Fighting for a single-payer insurance system is music to my ears (and music to the ears of 80% of Democrats and 60% of independents. But someone has to write down the actual notes on paper, complete with the lyrics about how to win that fight and make it happen in a reluctant, splintered Congress. Someone has to tell us how that can be accomplished in a country so divided as ours, with an electorate so susceptible to the right-wing propaganda that would surely come with such a fight. Vermont, Bernie’s own state, tried the single-payer route. It didn’t work out too well.

To reiterate, the details are less important, at this stage, than the rhetoric. Tr-mp doesn’t have much of value to teach anyone, but he did educate us on how one can win an election without a 48-point policy plan. You simply pick out a couple of bad guys, like the Wall Street oligarchs whose handprints are all over Tr-mp and his administration, and go after them, relentlessly. If our next presidential candidate and our congressional candidates in 2018 and 2020 can successfully do that—if we get a Democratic Congress, and a legitimate president in the White’s House—then we can, and will have to, talk details later. Maybe all we can get done at first are much-needed improvements to the Affordable Care Act. Maybe we can get more. But we have to get in power first.

All that leads me to what you will see below in a video from Wednesday’s Rachel Maddow Show. All that leads me to Elizabeth Warren. She is a Democrat. She is actually married, willingly, to the Democratic Party. She recognizes the party is not all it should be, but sees it for what it can be, the vehicle for real reform, the vehicle to bring about the necessary change that Sanders and his followers say they want. But she also realizes that one cannot demand change from outside the party. She realizes that one cannot demand that the pursued radically change before the pursuer will half-heartedly commit. Warren realizes, as her support for Hillary Clinton demonstrated last year, that change comes from a committed relationship, not from a one-sided, I’ll-tell-you-what-I-want-before-I-give-you-my-love affair. She’s in bed with the party. She doesn’t have another lover on the side to whom she can go if the Democratic Party lets her down in this way or that.

And that’s why I prefer her to Bernie Sanders. I’ve always had reservations about Bernie because Bernie has so many reservations about the Democratic Party. I’ve always had trouble trusting Bernie because Bernie has so much trouble trusting Democrats. Commenter Jim Hight above says “the party will always lose unless this tiff with the Bernie supporters ends.” He’s probably right. We do have to work it out. We do have to heal the divisions between the Sanders voters and the Democratic Party. But that’s not a one-sided task, not a mending that can be done only by Democrats kneeling at the feet of an independent Bernie Sanders and asking for his forgiveness and promising we’ll do whatever he wants us to do.

Bernie did a lot to hurt Hillary Clinton and, as an unintended consequence, helped elect Donald Tr-mp. Oh, I know he didn’t mean to. I know he finally got on board in the end. But he owes the party some kind of a mild mea culpa, some kind of acknowledgement that, long before he eventually came on the anti-Tr-mp general election campaign team, that he did real damage to the person he had to know, as time and primary elections went by, would be the party’s general election candidate. At the very least he owes it to the party to, for God’s sake, join it. He needs to become one of us. He needs to commit. He needs to stop his flirting. He needs to curb his I-am-entitled-to-reform-a-party-I don’t-belong-to arrogance.

Below you will find the entire episode of Wednesday’s Rachel Maddow Show. I could have chopped it up, but I decided to use the whole thing for two reasons. One is that her opening, pre-Warren segment will piss you off and make you realize why Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are absolutely right about who it is that currently runs and ruins the system, using wealth as their tool. The second reason is that you will see why Elizabeth Warren, as reluctant as she is to become a national candidate to run against Tr-mp in 2020 (she has a Senate election in 2018, which takes priority), is someone who is a real Democrat, someone who really believes the party can be the vehicle to do the things that both she and Bernie, and so many progressives, believe should be done. Rachel’s interview with her, and the way Warren conducted herself and answered the questions, shows why her fidelity to the Democratic Party and her belief in its potential means much more to me than Bernie sitting next to the chairman of our party and refusing to commit to it.

Here is last night’s segment in full. You owe it to yourself, as a Democrat, as an independent, or simply as an interested observer of politics, to watch it all:

Bernie, Finally, Joins the “Stop Trump” Movement

Bernie Sanders unequivocally endorsed Hillary Clinton today. Good for him. Good for the Democratic Party. And, hopefully, good for the country.

Since I have spent a lot of time criticizing him for his behavior up until today, I owe him my thanks for belatedly doing the right thing. I watched his speech today in New Hampshire, and when he got around to talking about Hillary Clinton, he didn’t mince words. He actually endorsed her like he meant it, even though he knew that doing so would disappoint and aggravate some of his most loyal supporters. He effectively contrasted her positions on the issues with those of Trump and reminded everyone of something essential:

If you don’t believe this election is important, take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump will nominate, and what that means to civil liberties, equal rights and the future of our country.

I don’t think those of us who have been critical of Sanders should ignore just how important today is. Sure, Bernie’s delay was somewhat damaging, as was some of the things he and his supporters said and did during the primary season. But it was close to essential to get Bernie on board Clinton’s campaign. His passion and energy, as well as the passion and energy of those who will follow his lead, will help Democrats at all levels. We need all hands on deck. As Bernie mentioned today, Democrats not only need the White House, but the Congress, if there is any hope of getting progressive policies enacted.

Bernie also said something that Democrat-friendly people, who don’t necessarily like Hillary Clinton personally, should think about:

This campaign is not really about Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, or any other candidate who sought the presidency. This campaign is about the needs of the American people and addressing the very serious crises that we face. And there is no doubt in my mind that, as we head into November, Hillary Clinton is far and away the best candidate to do that.

