Democracy is Broken: Why 51% of Sanders Supporters are Considering a 3rd Party

by Russell Dobular

A new Emerson poll has found that 51% of Bernie Sanders supporters are considering casting their vote for an independent or 3rd Party candidate in November. In my previous piece on the movement to #DemExit, I explored the reasons why so many were planning on leaving the party in response to the way both the 2016 and 2020 primaries were conducted.  In this article I’ll explore how ill-equipped Democratic voters are to understand this phenomena, how they got that way, and why their fury at those voters couldn’t be more misdirected or counterproductive.

The core premise of democracy is that people will tend to vote in their own best interests, and that the candidates best aligned with those interests will rise to the top.  This means that in order to secure people’s votes you need to persuade them that voting for you is in their best interests. Given that different factions in society have different interests, and sometimes are at outright cross purposes, in theory the candidate who represents the largest number of voters’ interests should win. Seen in this light, a country where 63% of people said they couldn’t afford a $1,000 emergency before it was hit by a global pandemic, should be fertile ground for populist candidates offering bold redistributive policies that will ease the economic burdens of the majority of voters.  Candidates who defend the status quo and promise more of the same, shouldn’t even be able to make it out of the primaries. That is, unless all of the available options are being circumscribed by two political parties with a vested interest in the status quo. That being the case, elections will quickly degenerate into a competition between which candidates can best fake an alignment with the public good, and who can also best affect a cultural signaling that a majority of voters find appealing. But what happens when a large share of the electorate begins to see through the ruse?  That, in a nutshell, is what has happened over the past four years and as a result, Joe Biden has an excellent chance of losing in 2020, in spite of the ever more obvious horrors of the Trump administration.

Nothing could emblemize how few fucks the power brokers in the Democratic Party have to give about actually persuading voters, than their alignment with a cognitively impaired candidate with the kind of record that’s bound to turn off huge swaths of their base. Trump won the Midwest largely by attacking NAFTA, and other trade deals that have proved to be a disaster for the working class. So why would you line up behind one of the people most associated with pushing those policies in Washington? When low black turn-out in 2016 was a decisive factor in Hillary Clinton’s defeat, why pick someone who collaborated with segregationists on anti-crime legislation? When a lot of your base is deeply invested in the #MeToo movement, why promote a candidate who has a long history of creepy behavior towards women in public forums, even before you get to the allegations of sexual assault that have recently emerged? A party focused on winning elections and delivering for its voters wouldn’t come anywhere near a candidate like Biden. The fact that its leaders have done so is making it so painfully clear that their voters are a mere afterthought in their selection process, that its taking a herculean effort of willful blindness for even the most VBNW Democrats to miss it. And if those folks can’t get excited about Biden, how are people who only joined the party to vote for Sanders going to feel? That’s how you get to a place where a large portion of your theoretical base is looking for a 3rd Party candidate to get behind, even in the face of Donald Trump. You get there by defying every common sense rule of democracy, in the belief that pointing out the truly loathsome nature of the other side will be enough to pull you through, lessons of 2016 be damned.

So how do you keep voters from kicking out the fence and stampeding away from the two parties, while at the same time ignoring their interests and policy preferences? You turn their focus away from policy and towards brand loyalty. You teach them to understand politics in terms of personalities, and opposing teams, rather than as a matter of civic engagement and personal responsibility.  You flatter them according to what your party’s particular demographic niche is prone to be flattered by. For Republicans, that manifests as various iterations of the idea that their voters are “the real Americans.”  For Democrats, it’s a matter of telling them that they’re the smartest and most enlightened members of society. This is a mental trap that’s surprisingly sticky. Once you’ve bought into it, it becomes part of your personal identity, and provides the enticing reward of endless ego stroking. Tuning in to your preferred propaganda outlet to hear about how all those other people who aren’t you, have committed yet another offense to the flag, or have once again shown their bottomless stupidity, is addictive. It gives the consumer the constant reassurance that they’re among the elect. And as the continued existence of organized religion in a largely secular world will tell you, that’s a powerful drug. Once you’ve gotten hooked on it, it isn’t easy to give up. Because giving it up means no longer being one of the chosen. Now you’re just a schmuck who’s been regurgitating propaganda fed to you by liars and con artists in order to keep themselves in power. That’s a hard journey, and most people who find themselves jonesing for a shot of slanted framing at least once a day will never make it.  But the mostly younger voters who are taking a hard look at Howie Hawkins and Jesse Ventura, have rejected the whole premise, because they were never given any reason to accept it in the first place. War, surveillance, a gig economy, climate catastrophe, spiraling inequality, and now a global pandemic, is all they’ve ever known. They aren’t intrinsically better than previous generations, but they’ve had a very different experience than any that came before them. As a result, the gulf between the ESPN-style political discourse that their elders have been conditioned to and their lived reality is so great that a lot of them are ready to burn it all down in order to get to something better.  If you got a ticket to the show back when there were still good seats to be had, that can be hard to wrap your head around. But for people who never even had the opportunity to get into the nose-bleed section, it makes perfect sense.

In the face of this reality, mainline Democrats react in the only way they know how – they attack, they malign, they shame, and they rage. They continue to use the term “Bernie Bros,” in spite of the fact that Sanders’ coalition was the most diverse of all 2020 candidates.  They accuse Sanders’ supporters of being in a cult, even as those supporters once again reject his endorsement of the establishment favorite.  They label them “far left,” even though their policy preferences are squarely in line with public opinion.  Asking why so many would choose to reject their nominee, even if it means re-electing Donald Trump, is a question their own political assumptions render them incapable of asking. To even consider the idea, you have to put a little bit of daylight between yourself and the notion that the party represents virtue, decency, and all that is right in the world. You also have to overcome a decades long process of media conditioning that’s trained its consumers to think in terms of WWE-style absolutes. There are good wrestlers and there are bad wrestlers. There’s never been a “Master of Disastrous Moral Ambiguity,” in the ring. As Marshall McLuhan observed, “The medium is the message.” And the cable news medium of political coverage is built around conflict, because conflict gets eyeballs.  We’re monkeys in the end, and monkeys have a vested survival interest in paying close attention to a fight. In the process we become invested a “side,” even when neither side really represents our interests.

It is for all these reasons that Democrats can only react to those who reject their party with furious condescension and never with careful consideration.  The fury is a result of the simplistic understanding of politics that they’ve absorbed, and the condescension is part and parcel of the brand they’ve embraced. They will call for “unity” even as the party openly conspires against progressive candidates for office. They will continue to think of the left as “our voters” even as the party drifts ever further rightward. And they will completely misunderstand the decades-long drop in Democratic Party membership as the result of poor education, right-wing propaganda, voter suppression, and Russian conspiracy, never once considering the idea that the base for a Wall Street owned “left” party is extremely limited.

In spite of all this, it is possible that Joe Biden will win the election, purely on the “not Trump” vote.  Trump’s handling of the pandemic is so life-threatening and so economy-destroying, that pure fear of what another four years of mismanaged oligarchy will mean, may drive enough people to vote for relatively well-managed oligarchy, to tip the scales. But with mass defections from the base, virtually guaranteed low voter turn-out among young and African-American voters, weak support from Latinos, and the tragicomic awfulness of the Democratic candidate, that outcome is far from assured.  Whether Biden wins or loses, the party’s war against the left will continue unabated, with their own dwindling pool of voters who haven’t yet figured out that they’re being played, acting as their most loyal foot soldiers. The aristocrats are never the most credulous members of society.  Seeing how the system works close up, they know how rotten it is at its core. It’s always the serfs who are the most emotionally invested in defending the prerogatives of their masters.

*Photo: Charles Krupa, AP

Podcast Ep. 67 – Free Birds: Why Bernie Supporters are Weighing a 3rd Party Vote

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‘Planet of the Humans’ and the Inconvenient Truths of Eco-Capitalism

by Keaton Weiss

About halfway through Planet of the Humansfilmmaker Jeff Gibbs narrates the following:

“We humans are poised for a fall from an unimaginable height. Not because of one thing. Not climate change alone, but all the human-caused changes the planet is suffering from. So why are bankers, industrialists, and environmental leaders only focused on the narrow solution of green technology…And why, for most of my life, have I fallen for the illusion that green energy would save us?”

