by Keaton Weiss
First of all, it’s quite likely that Bernie Sanders actually won the rank and file vote for the Working Families Party endorsement. The party decides upon its presidential endorsement via a “weighted vote,” which is essentially a superdelegate model. In this case, unlike other years, they have decided to withhold the breakdown of “member votes” vs. “leader votes,” sowing doubts as to whether or not the party leadership acted to override the members’ consensus. For a succinct, detailed, and very persuasive analysis of why it’s quite likely that the member vote went for Sanders and that the party leadership voted to alter their decision, I’ll refer you to Matt Bruenig’s excellent piece in Jacobin Magazine.
That aside, let’s just for a moment take at face value the “weighted vote” of the WFP’s endorsement, which went to Elizabeth Warren. This isn’t the first time this ostensibly progressive organization has made the dubious, eyebrow-raising decision to cozy up to power rather than challenge it. They endorsed Andrew Cuomo over Zephyr Teachout in the New York gubernatorial primary of 2014, and Joe Crowley over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018. Also in 2018, the party grudgingly gave their party line to Andrew Cuomo after he defeated their endorsed candidate, Cynthia Nixon, in the primary. There was some doubt as to whether Cuomo would have even accepted their general election endorsement after being spurned by them during the primary, but ultimately, the Working Families Party fell in line and made amends with the party establishment – a trend that has obviously continued through this week.
If an organization that calls itself the “Working Families Party” could, in a laboratory, concoct a candidate from scratch, they would create Bernie Sanders. On its own homepage, the Working Families Party, as of this writing anyway (homepages can change, of course), bills itself as follows:
“The Working Families Party is a grassroots, multiracial party of working people coming together across our differences to make our nation work for the many, not the few. We’re electing the next generation of transformational leaders and building durable, independent progressive power in communities across the country. But we can only do this together.”
Substitute “Working Families Party” for “Bernie Sanders campaign”, and the word “party” for “coalition,” and you’d have a statement that’s entirely accurate. Not only does Sanders’ platform represent the most ambitious pro-worker agenda in generations, his movement-based style of obtaining and maintaining political power is precisely the model that the WFP touts, once again, on its homepage.
So, regardless of whether or not there were any superdelegate-like shenanigans employed to put Warren over the top, we must ask ourselves the equally important question of why a) the vote was close enough to overturn in the first place, and b) why WFP leadership feels that Warren is a better choice than Sanders, who overwhelmingly won the party’s endorsement four years ago.
The answer is that they see Warren as a Trojan Horse, and Sanders as a Bull in a China Shop. They see Elizabeth Warren as a progressive candidate who’s palatable enough to the establishment so as not to make too many enemies and cause too much alarm; someone they can package as a gift to the DNC, and then, once she’s inside the Oval Office, can unleash her progressive agenda upon the halls of power, defeating the establishment from within, the same way the Greeks toppled Troy. Bernie, on the other hand, is more of a blunt instrument. He challenges the entrenched power structure directly and with the brute force of one million volunteers; working people who are ready to storm the Bastille and conquer the neoliberal status quo the old-fashioned way: through revolution.
The latter – Sanders’ strategy – is a giant undertaking, no doubt. It’s a David vs. Goliath battle that will require working people to unite, and against all odds, dismantle the oligarchy to deliver an economic and political order that is truly democratic. It’s a long shot, of course. But the former strategy, the “Trojan Horse” strategy that the WFP sees in Elizabeth Warren, is a straight-up sucker’s bet. For two reasons:
The first is explained by very recent history. Barack Obama tried this exact same strategy in 2008, and was thwarted by the DNC. His campaign sought to build a grassroots army outside the party establishment’s parameters, and was given a hard ‘no’ by the consultant class. Obama’s strategy of challenging party orthodoxy while ultimately agreeing to play by their rules is being duplicated to a T by the Warren campaign. And if Barack Obama, whose policy set is decidedly to the right of Warren’s, was stopped at the gates of Troy, you can only imagine how harsh and swift the political class will come down on any similar effort put forth by Warren, who’s already assured them she’s willing to play nice if she has to.
But secondly, and more importantly, and perhaps rendering reason number one irrelevant, a Trojan Horse is only effective if…wait for it…THERE’S AN ARMY INSIDE OF IT! And there simply is no grassroots working class movement taking shape in Elizabeth Warren’s campaign. According to virtually all available data, Warren’s supporters are disproportionately wealthy, white, and highly educated. However you feel about that, it’s objectively not a “multiracial [coalition] of working people” who are ready to get their hands dirty in pursuit of “independent progressive power.”
Warren’s base of support is firmly positioned within the Democratic Party, and are very comfortable where they are, both politically and economically. What this means is that Warren’s coalition has no real use for the Working Families Party, and has nothing whatsoever to gain from the WFP’s success in building the kind of working class movement they’re supposedly striving to create. Conversely, Bernie Sanders is himself an independent, as are millions of his supporters. These are people in search of a party, or any political organization for that matter, who will welcome them with open arms, and the WFP could have perhaps played that role, while simultaneously fulfilling their own stated mission of creating a diverse, independent progressive power base.
Instead, they once again did what they’ve been known to do throughout their short history: play sheepdog for the Democratic Party. In this way, their endorsement of Warren makes perfect sense. If their raison d’etre is to vouch for left-of-center Democrats on progressives’ behalf, then Warren and the WFP are actually a match made in heaven. Such a match leads me to believe that they were never actually serious about independent working class coalition-building, but rather, creating the illusion of such a movement in order to give working class progressives the idea that there’s a place for them in the Democratic Party. Well, the jig is up. The Jerking Families Party, as the Rush Limbaugh in me has now coined them, has written itself a not-so-happy ending.
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