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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Podcast: w/Deborah Danzy & Fran Fox-Pizzonia – Planned Parenthood and Reproductive Rights in 2019

Fran Fox-Pizzonia and Deborah Danzy of Planned Parenthood discuss the organization’s role in their community, and the challenges posed by the current political climate.

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Podcast: w/Dawn Wilkin & Regina Cieslak – TEAM Newburgh’s Fight Against Opioids and Addiction

Dawn Wilkin and Regina Cieslak of TEAM Newburgh discuss their efforts on the ground in the fight against addiction and opioid abuse.

Podcast: w/Nick Brana – The Movement for a People’s Party

Nick Brana, former Bernie Sanders organizer and founding member of Our Revolution, discusses his current project as founder and national director at the Movement for a People’s Party.

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Podcast: The Warren Dilemma

On this episode we discuss Elizabeth Warren’s policy blitz, and why it creates a dilemma for progressives moving forward.

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The Green Party’s Big Chance: Endorse, and Defer to, Bernie Sanders

by Keaton Weiss

In her recent appearance on the “Primo Nutmeg” podcast, Jill Stein recounts her public appeal to Bernie Sanders in July of 2016. Her offer was a simple one. She invited Bernie to replace her at the top of the ticket, and run for president as the Green Party nominee. She made this offer after all the primary states had voted, and just weeks before the Democratic National Convention, when Hillary Clinton was set to officially secure the Democratic nomination.

Stein, in her interview, expresses a good deal of disappointment that Sanders dismissed her proposal out of hand. In fact, the way she puts it, it’s unclear whether he formally declined her offer or simply ignored it altogether. In her words, “He didn’t even want to talk about it.” She goes on to explain why she feels that the deck is once again stacked against him in 2020. She mentions that superdelegates are still part of the equation despite the Democrats’ having removed them from the first ballot, and iterates a concern shared by many progressives that such a crowded Democratic field will yield a final result in which no one candidate has a majority of delegates secured going into the convention, and that ultimately the superdelegates could override the will of the people should they cast their votes on the second ballot for a candidate other than the one with the plurality of delegates, especially if the candidate with the plurality of delegates is Bernie Sanders.

“The Democrats have offered false hopes for decades and decades,” she says, “I personally can’t put my eggs into that basket, and think that the Democrats are gonna somehow magically allow a progressive to get the nomination.” Her bleak outlook extends far beyond Bernie’s prospects. She mentions that “America and the world are crumbling,” and that absent the implementation of a transformative vision, climate change, nuclear proliferation, economic inequality, and the rise of fascism, will swallow us whole.

Surely, if the game is as rigged as she says it is, and the hour is as late as she says it is, her answer for such a dire moment cannot possibly be another third party presidential run in which the best case scenario is a 5% showing to secure federal funding for her party the next time around.

Rather, I’d argue, it’s time to think outside the box. If the Green Party wants to finally become a relevant political force in this country, it now has its chance: endorse Bernie Sanders for president in 2020, and promise not to run a candidate on the Green Party line should he be the Democratic nominee. And make this announcement right now.

It stands to reason that the Greens would be open to such an arrangement, as Jill Stein herself was willing to cede her own presidential nomination to Bernie, and was confident she could persuade the party at large to sign off on such a move. Announcing this endorsement and defining its terms could have any one or more of many different effects, all of which are positive for both the Sanders campaign and the Green Party moving forward (to clarify, I’m not a Green. I’m an independent. This is just some free advice.)

First, it could win Bernie some votes by using the Democrats’ own neurosis, paranoia, and delusions against them. In the closing days of every campaign, a certain unfortunate contingent of nervous Democrats make it a point to admonish progressives against voting third party, lest they inadvertently play “spoiler” for the Republican candidate. The prospect of relief from such anxiety, i.e., not having a left wing spoiler in the race at all, could be a very attractive one, perhaps enough to elicit some much needed votes for Bernie in the primary.