If you have any amount of sympathy for what Bernie Sanders was fighting for, if you have any amount of sympathy for the principles the Democratic Party represents, then it is imperative to get past your difficulties with Hillary Clinton’s personality or with her much-examined history. There is just too much at stake.

clinton and sanders.jpgBut Bernie statement above isn’t quite correct this election cycle. In an important sense, in a sense Bernie never touched on today, this election is about a candidate, a very unusual and unstable candidate. Trump’s utter unfitness for office, his manifestly disqualifying temperament, should be on voter’s minds. If Hillary Clinton is to win, she must focus not just on addressing the needs of the American people, but in reminding them, again and again, of just how existentially dangerous Trump is. Those tempted to not vote for her because they think she’s not progressive enough or because she has taken money from big shots or because they just can’t stand her personality need to know what they are risking.

I was talking to a neighbor the other day, a highly educated neighbor who said she was considering voting for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. I asked her why. She said she thought Hillary Clinton was too ambitious, and it was clear she didn’t much like her. It really didn’t seem to have all that much to do with Clinton’s policy positions. It just appeared she didn’t like Clinton. Of course I challenged her on that “ambitious” remark, saying that I don’t often hear people criticize male politicians for their ambition. But I also challenged her to think about the fact that a vote for Johnson, or any third-party candidate, is in effect a vote for Trump. It’s a vote that Hillary should get but won’t. And multiplied that could mean a Trump victory that would hurt a lot of people, both here and around the world.

I don’t know what she thought about my challenge, but I do know that people need to think about not just the policies that would flow out of a Clinton or Trump administration, or the personnel that would populate the government by virtue of a win by either, but people need to think long and hard about the damage—long-term damage—that Trump can do to our country by the sheer force of his incorrigible ignorance and chronic bigotry and self-obsessed temperament.

It occurred to me, after hearing Trump cynically say last night, “I am the law and order candidate,” that no one would be all that shocked to hear him say, upon taking office, “I am the law.” That is why Sanders’ endorsement today was so important. And that is why, again, I want to thank him for not being Ralph Nader.

Bernie’s Game Of Chicken

Bernie Sanders is playing a game. And it is a very dangerous game.

Appearing today on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” just after yet another weird Trump press conference from Scotland, Sanders said he would vote for Hillary Clinton because “the issue right here is I’m going to do everything I can to defeat Donald Trump.” There was no Hillary endorsement, just a knock against Trump, whom Sanders rightly called a “pathological liar.” That was about as much as a positive response as Democrats could expect from him, I admit, but—and there is always a but with Bernie—he wasn’t ready to stop his fight over the Democratic party platform and remaking the party in his ideological image. And he said Hillary Clinton had not yet come far enough his way.

In other words, Bernie is tempting fate. When asked if he might want to think of withdrawing from the race, now that everyone but Bernie Bros knows it is over, Bernie said,

Why would I want to do that when I want to fight to make sure that we have the best platform that we possibly can, that we win the most delegates that we can?

He still wants to win delegates? Now why would he want to keep going after more delegates? Power? Is the man playing this game so he can have as much power as possible? Is his ongoing struggle over the soul of the Democratic Party, a party he obviously doesn’t like, worth risking a Trump presidency? I get the impression, from listening to him, that he thinks it is. In fact, and I hate to say this, but I get the impression that what he named this morning as the quite quixotic “goal” of his campaign—“to transform this nation”—is more important than actually electing a Democrat this fall.

Maybe it’s just me, but this man appears to be a disturbing cross between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump: an uncompromising ideologue mixed with an ego much bigger than his delegate count.

Bernie was asked if he was concerned that only about 55% of his voters, according to some polls, were going to vote for Clinton. He wasn’t too worried about it. When asked about disunity in the party, he said,

You talk about disunity, I talk about people in the political process and wanting to have a government and party that represents all of us.

You see? Unity schmunity. Who cares about unity in the party when the party needs to be rebuilt from the ground up? Who cares about unity in the party when Bernie isn’t done having his way with it? Who cares about unity when Bernie still has all those damn delegates!

He was asked what to do about American companies that, say, move to Mexico. He gave the exact same answer Trump has given many times: slap tariffs on them—even though the president can’t do that. When he was told that he sounded just like Trump on that issue he said,

So what?

Yeah. So what? Who cares if Bernie sounds like Donald Trump? Who cares if significant numbers of his voters say they will actually vote for Trump or “anybody but Hillary”? Who cares if Trump is president?

If Bernie cares all that much, he has a funny way of showing it. Appearing a little later on “CBS This Morning,” he was reminded he had yet to endorse Clinton and was asked why he hasn’t done so. He said,

Because I haven’t heard her say the things that I think need to be said.

There you have it. His endorsement is, apparently, contingent on her yielding to his demands. He said he hopes that happens before the convention. But it may not happen before then, he added. They’re in negotiations right now—weeks after the last vote was cast. It took Mrs. Clinton only four days to suspend her campaign and endorse Barack Obama, after it was clear she couldn’t win the nomination in 2008. Yesterday evening I received an email from Bernie that ended with this:

bernie email ending.jpg

Hard to miss that “CONTRIBUTE” button.

