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Podcast: Lights for Liberty, a Vigil for Human Rights at the Border – w/Ricann Bock & Gloria Bonelli

Activists Ricann Bock and Gloria Bonelli talk about the humanitarian crisis at the border, its implications locally and nationally, and their role in a nationwide day of action to protest the Trump administration’s border policies.

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Podcast: Democratic Debate Recap with New Polling Aftermath

New, up to date analysis of the Democratic primary debates, including new polling data released in early July.

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MSNBC is Controlled Opposition

by Keaton Weiss

Vladimir Lenin once said, “The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves.” The term “controlled opposition” isn’t widely used, but when it is nowadays, it typically refers to the likes of Alex Jones. The theory is that Jones, and other conspiracy theorists like him, by distracting his followers with paranoia and misinformation about fake conspiracies like the Sandy Hook massacre and 9/11, disempowers them and neuters their ability to effectively oppose real systemic forces that actually have tangible negative effects on their lives. In this example, the controlled opposition functions as a sensationalistic side show in which real world problems of oligarchy, militarism, and authoritarianism are caricatured to such extremes that people feel powerless to resist them.

But controlled opposition can also take on another form. One that doesn’t over-radicalize the opposition movement, but rather, sterilizes it by  tempering the convictions of its members. An example of this would be Gabriel Riqueti, Count of Maribeau, who, during the French Revolution, established himself as a key revolutionary leader while at the same time supporting a more moderate vision of constitutional monarchy. It was discovered after his death that he was actually being paid by King Louis XVI the entire time.

MSNBC is also controlled opposition, of the latter variety. They had a big week this week, as hosts of the first two Democratic presidential primary debates. But really, they’ve had a big few years now. Since the election of Donald Trump, they have carved out a niche for themselves as the go-to network for the “resistance,” and throughout the Trump era, their ratings have continued to grow, up to and through the conclusion of the Mueller investigation (since then, they’ve naturally seen a bit of a drop in ratings, but it’s still unquestionably true that Trump has been a boon to their ratings share). But what kind of resistance are they actually leading?

Well first, it should be a telling sign that MSNBC’s ratings boost came largely from their non-stop coverage of the Russia probe. Rachel Maddow, who became number one in her time slot for the first time ever after Trump’s inauguration, covered the Russian interference matter more than all other topics combined through April of 2017. In 2018, MSNBC as a network went only one day, a Sunday, October 28, without mentioning Robert Mueller by name. The Russia probe has mostly been defined by conspiratorial theorizing and specious claims about the degree to which the election of Donald Trump is a direct result of undue influence by the Kremlin, but if there is a central thesis to be found in the endless whirlwind of innuendo, it’s that the Trump presidency is illegitimate. According to this version of reality, the center actually did hold in 2016, and that but for Russian interference in our democracy, Hillary Clinton would be president and the MSNBC team would now be covering the clown car that would have been the 2020 Republican presidential primary field.

This narrative, regardless of the extent to which you believe it, is obviously designed to undermine the notion that decades of systemic failures are what gave rise to Donald Trump, and is consistent with MSNBC’s attempts to quell the voices of those pushing sweeping, systemic reform. A recent Morning Consult poll found that support for Bernie Sanders at MSNBC is 13%, less than at the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and, perhaps most surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal, and yes, Fox News, where Sanders’ support is actually the highest of all the aforementioned outlets, at 22%.

The disdain for Sanders’ “political revolution” among MSNBC viewers is no accident. The late Ed Schultz, host of The Ed Show on the network, made the mistake of covering Bernie’s 2016 campaign launch in Burlington, Vermont. Five minutes before the rally was set to begin, when the show was to go live, Schultz received a phone call from Phil Griffin, head of NBC News, who insisted that the network would not cover the event. The conversation became heated, and six weeks later, Schultz was fired.

Schultz isn’t the only one to receive this treatment. Cenk Uygur, who went on to found the online news network The Young Turks, worked at MSNBC for a brief period as a contributor and anchor. He terminated his contract after being demoted to a weekend time slot because, according to his higher-ups, Washington insiders were uncomfortable with his critical “tone.” Then of course there’s Phil Donahue, who was the network’s prime time host in 2003. Donahue was virtually alone amongst mainstream media personalities in his opposition to the Iraq War. He was fired on February 25, 2003, just three weeks before the war began. According to leaked internal memos, MSNBC fired him specifically for his anti-war stance, saying “he would be a difficult public face for NBC at a time of war,” especially when other networks’ prime time hosts were “waving the American flag.”

Fast forward to this past week, when the network hosted the first two Democratic presidential debates. Now I’m not going to say that the debate questions themselves were biased towards the more centrist candidates, because I honestly don’t think that they were. I thought the questions were more or less fair to all of the candidates. The coverage and commentary of the debates, however, was a different story.

The day before the debates, Bernie Sanders sat down with Kasie Hunt, who asked him, “If it’s clear that you are not gonna be the Democratic nominee, will you leave the race before the convention?…You stayed in last time, and some people say you hurt Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.” This was her question to the second place candidate in a race of two dozen, seven months before the first votes are cast. She ended the interview with the go-to gotcha question, “Are you a Democrat?”