This question leads him to Skidmore College, where he elicits a social psychological perspective from Professor Sheldon Solomon, who explains:

“Every culture offers its denizens hope of immortality, either literally or symbolically. Then the question is, what happens when you bump into people who don’t share those beliefs?…If we’re to make progress…or even to persist as a form of life, we’re going to need to radically overhaul our basic conception of who and what we are and what it is that we value. Because the people…both on the left and the right that think we’re going to be able to discover more oil, or solar panel ourselves into the future, where life will look pretty much like it does now, only cleaner or better…I think that’s just frankly delusional.”

The new environmental documentary, presented by executive producer Michael Moore and directed by Gibbs, is causing quite the stir in the Green movement. Numerous journalists and activists have pilloried the film as a divisive, deceitful, and nihilistic diatribe that serves the adversarial interests of the right wing media and the fossil fuel industry.

The two highest-profile examples of such backlash have come from Bill McKibben, himself targeted by the film for his promotion of biomass energy and partnership with corporate opportunists, and Josh Fox, activist and acclaimed filmmaker behind the Oscar nominated anti-fracking documentary, Gasland. McKibben’s piece in Rolling Stone is a rather straightforward defense of his life’s work as a leading organizer who helped build and sustain a robust environmental movement. Fox’s article in The Nation, while more substantive and convincing, nonetheless fails to effectively debunk the central theses of the movie.

Planet of the Humans, like all of Moore’s best work, is a film that transcends what we think it’s going to be about when we decide to watch it. Sure, it’s a film about the environment, and how humans are harming the planet, but it’s about much more than that. It’s psychological, spiritual, and, of course, political. At its core, the film tells two basic truths that are – yes – inconvenient to many in the environmental movement, including, of course, their wealthy financial backers.

The first: less is more. The film supposes that the recent hundred-fold spike in human energy consumption over the past two centuries is simply too heavy a burden for the planet to bear, and that in order for it to heal, we’re going to have to, in terms we’ve come all too familiar with in recent weeks, “flatten the curve” of human consumption. Green energy, Gibbs argues, doesn’t accomplish this, for a number of reasons. One, the development of such innovations itself requires a massive amount of energy, most of which is obtained from fossil fuels. Two, the finished product itself would not sufficiently meet the current energy needs of the global population, and would therefore require non-green energy to be stored as a back-up to prevent massive disruptions and outages. And three, in the case of biomass, it’s not always necessarily as “green” as we think it is to begin with.

But the coronavirus pandemic has offered us simpler and more persuasive evidence for the “less is more” revelation: now that the world is essentially on pause, the environment is recuperating. Air pollution is down in China and the United States. Venice’s respite from tourism and motorboat traffic is revitalizing the ecosystems in its canals. Over Antarctica, the O-Zone is actually closing back up! So after fifty years of “activism” and “innovation” and green this and hybrid that and electric this and solar that and biodegradable this and wind that, a mere two months of human beings simply staying in their homes and leaving the world the fuck alone, has yielded the kind of environmental progress many of us never thought we’d see in our lifetimes.

Is this to say that renewable energy is a non-starter or is unnecessary? Of course not, and, contrary to the critiques of Planet‘s detractors, the film doesn’t really make that case either (nor does it call for population control). Rather, it suggests that green energy will not, as many Green capitalists claim, be a silver bullet that will allow us to maintain our current lifestyles without harming the planet in ways that endanger both the ecosystem itself and our place within it. In other words, even if we do implement this Green revolution we’ve been promised for five decades, we’re still going to have to do less – eat less, drive less, make less, buy less – if we’re serious about leaving our children with a livable planet.

“Less” isn’t a very popular word. Not anywhere, but especially not here in America. Jimmy Carter was the last president who told us to curb our consumption, and he left office after one term with a dismal 34% approval rating. “Less is more” as a concept also doesn’t play particularly well with the capitalist class, many of whom Gibbs argues have co-opted the Green movement for their own financial and/or political interests. Entrepreneurs and titans of industry like Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg, and David Blood, all of whom are featured in the film, are exemplars of a society which lauds “achievement” and “success,” mythologizes “hard work,” and fetishizes “risk taking” and “innovation.” Once they start bankrolling renewable energy projects and ingratiating themselves with environmental leaders and organizations, it’s no wonder that the Green movement adopts the philosophy that we can save the world by “doing more” researching, developing, innovating, and producing. These 21st century tycoons who have lived their whole lives as wheelers, dealers, and game changers, aren’t going to lend their celebrity clout, or their money, to a movement that defies the very go-getter culture out of which they arose.

The likes of Elon Musk and Richard Branson will never endorse a cultural shift towards less hustle, less drive, or less effort. These are more, more, more kinds of people who have achieved godlike statuses in a more, more, more kind of society. Their support for renewable energy innovation is an opportunity for them not just to make a buck, which may or may not be their primary motivation, but more importantly, to show the rest of us how necessary they are. In a time when widespread crises of inequality are leading millions of Americans to question whether or not billionaires should exist, elites are keen to seize upon opportunities to demonstrate their good will.

This brings us to the second inconvenient truth of Planet of the Humans, which is the zero-sum paradigm. Gibbs alludes to this idea rather directly, stating at the film’s conclusion that “infinite growth on a finite planet is suicide.” Consumerism and conservationism are, definitionally, at odds with each other. To champion one is to decry the other; there’s no getting around it. Therefore, the social, cultural, and political drivers of such ideas are also, inevitably, in conflict. Bill McKibben is portrayed in the film not necessarily as a bad faith actor, but as a misguided leader who has bought into the idea, through decades of experience and practice, that we can partner with the capitalist class to create desirable outcomes for everyone on Earth. Anand Giridharadas’ book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World is a thorough and brilliant dismantling of this proposition. The notion that power is somehow in infinite supply, and the supposition that it’s possible to empower the ordinary people of the world without disempowering the already powerful, is another tenet of neoliberal hegemony that collapses under questioning, and therefore must be insulated from such scrutiny, in this case, by the “good deeds” of the eco-conscious capitalists.

At one point in the film, climate activist Vandana Shiva says:

“Our minds have been manipulated to give power to illusions. We shifted to measuring growth not in terms of how life is enriched, but in terms of how life is destroyed.”

Again, the zero-sum conflict of “infinite growth on a finite planet” rears its head, which is anathema to the ethos being foisted upon us by our political and business elites, many of whom have infiltrated the environmental movement. Instead, they perpetuate the increasingly obvious myth of the “win-win” dynamic that says a rising tide lifts all boats, and that regular people have a vested interest in the success of the wealthy.

For example, Al Gore, just two years before his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, was released, co-founded a firm called Generation Investment Management with former Goldman Sachs executive David Blood. The company would specialize in equity analysis (essentially, financial consulting) for sustainable energy companies. Two years after the film came out, Gore met with then President-elect Obama, who told reporters the following:

“The purpose of this meeting here today was to listen and learn from vice-president Al Gore on the extraordinary work that he has done around the issue of climate change…

“I think what’s exciting about that conversation is that it is not only a problem but it’s also an opportunity…

“We have the opportunity now to create jobs all across this country, in all 50 states, to re-power America, to redesign how we use energy, to think about how we are increasing efficiency, to make our economy stronger, make us more safe, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and make us competitive for decades to come, even as we’re saving the planet.”

Once again, everybody wins. Blood and Gore (haha) get rich, Obama gets a political win, we create “jobs” and “opportunity,” we become more “competitive” abroad, and we “save the planet.” Polly, meet Anna.

This big lie, that a mutually beneficial arrangement can be negotiated between entrenched oligarchs and ordinary people, may have been easier to sell in easier times. But in 2020, when the working class is either forced to risk their lives in a pandemic to protect their slice of this supposedly ever-growing “pie”that is the U.S. economy, or cut through miles of red tape to qualify for paltry unemployment benefits, while the rich either work from home off their laptops or coast by on their seven-figure savings accounts, this trickery simply won’t pass muster. As well-meaning as many in the Green movement are, the ones trashing this film either miss this point entirely, or they’re so bogged down in their narrow rebuttals of the film’s finer points that they, at the risk of torturing the biomass metaphor, miss the forest for the trees.