Mind you, Bernie’s not doing this for himself. Oh, far from it. He’s not in it for himself, just as Donald Trump says he’s not in it for himself. Bernie, like Trump, says he is in it for the folks. He’s just raising money and keeping this going for, as he said in his email, “the 12 million Americans who voted for a political revolution.” Never mind that almost 16 million Americans didn’t vote for a Bernie-led political revolution during the Democratic primaries and caucuses. Bernie told CBS’s Charlie Rose this morning:

Look, it’s not just me. Charlie, what this campaign has been about is people wanting to transform America.

Transform America? Yes. That could happen for sure. If Mrs. Clinton doesn’t say what Bernie wants her to say, if the Democratic Party doesn’t bend to the will of Bernie Sanders, there may very well be a new America.

And it will have TRUMP stamped all over it.

O Finally Weighs In: “The Values That Unite Us As Democrats”

Science Explains Drumpf

Don’t know if you’ve seen the Vox video below, but you should. You also should check out Amanda Taub’s, “The rise of American authoritarianism,” in which she notes that a couple of political scientists—Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler—had “essentially predicted Trump’s rise back in 2009.” How? Taub explains:

That year, Hetherington and Weiler published a book about the effects of authoritarianism on American politics. Through a series of experiments and careful data analysis, they had come to a surprising conclusion: Much of the polarization dividing American politics was fueled not just by gerrymandering or money in politics or the other oft-cited variables, but by an unnoticed but surprisingly large electoral group — authoritarians.

Their book concluded that the GOP, by positioning itself as the party of traditional values and law and order, had unknowingly attracted what would turn out to be a vast and previously bipartisan population of Americans with authoritarian tendencies.

This trend had been accelerated in recent years by demographic and economic changes such as immigration, which “activated” authoritarian tendencies, leading many Americans to seek out a strongman leader who would preserve a status quo they feel is under threat and impose order on a world they perceive as increasingly alien.

These Americans with authoritarian views, they found, were sorting into the GOP, driving polarization. But they were also creating a divide within the party, at first latent, between traditional Republican voters and this group whose views were simultaneously less orthodox and, often, more extreme.

Over time, Hetherington and Weiler had predicted, that sorting would become more and more pronounced. And so it was all but inevitable that, eventually, authoritarians would gain enough power within the GOP to make themselves heard.

At the time, even Hetherington and Weiler did not realize the explosive implications: that their theory, when followed to its natural conclusion, predicted a looming and dramatic transformation of American politics. But looking back now, the ramifications of their research seem disturbingly clear.

Disturbingly clear, indeed. We know that the authoritarians now control the Republican Party. That fight is over and the surrendering is going on as I write. But it remains to be seen if they will control the entire country. It’s possible they will—and Bernie Sanders is out there flirting with that possibility right now by aiding and abetting Drumpf—but until the time comes to find out, at least we should understand what is happening to our country:

More Bernie Buts

My fellow Democrats. Get used to it. Stop kidding yourselves. There will always be a “but” with Bernie. He’s not one of us.

He likes the Democratic Party, but. He likes Obama, but. He will support Hillary Clinton, but. He condemns the nastiness in Nevada, but.

It is clear that Bernie is not in this thing to be president anymore. He’s not in this to win the nomination—for him to continue to say he is amounts to defrauding his donors—and at this point he isn’t in it to defeat Drumpf. He’s in it because he first wants to destroy the Democratic Party as it now is and then become the leader of a revamped party, a party created in his image. That’s it. That’s what he’s doing.

Last night in California, at another big rally, he attacked Democratic leaders. The crowd booed those leaders. Bernie’s okay with that. He doesn’t care. Just like, at first, he didn’t much care that some of his supporters went wild in Nevada, that some of them threatened the chairwoman—a volunteer—of the state Democratic Party. He eventually put out a statement condemning what happened, but it came with a patented Bernie-but.

Last night, after all that had happened in Nevada over the weekend, where his supporters were furious at the “establishment,” Bernie sent out this tweet:

bernie tweet

Yes, Democrats are Bernie’s enemy. He’s running against Democrats. He literally loathes the party. So, why would we expect him to enthusiastically embrace it after this is all over? The most we will get from him, after Hillary Clinton wins the nomination and after he conducts a nasty fight at the convention over the party platform, will be a lukewarm endorsement of her—largely on the grounds that a Drumpf is unacceptable. That will be it.

It’s sad, but that is what it is.

Will Bernie Folks Listen To Van Jones And Noam Chomsky?

CNN contributor Van Jones, you may remember, once worked for President Obama as his Special Advisor for Green Jobs, or as some liked to call it, the “green jobs czar.” You also may remember that Glenn Beck repeatedly attacked him after his appointment in 2009, essentially suggesting he was, like Obama, a left-wing terrorist who hated white people. Other conservatives attacked him, too, including Republican members of Congress. Those ol’ boys were mostly offended because Jones, just before Obama appointed him, attended a lecture at Berkeley, in which he was asked why Democrats couldn’t get that famous stimulus packaged passed in 2009 even though they had 58 votes in the Senate:

QUESTIONER: …how were they, Republicans, able to push things through when they had less than 60 senators, but somehow we cant?

JONES: Well the answer to that is, they’re assholes.

QUESTIONER: I was afraid that was the answer.

JONES: As a technical, political kind of term. And Barack Obama is not an asshole. Now, I will say this: I can be an asshole, and some of us who are not Barack Hussein Obama, are going to have to start getting a little bit uppity.

