Updated 20 October 2017
Bernie Sanders needs to form and lead a new party in order to effect badly needed change in American politics. This is very clear to some, perhaps less clear to others, and oftentimes seems to be a nebulous topic when the Senator himself talks about the issue.
Bernie has said that he wants to “transform the Democratic Party” in order to make it more representative of working people and the poor. This is Bernie’s way of saying that he wants to reverse the 30 years of neoliberalism that has reigned since Bill Clinton and the DLC hijacked the Democratic Party and abandoned unions and working people in favor of Wall Street and Corporate America.
This is simply not possible.
Reason 1: The Reagan Democrats are not coming back
To put Bernie’s struggle into an historical context, and to understand why the Democratic Party needs to be “transformed”, we first need to look at Ronald Reagan.
The so-called “Reagan Revolution” itself transformed the American political landscape. Reagan’s goal was, essentially, to roll back all of the populist advances of the Democrats’ New Deal socialism, which had started with FDR (Social Security, banking regulations) and progressed through Truman (who fought for universal health care) and culminated in LBJ’s “Great Society” legislation of the 60’s (Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, etc.).
Reagan managed to convince middle class and working class Americans that government had grown too big, and government was no longer a solution but rather the cause of society’s ills. Indeed, Reagan famously quipped: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
Bernie Sanders is trying to reverse Reaganism. He wants people to realise that the government can be a source of strength and support in people’s lives; that the federal government, with its vast power and wealth, can be a force for good, and a way for us to, as Bernie says, “come together”.
But Reagan was able to effect his “transformation” by seizing power in a party that was already opposed to what he wanted to change. The Republican Party had always been the party of limited government, conservative policies, and — certainly since the time of FDR — had always represented the rich and the powerful. Reagan’s “revolution” then consisted simply of extending the ideas of limited government and lower taxes to the middle class and working people — those who had traditionally been staunch Democrats. These so-called “Reagan Democrats” voted for Reagan because he was able to convince them that their growing economic insecurity was not due to corporatism and a rapacious upper class who was grabbing more wealth for themselves, but instead was due to a federal government who was robbing them of their money in the form of taxes and “wasting” it on the “underserving” poor and minorities. In other words, Reagan argued that middle class wages were not stagnating because of corporate greed but because of “welfare queens” who were being coddled by an “overreaching” federal government that simply did not care about hard-working people.
Bernie wants to reverse the Reagan Revolution and bring those Reagan Democrats back into the fold of the Democratic Party. But this is a fool’s errand; an impossible task. This is due in no small part to the fact that the Republican Party has now become the party of the working class.
I know many may scoff at such an idea, but consider this: in the 2016 election, Trump received 53% of his total campaign contributions from small donors (those who gave less than $200), while Hillary Clinton only received 21% of her money from such donations.
And the trend is continuing. So far, Trump has raised 59% of his re-election campaign money from small donors.
The fact is, the Democratic Party is perceived by the majority of Americans as the Party of the elites, of the 1%, and increasingly there is a wealth of empirical evidence to show that this assessment is correct.
Moreover, many Democrats are happy to ignore working class voters, and there seems to be an actual resistance to the idea of “recapturing” the working-class vote. Joy Reid, the most prominent Democratic pundit (after Maddow) recently explained the thinking of the Democratic intelligentsia regarding the working class voting block she dismissively described as the “Pabst Blue Ribbon voter” and the mistake that some Democrats — including Sanders — are making in trying to court them:
“[Some] Democrats don’t understand that the voters they long to have back, the sort of Archie Bunker who was a Democrat in the 70s is now a Republican. So they can long for them all they want; they’re not going to convince them by saying ‘We’re going to give you free college.’ That’s not why they’re voting … They’re not voting economics; they’re voting because the Republican Party represents their values. They don’t care about the economics. So Democrats keep trying to use economic lures to pull them back in, but that’s not why they’re voting that way.
The question here is not whether Reid is correct. The important thing is that many Democrats think that way, and the working class “Pabst Blue Ribbon” voters think that way as well.
Reason 2: The Democratic Party is Incapable of Change
The Reagan Revolution lead to the rise of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). This was a group of conservative Democrats who saw what had happened with Reagan, and rather than fight to regain the American middle class, decided to pursue a “Third Way” of neoliberalism, which embraced corporations, Wall Street and “market based solutions” when it came to economics, but still paid lip service to social justice in terms of civil rights, gay rights and women’s rights (including abortion).
Over the past 30 years, the Democratic Party has become a money machine. From its HQ in Washington, the DNC raises money and spends it — with no internal or external controls. Unbelievably, the Budget of the DNC is secret; not even the Board of the DNC have access to the books. No one knows how or where the Democrats spend their money. But what we do know is that much is spent on consultants, pollsters, media companies and other “vendors.”
The Democratic Party has become like Byzantium or the Ottoman Empire — a sclerotic organisation based on baksheesh and payola, where everyone is more interested in keeping their jobs and their lucrative contracts than they are in actually effectuating policy.
Upton Sinclair wrote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” This is the problem that Democrats face. And it is not a problem that is going to go away anytime soon. The fact is that the Democrats would rather lose to Republicans than win with Progressives who would turn off the spigot of corporate cash that keeps the Party going.
A case in point: the 2016 elections were an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions. Not only did the Democrats cede the White House to a grossly unqualified baboon, they lost the House and the Senate as well. And presently, nearly 80% of all Americans live in States that are partially or completely controlled by the GOP (legislatures and governors). AND YET — no one has been fired. No one has done a mea culpa, there has been no introspection, no post-mortem analysis. In short, everyone still has their jobs, and that is all that matters. The money still flows; the gravy train still runs.