Josh Fox lamented the exclusion of many of today’s most prominent players on both sides of various environmental issues. He felt that Gibbs missed an enormous election-year opportunity to expose Donald Trump’s dismal environmental record and prop up the positive forces like Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Bernie Sanders campaign (for which Fox and Moore were both surrogates), the Sunrise Movement, and the “codification of the Green New Deal.”

Gibbs’ decision to ignore all of this was a bold and admirable choice that actually makes the film all the more urgent and challenging. To attack the Trump administration would have been to offer his audience the chance to simply set aside their differences and unite behind a common and obvious enemy. To celebrate the Greta’s and the AOC’s would have had the same effect. Instead, Planet of the Humans never affords its viewers any such relief. It demands that its audience wrestle with themselves as uncomfortably as the filmmakers must have throughout the process of making it. It’s a fight well worth having with yourself if you’re up for it.

*Photo: Chris Pizzello, AP

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The Democrats Are Having a Hypocrite-Off.  Who’s the Big Winner?

by Russell Dobular

I keep thinking of the movie Network lately, as I watch the Democratic Party’s current demonstration of its ability to absorb every well-intentioned social movement in our society and spit it back out in a corrupted and meaningless form.  In the film it was television that had the power to turn activists into performers and idealists into ratings-obsessed monsters.  And indeed, Paddy Cheyefsky’s prophetic vision holds true today in that medium, as demonstrated nightly by formerly progressive radio host turned corporate shill, Rachael Maddow. But the idiot box has nothing on the Democratic Party for its capacity to taint everyone and everything it comes in contact with, including its own voters. That’s how people who are ostensibly anti-war, have ended up lionizing a figure like Obama, who inherited two wars, and left us with seven. That’s how people who are in theory fiercely protective of civil liberties, have ended up touting the CIA and the FBI as defenders of the nation’s freedom.  And that’s how people who have been drawing public attention to the issue of sexual assault for several years can resort to using the same smear tactics against Tara Reade that they’ve been rightly calling out as disgraceful when deployed by others. In some ways it isn’t their fault really. A fish rots from the head, and once again the party’s leadership is forcing its voters to make a choice between their convictions and their candidate. It’s a lot harder to choose the candidate if you don’t first find a way around your convictions. Denying Tara Reade’s allegations is the shortest path to that goal, so they’re cranking the denialism up to 11, with a big assist from the parade of sociopaths and narcissists that have come out to run cover for Biden this week. So, without further ado, here are this week’s contestants in the Big Democratic Party Hypocrite-Off:

1. Nancy Pelosi

Special Skills: Passing Trump’s military budgets, Marie Antoinette cosplay

Net Worth: $120M

Statement on Kavanaugh: “Yesterday, the American people were heartbroken and deeply moved by the courageous testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.  Dr. Ford told her story with extraordinary dignity, bravery and unimpeachable credibility.  I applaud her courage for coming forward to share her story, and I believe her.”

Statement on Biden: “I am very much involved in this issue. I always want to give the opportunity that women deserve to be heard. I am satisfied with his answer, yes.” 

As those of you who follow my column know, I’m a betting man.  I’m offering 3-2 odds that Pelosi pulls the Blasey Ford page from her website in the next 30 days.  Any takers?

To top it off, Pelosi went on to publicly endorse Biden, even after a Larry King interview with Reade’s mother surfaced, which at least in part, corroborated her story. Nancy is setting the bar pretty high here for her fellow contestants.

2. Stacey Abrams

Special Skills: Self-promotion, foreign policy independent study

Net Worth: $500,000

Statement on Kavanaugh: “After the courageous and compelling testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford yesterday, it is shameful that Kavanaugh’s nomination is being rushed forward.  I believe women, and I believe survivors of violence always deserve to be supported and to have their voices heard.  A Supreme Court hearing is a job interview for one of the most critical roles in our democracy.  If there is even a hint of impropriety, let alone the credible allegations bravely brought forward by Dr. Ford, we should pause and thoroughly investigate them, rather than rush forward.”

Statement on Biden: “I believe Joe Biden.  I know Joe Biden, and I think that he is telling the truth and that this did not happen.”

As the person most willing and eager to be used as a prop by the Biden campaign in order to cover for his appalling record on issues of importance to POC, Abrams has emerged as perhaps the most unabashed self-promoter in the field.  Other than becoming understandably active in the effort to ensure election integrity after being cheated out of the Governorship of Georgia, Abrams isn’t associated with any particular policies, positions, or principles, which makes her an ideal figure for a party that prefers symbolic diversity over the enacting of legislation that might offer some actual relief to the diverse. She’s also shown her willingness to cover for old white men accused of sexual improprieties already, by refusing to condemn Michael Bloomberg during his brief and disastrous presidential run. She did, however, stray from her tabula rasa style of politics in the Kavanaugh affair. And more than any other surrogate, she stuck closely to the Biden campaign’s talking points, by repeatedly referring incorrectly to the NYT investigation of Reade’s claims as proof of Biden’s innocence, prompting the Times itself to refute her mischaracterization. She also ignored the fact that the article was altered to be less damning under pressure from the Biden campaign. Abrams may be a relative newcomer to national politics, but she’s already giving old hypocrisy pros like Pelosi a run for their money.

3. Kirsten Gillibrand

Special Skills: Virtue-signaling, self-reinvention

Net Worth: $200K

Statement on Kavanaugh: “This process is sending the worst possible message to girls and boys everywhere.  It’s telling American women that your voice doesn’t matter. It’s telling survivors everywhere that your experiences don’t count, they’re not important and they are not to be believed. We are saying that women are worth less than a man’s promotion.”

Statement on Biden: “So when we say believe women, it’s for this explicit intention of making sure there’s space for all women to come forward to speak their truth, to be heard.  And in this allegation, that is what Tara Reade has done. She has come forward, she has spoken, and they have done an investigation in several outlets. Those investigations, Vice President Biden has called for himself. Vice President Biden has vehemently denied these allegations, and I support Vice President Biden.”

Senator. Kirsten. Gillibrand. OMG, and holy shit. How on earth can you build your entire brand around advocacy for victims of sexual assault and then turn right around and throw Tara Reade under the bus? I mean, just, how do you do that? Is it congenital? Is the shame gene missing? Just. Fucking. Amazing. No need to delve too deeply into Senator Gillibrand’s well-known record on these issues, but some of the highlights include introducing legislation to combat sexual assault in the military,  driving Al Franken out of DC on a rail, and publicly stating that Bill Clinton should have resigned over Monica Lewinsky.

4. Bernie Sanders

Special Skills: Small-dollar fundraising, sheepdogging progressives into the Democratic party, revolutionary cosplay

Net Worth: $2M

Statement on Kavanaugh: “The revelations today confirm what we already knew: during his hearing, Kavanaugh faced credible accusations and likely lied to Congress. I support any appropriate constitutional mechanism to hold him accountable.”

Statement on Biden: “We need you in the White House. I will do all that I can to see that that happens, Joe.”

While Sanders has not directly addressed the allegations, his endorsement of Joe Biden well after those revelations were made public is a pretty clear statement in and of itself.  I know some will be unhappy with the inclusion of Sanders on this list, but in a piece about hypocrisy, it’s best not to be a hypocrite.

5. Joe Biden

Special Skills: Pathological lying, groping children

Net Worth: $9M

Statement on Kavanaugh: “For a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real, whether or not she forgets facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time.  But nobody fails to understand that this is like jumping into a cauldron.”

Statement on Biden: “What I said during the Kavanaugh hearings was that she had the right to be heard. The fact that (Ford) came forward, the presumption would be she’s telling the truth unless it’s proved she wasn’t telling the truth or not proved, but unless it’s clear from the facts surrounding it, it’s not the truth.”

Predictably, Joe Biden’s views on how society should evaluate claims of sexual assault have changed dramatically now that he finds himself accused of it. What’s really interesting in Biden’s case is that he was a principal proponent in the Obama White House of creating new standards for evaluating sexual assault allegations on college campuses that eliminated the rights of the accused to any form of due process, extending even to knowing exactly what the specific charges were. Hundreds of lawsuits against colleges have been the result. Even more interesting, those new standards broadened the definition of sexual assault to include unwanted touching, and commenting on someone’s attractiveness, if that behavior made the person feel uncomfortable. So, by the standards that Biden helped to impose on college students with the same kind of zeal with which he once advocated for draconian prison sentences for drug abusers, Biden is guilty as sin of a multitude of crimes, many of them caught on video.  But just as there’s one rule for addicts without political connections, and another for his son, there’s one rule for students not named Biden, and another for the man himself.