As you can imagine, since this was pre-Drumpf, everyone on the right was outraged that the Scary Negro’s appointee, himself an even scarier Negro, called lily-white legislators “assholes,” even though it was true and even though he did so before the Scary Negro appointed him. Here’s a screen grab from Fox “News”:

I want to particularly call out one Republican congressman who went after Jones. His name is Mike Pence from Indiana, who is now the governor of that Drumpf-loving state. Back in 2009, Pence was very upset with Jones and demanded his resignation, saying, “His extremist views and coarse rhetoric have no place in this administration or the public debate.” Yes. Pence said that. He said that extremist views and coarse rhetoric have no place in government or in public debate. None. Nope. No place.

Except when they do.

Less than a month ago, while meekly endorsing Ted Cruz, Pence said,

I particularly want to commend Donald Trump, who I think has given voice to the frustration of millions of working Americans with a lack of progress in Washington, D.C.”

Hmm. Things have changed a bit since 2009. Not long after Pence made that statement about Drumpf giving “voice to the frustration of millions of working Americans,” Cruz got shellacked in Indiana’s GOP primary. Shortly after that, Pence endorsed the extremist views and coarse rhetoric approach:

I’m fully supportive of our presumptive nominee, and I do think Donald Trump will do well in the State of Indiana. I’m going to campaign hard for the Republican nominee because Indiana needs a partner in the White House.

He meant, of course, that Indiana needs a partner in the White’s House, even if that partner is really, truly a profane extremist. Apparently, Pence, like other Republicans in bed with Drumpf, don’t mind white folks doin’ all that fussin’ and cussin’; they just don’t like uppity Negroes doin’ it. Ain’t acceptable.

In any case, Van Jones resigned in September of 2009, after it became clear President Obama wasn’t in the mood for a fight. There were important things to get done and Jones was a distraction. That was too bad for the Obama administration but good for Jones. He has enjoyed a pretty good career since then, including a lot of face time on television, where he appears often, these days as a Bernie supporter.

But even though Jones is a Bernie man, he ain’t nuts. He isn’t about to let the Bern get the best of him or his country. I have never seen him badmouth Hillary in the way most Bernie people do when they get in front of a camera. He’s cool about it. That’s why he made a video for van jones videoMoveOn.org, an organization that also went all-in for Bernie, but apparently understands that things are getting out of hand with some Bernie folks. The video is a warning that Drumpf can win the general election if we, liberals and leftists and anyone else who doesn’t like Orange Man, don’t “work together” to make sure the profane extremist doesn’t make the White’s House his home.  (You can watch the video at https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fmoveon%2Fvideos%2Fvb.7292655492%2F10153454110680493%2F%3Ftype%3D3&show_text=0&width=560  and then come back for a word from a leftist’s leftist, Noam Chomsky.)

The comment section accompanying the video is an interesting read. There are some real Hillary haters on there, folks who won’t vote for her no matter what. Even if it means a President Drumpf, they don’t care. They want a “clean conscience.” Which brings me to Noam Chomsky.

Chomsky is a real radical leftist. Over the years he has said some things I agree with and some things I think are ridiculous. No need to go into that here. What I want to do is post something he said to yet another leftist, Amy Goodman, on her fine program, Democracy Now! After raising the point that corporate forces are funding elections and writing legislation and that a “countervailing force” is necessary to defend “popular interests, needs and concerns,” Chomsky said this:

noam chomskyBut now, going back to who should you push the button for, well, my own—in the primaries, I would prefer Bernie Sanders. If Clinton is nominated and it comes to a choice between Clinton and Trump, in a swing state, a state where it’s going to matter which way you vote, I would vote against Trump, and by elementary arithmetic, that means you hold your nose and you vote Democrat. I don’t think there’s any other rational choice. Abstaining from voting or, say, voting for, say, a candidate you prefer, a minority candidate, just amounts to a vote for Donald Trump, which I think is a devastating prospect, for reasons I’ve already mentioned. So—but meanwhile, do the important things.

I have to admit that surprised me. We are, after all, talking about Noam Chomsky. But even though clearly he doesn’t like Hillary Clinton—heck, even Bernie isn’t quite radical enough for him—he still has enough sense to see that even radical leftists should not commit national suicide by voting for a third party candidate or not voting at all.

Now, I say this to all you earnest Bernie folks out there: If Noam Bleeping Chomsky can “push the button” for Hillary, you can too! We can’t afford to let the assholes win! “Do the important things.”

Kamikaze Bernie

Hell hath no fury like an ideologue scorned.

After the New York primary on April 19th, in which Hillary Clinton trounced Bernie Sanders 58-42, the pundits on television were using a surprisingly appropriate metaphor. It went something like this: “How will Bernie eventually land the plane” of his losing campaign? bernie planeHmm. I liked that. Bernie has a choice. He is the pilot. He can land his plane safely on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier, the USS Democratic Party, or he can do something else.

Apparently, he has chosen something else. A kamikaze attack.

Last night, Jane Sanders, earnest and able wife of Bernie, was on MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes. She made sure we all knew that Bernie was serious about taking his airplane all the way to a “contested convention.” He ain’t goin’ away. “There’s gonna be a fight on the issues, no matter what,” she affirmed. “Everybody knows, anything can happen in politics,” she said later. Bernie’s gassed up and ready to crash.

Well, well. What else should we have expected? He’s been telegraphing his intentions for some time now. It’s not exactly going to be a surprise attack.

In any case, I want to offer another apt metaphor for what Jane Sanders did last night on Chris Hayes’ show. She unceremoniously tossed the great liberal economist Paul Krugman under the Bernie bus. Why? Because it’s the Bernie way. If you don’t subscribe, word-for-word, to Bernie’s world view; if you don’t think Bernie’s ideas are realistic or realizable; if you don’t buy Bernie’s unique mathematical theories about delegates; then you are dead to him and his surrogates. It’s pretty much that simple.