Second, this arrangement could boost Bernie’s chances in the general election by padding his vote total with would-be Green voters who now feel compelled to vote blue, not because they’ve been harangued by annoying, vapid, loud-mouthed partisan hacks, but because the Democrats finally made enough good decisions to earn their votes the old fashioned way. A natural political alliance could be formed on the basis of a common political vision, and in the process, Democrats could boost their vote percentage total by one to one-and-a-half points, depending on the state. If that number seems small, consider that Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin were all decided by less than one point, and in the latter two states, Jill Stein’s vote total was higher than Trump’s margin of victory.

Third, if the Democrats remain unmoved by the proposal, as they likely will, and move full steam ahead towards a Biden-like nominee, this would expose the scapegoating of third party voters after Democratic defeats for the lie it is and has always been. By offering to step aside should a progressive win the nomination, the Greens can flip the script on the Democrats by putting them in the position of determining whether or not they want to take their chances with a Green on the ballot. For the Democrats to nominate a centrist candidate would thus demonstrate both an open willingness to accept that risk, as well as an acknowledgment that Green voters are not simply bitter, defiant would-be Democrats, but rather autonomous independent political actors who made them a good faith offer, which they declined. In other words, this would expose a common fallacy put forward by Democrats while simultaneously establishing the Green Party as a sovereign political entity.

And finally, deferring to Sanders and pledging to forego running a presidential candidate against him might, on its face, look like capitulation and surrender on their part, but conversely, it could bring an energy and excitement to the Green Party that they’ve likely never experienced, because, for the first time ever, they’d be in it to win it. They would no longer be the disaffected lefties casting protest votes out of disgust for the two party duopoly. Instead, their revolutionary politics could be implemented in the truly revolutionary pursuit of winning the presidency. In its current form, the Green Party is a waste of political energy. The political establishment which it rails against is actually relieved to see that the Greens have voluntarily relegated themselves to obscurity by withdrawing themselves from any actual power struggle, and instead pursuing symbolic benchmarks every four years as they toil in the single digits. Endorsing Bernie Sanders right now would instantly change that dynamic. Overnight, the Green Party would become a viable political force for 2020 and beyond. If you’re a Green, why pass up such a unique opportunity?

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Joe Biden and the Insufferable Weakness of Democratic Voters

by Keaton Weiss

Joe Biden has a lot going for him, or so we’re told. He’s got a compelling personal story. He’s got experience. He’s got blue-collar, working class, Rust Belt appeal. He’s got policy solutions for America’s most urgent problems — oh, wait, he hasn’t announced any of those yet. Well, I’m sure he will soon. But even if he doesn’t, it shouldn’t matter, because by far the biggest boon to Joe Biden’s prospects for winning the Democratic nomination is not any personal trait, resume point, or policy position of Joe Biden’s. Rather, it’s the insufferable weakness of the Democratic primary electorate.

That’s right. Democrats aren’t weak. You’re weak. And Joe Biden knows you’re weak. How do I know this? Biden, in his first days on the campaign trail, has repeatedly referred to the election of Donald Trump in 2016, and the subsequent years and months, as an “aberration.” Just a glitch in the system. A bug in the matrix, if you will. And, to milk the matrix analogy, this explanation he offers for Trump and Trumpism is as “blue pill” as it gets. Swallow it, and you get to believe that this has all been one big mistake. A mix-up. A fluke. A one-off. Hillary won the popular vote, plus the Russians interfered, plus Obama was a popular president, plus Trump’s negatives were high, plus Democrats won back the House, and so, really, America isn’t as troubled a place as we think it is. We just caught a bad break, and this “aberrant” national nightmare will soon be over, and normalcy will be restored.

That’s the sanitized version of the past few years that Joe Biden is peddling. And it’s no wonder that it appeals to a distraught Democratic electorate who’s in desperate need of consolation and reassurance. Of course, the only problem with it is that it’s fundamentally wrong.

The reality is that decades of systemic failures led to an increasingly disaffected working class, whose insecurities over immigration and other cultural issues morphed into resentments that were just waiting to be seized upon by a demagogue like Donald Trump. That’s the red pill version of America, in a nutshell. And Joe Biden offers no lasting remedies for it, and you know it.