Winner: This is some fierce competition, but by simple virtue of being inarguably the most out front on the problem of sexual violence of any elected official in Washington, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, takes home the big prize for most disgusting hypocrite of the week. And what does she win? A complete loss of credibility on her core issue. And what do survivors get? The consequent loss of their most high-profile advocate in Washington, now that she can never speak on these subjects again without being asked, “So, what about Biden?” Way to go Kirsten! Maybe they’ll give you an ambassadorship or something, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Honorable mentions:

James Clyburn: “I know Joe. We know Joe. But most importantly, Joe knows us.  I didn’t get there without long, extensive background with Joe Biden, without a long experience with Joe Biden. My late wife to whom I was married for 58 years loved Joe Biden. And more importantly, she respected Joe Biden.”

Alyssa Milano: “I just don’t feel comfortable throwing away a decent man that I’ve known for 15 years in this time of complete chaos without there being a thorough investigation.”

Hillary Clinton: Okay, she doesn’t really belong on this list.  You can’t be called a hypocrite on sexual violence when you’ve been covering for Bill Clinton’s one-man crusade to assault every woman in spitting distance for several decades.  But endorsing Biden on the day Reade’s story was confirmed by a friend, and during what was billed as a “women’s issues town hall,” was a special kind of evil, even if it wasn’t particularly hypocritical coming from Hill.

*Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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With #FireChrisHayes, the #Resistance Exposes Itself as the Fraud it’s Always Been.

by Keaton Weiss

Chris Hayes is one of the more honest and insightful MSNBC commentators, which is akin to saying Bobby Baccalieri is one of the kinder, gentler members of the Sopranos crew. Bobby ‘Bacala,’ as he was called, had never personally whacked anyone until well into the show’s final season (and even when he was called upon to do so by an increasingly sociopathic Tony, he was hesitant to go through with it), but he was nonetheless a willing profiteer in a criminal enterprise. Hayes, in holding down a primetime slot for a ’round the clock propaganda network like MSNBC, is no more innocent than Bobby (proportionally speaking, of course). He could get a real job and make an honest living at an outlet like The Nation, where he once wrote,  but he knows TV is far more profitable, and conveniently, Comcast’s blood money gets transmitted via direct deposit; no briefcases or duffle bags necessary.

Last night, however, Hayes did a little freelancing. He opened up his own shop, and went against the family. He dared to honestly cover the sexual assault allegations of Tara Reade against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. He said the following:

“There have been moments…when we have heard accusations against someone that we find ourselves desperately wanting not to believe. Whether that is because we have some personal admiration for the individual or their work, or political admiration, someone on our quote-unquote side. Part of the difficult lesson of the #MeToo era is not that every accusation is true, and everything should be believed on its face, but that you do have to fight yourself when you feel that impulse. You have to do that in order to take seriously what is being alleged, what the evidence is, and to evaluate it. And that is the case with the accusation by a woman named Tara Reade against Joe Biden.”

He continued by narrating a timeline of events and accounts that those of us not brainwashed enough to be watching his show in the first place are already familiar with, because they’ve been covered extensively at this point throughout not just independent media, but in outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post as well. He recounted Reade’s original claims of harassment, followed by the alleged assault, as well as the Biden camp’s vehement denials of said accusations. He then mentioned the the “new development in the story,” an on-the-record statement by Tara’s former neighbor recounting that Tara had in fact told her of the assault back in 1995 or 1996, shortly after it allegedly happened. He then went on to confirm that his own network had done their due diligence by confirming this for themselves. He said:

“NBC News reached out to Reade’s neighbor, who later confirmed, by text message, the story. This on-the-record reporting from a neighbor, [a] roughly contemporaneous relaying of the story, has rightly occasioned a new round of coverage and scrutiny.”

Within minutes, #FireChrisHayes was trending on Twitter. Here’s just a tiny sample of the discourse:

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Pretty ridiculous, yes, but at least he hasn’t been Russified yet – oh, wait:

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One user thought to checkmate Chris Hayes by pointing out that from time to time he has interacted with the likes of Michael Moore, Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald, and Ryan Grim; you know, journalists.

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All this, not for saying Joe Biden is guilty, or should withdraw his candidacy, or anything of the sort. Hayes’ great crime was the mere mentioning of Tara Reade’s name without either dismissing her story or smearing her character. His point about #MeToo being a wake-up call for all of us to have the courage to hold even our friends and allies accountable for their actions is about as simple and obvious as could be, yet it apparently eludes his audience of sophisticated, woke, cosmopolitan, card carrying members of the liberal intelligentsia.

I use the word “apparently” very specifically in this case, because it’s impossible to know for sure the percentage of Hayes’ audience whose outrage over his reporting is sincere versus those who know better and whose Twitter tantrums are expressions of their own guilty conscience. I suppose the latter is the more contemptible group, but really, they’re both more or less the same. Because on a whole, their rage at Chris Hayes for doing the bare minimum that a primetime political news anchor with any credibility would do in this case, reveals their clique to be the fraud it’s always been.

The entire #resistance phenomenon was phony from day one. In fact, it was phony from before day one, if you consider “day one” to be November 9, 2016. The #resistance was really just the post-election incarnation of the Hillary Clinton campaign. Neera Tanden and the Center for American Progress would be its thought leaders. It would emphasize pragmatism and a restoration of normalcy over a more ambitious progressive agenda. It would tout its support from the same Never Trump neocon Republicans like David Frum, Nicole Wallace, Bill Kristol, and others.

Most importantly, though, the #resistance is a continuation of the 2016 Clinton campaign’s “Pied Piper” strategy, which sought to elevate Donald Trump in the Republican primaries. The easiest and most common explanation for this tactic is that Team HRC thought Trump would be the easiest opponent to beat in the general election, and therefore hoped he’d win the nomination so they’d get to run against a weak opponent. That obviously backfired, but that was only one element of the pied piper strategy. The other benefit of running against Trump, both then and now, is that Trump allows them to play fast and loose with their own moral convictions, because they trust that no matter their shortcomings in that department, they will always have the ability to invoke the name of Donald Trump, and thus appear righteous and virtuous by comparison. By elevating someone so overtly grotesque and appalling, and constantly decrying his numerous offenses, they’re giving themselves license to be immoral, so long as they can still claim to be less so than the man himself.

Trump is a human Get Out of Jail Free card they’ve printed for themselves, which they feel relieves them of their obligation to pass a robust progressive policy agenda. Because Trump wants to repeal the ACA and essentially abolish the EPA, and they oppose such draconian actions, they have no moral imperative to pass Medicare for All or a Green New Deal. Because Trump appointed the odious Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education, the simple act of replacing her is an adequate stand-in for actual education policy like tuition free college and student debt forgiveness. The wine-track professional-managerial class voters who largely make up the #resistance are complicit in this cowardice, as they themselves take comfort in the idea that letting the peasants keep their Bronze Plan is as far as they need to go when it comes to expanding access to healthcare. Their taxes weren’t oppressively high when the United States was part of the Paris Climate Agreement, so, whatever the hell that is, if we just re-enter it, they’ll be satisfied that they’re good enough stewards of the environment, and their lifestyles won’t be much, if at all, affected. And they worked their way through college (when it was much cheaper) and paid off their debt (when wages went a lot further and cost of living was a lot lower), so giving everyone free tuition seems unnecessary, or even a little “extreme.” They’re willing to, as Elizabeth Warren suggested, let a transgender teenager vet Devos’ replacement, and that’s good enough for them.