Between nights one and two, Tim Ryan, who had his ass handed to him on stage by Tulsi Gabbard for suggesting we keep troops in Afghanistan, did an interview with Stephanie Ruhle in which he doubled down on his duplicitous position that “we are for bringing people back home, but the Taliban housed Al Qaeda…and so, while we can bring people home, we need to have some presence there so they don’t plan another attack against us.” Ruhle’s hard hitting follow up was, “Are you simply trying to say, ‘we gotta go after the bad guys’?” To which, Ryan responded, “Yeah,” before continuing to attack Gabbard for having met with Bashar Al-Assad, which is something over which MSNBC, along with all the other major networks, has repeatedly skewered Gabbard. Ruhle then lamented that he didn’t get those digs in the night before.

If their debate coverage had a theme, it was anti-Medicare for All. Panel after panel spread the Orwellian lie that implementing a single payer system in which everyone is fully covered would actually be taking people’s healthcare away from them. Chris Matthews at one point suggested that Medicare for All would be unconstitutional, a claim so absurd that it warrants its own article. During his interview with John Delaney in the spin room, Delaney claimed, falsely, that Medicare for All would make private insurance illegal, to which Matthews replied, “I know.” I will admit that the Democrats, all of them, including Bernie Sanders, have been horribly ineffective in countering this lie that private health insurance would be outlawed under a Medicare for All system (most of them haven’t been effective in this way because they’re really not for Medicare for All and would like to see it fail to gain traction, but that’s a different story altogether.) Medicare for All would simply render private insurance obsolete and irrelevant, because no one would want it anymore. But support for Medicare for All among MSNBC hosts is nonexistent, except for one host, Ali Velshi, who is Canadian, and therefore has a firsthand understanding of how such a system works, as well as how dishonest the attacks against its viability and “constitutionality” really are. Perhaps the widespread aversion to the policy at the network has something to do with their advertising revenue generated by commercials for various pharmaceutical products. In the first quarter of 2018, MSNBC raised over $1.9 million in ad revenue from Humira and Otezla alone. 

The day after the second debate, Joe Scarborough had a mini meltdown on the air, lamenting the party’s leftward shift during each of the two nights, as well as the “infighting” that he said was sure to help Donald Trump’s re-election prospects. He expressed concern for the Democrats’ unanimous embrace of health coverage for undocumented immigrants (once again, European countries provide free healthcare to everyone, even tourists, who get sick while visiting.) He even poured cold water on Kamala Harris’ takedown of Joe Biden, saying that an “overwhelming majority of Americans” oppose busing as a way of integrating schools. He called the debates a “disaster for the Democratic Party,” and “a bad sign for me, as someone who desperately wants to see Donald Trump taken out of office.” One has to wonder, though, whether Scarborough is truly concerned about the Democrats’ shift to the left alienating the broader electorate. It’s far more plausible to me that his real concern is that the Democrats are alienating him, forcing him to make a difficult decision about whether or not a Republican congressman-turned-$6 million-a-year cable television host can still support the eventual Democratic nominee, given the likelihood that if elected, he’d be paying considerably more in taxes to fund a more robust public infrastructure.

We learned just a few months ago that Donny Deutsch, a regular guest on Morning Joe who now has his own Saturday evening show on the network, is struggling with this same predicament. Deutsch is one of the more passionate anti-Trump voices on the network, at one point challenging Trump to a physical fight while on the air. Still, Deutsch said on the air back in March, that “a socialist candidate is more dangerous to this company–[I mean] country, as far as the strength and well-being of our country, than Donald Trump.” He then went on to say, “I would vote for Donald Trump, a despicable human being,” at this point, Joe intervened, lest the cat be permanently let out of the bag. “No,” Joe said, “stop yourself,” at which point Deutsch backtracked and said “Let me correct myself…I will be so distraught to the point that could even come out of my mouth if we have a socialist,” finally saying “I will never vote for Donald Trump.”

Donny Deutsch is a man who inherited his father’s advertising firm, which he sold for $250 million. He owns a $41 million home in New York City, and a $20 million mansion in East Hampton. Under Elizabeth Warren’s plan (and remember, she’s not even the “socialist,” she’s the “accountable capitalist” in the race,) Donny would pay, assuming his reported net worth of $220 million is accurate, an ultra-millionaire tax of $3.4 million a year. Is there really any doubt that he’d at the very least sit the election out if either Warren or Sanders were the nominee? He said himself he’d vote for Trump, before Scarborough intervened to save his face.

More importantly, though, is not the question of whether or not Donny Deutsch would vote for a “socialist” candidate, but whether or not the MSNBC viewer will take Deutsch’s analysis of such candidates at face value. And most of them will, because most of them don’t know his biography, and even if they did, they’d likely still take the position that he knows better than they do about the implications of such redistributive policies.

And that, right there, is controlled opposition. A textbook example. The “liberal” news network pays an ultra-millionaire, who inherited his wealth, to gaslight his own viewers into opposing candidates whose policies might hurt his own bottom line. Sure, he opposes Trump. But he opposes Trump on stylistic grounds. He’s too brash, boorish, piggish, cruel, callous. But the Trump tax cuts? Well Donny Deutsch said it himself, they’re less dangerous than a socialist candidate’s tax plan. Less dangerous to who? To him. Not to you. But that, once again, is how controlled opposition works.

The oligarchs at Comcast, who own MSNBC, have created a “liberal,” “forward” thinking news network to essentially pose as opposition to themselves. This cause is made easier by the presence of such an odious, villainous creature in the White House, because now, their audience’s objections to militarism, plutocracy, authoritarianism, corruption, income inequality, et al, can be funneled towards one man: Donald Trump. Opposing him is now “resistance” in itself, and there’s no need to take an honest look at the systemic rot that made a Trump presidency even remotely possible.