You know it, but do you care? According to the recent Quinnipiac poll in which Biden opened up a commanding lead over his Democratic rivals, 38-12 over Elizabeth Warren, with Bernie Sanders finishing third at 11%, only 23% of those polled thought Biden had the best policies of any candidate in the race. 56% though, saw him as the most electable in a general election against Trump. This is not an outlier. In fact, poll after poll shows that Democrats are far less concerned with candidates’ policy positions than they are with their ability to defeat Trump in a general election. This dynamic is as lamentable as it is dangerous.

It’s lamentable in that party primary voters, supposedly the most engaged and astute members of a given party’s electorate, ought to care about the policies the party puts forward. The prevalence of the “blue no matter who” crowd this early on is evidence that little to no such concern exists within the party. What does it say about a political party when over half its members don’t really concern themselves with what it stands for? Rather, they only see their party as a necessary counterweight to the opposition party. What it says is that the party is weak, because its voters are weak.

The danger comes when this weakness can be exploited by a corporate media that’s been branded, mostly by the right wing opposition, as “liberal.” So for example, when Chuck Todd says on MSNBC’s MTP Daily that Bernie Sanders is unelectable because the right would “hammer and sickle him to death,” and that Joe Biden is the best bet for victory in November, his feeble, shallow audience of emotionally fraught Democratic primary voters listens, and votes accordingly.

Because it’s already born out in all of the polling data that most voters don’t even care what the candidates’ policies are, the task of the corporate media becomes extremely simple: convince the lemmings to follow the guy who they say is the most electable. There’s no need to parse the differences between Medicare for All and a public option. No need to discuss how and to what extent we can increase wages. No need to get into the nuances of environmental policy. Or student debt. Or immigration. Or anything, for that matter. They can simply show their viewers an early poll of Joe Biden defeating Donald Trump, and trust that they’ll fall in line. And they will. Because, once again, they’re weak.

Contrast this with the 2016 Republican nominating contest. Sure, Fox News is now a propaganda arm of the Trump White House, but during the primaries, they, like most conservative media, were intent on thwarting his path to the nomination. Except Republican primary voters didn’t give a damn what Chris Wallace, or Brit Hume, or Megyn Kelly, had to say about Donald Trump. They heard warning after warning from their media outlets, elected officials, and former presidential nominees, that Donald Trump was too far outside the mainstream to be elected, and that nominating him would all but hand Hillary Clinton the presidency on a silver platter.

Their voters, though, unlike Democratic primary voters, had the fortitude to buck the party establishment, defy conventional wisdom, and nominate the candidate whose policies they most aligned with, and who they felt would best represent them if elected president. And, of course, they won.

What will it take for Democrats to show the same strength? A Biden defeat to Trump, perhaps? After all, the “electability” strategy has a long history of backfiring, most recently in 2016 when Clinton was considered more palatable to the broader electorate than the democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. Also in 2012, when the Republicans compromised on Mitt Romney, thinking he was the most “presidential” of the pack and the best to match up against Obama. Also, 2004, when progressives in the Democratic Party were ultimately abandoned in favor of the uninspiring “safe bet” John Kerry. Then there was Al Gore. And so on, and so forth. In fact, the most common example we hear of the opposite strategy backfiring, that is to say, nominating a firebrand and losing, is George McGovern in 1972 against Richard Nixon. 1972.

So if Biden’s “safeness” fails to ignite the base and drive turnout, and if his support for NAFTA, TPP, and permanent normalizing of trade with China spells doom in the Rust Belt, as it well could, since Trump will claim that he turned the corner on a stagnant Obama-era economy and that Biden would be a giant step backwards, and the Democrats’ reward for pragmatism and practicality is yet another defeat at the hands of the uncompromising Republican Party, will that change their approach next time around? Probably not.

Remember, we thought after 2016 that such a humiliating defeat would close the book on Clintonian neoliberalism once and for all. Surely, the verdict was in on the viability of uninspiring, vapid candidates and their listless, hollow campaigns. And yet, three years later, here we are. Joe Biden: front runner.

We can rail against the corrupt Democratic establishment all we want, and we will. But the reality is that this one’s on us, the voters, if we screw it up. We are now far beyond “fool me once” territory. We, as Democratic primary voters, are staring down a failure of Shakespearean proportions; indeed, the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.

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