The same moral flexibility they’ve given themselves in the policy realm can also be applied, perhaps even more so, to the personal behavior of those entrusted to protect and prop up the centrist, austerity-lite agenda they’ve embraced. When it comes to the allegations against Joe Biden, the problem it creates for the #resistance isn’t simply that Biden is a Democrat, but that he’s their kind of Democrat. If such allegations had been leveled against Bernie Sanders while he was still in the race, there’s no doubt whatsoever they’d have been touting their support for his accuser and demanding he end his campaign. If you want evidence for this, I refer you to mid-January, when CNN broke the story, in big, bold type on its home page, that Bernie Sanders allegedly told Elizabeth Warren that he didn’t think a woman could win the presidency. Not only was the corporate media quick to run with this narrative, but Neera Tanden herself tweeted the following in response to those who questioned Warren’s claims:

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So their first priority, obviously, is to defeat progressives, because even setting aside that our agenda is a threat to their material wealth, our very presence in the political arena punctures the moral cover they’ve created for themselves by spinning a version of reality in which Donald Trump is the source of all evil, and simple opposition to him is all that’s required for salvation. After all, retweeting Alyssa Milano is a lot easier than a camel passing through the eye of a needle.

Once we lefties are out of the way, their work is essentially done, because they’re now competing for the moral high ground against someone they know can never take it from them, and therefore, they’re free to conduct themselves with impunity, both personally and politically. Because Trump is evil, and they’re the only ones (the #resistance), along with their chosen candidate (Joe Biden), standing between us and another four years of a Trump presidency, they make the case that any and all opposition to them is actually in service of a greater evil, because by tearing them down, we’re elevating Trump. What they don’t tell you, of course, is that they’re the ones who elevated Trump in the first place, and that they’ve repeatedly and ruthlessly undermined any robust political movement that could actually prosecute a moral case against him with any credibility.

Chris Hayes is more or less in on this scam, which is why they feel so betrayed that he’s defied them, even as meagerly as he has. By reminding them of the supposed “lessons of the #MeToo era,” he’s committed the grave offense of holding the #resistance to a moral standard higher than the one they’ve set for themselves: Donald Trump. There’s not as much room to maneuver in that space, and so it’s understandable that they would lash out like the cornered animals they are by calling for him to be fired, which is quite ironic behavior for a group of people who freaked out over Trump’s revocation of Jim Acosta’s press pass.

So you see, this is all of apiece. The #resistance is one big fraud from top to bottom. From the network executives at MSNBC all the way down to the viewers; from the Center of American Progress brain trust to the last person on their email list; from Joe Biden himself to the rank and file blue no matter who voters. This of course isn’t to say that every person involved is of ill will; many of them aren’t. But the entity itself, on a whole, is one big fake. The #FireChrisHayes campaign proves so beyond any doubt.

*Photo: All-In With Chris Hayes*

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Podcast: w/Meagan Day – Building Bernie’s Movement Post-2020 & Labor Power Post-Covid

Meagan Day, staff writer at Jacobin and co-author of the new book Bigger Than Bernie: How We Go from the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism, returns to discuss her book, the need for a “dirty break” from the Democratic Party, and labor power post-pandemic.

Listen below:

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Jesse Ventura is a Radical Red-Blooded American Original who Should Absolutely Run for President

by Keaton Weiss

Rumblings have been afoot in recent days that Jesse Ventura, former radio host, Navy SEAL, pro wrestler, sports commentator, and governor of Minnesota, is considering a run for the presidency. This is hardly the first time he’s sparked such rumors. In 2016, he told The Daily Beast that he would run as a Libertarian if Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic primary. He obviously reneged on that commitment, and so there’s no reason to be too excited just yet. This morning (April 27), however, Ventura validated such speculation about a potential 2020 run by tweeting that he was “testing the waters,” and that the Green Party would be his first choice should he ultimately decide to do it. Smart money says he won’t – but he should.

Ventura has railed against Democrats and Republicans, who he’s branded “gangs in government,” for decades. Though he spoke favorably of Bernie’s 2016 candidacy, he declined to formally endorse him on the grounds that Sanders intended to fall in line behind Hillary Clinton if and when he lost the primary. He’s also one of the few critics of the two party duopoly who’s actually managed to defeat it electorally. He won Minnesota’s 1998 gubernatorial race against Republican Norm Coleman, mayor of the state’s capital city, and Democratic state attorney general Hubert Humphrey III, who, as his name suggests, is practically Minnesota royalty. Ventura accomplished this feat as an independent who spent a mere $250,000 on his campaign, compared to his opponents’ combined total of $4.3 million.

As far as 2020 is concerned, he’s asserted his position that “we must, this election, elect an independent.” He also admitted to having asked himself “if not [me], who?” That’s a good question. Because what Jesse Ventura has that is essential to the success of any third party effort, be it an established party or a new one altogether, is star power. Ventura’s celebrity status, combined with his wildly colorful personality, would guarantee him more media coverage than Jill Stein or Howie Hawkins could ever dream of. That alone, at the very least, would make him well-positioned to achieve the long elusive goal of getting the Green Party to 5% in the final vote tally, the threshold required to secure federal funding and nationwide ballot access. And there’s a good chance that would be the least of his accomplishments.

Ventura became governor of Minnesota as a Reform Party candidate. He then mulled a 2016 presidential run as a Libertarian. This time he’s considering running as a Green. See a pattern? No you don’t, and that’s the point. His political profile is eclectic in a way that makes him uniquely suited for success as an independent candidate. He’s against big government and big pharma. He supports both the second amendment and universal healthcare. He’s a wrestler who admires Muhammad Ali both for his prowess as a fighter and for his refusal to fight in Vietnam. He’s a proud military man who’s unafraid to call out the military industrial complex, frequently quoting General Smedley Butler’s “War is a Racket” speech. He’s not at all what you’d call “politically correct,” but he also refused to call the Washington football team by their name, the “Redskins,” during his tenure as a sports commentator, because of its racist overtones. He’s impossible to define in conventional political terms, which makes it easy for him to define himself – a requirement for any successful candidate, especially an outsider with no institutional support.

Also, for all of his eccentricities, Jesse Ventura actually has quite the impressive resume. He has executive experience, both as a mayor and a governor. He’s a veteran of the U.S. Navy and earned the Vietnam Service Medal as well as the National Defense Service Medal. He’s a published author with ten books to his name on topics ranging from foreign policy to drug policy. And, of course, he taught at Harvard!

Finally, and most importantly, Jesse Ventura’s appeal amounts to more than the sum of its parts. At his essence, he’s completely credible as both an unabashed radical dissident and an unimpeachable American patriot. Dissenting voices such as his are often easily marginalized by mainstream mouthpieces who brand them as foreign, in spirit if not in substance, to the American way of life. Ventura cannot be undermined in this way. He speaks of his military experience in a way that’s sure to make fellow veterans feel as though they’re hanging out with him at their local VFW hall. He could sit beside you and talk your ear off about his time as an underwater demolitions expert while equally convincingly donning one of his many tie dye Jimi Hendrix tees. He’s the rare, perhaps singular, politician who can awaken the sleeping giant of radical, post-partisan populism while actually unifying the country, not by sidestepping the culture war, but rather by embracing both sides of it as a pot-smoking peacenik who knows how to fire a machine gun and blow things up.

Now of course, Ventura isn’t perfect – not for the left, or anyone else for that matter. A candidate so unique is virtually certain to be no one’s ideal choice for president. But his presence in the race would make voters compromise in ways we ought to be open to in the first place. His personal and political profiles represent a synthesis of the hippie and hard hat ethos, two social forces whose conflict has roiled our body politic for generations. Support for his campaign would require compromise from both camps; a cultural reconciliation in service of a genuine populist political project.

In a year when our two major party nominees are a grease-painted neo-fascist con man and a cognitively impaired front man for a cabal of neoliberal elites who don’t even bother to feign concern for the working class American majority, how can we not at least entertain the idea of a President Jesse “The Body” Ventura? His candidacy would be an experiment worth running no matter the outcome, and in times like these, it’s an idea so crazy it might actually work.