MSNBC has successfully set the boundaries inside which its audience is permitted to “resist.” It’s like the “designated protest zone” which is sometimes set up outside a political event, where demonstrators are allowed to bring their signs and express their grievances inside a specific area, cordoned off from any place where they may actually be a disturbance to the thing they’re protesting. MSNBC has conditioned its viewers to think that yes, we need to defeat Donald Trump, but not with democratic socialism or political revolution, but rather, with a sensible, practical, ‘Democrat.’ Yes, we should want our troops back home, but we should accept that there simply must be some permanent troop presence in the Middle East. Yes, we should want healthcare for everyone, but only by protecting the Affordable Care Act and embracing market-based solutions, not by joining the rest of the modern world in creating a single payer system. Yes, we should want a formidable opposition party to the Trumpian GOP, but not one that would go as far as to extend healthcare protections to the undocumented immigrants that Trump abuses. Yes, we should strive for a more equitable, egalitarian society, but not one in which ultra-millionaires feel “punished” or “demonized.” We should be outraged at interference in our elections, but only the Russian variety. We should demand freedom of the press, but be wary of independent news outlets, lest we be led astray by the “Russian trolls.”

Now, to be fair, MSNBC is only the tip of the iceberg. My initial thought was to write a piece called “The Liberal Media is Controlled Opposition,” but I quickly realized that that’s more the topic for a book than a blog post. I chose to focus on MSNBC both because they’ve been especially relevant this past week in their hosting the debates, and because they are particularly effective in their role as controlled opposition for the corporate state and the political class. They have a long history of silencing truly progressive voices on their airwaves, and now have a roster of personnel with whom they seem quite content. So time will tell what impact they’ll have on the presidential race, but time has already told their role in getting us to where we are.

Podcast: w/Courtney Allen – Case Work, Social Activism, Filmmaking, Central Park 5, & More

Courtney Allen, case worker, activist, and filmmaker, joins us for a freewheeling discussion on her case work and film projects, the Central park 5, the Newburgh Four, vaccines, and more.

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Podcast: w/Russell Dobular – Sanders & Warren: A Strategy Session

Russell Dobular debates and discusses how progressives can best handle the Warren & Sanders dilemma currently taking shape in the 2020 primary. **This discussion was prompted by Russell’s blog submission, which is listed below the episode.**

The Case for Elizabeth Warren From A “Bernie Bro”

by Russell Dobular

It has long been assumed that this year’s Democratic primaries would boil down to an establishment candidate vs. a progressive. It could still turn out that way, but the chances are increasing by the day that the top two candidates in the race end up being Bernie Sanders and . . . Elizabeth Warren. After the debates we could very easily wind up with the country’s two most prominent progressive voices battling it out for the nomination and that’s going to present the progressive movement with both an embarrassment of riches and a serious conundrum. Who do you pick, and why? For me personally, the choice in that fight would have to be Warren. But I’ll get to that. First, the reasons why I think we’re going to end up there.

  • Biden’s support is going to collapse. Between the crime bill, Anita Hill, his votes on trade, the bankruptcy bill, his past coziness with segregationists, and his inability to use the English language without creating a controversy, Biden will be lucky to make it out of New Hampshire. Add to that the fact that his whole campaign is being built around the completely nutso idea that Republicans are going to come to their senses once Trump is out of office, and that this message is being delivered with a straight face by a veteran of the White House that had its Supreme Court nominee blocked for a year by a pre-Trump Republican Senate, and Biden is going to go down very hard and faster than anyone realizes, probably right after the first debates.
  • As strange and counterintuitive as it is, Sanders is the most popular second choice for Biden’s voters, with 29%. So, when Biden goes the way of Jeb, Sanders is likely to be the biggest beneficiary. Add those voters to Sanders’ solid base of support and Bernie is going to stay in the top three for the foreseeable future.
  • Warren is a great candidate. She’s warm, relatable and folksy in a way that you wouldn’t expect from someone with her intellectual firepower. The more people see her, the more they like her. And she’s shown an ability to translate a lot of the message that up until now has belonged almost exclusively to Sanders, into policies that are easy for the average voter to comprehend. Her framing of her “wealth tax” as 2 cents on the dollar over 50 million is brilliant and easier to defend than “70% of income.” Who can argue against taxing fabulously wealthy people 2 cents? Some will try, but that’s only going to make them look like assholes.

For all of those reasons, I think there’s a decent chance this ends up being a Warren vs. Sanders race. Given those choices, if you really care about advancing the progressive agenda, Warren is the better vehicle. Here’s why:

  • Sanders made a lot of enemies in 2016 and a good chunk of them show no signs of letting it go. A not insignificant number of voters who were on the other side in those primaries hate Sanders with the white-hot light of a thousand burning suns. They always will. It doesn’t matter whether you think that’s justified or not, its an unalterable fact that needs to be acknowledged. If Sanders is the nominee not only will a lot of those voters stay home (they’ll never admit it in public but I promise you, a sizable portion of them will find other things to do on election day), but most of them will maintain their allegiance to the party establishment in a way they probably wouldn’t if Warren were the one at odds with the party. Which brings us to:
  • Yes, I know your issues with Clinton were all policy based. If you were a Sanders supporter in 2016, even now you could probably be woken up with a flashlight in the middle of the night and without a moment’s hesitation recite her policy history chapter and verse. Doesn’t change the fact that we’ve never had a female President and for a lot of voters, not all of them women, that’s a travesty. When it was Bernie and Hillary, there were legitimate policy reasons to reject Clinton. What would the justification be for rejecting Warren? There are a fair number of former Clinton supporters who like Warren. Some of them love Warren. If Warren is the nominee, they’ll end up supporting not only her, but the kinds of policies she’s espousing. In other words, they’ll be working with us instead of against us. If Sanders is the nominee all that goes away. Not only will they close their ears to his policies, but they’ll take it as further evidence that support for Sanders was always first and foremost about sexism. And this time, they won’t sound batshit crazy.
  • The party establishment, Wall Street, and the corporate media are going to go after Warren, just like they went after Sanders. But it won’t be as effective and its going to open the eyes of some Warren supporters who still have faith in those institutions. If you hate Sanders, and those institutions also hate Sanders, there’s not a lot of reason for you to question their motives. When they start giving Liz the WAPO, sixteen negative articles in sixteen hours treatment, they’ll finally realize what we realized four years ago-those institutions aren’t what we thought they were.
  • We need to win the primaries. Look at the support that consolidated around Biden. Yes, its largely because of name recognition, but its also because the older generation of Democratic voters still has a death grip on the party. They already got theirs and the last thing they want is for someone to come in and radically revamp the system in a way that might cost them a nickel, even if its going to save their Grandkids from growing up in a dystopian hellscape. Sanders is where the party and the country are going. But a lot of these folks have to die off before we get there. What Biden’s numbers should tell us is that faced with a Sanders nomination, there’s a good chance the geriatrics consolidate around another centrist when Biden’s candidacy collapses. They’re not as afraid of Warren, largely because she isn’t Bernie. He’s essentially scaring those people into accepting her, because at least she doesn’t identify as a socialist.
  • Warren takes the identity politics attacks on progressives off the table. “Warren Bro” just isn’t gonna have the same ring to it. If we stick with Bernie, the same dishonest actors who cry sexism whenever its convenient, but never when it isn’t (like when it’s an old, white, male Democrat in good standing, running against a progressive woman. See: Cuomo/Nixon, Crowley/AOC), are going to scream “Bernie Bros” from the rooftops all day, every day. Wouldn’t it be nice to just discuss the issues and not have to list all the progressive women you’ve supported over the years in the effort to shut those people up, usually to no avail? Wouldn’t it be even nicer to get their votes?

I get the case against Warren, really I do. She plays politics in a way that Bernie doesn’t; staying silent on Standing Rock, voting for Trump’s military budget, refusing to condemn Israeli bombings of Gaza schools, etc. But in the end, I’m a political pragmatist. I didn’t stop supporting the Democratic party establishment because I caught a bad case of the idealisms. I stopped because I realized that long-term there was nothing pragmatic about supporting an ideology that’s led to such grotesque levels of wealth inequality and such extreme desperation in the voting public that Donald Trump would even be a thing. I started thinking about what comes after Trump if the Democrats continue to offer more of the same. And that led me to fight as hard as I can for a peaceful progressive revolution that might start to undo some of the damage that the post-Bill Clinton Democratic Party has wrought. And I didn’t work my ass off for Sanders in 2016 just to make a point. There’s been a Bernie Sanders in every Democratic primary I can remember, from Jerry Brown to Howard Dean to Al Sharpton. I never supported any of them. Because they couldn’t win. 2016 was different and if you were paying attention you knew that all the conventional wisdom was out the window in that particular year. If you got your understanding of the world from the op-ed pages of the New York Times, Hillary made a lot of sense. If you were in tune with what was actually going on in the country, you knew a candidate like Sanders had a much better chance of defeating Trump, than a consummate tribune of the status quo like HRC. I make the case for Warren in the same spirit. She’s the furthest left candidate we can support who can also unite the party behind her. That’s just a stone cold fact. If we really care about making progressive policy happen, she’s our best bet.

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AOC is Right, and Even Her Good Faith Critics Miss the Point of “Never Again.”

by Keaton Weiss

Let’s start with the basics. All Beagles are dogs, but not all dogs are Beagles. All roses are flowers, but not all flowers are roses. Got it? Good. Now let’s apply this same principle to the fake-AOC-outrage-du-jour. All death camps are concentration camps, but not all concentration camps are death camps. A concentration camp, by definition, according to the radical left-wing site dictionary.com, is a “guarded compound for the detention or imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities, political opponents, etc.” In fairness, the definition does go on to mention explicitly that the term is especially used to describe death camps established by the Nazis leading up to and during the second World War, but I’ll come back to that later.

My first point is the simple one. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is right on the substance of her claim, which is that “the United States is running concentration camps on our southern border.” I really don’t need elaborate on this, since I just gave you the dictionary definition of a concentration camp, but in the interest of making more than a semantic point, I’ll mention that to date, 24 people have died in ICE detention centers during the Trump administration, as well as at least 6 children while being detained by other federal agencies. ICE’s own internal memos admit that many of these deaths were preventable. Sexual abuse allegations have been filed by the hundreds, totaling well over a thousand dating back to the Obama administration. And of course we’ve all heard the stories of family separation, hastily erected cages for migrants and asylum seekers to sleep in, etc.