But before I get to Mrs. Sanders running over Paul Krugman with the Bernie bus, I want to first take a quick look at who Krugman is and why most Democrats respect him. Krugman is an op-ed columnist (and a blessed blogger!) for The New York Times. He earned a B.A. in economics (summa cum laude) from Yale in 1974, followed by a PhD in economics from MIT in 1977. He has taught at Yale, MIT, Stanford and Princeton and currently is—let me get this right—the “Distinguished Professor of Economics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.” He has published around 20 books, from “Market Structure and Foreign Trade” in 1985 to “The Conscience of a Liberal” in 2009, a book I have in my library and from which I learned a lot of liberalology. In 2008 Krugman won a Nobel Prize and, if that ain’t good enough for ya, he holds a John Bates Clark Medal, which he got in 1991 and which The Economist says is “slightly harder to get than a Nobel prize.”

You get the idea. You may not like Krugman. You may think, as some folks do, that he is a left-wing nut. Or, you may think he is a phony progressive sellout and thus a suck-up to Hillary Clinton, as apparently a lot of Bernie fans do, including his wife, who had the following exchange with Chris Hayes on Monday night:

HAYES: I want to give you a chance to respond to critics of yours. Paul Krugman in The New York Times has been really hammering the Sanders campaign, but there are others who basically sasanders on hayesy that the Sanders campaign, by soliciting donations to make Bernie Sanders the nominee, is essentially running a con on its donors. What do you say to those people?

SANDERS: Really? What is John Kasich doing? And what is Ted Cruz been doing? No. We’re running on the issues. You know that. And I don’t take Paul Krugman seriously anymore. I used to. I think there are a lot of other, better economists and people who seem to have better critical thinking. So, that’s a disappointment. But I don’t read him, so I can’t tell you what he says anymore.

She doesn’t take the liberal economist “seriously anymore,” and there are “other, better economists and people who seem to have better critical thinking.” Now you see why I spent some time looking at Krugman’s résumé. It’s just silly for a Democrat to talk about him that way.

So, what has pissed off the Sanders team so much that they now are trashing yet another liberal Democrat, this one a distinguished economist? A blog post. Well, really, more than one blog post, but especially his latest one, “Bernie’s Bad End,” which began:

This is really depressing: Sanders claiming that there will be a contested convention, and suggesting that the nomination fight was rigged. Can someone tell Bernie that he’s in the process of blowing his own chance for a positive legacy?

No, Professor Krugman. No one can tell Bernie anything. He is not tellable. He operates in his own universe where math bends to his will; where the Democratic primary is “rigged” sanders in indianaagainst him despite his receiving a minority of votes; where the superdelegates he once loathed are now his path to victory—if they will only do what he says they should do.

Krugman noted that Bernie could have turned “defeat in the primary into a moral victory.” But, the prize-winning economist said, “he would have had to accept the will of the voters with grace.” Grace? Bernie knows no grace. He is the most graceless loser (and winner, for that matter) since, well, Donald Drumpf. You can’t beat Bernie. You can only hope to contain his Bernie-or-bust ego. You can only hope his metaphorical plane misses the flight deck and lands harmlessly in the sea.

Saint Rachel Maddow, who no one in his or her right mind could accuse of being a squishy liberal, or, Allah forbid, could accuse of being in bed with the right wing (like I have been so accused on this blog), pointed out on her Monday show that what Bernie is proposing— rachel on berniethat because Hillary Clinton can’t wrap up the nomination with pledged delegates by the last primary contest on June 14, he will essentially force a “contested convention”—represents “real radicalism.” Why? Why would Maddow say such a thing?

Because, using Bernie’s logic, Barack Obama—who did not have anywhere near a majority of pledged delegates going into the 2008 convention—would have had to suffer through a nasty floor fight with Hillary Clinton over superdelegates in order to win the nomination, which would have been quite radical, as well as a lasting disaster.

Hillary could have done what Bernie is saying he will do. She could have been a kamikaze. But she chose not to, even though she was much, much closer to Obama in the delegate count than Bernie is to her—Obama had only a 4% lead in pledged delegates and Hillary, right now, has a 11% lead—and she was actually leading the future president in the popular vote. Rachel remembered for us that Hillary went to the convention floor in Denver in August of 2008, not to fight for herself, but to certify Obama’s legitimacy as the nominee. To do anything else, she knew, would have hurt Democrats in the fall.

If only Bernie had that kind of grace, or, really, if only Bernie cared about the Democratic Party enough to be a team player and land his plane on the flight deck, long before the convention in July, rather than deliberately crash into it. But it has become painfully—and as a former fan of Bernie Sanders I mean “painfully”—obvious that Bernie is not a team player, if the team is the Democratic Party trying to defeat a Drumpf-led GOP. There may not be a clichéd “I” in team, but as all observers of this Democratic primary fight now know, there is an “I” in Bernie. A big one.

For her part, the courageous Saint Rachel, who called what Sanders is proposing “fantastical, which is not the same as fantastic,” knew there would be a backlash against her relatively aggressive segment on Bernie’s lack of grace and realism. She sweetly welcomed the “hate mail” she knew was coming. “Your accusations and swear words do hurt my feelings,” said Rachel, “but they also make me stronger.”