*Photo: Business Insider, YouTube

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The Campaign Memo Bernie Never Listened To

by Anis Shivani

**The following memo was written to the Bernie Sanders campaign in September 2019 at their request.**

From: Anis Shivani

To: Heather Gautney, Nina Turner

Subject: The Campaign Has a Warren Problem

Date: Sept. 11, 2019

The upcoming third debate is a crucial moment to reset impressions. It will be the first time all the leading candidates will be on stage together, providing new opportunities for joint interaction. After this debate, significant changes in image will become more difficult to accomplish. Therefore, this debate is key to begin altering some counterproductive perceptions that have set in: 1) Warren and Sanders are indistinguishable on policy; 2) Warren is an acceptable alternative to Sanders; 3) Any Democratic nominee is good enough, because at least they’re not Trump, and at least we’ll be resetting to the Obama years. 4) Trump can be beaten easily, he’s ready to be had (since Hillary already won the last popular vote); and 5) All the Democrats are more or less on the same side, their idealism comes from the same roots, so there is no urgency for any big philosophical issues to be worked out.

To the extent that voters believe these five things, they are more likely to view Bernie as needlessly cantankerous and edgy. If there had been an economic crisis in progress, he would easily be the runaway winner at this point, there would be no contest. It would sharpen people’s minds in a way that no amount of rhetoric can. However, lacking an economic or any perceptible crisis at the moment, the average low-information liberal voter continues to be more easily persuaded by optimism and so-called “moderation.” Pessimism is a tough sell in the absence of a palpable crisis that people can readily understand, yet the kind of big ideas Bernie is pushing presume, by definition, a deep pessimism about current approaches. I think Bernie has to blend his pessimism with an equally great dose of optimism about what can still be possible, given a democratic revolution. Voters have to stop seeing him only as someone who promises to take on the fossil fuel industry and big pharma (which he will), and to see him as someone who depicts a utopian future which they barely dreamed possible before.

1. Warren’s successful attempt to morph into Sanders-lite is potentially fatal. On issue after issue, from Medicare for All to college tuition, medical debt, wealth tax, monopolies, and the Green New Deal, she has played caught-up, brilliantly. Always her plan is a little short, a little less than universal, a little hedged in and qualified, and shy of open-ended public commitment (her statement that there are “many paths to Medicare” is typical). The very use of the term “plans” is meant to imply that she’s practical and pragmatic, knows how to get things done, unlike the woolly-headed Sanders with his grandiose philosophical notions. Therefore, her “plans” need to be contested as being too little, too accommodative, too reliant on the goodwill of the elites and Wall Street.

Her plans need to be brought down a notch: “Senator Warren, the Green New Deal I have proposed fully phases out fossil fuels by 2035, and ends the export of fossil fuels, whereas your plan doesn’t.” Or, “Senator Warren, your plan for student debt relief leaves a large gap, whereas my plan cancels all student debt. Why are you reluctant to cancel all debt?” If Bernie does this with humor, and a good dose of camaraderie, he won’t be accused of misogyny (though some will do it regardless). So far, she’s been careful not to resort to realism, but if she ever does she’s cooked. Bernie should genuinely wonder, as a philosophical proposition, when she lost faith in markets, at what point did that happen? Or does her continued faith in markets, at least when they are regulated, suggest that she’s still basically a believer in markets? Can the market deliver health care? Can it deliver on climate change? Don’t her plans rest on this faith? Yet didn’t markets create the immense inequality she says she wants to reduce? A tough task, to demonize markets in an America that remains bound to capitalism, but they have to be demonized, markets can’t defend themselves.

The sharp differentiation from Warren wouldn’t just be on the part of Bernie, of course, the whole campaign should undertake it at different levels, at different degrees of personalization or abstraction, but at the third debate she cannot be seen glued to the hip with Bernie. There cannot be another dominant image coming out of it with her hands on his shoulder, literally leaning into him. She should be presented as a follower, not a leader, when it comes to progressive ideas. Bernie is very grateful for her support, and for picking up the baton at times, but as far as he’s concerned, the time is up for small corrections, and for having any faith in markets to bring about the kind of change we need with even the most expert regulation. “We need a political revolution, empowering the people, not a new faith in regulators.” I see Bernie’s movement as a twenty-first century poor people’s campaign, and this can be a way to differentiate him from Warren, who’s all about boosting the middle-class. This is going to be very difficult, given how Warren has carefully constructed her image in recent years as a defender of the people, but she can’t (like Harris, except in a less extreme sense) go all the way, so pointing out the gap is the only way to do it. As is the next strategy, which is:

2. Candidate Warren must be morally disqualified. There is no other way to win the nomination than to disburden well-meaning liberal voters of the delusion that they can, in all good conscience, vote for Warren over Sanders, and still get something of a progressive (while realizing full well that she’s not as progressive as Sanders on any of the issues), yet someone who doesn’t call herself a socialist, who’s younger, less edgy, a woman, more likely to appeal to the mythical suburban voter, and in their view more likely to beat Trump. But these well-meaning liberal voters, who constitute the majority of the Democratic party over the fully conscious leftist voters, only believe this because these propositions have not been challenged. Warren cannot be beaten, at this point, simply by shedding a little bit of doubt on her; second-best is still good enough for too many primary voters.

Earlier it would have been possible to get past her by noting that her conversion was recent and incomplete and in many ways unsatisfactory, but now she’s too established already in the minds of many voters as a progressive who’s reached a threshold of acceptability. The third debate must at the least convey the point that the Sanders camp does not believe she has crossed this threshold. If this attitude does not come across, yet again, then the game might be lost, and it’s possible that there might be a stampede toward her. Voters might go for her rather than Sanders (in the absence of an economic collapse or other crisis) because it lets them have their cake and eat it too, which is what many of them want. They don’t really want to struggle with the big ideas Sanders is presenting, challenging their very mode of existence, so they think that voting for Warren is acceptable, and perhaps even morally superior, because the fact that she is a woman more than compensates for any superiority Sanders might have in terms of ideas.

So they need to stop thinking that she is progressive enough (by having met the threshold), that she can beat Trump, that she can be an effective leader (in the way Sanders can), and that she even has the experience or charisma to handle the conservative backlash, which Sanders must accept and present as almost an overwhelming obstacle which only his people power movement can overcome. Again, Warren must be gradually disqualified (it can’t be done in one shot), if the present parameters are to change, but this is very difficult to do now, because of her folksy presentation, combined with the well-established perception that she’s been a lifelong fighter against Wall Street and political corruption (even if she has decades less experience than Bernie, her efforts haven’t made much headway, and she’s been a supporter of capitalist markets rather than an opponent).

So how do you take on someone who projects herself as a fighter for the middle class by challenging her credentials? a) By presenting Bernie’s own personal story, such as his experiences with illness in the family and the health care industry (although I’m aware of his deep reluctance to engage in such personalization), as a way to offer a narrative more compelling than Warren’s. b) Again, by making the point that her piecemeal policies haven’t worked in the past, that just regulating Wall Street and expecting the financial and political elites to toe the line because of new regulations or restrictions on lobbying is not good enough anymore. “It may have worked in previous years, but the time for such an incrementalist approach to compromising with Wall Street is over.” It must be made clear that many of her ideas are weak tea indeed compared to the political revolution Sanders offers, and if voters go that route they will be legitimizing inequality and control of politics by the elites. “Senator Warren wants to fight the corruption of political elites. Our movement wants to end their power, we want to stop them from getting the power in the first place. Senator Warren wants to reign in Wall Street and make markets work better. Our movement wants to move us beyond our reverence for markets and toward a new economic system that stays ahead of technological change.” Very difficult task at this point to redefine her, but there’s no other way. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was a good idea, but it had its limits, and saving the middle-class from financial predators is not the same as rethinking our economy for future generations.

To restate, the moral disqualification comes from the idea that Warren’s policies are too mild and scattered to reverse the unacceptable inequality that led to Trump, that putting faith in her regulatory approach would lead to the same kinds of compromises that we have seen with recent Democratic administrations, and that this would lead to a backlash even worse than what we have seen with Trump. Voters must feel compelled to ask, Is Warren’s approach enough to reset the economy on a different foundation? Each of Sanders’s plans, such as for workplace democracy, fits in with all the rest, and empowers people and is driven by their needs, whereas Warren turns every question around to “taking on Washington corruption,” which is just the kind of thing we’ve been hearing forever from Washington insiders who think reforming their own set is the solution. If voters start thinking of Warren as compromised, as going too easy on Wall Street relative to the scale of what needs to be accomplished, then the moral disqualification sets in.