AOC’s bad faith critics, mostly impotent old men who for some strange reason seem determined to convince the world of her stupidity while avidly supporting a president with the intellectual prowess of a rodeo clown, are barely worth addressing, as she herself said in the very video that got her in trouble in the first place. These are the people who have not only expressed no concern whatsoever for what has gone on in these detention centers, but, even more ironically, have been entirely mum on the swastika-touting neo-Nazi demonstrators who marched on Charlottesville and who have received remarkably mild treatment from the current president, who they admire so greatly. Their faux-indignation about undue Holocaust comparisons is dismissible out of hand.

AOC literally shrugged them off, at a loss for words as to what she could say to them, because, as she realized in real time, there’s really nothing to say. They are who they are. What’s upsetting about this particular episode is that Ocasio-Cortez went on to make a direct appeal to the sensibilities of those she felt had a good faith concern for the border crisis. She says, “I wanna talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that we should not — that ‘never again’ means something.” Some of those very people, the ones to whom she made such an appeal, have been the ones in the media who have pounced at the opportunity to criticize her for her statement. Joe Scarborough, Chuck Todd, John Avlon, Jake Tapper, etc. You know the crowd. Without quoting or linking to each of their specific critiques, the central claim of their criticism is quite predictable: that while she is right to be critical of the detention centers at the border, analogies to the Nazi death camps are offensive and degrading to the memory of the Holocaust, and she should apologize.

As I mentioned earlier, while a “concentration camp” technically does not require forced labor or executions in order to be labeled as such, it’s undeniable that that the term connotes a similarity to the Nazi death camps of World War II. It’s also undeniable that Ocasio-Cortez made specific invocation of the Holocaust when she used the words “never again.” So the knee-jerk reaction would be to say “Aha! She did make a direct comparison to the Holocaust and that is offensive because obviously the two scenarios are radically different! The media is right, she’s wrong, and she should apologize.”

What the media fails to understand, however, is that AOC’s invocation of the Holocaust, and specifically, her use of the phrase “never again,” was actually doing more to honor the memory of the Holocaust than to degrade it. She said herself that “‘never again’ means something.” Well what does it mean? It means that in order to prevent such horrors from ever happening again, we must be vigilant and remind ourselves of the Holocaust before a “correct analogy” can be made. If we wait until such a historical comparison is completely apt, then we’ve failed to live up to the promise of “never again.” In that case, we’d be left with simply, “Again.”

Imagine, for a moment, that the Good Germans of the early 1930’s had the benefit of a political leader loudly sounding the alarm about the current political climate by making references, albeit hyperbolic, to a recent historical example of a religious genocide so fresh in the minds of the citizenry that they were determined to nip all others in the bud. Let’s not forget that while antisemitism was widespread throughout Germany at the time, it was unthinkable to most Germans that the Holocaust could or would ever occur. Could the same not be said right now about anti-immigrant sentiment? And do those “concerned enough with humanity to say that ‘never again’ means something” really want to brow-beat the one sounding the alarm?

Podcast: w/Cristin Sauter – How Perceptions of Addiction Shape Drug Policy

Cristin Sauter, PhD in waiting at Adelphi University, talks drug policy at home and abroad, and how societal conditions and public perceptions help shape it.

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Bernie Sanders Welcomes Your Hatred.

Sanders’ speech on democratic socialism is the thing revolutions are made of.

by Keaton Weiss

“If there was ever a moment where we had to effectively analyze the competing political and social forces which define this historical period, this is that time.

If there was ever a moment when we needed to stand up and fight against the forces of oligarchy and authoritarianism, this is that time.

And, if there was ever a moment when we needed a new vision to bring our people together in the fight for justice, decency and human dignity, this is that time.”

So began Bernie Sanders’ speech on democratic socialism on June 12, 2019. He wasted no time in drawing a distinction between himself and the policy-indifferent, blue-no-matter-who, anything-to-stop-Trump wing of the Democratic Party. In doing so, he took the first of many political chances that have defined his career as a public servant, up to and including his 2020 presidential campaign. At a time when most Democratic voters are primarily concerned with defeating Donald Trump, Bernie leaned in on his ambitious political program, and doubled down on the two words that politicos and fellow politicians alike seem to think will spell doom for his electoral prospects: democratic socialism.

Now I admit, I went into this speech with rather low expectations. I knew there would be references to both MLK and FDR, and I knew there’d be contrasts made between Bernie’s brand of democratic socialism and Trump’s “corporate socialism.” I knew we’d hear the usual laundry list of Bernie staples, ie, health care, a $15 minimum wage, tuition free public college, etc. “The hits,” if you will. I expected Bernie to make a conciliatory appeal to modest Democratic primary voters by framing these ideas as mainstream, moderate approaches to the crises that face America in 2019, and that “socialism” is just a scary word that the right will use to smear his benign, common sense agenda.

Instead, we got a speech that was truly, in a word, revolutionary. A full frontal, unapologetic embrace of a redistributive political program, as well as a crystal clear delineation of the struggle ahead, who’s on whose side, and why.

In the speech, Bernie defined his political agenda as completing the unfinished business of FDR’s New Deal. He made sure to remind his audience early on in his remarks of both the successes of those policies, and the oligarchs’ efforts to thwart them, specifically, by branding them as socialism.

“Like today, the quest for transformative change was opposed by big business, Wall Street, the political establishment, by the Republican Party and by the conservative wing of FDR’s own Democratic Party. And he faced the same scare tactics then that we experience today — red baiting, xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism.”