Well, I don’t know how much profanity-laced hate mail she has received since last night, but I will end with something posted to her MSNBC.com site, something that sort of reveals a phenomenon that Bernie didn’t necessarily create, but a phenomenon that he is certainly exploiting. Someone named LynneAlex posted:

Rachell – you have become a corporatist in your success and evident in your support of Hillary. You can no longer call your self a progressive. Hillary was a “proud” Goldwater conservative Republican along with her family. The apple has not fallen far from the tree and calls herself democrat in name only. She has a record as a hawk and has strong corporate ties. What is there to support for progressives? Nothing. I have been a very loyal viewer and sad to say you have lost at least one. Back to listening solely to Amy Goodman a true progressive.

My, oh, my. When you turn on St. Rachel, when you boot her out of the progressive tent for telling you the truth, you have to wonder if maybe your affection for Bernie has morphed into something else. But, as Jane Sanders proved, that’s the Bernie way. Paul Krugman tries to tell the truth about Bernie and, poof, he’s gone. Black voters in the South make Hillary a winner and those victories become meaningless and irrelevant. She smashes him in the New York primary and elsewhere and the excuse is that non-Democrats didn’t get to pick the Democratic nominee. The superdelegates side with Hillary and the system is “rigged.”

All of us who once so respected Bernie Sanders and admired his vision for a future America are, or have a right to be, disappointed with the way his story, and possibly the Democratic Party’s November story, looks like it will end. We can only hope, and at this point it is a faint hope, that someone will convince him to abandon his crash-and-Bern approach before it is too late.

“You Claim To Support Progressive Values”

So, a Bernie supporter, signing with the name “A. Progressive,” wrote in to say the following (among other things) as a response to my second “Dear Bernie” appeal:

You claim to support progressive values, but support a candidate that is no more progressive than Bill Clinton was during his tenure. If the DNC continues with pushing “centrist” candidates, they do so at their own peril. Winning elections at the cost of abandoning the progressive values it espouses is hypocritical.

As I told A. Progressive, such comments annoy me. “You claim to support progressive values….” Claim. Claim. Claim. We know what that means, of course. I’m not really a progressive. I’m only pretending to be. Yeah, well.

Since I’ve said just about all I can, both publicly and privately, to earnest Bernie folks, I thought I would allow the great Kevin Drum take a stab at it. In a piece published today on Mother Jones (“Here’s Why I Never Warmed Up to Bernie Sanders”), Drum made most of the points that I have been making but, let’s face it, he’s Kevin Drum and I’m not.

Drum starts out by consciously provoking Bernie people by saying the following about their beloved candidate:

I think he’s basically running a con, and one with the potential to cause distinct damage to the progressive cause.

The great progressive writer then goes on to make the point that many have made about the lack of a revolution and the lack of conditions to even get one started in the way Bernie keeps describing it from his imagination. Drum cites two examples, and there are only two, where one could plausibly—Drum admits he is “stretching things a bit”—describe historical developments as amounting to an “economic revolution”:

  • The destruction of the Southern slave economy following the Civil War.
  • The New Deal.

The first of these was 50+ years in the making and, in the end, required a bloody, four-year war to bring to a conclusion. The second happened only after an utter collapse of the economy, with banks closing, businesses failing, wages plummeting, and unemployment at 25 percent. That’s what it takes to bring about a revolution, or even something close to it.

Obviously, as Drum points out, “We’re light years away from that right now.” The conditions, relatively speaking, are just too damned good for most folks to get them to buy into a game-changing economic or political revolution. Unemployment is fairly low, wages, though in a stagnant phase, are pretty good for the average family (“close to $70,000”), and “90 percent of the country has insurance coverage.” And finishing this point with a mike-dropper, Drum says:

Dissatisfaction with the system? According to Gallup, even among those with incomes under $30,000, only 27 percent are dissatisfied with their personal lives.

That leads us to the most important point, the point that is hard to get ideologically minded folks, especially young folks committed to the things Bernie talks about, to understand:

Like it or not, you don’t build a revolution on top of an economy like this. Period. If you want to get anything done, you’re going to have to do it the old-fashioned way: through the slow boring of hard wood.

I like that metaphor. “The slow boring of hard wood” is exactly what it takes, in this country, to make real progress. There simply isn’t a substitute for it. That’s the way our political system is designed to work. That is, generally, the way Americans prefer change to come. Americans, except on the fringes, tend to prefer things to move a little slower than the average Bern-Bernie-Bern fan, or the average Ted Cruz or Drumpf fan, would like. Drum:

…if you want to make a difference in this country, you need to be prepared for a very long, very frustrating slog. You have to buy off interest groups, compromise your ideals, and settle for half loaves—all the things that Bernie disdains as part of the corrupt mainstream establishment.

That’s a hard message. But it is absolutely true. That’s our system, like it or not. If you want to change it, you first have to get inside of it. You can’t blow it up from the outside. That simply won’t do. You have to get in and work at it.

The problem with all this is that we aren’t just talking about an academic exercise. There can be real harm done by all the loose talk, as Drum points out. He says that rather than telling his people that there is a long slog ahead, Bernie

promises his followers we can get everything we want via a revolution that’s never going to happen. And when that revolution inevitably fails, where do all his impressionable young followers go? Do they join up with the corrupt establishment and commit themselves to the slow boring of hard wood? Or do they give up?

That’s a damned good question. And like Drum, I fear that some of them will give up:

They’ve been conned by a guy who should know better, the same way dieters get conned by late-night miracle diets. When it doesn’t work, they throw in the towel.