This goes back to the same kind of doubts about Hillary’s character that disqualified her in the minds of many: she’s an insider who’ll do anything to make a compromise and advance her own cause, which is what killed Gillibrand too. Is any particular issue disqualifying by itself? No, Warren is not giving away anything so easily, so it has to be an accumulation of inconsistencies and choices (leaning toward big donors, too cozy with banks to really go after them). She can always say she evolved, but then this evolution language has to be discredited. Her personal story is her fortress, but the way she presents herself as evolving from (Reaganite) capitalist, as she sought at first to prove that people went bankrupt because of their own irresponsibility, and realizing, eventually, that they didn’t do so because of their carelessness, is hard to digest. You have to research that, to realize that poor people are not poor because of bad choices? Past support for school vouchers, present support for bloated defense budgets, all of it together might add up to a character flaw so deep as to be unacceptable. How do we know once you’re elected you won’t become a moderate again?

3. The Obama years must be discredited. I don’t see how the nomination can be won, unless this is done. If voters continue to think that the Obama years were good enough, then why not go with Biden? From that point of view, Warren sounds terrific, because she was a financial regulator under Obama, and she promises to improve upon the Obama years, which were already a pretty good deal. What is the need for political revolution, if we can reset the clock to 2016? This goes back to the previous point, where Warren’s “plans” have to be presented as suitable for what we took as acceptable during the last administration, but far behind where we need to be today. This sure is asking for a lot: to take on not just Warren, and present himself as the only progressive, but also to take on someone who is said to be a very popular Democratic president?

Except he would never take on Obama personally, but restrict his criticism to Obama’s policies: “We were not even-handed in the Middle East, we did not deal with terrorism well by relying on drones and extra-judicial assassinations, we allowed a financial rescue package to go forward that skewed heavily in favor of the big banks rather than reestablishing the foundations of the economy so that it once again works for everyone, and we accelerated the collapse of the working class and the middle class. We can’t go back to that. But guess what, our Green New Deal is a vision for a new kind of economy, where we end the 500 to 1 ratio of corporate executive pay to average workers’ pay, where we end rampant insecurity with regard to jobs and housing and medical payments. Just five years ago, under Vice-President Biden we were celebrating fracking, and the popular debate centered around whether climate change was human-made or not. Our Green New Deal is a new American vision for a good life, moving past the economic anxiety the elites thrive on. And no, we don’t think regulating Wall Street [back to Warren] while accepting their fundamental power over our lives is good enough anymore.”

Taking on Obama-era inequality is a two-fer: it gets both Biden and Warren, to the extent that Warren can (and must be) pinned down as stemming from that era’s mildly reformist reactions. Neoliberalism is not easy to translate in popular terms, but one way to do it is to keep saying, “Markets ruled in the last Democratic administration, and for too many years under previous Democratic administrations too. I’m from the wing of the party that has always believed, like FDR, that the people take precedence over markets.” Critiquing the inequality-enhancing policies of the Obama years, and Biden and Warren by implication, can be done in a profoundly optimistic way, because those were years of shrunken dreams and visions. To the political class, optimism sells. That’s one reason they like Warren. Bernie’s optimism wouldn’t be of the same kind. But it is a kind of profound optimism. Otherwise, why aim for a political revolution?

I believe that every time Bernie leans into the narrative of Trump as an unmitigated disaster, as an existential threat to the country and democracy (which of course he is), he strengthens the relative “moderates,” Warren and Biden and everyone else, because the paramount task becomes to remove Trump, and if voters feel that a less radical candidate like Warren or Biden or anyone else is best suited to remove this existential crisis, then why elect Sanders? Why roll the dice, when doing so might get Trump reelected? So I see this leaning into the dominant narrative of what Trump means (he’s unprecedented, etc., or relying on Russiagate as any kind of an explanation), as really counterproductive. It lessens Bernie’s appeal, and the need for him.

4. Trump can’t be beaten unless there’s a clear ideological contrast. “Only I offer that contrast [or something like that, said more humbly]. Trump won’t be easy to beat. Without an economic crisis, and of course we don’t pray for one, he’ll be very difficult to defeat. Even with one, he has tremendous advantages as an incumbent. His base is firmly behind him. We have to beat him in the electoral college, and this is where I believe I’m the best candidate from the Democratic party, because nowhere does my agenda appeal to voters as much as in the Midwestern states Trump was able to capture because of economic fears and anxiety, and in other places around the country beset by the same problems. By now we’ve had a few years to look at how his actions line up with his promises, and here the picture, for farmers in the Midwest or workers anywhere in the country, is not pretty. Angry trade wars, which only increase the cost of living for American workers, are not the way to go. Neither is throwing temper tantrums at international forums. At the same time, we recognize that Trump came to power because of genuine economic insecurity. Regulating markets [a dig again at Warren, she has to be repeatedly presented as someone who just doesn’t go far enough in taking on the crux of the problem] won’t do it, it wasn’t enough in the last Democratic administration, and it won’t be enough now. What we’re talking about is creating a new kind of economy [with a nod to Andrew Yang, for his keen analysis of technology, and to Castro, O’Rourke, and Booker for their frustration with the racial violence and anti-immigration hysteria that result from an unequal economy], which is what the Green New Deal is. Did you think the original New Deal was a good enough deal? Wait for this one, it’s going to be even better, and the best thing is, it’s not a creation of the elites, but a genuine upsurge by the people. I didn’t write the damn bill, the people did! The more people hear about it, the more they like it and the more Trump won’t be able to beat us with the canards about democratic socialism. What I’m actually proposing is a new way to organize our lives and think of the meaning of work. Nobody here has a bold enough plan as I do with the Green New Deal. Let me give you some examples of how it makes your life better.”

And here comes Warren—not just in the debates, head-to-head, but in other public forums, as though it were all a continuation of an unstated dialogue with Bernie and the radicals—“So, I’ve got a plan for that,” Or, “I’ve signed on to the Green New Deal, I’m with Bernie on that, we need to end the era of fossil fuels, etc.” What do you do at that point? I don’t think there’s any other way to deal with this than to say, “Well, I appreciate Senator Warren’s support for the Green New Deal, but we do have a fundamental difference in approach when it comes to envisioning the economy of the future. Our vision thinks about the nature of employment and health care and education from the ground up, and it’s the only plan that takes us from where we are to where we need to be.” Explain again why Trump got elected for good reasons—it wasn’t just that the electoral college favored him over the popular vote, or that Russia interfered, or it was Comey and the FBI, but that there were, and remain, structural reasons why he was elected and remains popular among his base. “And now I want to speak to every American, including those who support Trump. What if there was a way we could regain security and health and well-being, without indulging in racist paranoia and immigrant bashing? I understand your frustration, and why you voted for him. Now it’s time to move past the anger, and think and dream much bigger than Trump lets us do. If we don’t offer a dream bigger than his, then we surely will lose next year.”

In 2016 the task was easier because it was contesting on the terrain of issues like free trade, which were basic but uncontested. Now we’ve moved to more complex, comprehensive goals like the Green New Deal, which are just being introduced into the broader public sphere for the first time, so moving beyond the basics, like NAFTA, makes it a more difficult campaign to run. Especially when everyone sounds like they’re on board too. But Bernie is the only candidate to stand so clearly for the abolition of private insurance, so he should take on the media for confusing giving up private insurance versus giving up health care. Those are two different things. He can say he’s tried to make that distinction before, and the people understand, but the media doesn’t.

Hit hard on 2035. A number people can remember. It makes things concrete and real and within grasp. It’s within your lifetime. If you’re a kid, by the time you’re a young adult, it will have happened, 100% clean renewable energy. Warren’s past support for market-based solutions to climate change? Or any of her recent changes of heart with respect to the radical parts of the Green New Deal? As for Yang, we do address the problem of technological change, but our proposal, the Green New Deal, goes far beyond playing catch-up, because we want to create millions of new jobs, a permanently sustainable economy. So UBI, and Yang’s approach in general, starts sounding like a reactive idea from the past, compared to the Green New Deal’s futuristic scope (again, without demeaning Yang in any way, but genuinely treating him as a potential ally). Castro’s and Booker’s and O’Rourke’s concerns about incarceration and racial injustice are addressed by the Green New Deal, because it takes on every component of poverty and inequality. What Trump is doing with the trade wars is unacceptable because it only adds to inequality. We acknowledge the existing problems—which, by the way, forty years of both Democratic and Republican administrations helped bring about with trade deals that benefited the wealthy—but go about it differently so that we all come out as real winners. The Green New Deal is the optimistic side of the picture, which people need to see, beyond the curmudgeonly side they have been taught to see in Bernie.