A bit later on, Bernie went on to specifically call out the oligarchs of today in blunt, uncompromising language:

“They are the profit-taking gatekeepers of our health care, our technology, our finance system, our food supply and almost all of the other basic necessities of life. They are Wall Street, the insurance companies, the drug companies, the fossil fuel industry, the military industrial complex, the prison industrial complex and giant agri-businesses.

They are the entities with unlimited wealth who surround our nation’s capitol with thousands of well-paid lobbyists, who to a significant degree write the laws that we live under.”

And he wasn’t done yet. He went on to compare modern day Trumpism and the rise of global right wing authoritarianism to the reactionary opposition to the New Deal, and, obviously, the fascistic global trends underway during that time.

After that, his central thesis:

“It is my very strong belief that the United States must reject that path of hatred and divisiveness — and instead find the moral conviction to choose a different path, a higher path, a path of compassion, justice and love.

It is the path that I call democratic socialism.”

At that point, the friendly audience at George Washington University stood and cheered, not for the first time, but the second. Oddly enough, the first standing ovation was awarded not to one of Bernie’s own lines, but after he quoted Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s now famous 1936 campaign speech:

 “We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace: business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.”

“Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”

Bernie himself seemed a bit surprised at just how well that line went over. The crowd erupted in applause and rose to their feet. And had I been in that auditorium, I’d have joined them, because whether Bernie himself knew it or not, that was the most powerful and meaningful moment of his entire address for a couple of reasons.

First, it was a long awaited breath of fresh air to Bernie supporters like myself who, for a few years now, have been frustrated by what seemed to be a naïveté on his part as to just how vicious and ruthless his opposition actually is. Hearing him acknowledge, in what was an obvious comparison to the current campaign, that he is in fact hated by these same “enemies of peace” that loathed FDR, was extremely refreshing, and gave a sense of confidence that his head was truly “in the game,” as they say.

Second, for the young people in that room, this was an entirely new framing of the political landscape, and, finally, one that made sense. In the neoliberal era of Democratic politics, the battle of right vs. left has been sold to us an intramural sport, in which everyone’s ultimately on the same team (in fact, Obama used that exact metaphor the morning after Trump was elected president.) In other words, we’re all patriotic, civic minded, well-intentioned people who want what’s best for each other; we simply differ on how to achieve our common goal of peace and prosperity for all, and with some compromise, we can figure it all out. I’m not sure to what extent significant numbers of people actually believed this, but we were all nonetheless charmed by politicians who spoke of that dynamic as an ideal towards which we should all strive. But to us young folks, this never really made sense. It sure didn’t seem to us that the student loan collectors were on our side. Nor were the credit card companies charging us 20% interest on money we had to borrow in order to make our student loan payments. Nor were the speculators who crashed the economy in 2008, decimating the job market into which we graduated with such high debt to begin with. No, we’re not one big happy family. There are people in this country who are in fact our enemies, who do in fact seek to exploit us, and who do in fact hate the candidate who’s most serious about fighting back against them on our behalf. Finally, a presidential candidate had told them to bring it on.

Not only did Bernie succeed in conjuring up the fighting spirit of the revolutionary leaders who came before him in order to rally his base, but he expressed his prescription for the crises that plague our country with the moral and political clarity of a candidate whose only responsibility is to his own constituency.

Politically, this is hugely effective for him. It always has been. Conservative Republicans have always respected Bernie for his straight forward, no nonsense approach to pitching his political program. What makes this doubling down on the phrase “democratic socialism” especially beneficial at this moment is that it comes at a time when his Democratic rivals are trotting out contrived and transparently empty phrases to describe their economic agendas. These phrases consist of one qualifying adjective, followed by the word — you guessed it — “capitalism.” Beto O’Rourke calls it “conscientious capitalism,” Pete Buttigieg calls it, funnily enough, “democratic capitalism,” and Elizabeth Warren calls it “accountable capitalism.” There’s a phrase I’d use to describe all of those labels. It’s called total bullshit. Because truly “accountable, conscientious, or democratic” capitalism is actually democratic socialism. These nonsensical terms are borne of the elite liberal media institutions who constantly disavow socialism while conceding that capitalism is in constant need of reform, ignoring of course that these reforms they speak of are socialist in nature.

So not only are these other candidates gaslighting their own voters, but the embrace of these alternative forms of capitalism by the Democratic establishment and their entrenched donor network reveals an obvious hypocrisy on their part, which is that they never lent any legitimacy to the difference between socialism and democratic socialism. To this crowd, socialism is socialism, and, of course, Bernie’s a socialist, and a socialist can’t win, because socialism is bad. Capitalism, on the other hand, can be modified and disguised to conceal its brutalities and its failures with words like “accountable,” “smart,” “conscientious,” and, of course, “democratic.”

Warren’s embrace of accountable capitalism is particularly sleazy, because Elizabeth Warren is more or less herself a democratic socialist. I know, I know, I know, she was a Republican until the 90’s, and she’s a regulator whereas Sanders is a “redistributor,” and she’s friendlier to the military industrial complex than he is, I get all of that. But these plans of hers that she keeps touting are almost all redistributive plans that can, and will, by the way, in a general election, be branded as socialism, by the right wing opposition.