What I have been trying to warn people about, in terms of what Bernie Sanders has done and continues to do, is what Drum hits on toward the end of his piece:

…there’s a decent chance that Bernie’s failure will result in a net increase of cynicism about politics, and that’s the last thing we need.

Yes, dammit. There is too much cynicism as it is. That’s the kind of environment in which a Drumpf can rise and flourish. And, as progressives, real progressives, we shouldn’t allow such cynicism to creep into our camp. We should fight for our principles, but fight for them knowing the fight is necessarily long and difficult and often frustrating. We should fight for them knowing that there are lots of other Americans who don’t have any affection for our vision of the future. We need to understand that some folks, maybe our neighbors or friends or family, are downright hostile to it. That’s what makes the fight so hard and what makes it so long and frustrating.

And as Drum says, the last thing we need is someone on our side, on the progressive side, generating the kind of cynicism that could put someone like Donald J. Drumpf in the most powerful office in the world. Enough is enough. Let’s get our progressive act together before too much damage is done.

Bernie, The Pope, And A Moral Dilemma

Bernie Sanders, who gets my praise for being a secular guy, got lots of press and pundit praise over the weekend for going to Vatican City for a too-obscure conference “on social, economic and environmental issues hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.” He also got a quick meeting with Pope Francis. Good for Bernie.

But let’s look at Bernie’s speech to the conference and compare it to what he, and to be fair, what Hillary Clinton have been saying on the campaign trail. And I will compare it to what a lot of Americans in both parties believe. First, here is the title of Bernie’s speech:

The Urgency of a Moral Economy: Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of Centesimus Annus

“Centesimus annus” refers to an encyclical offered by Pope John Paul II in 1991, which was essentially an update of a prior pope’s encyclical, in 1891, on how the Church views the Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor.” Most people consider that 1891 encyclical by Pope Leo XIII to be, as Georgetown’s Berkley Center put it,

a foundational text in the history of Catholic social thought, establishing the position of the Church on issues pertaining to the proper relationship between capital and labor. The vision expounded by the encyclical emphasizes the duties and obligations that bind owners of capital and workers to each other.

So, that encyclical, and those related to it that have followed, are big deals, in terms of how Catholic doctrine addresses the way the world’s economy ought to work. As Bernie Sanders acknowledged and emphasized, these are “moral” issues, and he lauded Pope Leo XIII for highlighting “the enormous wealth of a few as opposed to the poverty of the many.” All of this makes sense for Bernie, obviously, since income and wealth inequality is one of the big themes of his presidential campaign. But let’s keep in mind a very important distinction here. The Popes, when addressing social and economic issues, are talking about the entire world. Bernie iBernie Sanders meets Pope Francis during visit to Vatican Citys talking almost exclusively about the United States. And, as we will see, there is a conflict between what the Catholic Church says it stands for and what both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton—not to mention Drumpf, in his own weird way—are advocating as presidential candidates.

Since Bernie is the one who spoke at the conference at Vatican City, and since he got his five minutes with the Pope, I will mostly use Bernie’s positions to draw a contrast between Catholic social teaching and what has become the standard position for many Democrats, and, increasingly, many Republicans. First, though, at the heart of the Church’s social teaching on economics is the following, from  a section in the 1991 encyclical that Bernie quoted in his speech:

The essential wisdom of Centesimus Annus is this: A market economy is beneficial for productivity and economic freedom. But if we let the quest for profits dominate society; if workers become disposable cogs of the financial system; if vast inequalities of power and wealth lead to marginalization of the poor and the powerless; then the common good is squandered and the market economy fails us. Pope John Paul II puts it this way: profit that is the result of “illicit exploitation, speculation, or the breaking of solidarity among working people . . . has not justification, and represents an abuse in the sight of God and man.”

Again, remember that this laudable statement of the Church’s position regarding how market economies ought to work is not limited to one country. It is a statement applicable to all countries, to “the common good.” I want you to notice something from that last line:

Pope John Paul II puts it this way: profit that is the result of “illicit exploitation, speculation, or the breaking of solidarity among working people . . . has not justification, and represents an abuse in the sight of God and man.”

FILE - Apple CEO Steve Jobs smiles with a new iPhone at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. In the white-hot competition for tech talent, some workers are alleging Silicon Valley's top companies conspired to keep employees from switching teams, June 7, 2010.The breaking of solidarity among working people…has not justification…” Think about that for a moment. That solidarity, as far as the Church is concerned, extends across national boundaries. It crosses oceans and deserts and leaps over mountains. In the Church’s eyes, that solidarity ought to include workers in Malaysia and Michigan, Vietnam and Vermont. It ought to include garment workers in Bangladesh and flat-screen factory workers in Mexico. It ought to include Apple iPhone assemblers in Zhengzhou, China, and autoworkers in Warren, Ohio. But let’s look at something Bernie Sanders said recently and examine it in light of what the Catholic Church teaches.

Bernie’s now infamous interview with the New York Daily News featured an attack on General Motors. Here is what he said:

General Electric was created in this country by American workers and American consumers. What we have seen over the many years is shutting down of many major plants in this country. Sending jobs to low-wage countries. And General Electric, doing a very good job avoiding the taxes. In fact, in a given year, they pay nothing in taxes. That’s greed. That is greed and that’s selfishness. That is lack of respect for the people of this country.