5. Start roping in all the idealistic energy out there, particularly manifested in Castro, O’Rourke, Booker, and Yang, the missing Gabbard, and even Williamson and Gillibrand, the last three of whom represent different types of feminist energy that seems heartfelt and must be part of the big tent appeal reaching beyond hardcore socialists. Castro in particular seems more progressive than Warren on some issues, and is the most promising of the lot as an ally, if Bernie visualizes him as a real partner because of his sincere feelings about migration, poverty, and inequality. Castro says simply to “decriminalize immigration,” which is exactly the right attitude. To some extent all of these candidates are earnest (despite their varying doses of “realism”), especially on incarceration, deportation, and racial violence, and Yang clearly recognizes the impact of technological change, so Bernie needs to do better to connect his own ideas, during the course of honest conversation, as encompassing and enfolding these other candidates, and being fully sympathetic to their legitimate concerns.

This is his opportunity to shine as an insurgent who’s not yet found his métier, but once he does he will take along everyone else on a new journey that Americans have not yet experienced, a journey that was once deferred by the Cold War, and then again by the resurgence of a misguided imperialism after the end of the Cold War, which put the whole project of economic democracy on hold. Here, he can out-wonk Yang on UBI (and present a bolder economic vision), Booker and Castro on mass incarceration, O’Rourke on immigration, and the absent but ever-present Gabbard and Williamson on the anxiety that propels war and violence (though these two are somewhat constrained, Gabbard by her nationalism and Williamson by her ethic of personal responsibility, they do represent opportunities to expand what seems to have settled down as the 20 to 30% ceiling). Potential allies Castro, O’Rourke, Booker, and even Yang, all have to feel that they have more to gain from a Bernie presidency than Warren’s or Biden’s, that they will be able to find their place in the big tent and their favorite causes will be genuinely advanced by Bernie. Bernie needs to convey this sense of lifting them up and appreciating them when they are all together. Again, Warren has done a masterful job of jumping on the bandwagon, but she is only an eager student, not a leader.

Some people are afraid of Bernie. Many people are afraid of him. The media is, the elites are. Warren, as moderate as she is, wasn’t their first choice, they didn’t even dare to move toward her. Bernie can’t be a false optimist. But there’s real optimism on the ground, and has been since 2015, the whole equation of what’s possible has been shifted. If he presents Warren, in a negative light, as being within the old window of possibility, and some of the other more sincere candidates, in a more positive light, as still thinking within that window of possibility, and challenges them outright, in a genial way, to go past all the old paradigms of what’s “politically possible” and who’s “electable,” then we can move not just beyond Trump, which we need to do, but the underlying cynicism and pessimism that has made Trump possible. “Look, we had a great opportunity to realize full economic democracy and human rights including the right to health care and free higher education and affordable housing and the right for each person to live up to his or her potential, especially when the Cold War ended and we didn’t need to have such high military budgets. In a sense, we lost the last thirty years. But the technological capability is there to move to a new economy. I’m not a socialist in the way the demagogues want you to think of me, but I’m a socialist in a very American sense, in the way that FDR was, or LBJ in his best moments, in the way that [name other favorite icons] were. Trump’s xenophobic neofascism, versus our democratic socialism. That’s how we beat him. But Trump’s xenophobic neofascism, versus expectations that capitalism will work for us if only we regulate it a bit more? I don’t think so. That’s not a winning proposition.”

Conclusion: Even many Sanders supporters seem to think that there’s some kind of a deal between him and the Warren camp for a truce. This perception is fatal, because again it makes her acceptable, whereas the idea is to disqualify her from consideration: that’s the only way to win the nomination, unfortunately, there’s no way around this problem at this late stage in the game—and in some senses it is early, but in other senses it is very late. People on the surrogate scene need to dismiss this idea that the two of them can be on the same ticket, one as president and one as vice-president. They are just too different, they have different goals and aspirations, for that to ever work. So don’t even think about that as a fallback. In this campaign season—and the DNC couldn’t be happier about that—many fallbacks have emerged: so-and-so is an acceptable alternative to Bernie, so-and-so can also beat Trump, such-and-such is also a good way to overcome the problem of economic anxiety. Each of these fallbacks needs to be shot down, one after the other—although sometimes they will be in play simultaneously, so that by knocking down Warren’s microscopic plans you also knock down topside regulation as a viable approach to inequality—so that in the end only Bernie remains standing.

For this to happen, Bernie needs to speak as though he can see himself already as president. He sees himself not just as the incipient leader of a burgeoning political revolution, still on the fringes, but in that office, bringing along the people, making it the people’s office again. That’s one way to counter Warren‘s folksy persona, which she’s been able to bring herself to believe, by putting it up against the force of vision of Bernie seeing himself in that office, as the representative of the people who have been left out, and conveying how powerful an antidote to elite cynicism that can be. Warren is defined as a wonkish, isolated, elitist planner (sorry, yes, this needs to be said, because it is the source of her power), whereas Bernie is the visionary leader who’s always been decades ahead of others with his ideas, it’s just that now reality has finally caught up with him.

Raise the bar of acceptability for Bernie. Can people see him as their president? He should directly address that. Can he see himself as president? Does he? He should say, if we don’t seize this moment, and think we can just go back to life before Trump, then all the positive energy will fritter away. This is the time to make a clean sweep, break with the whole last forty years of compromise, and I’m offering that. “I will never change, I give you my word. People change after the primaries, move to the center, move back to the elites, but I won’t.” Implicit in that is Warren as flip-flopper, as we proceed by stages toward her moral disqualification by Iowa. Sow the seeds of doubt about Warren, that she’s going to compromise and change, which will embolden Trumpists more than ever, long after Trump himself is gone. Creating that kind of anxiety about what can happen if Bernie is not chosen is a step in the direction of the moral unacceptability of an alternative to Bernie.

Goal of the next debate: One, only Bernie is the real progressive, you don’t want Bernie-lite. Two, break through the ceiling, which seems to be established around 20% or at most 30%, by way of optimism, by letting people envision him as president, by tapping into Castro, O’Rourke, Booker, and Yang’s idealism. He has to be collegial with Castro and the others. Bring Gillibrand on board, I see hope there. They each represent valid desires (Gillibrand: white feminism; Castro and O’Rourke: fairness to immigrants; Yang: recognition of technological change). Now they’re all liberated to some extent from Clintonism. Just as Bill Clinton redefined what it meant to be a Democrat in 1992 under the DLC umbrella, the same task of redefinition needs to be completed now. It was easier to reach 50% when it was just Hillary, because maybe 30% of the Democratic electorate disliked her personally, but now she isn’t there, and there are a bunch of “likable” candidates, so it sets up a difficult ceiling to cross, with all the split votes. Driving down their favorability ratings (aside from Warren) is not the task, but making policy differentiations is: being able to visualize Bernie as president can lead to a breakthrough in the ceiling.

**Postscript (April 24, 2020). All the challenges bedeviling the Sanders campaign throughout its 2020 incarnation are addressed in this memo: consolidating left-populist opposition and extending a hand to potential allies, breaking through the 20-30% ceiling which confounded them until the end, reaching out to moderate, suburban, technocratic, and African American voters, knocking down both Warren and Biden by way of critiquing the Obama administration’s manifest failures, and expanding on an optimistic vision to counter Trumpian and DNC pessimism—all of it is here in this piece of advice, which I’m sure is representative of a lot of counsel coming their way. None of this is particularly private, because legions of progressives offered similar advice in all sorts of venues for as long as the campaign lasted. The point of publishing this is to show that those interested in the advancement of a genuine progressive movement are by no means playing a hindsight is 2020 game when it comes to our disillusionment with the Sanders campaign. The campaign was well aware of this entire winning strategy from the beginning, yet chose to pursue a diametrically opposite path guaranteed to fail. The question is, why?

*Photo: Gage Skidmore*

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