So then what’s with this “accountable capitalism” bullshit? Taxing ultra-millionaires 2% on every dollar past $50 million in net worth in order to finance things like free child care, free college tuition, and student debt forgiveness, isn’t “accountable capitalism.” It’s democratic socialism. Warren’s reluctance to make this distinction reveals at least one of two things is true about her. Number one, she doesn’t trust the voters enough to have a real discussion about the issues in front of us, and therefore is unwilling, as I’ve mentioned before, to actually build the mass movements necessary to address them (Just think: “What do we want?! Accountable capitalism! When do we want it? Now!”). Instead, she, like many Democrats before her, have employed a sort of ‘smuggle-through-customs’ approach to implementing redistributive policies by shying away from language that could get her in trouble with the political establishment. The second possible reason for her waffling on this, and both could be true, is that there’s some winking and nodding going on behind the scenes to the Democratic establishment. Maybe this is all just talk, and the reason there’s no mention of a political revolution on her part is because she has no real “plan” to bring one about, despite the fact that she’s touted her plans as “systemic reforms.” The thing that makes her a viable candidate is her ability to draw support from both the establishment Democrats and the progressive grassroots. Barack Obama was able to do the same thing, as was Bill Clinton. And we now know on which side of that divide their true loyalties were. This same penchant for intra-party triangulation, however, makes her unable to deliver the kind of speech that Bernie Sanders delivered yesterday, and unable to lead the non-violent revolution that is required to counter the 21st century oligarchs, whose power has grown by leaps and bounds since FDR first “welcomed their hatred.”

Warren’s palatability to the political class despite her progressive policy platform brings into focus what has always been true since day one of Bernie’s 2016 campaign, which is that the most important difference between Bernie and the rest of the Democrats is that, unlike Bernie, the rest of the Democrats are Democrats. And I think for the first time, perhaps because of Warren’s recent surge and the positive press that has come with it, Bernie himself has come to recognize just how significant that difference is, which is perhaps why he gave this speech; to remind us that progressives once, long ago, in dire times, carved out a home for themselves within the Democratic Party, and banished its conservative members to the ash bin of history, where they remain to this day. Our task is to do the same right now, because just as in the 1930’s, the moment calls for it. And whereas the rest of the Democratic field is stuck straddling the line between what’s agreeable to the establishment and what truly meets the needs of the American people, Bernie has clearly defined the sides of this battle, and has chosen one: Ours.

His address yesterday was the opening salvo of what is not just a campaign, but a movement that is sure to outlive and transcend his campaign, win or lose, which brings me to my final point. Because that speech was so damn good, it’s easy to adopt an all-or-nothing attitude towards the 2020 campaign, which has come to be known as “Bernie or Bust.” As much as I understand that temptation, I implore you not to give in to it. Because in fact, to do so would be to miss the point of this speech, and to miss the point of the 2020 Bernie Sanders campaign, which is, as his slogan suggests, that regardless of who the president is, our future is up to us. This speech is the thing that revolutions are made of. And no revolution can pin its hopes on the fate of one man. Would we love to see him win? Of course. Is he, especially after this speech, the clear best choice of all available options? Of course. But movements like the one he has helped create are not built for best case scenarios. They exist for precisely the opposite reasons, so that positive momentum can be sustained even through setbacks and short term defeats. Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, or, even in the nightmare of all nightmares, Joe Biden, could, if we stay strong, be the LBJ to our MLK. It didn’t take a great president to pass the Civil Rights Act. It took a mass mobilization of great citizens, united by a common purpose, to get a bill to his desk, which he then had to sign. Such mass mobilization is the heart and soul of the Bernie Sanders campaign, is the lifeblood of the democratic socialist movement, and will be the vehicle that moves this country into a better future, regardless of the Democratic primary outcome, if we, the people, remain in the drivers’ seat.

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Stop Sharing That Stupid Op-Ed on Elizabeth Warren. “Seriously.”

by Keaton Weiss

If your social circle is similar to mine, you likely know which op-ed I’m referring to. In case you don’t, it’s the one by Farhad Manjoo dated June 5, entitled “I Want to Live in Elizabeth Warren’s America.”  The condescension begins before the first paragraph, as the subtitle reads, “The Massachusetts senator is proposing something radical: a country in which adults discuss serious ideas seriously.”

The title and the subtitle together imply that that Manjoo wants to live in a more “serious” America, where “adults” can debate and discuss the nuances of in depth policy ideas put forward by the likes of Harvard professors-turned-political candidates. He wants to live in an America where intellectual rigor trumps flowery rhetoric, and where  specific details trump broader, more visionary programs.

As for myself, I’d like to live in an America where everyone has healthcare. And if it takes a less cultured, less sophisticated, perhaps even less intelligent leader to generate a grassroots movement that can get us there, then I’ll take that over Manjoo’s intellectual utopia any day, any time. At one point in his article, Manjoo writes, in reference to his disagreement with Warren’s proposal to break up big technology companies, “For a moment, it almost felt like I was living in a country where adults discuss important issues seriously. Wouldn’t that be a nice country to live in?” The answer: not necessarily.