As I mentioned above, Reagan was able to transform the political landscape by seizing power in the Republican Party. He was able to grab the wheel and take the party in a new direction by expanding its base. For Bernie to change the Democrats, however, he would need to completely change the very nature, the baseline priorities and the raison d’être of the Party. It would not be like taking over the wheel — he would have to throw the car in reverse. And that is just not going to happen.
Reason 3: Bernie’s strength and appeal lie in his independence
Let’s face it — Bernie Sanders has never won an election running as a Democrat. He has been elected and re-elected 12 times as an Independent. This alone would seem to indicate that he is most successful when running outside of the two parties.
As an example: in 2000, just barely over 50% of Vermonters voted for Al Gore, but Bernie won re-election with over 69% of the vote. Would he have done as well had he been running as a Democrat? The answer is most likely a strong NO.
Bernie and others argue that one needs to be part of the two-party system in order to compete effectively, and yet Bernie himself has proven — time and time again — that it is possible to win elections as an Independent.
Sure, Vermont is a small state, but that should not make a difference. Indeed, unless you buy into that hokum about Vermont’s “homogeneity” you must admit that if Bernie can win with 69% of the vote in an election where 40% of those voters also chose George Bush for President, he should be able to do well on a national level as well.
Ironically, Bernie himself is quick to quote his phenomenal success as an independent running against both Democrats AND Republicans. “No one knows more about running as an Independent than I do,” he says. And yet he uses this experience to argue against a third-party Presidential run. This argument however rings hollow, as it is belied by the very record of success that he cites.
Reason 4: “Jehovah, Jehovah, Jehovah!”
Those close to Bernie have often said that his visceral opposition to running as a third-party candidate is his abject fear of becoming “another Nader.” Now, those of us who know the reality of the 2000 election know that Nader was not to blame for Gore’s loss (the man could not even carry his home state, after all), but the Democratic Establishment has excoriated Ralph Nader ever since the election, turning him into a pariah and using him as a talisman to ward off any would-be third-party candidates and to dissuade progressive Democrats from voting Green or Libertarian. “Remember Ralph Nader!” they cry, “third parties lead to catastrophe!”
In 2016, Bernie did not want to be the cause of a catastrophe, and so he dutifully ran as a loyal Democrat, even stumping for Hillary Clinton after he lost the Primary.
Well — Bernie did the honourable thing; the cautious thing; the prudent thing. He agreed not to upset the apple cart, not to challenge authority — all in the hopes of avoiding a disastrous win by another dangerous Republican.
But Trump won anyway.
In Monty Python’s Life of Brian there is a scene in which a man has been sentenced to death for saying the Lord’s name out loud. Just as the public stoning is about to begin, the prisoner starts shouting “Jehovah, Jehovah, Jehovah”.
“You’re only making it worse for yourself,” says the official presiding over the execution.
“How can it be any worse?” asks the condemned man.
This is the situation we find ourselves in today. Trump has been elected. The catastrophe that we sought to avoid has happened. The nation has survived. The scare tactic used to squash third party campaigns has lost a lot of its power, because indeed: How can it be any worse?
NEW – Reason 5: THE FIX IS ALREADY IN FOR 2020, AND YOU AIN’T IT
Updated 20 October 2017
My social media accounts are blowing up with two stories, which are related in a very troubling and ominous way.
1. Shake-Up at Democratic National Committee, Longtime Officials Ousted
– This week Tom Perez conducted his own “Night of the Long Knives” by pushing several progressives out of their positions within the DNC. Those purged range from Bill Buckley, currently head of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, to Alice Germond, former DNC Secretary. What did these purge victims have in common? They are all supporters of Bernie Sanders and/or Keith Ellison. This means that Bernie will have no support among the upper echelons of the DNC,and indeed the mightiest forces within the DNc will be arrayed against him.
Moreover, Perez is stacking the DNC deck with Clintonites and lobbyists – The most telling aspect of this purge is that Perez is placing Clintonites in key positions in the Executive Committee and the Rules Committee and Lobbyists in the At Large delegation. This means that Clintonite Establishment Dems will continue to have control over the budget and – more importantly – they will decide the rules for the next Presidential Primary. And in a brazen show of chutzpah, Perez has named the disgraced yet arrogantly unrepentant Donna Brazile to sit on the Rules Committee.
This does not bode well for any challenger to the next Anointed Establishment Candidate (cough, Kamala Harris). Even Bernie – despite his popularity – could find himself at a disadvantage again by the way the DNC runs the Primary. And of course the Clintonite Establishment Dems like Brazile will not change the Superdelegate rules, so whoever the darling of the DNC will be, they will have a huge advantage in the delegate count even before the campaigns start.
2. DNC resolution pressures Sanders to join Democrats
– The DNC is trying to force Bernie Sanders (as well as Angus King, another Independent) to become “official” Democrats in the upcoming race in 2018 “and beyond.” Clearly, the DNC are trying to get their hooks into Bernie and to try to make him toe the Party line. The timing of this resolution, coming as it does concurrently with the Perez move to assert full Clintonite control over the DNC itself, make sit clear that the Democrats consider Bernie Sanders to be a major threat to their corrupt, money-based regime, and they are trying desperately to contain that threat,
I say, let Bernie be a threat. Bernie needs to be a threat. And he needs to threaten the DNC from without. This latest move to simultaneously pull Sanders in while pushing those who support him out is a clear statement of the DNC’s intent to de-fang, de-claw, de-motivate and ultimately destroy both Bernie and his supporters.
We cannot let this happen. Bernie MUST form a third party, and the sooner the better.