Notice what Bernie said: General Electric is greedy and selfish because it is guilty of “Sending jobs to low-wage countries.” A lot of Democrats have said similar things. I have myself. As Bloomberg pointed out last month, “Hillary Clinton proposed rescinding tax relief and other incentives retroactively for U.S. companies that move jobs and operations overseas.” Here is what she said in a speech delivered at an automotive supplier in Detroit:

If a company like Nabisco outsources and ships jobs overseas, we’ll make you give back the tax breaks you receive here in America. If you’re not going to invest in us, why should taxpayers invest in you. Let’s take that money and put it to work in the communities that are being left behind.

Such expressions of exasperation with American corporations aren’t hard to find. We all know what a ruckus Donald Drumpf has started among Republicans over outsourcing and trade issues, to the point that he is even attracting some support among working-class Democrats. Bernie Sanders, raising a ruckus himself, has said that General Electric and companies who behave similarly are “destroying the moral fabric of this country.” Again, he puts it in a moral context, just like, he admits, the Church does. But clearly the Church wouldn’t agree with what Bernie told the Daily News when someone suggested he sounded like Drumpf:

Well, if he thinks they’re bad trade deals, I agree with him. They are bad trade deals. But we have some specificity and it isn’t just us going around denouncing bad trade. In other words, I do believe in trade. But it has to be based on principles that are fair. So if you are in Vietnam, where the minimum wage is 65¢ an hour, or you’re in Malaysia, where many of the workers are indentured servants because their passports are taken away when they come into this country and are working in slave-like conditions, no, I’m not going to have American workers “competing” against you under those conditions. So you have to have standards. And what fair trade means to say that it is fair. It is roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States.

There is no equivocation here from Bernie. He sides with American workers. There is no talk of “the urgency of a moral economy” when it comes to Americans having to compete against low-wage workers elsewhere. He doesn’t mention, as John Paul II did, “solidarity among working people.” He does talk of a low minimum wage in Vietnam and “indentured servants” and “slave-like conditions” in Malaysia. But those things could be fixed without bringing those jobs back to the United States. The issue with Bernie is what’s best for Americans, not the Vietnamese or Malaysians. The “Feel The Bern” website puts it succinctly:

American trade policy should place the needs of American workers and small businesses first.

Maybe it should. But is that moral? And is it moral in the sense that the Catholic Church and the current Pope criticize unfettered capitalism? Let’s go back to that passage from Bernie’s speech at the Vatican where he quoted the 1991 encyclical:

The essential wisdom of Centesimus Annus is this: A market economy is beneficial for productivity and economic freedom. But if we let the quest for profits dominate society; if workers become disposable cogs of the financial system; if vast inequalities of power and wealth lead to marginalization of the poor and the powerless; then the common good is squandered and the market economy fails us.

Aren’t Bernie and Hillary and me and other Democrats—and now Drumpf Republicans—simply defending, in another form, what the Church is condemning? When we make statements like Bernie makes on his website—“If corporate America wants us to buy their products they need to manufacture those products in this country, not in China or other low-wage countries”—aren’t we guilty of letting “the quest for profits dominate society”? Aren’t we guilty of making foreign workers “become disposable cogs of the financial system”? Aren’t we guilty of allowing our own “power and wealth” as Americans to “lead to marginalization of the poor and the powerless” and squandering “the common good”?

When I first heard that Bernie Sanders was going to speak at that conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, I wondered what he might say. I have often thought about how selfish we Americans—who live in the wealthiest nation on earth—sound to the rest of the world when we talk about jobs and trade. You can read Bernie’s entire speech yourself, but I especially noticed this:

The issue of wealth and income inequality is the great economic issue of our time, the great political issue of our time, and the great moral issue of our time. It is an issue that we must confront in my nation and across the world.

It’s hard to see how an American, especially one who is adamantly opposed to spreading American wealth to “low-wage countries”—let’s face it, people, that’s what this is all about when it comes down to it—can confront “the great moral issue of our time” by demanding that American companies make all their products here. Nor can an American confront that great moral issue by saying that “fair trade” means only trading with countries that have standards that are “roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States.” As we have already seen, Sanders made that statement in his Daily News interview, and as Vox’s Zack Beauchamp (formerly at ThinkProgress) pointed out about Bernie’s impossible-to-meet standard:

But there’s one big problem, according to development economists I spoke to: Limiting trade with low-wage countries as severely as Sanders wants to would hurt the very poorest people on Earth. A lot.

Free trade is one of the best tools we have for fighting extreme poverty. If Sanders wins, and is serious about implementing his trade agenda as outlined in the NYDN interview and elsewhere, he will impoverish millions of already-poor people.

I don’t want to just pick on Bernie Sanders over this issue. All of us who worry about outsourcing—which is not done for altruistic reasons but does bring some benefits to the world’s most vulnerable people—and who also worry about world poverty have to confront the moral dilemma involved. Bernie said at the conference:

Pope Francis has given the most powerful name to the predicament of modern society: the Globalization of Indifference. “Almost without being aware of it,” he noted, “we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”

Pope Francis is right, of course. And Bernie was right to cite him. But Bernie did not, perhaps because he can not, tell us why his own nationalist position on trade—a position he shares with a large majority of Americans—is nothing if not a perfect example of what the Pope means by “the Globalization of Indifference.”

And although it was Bernie who got to meet Pope Francis, it is up to all of us—all of us who believe the common good should extend beyond our borders—to face the moral dilemma created by such seeming indifference.

 

 

[Photos: Bernie at St. Peter’s Basilica: AP; Steve Jobs: Reuters; Outsourcing protest: DaytonOS; Pope Francis: Luca Zennaro/EPA-Pool]

 

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