Why not? Well, it’s not that I dislike Warren. In fact we devoted an entire episode of our podcast to the great policy ideas she has put forward. I agree with nearly all of them, and I do think she deserves ample credit for crafting creative policy proposals that transcend bumper sticker catchphrases and formulaic platitudes. What Warren lacks, however, is the ability, and perhaps even the desire, to build mass movements around these great ideas of hers (I highly recommend Meagan Day’s writings at Jacobin Magazine for a more thorough analysis of this). And one thing that I said during the podcast episode is that much of Warren’s support comes from people who may have similar policy priorities to a candidate like Bernie Sanders, but who harbor a snobbish disdain for his unpolished, some might say “unserious,” brand of politics. To them, a “political revolution” is just a bunch of unwashed hippies in the streets who lack the subtlety and sophistication necessary to implement policy. They much prefer the doctrinaire, professorial technocrat who can expertly craft original, complex proposals all by herself. The campaigns’ two respective slogans, Warren’s newly found catchphrase “I Have a Plan for That” and Sanders’ “Not me. Us.” perfectly illustrate their different approaches.

What’s telling about Manjoo’s op-ed is that he explicitly floats the idea that Warren’s plans could be DOA given the current political climate. He writes:

“You might think I’m getting too giddy here. You might argue that policy ideas, especially at this stage of the game, don’t really matter — either because the public doesn’t care about substance, or because it’s unlikely that any president can get what she wants through a partisan, rigid Congress, so all these plans are a mere academic exercise. Or you may simply not like what you’ve heard of Warren’s ideas.

Still, do me a favor. Whatever your politics, pull out your phone, pour yourself a cup of tea, and set aside an hour to at least read Warren’s plans. You’ll see that on just about every grave threat facing Americans today, she offers a plausible theory of the problem and a creative and comprehensive vision for how to address it.”

Yet even after pouring cold water on the notion that these “ideas” will come to fruition, he still celebrates them for what they are. Is the implementation of any of these policies really what’s important to him? Or is the ability to drink tea and read about them in the New York Times enough to usher in the kind of America that he wants to live in? Also note that there’s no mention in this  passage, or the entire piece for that matter, of any grassroots activism or mass movements of ordinary people that could help Warren push some of these ideas through the “partisan, rigid Congress.”

Not only is such a mass movement of engaged citizens necessary to implement any kind of pro-active progressive agenda, but such a method of implementation is desirable over this technocratic, top-down approach. At least it is in the America want to live in. I’d like to live in an America where ordinary people, no matter how “unserious” the New York Times may brand them, can band together to fight for policy priorities that they know are urgently needed, regardless of their ability to parse through the minutiae of each one of them. The mother who rations her child’s insulin because she can’t afford the $900 monthly cost knows enough to understand the need for Medicare for All. She doesn’t need to be able to articulate precisely how, in some theoretical political reality that doesn’t exist, she would implement such a policy,  at what precise cost, and precisely where she would procure the funding. She doesn’t need to have all those answers just yet, and neither does her president. It’s much more important that her president can activate her political energy, along with millions of others’, to create mass demand for sweeping reform. It then falls to the Congress and the cabinet to iron out the details.

If you don’t believe that, you need only to look to recent history, at the struggle over the Affordable Care Act. According to Barack Obama’s great “idea,” the law was to include a public option, a sort of Medicare buy-in. That measure was defeated, not by a Paul Ryan white paper or a Thomas Sowell speaking tour, but by a sweeping grassroots movement of the newly formed Tea Party Republicans who came out in droves across the country to town hall meetings and protest rallies, voicing their staunch opposition to the ACA. Was that not a political revolution of sorts? I mean,they call themselves the Tea Party for chrissakes. And they were successful, not only in neutering much of what would eventually pass as “Obamacare,” but then of course, achieving massive electoral victories the following year, and changing American politics for years to come.

Agree or disagree with the Tea Party, their rise in the early years of the Obama administration was a healthy example of democracy in action. Democracy is what allows the unrefined, unsophisticated, “unserious” people to have a seat at the table, and to have their opinions matter when it comes to forming a government and dictating how it operates. To yearn for an era in which only the most “serious” people are involved in these decisions is fundamentally anti-democratic, and therefore both unfeasible and undesirable.

Manjoo concludes his article with the most wrongheaded elitism we’ve seen in quite some time:

“The only way to liberate ourselves from Trumpism is through politics that rise above Trumpian silliness.”

To quote the “silly” man who defeated the entire “serious” political class a few years ago, “Wrong!”

The way to liberate ourselves from Trumpism is to elect a president who can, to borrow another phrase from the man himself, “drain the swamp” of the water in which Trumpism swims. This entails restoring dignity to working class people. There are many “plans,” or “ideas,” that one could formulate for accomplishing this. But with those ideas comes a requirement for both a willingness and ability to form a broad, aggressive coalition of serious and “unserious” people alike — you may even need a few “silly” people in the mix as well — to create an undeniable demand for such a political program. Could Elizabeth Warren be that candidate? It’s possible she could be, though a side-by-side comparison with Bernie Sanders shows she’s clearly less capable of building and mobilizing such a coalition. But with Farhad Manjoo’s attitude, she doesn’t stand a chance.

Perhaps I should have ended there, but for some reason I do feel the need to be a bit conciliatory, as neither Warren nor her supporters are my true enemies. So I’ll conclude by giving some free advice to my opposition. If you support Elizabeth Warren, that’s fine. For all her flaws, I think she’s a very strong candidate, who, if my first choice becomes unavailable, would have my enthusiastic support. But the way to win people over to her isn’t to flaunt her “seriousness,” as if she’s this refreshing intellectual oasis in a vast idiot desert. That makes you sound like a smug, condescending asshole, which you very well may be, and that’s fine too. But for purposes of electoral politics, especially in a populist moment such as this one, you may want to tuck that part of your personality into, to quote another 2016 candidate, your “private position.”

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