Writing in the Los Angeles Times (If Bernie Sanders loses, his backers may not be there for Hillary Clinton in November, February 5), Evan Halper and Michael A Memola report:
Gio Zanecchia is so enamored of Bernie Sanders that he made a five-hour drive with his wife and infant son from South Jersey on Saturday morning to catch a glimpse of the progressive firebrand.
But what if Sanders loses the Democratic nomination? Asked whether he will be there to vote for the Democrat in November should Sanders falter, the 34-year-old union mechanic reacts as if the question is insane. There is not a chance, he insists, that he would ever support Hillary Clinton.
“She’s establishment,” Zanecchia said. “Most of the guys I work with think she’s a criminal.”…
This is not a group that is particularly loyal to the Democratic Party. While liberal Democrats make up a big chunk of Sanders’ support, many other backers are independents. Some mistrust the party so much that Sanders supporters booed the party chair when she took the stage Friday night at a dinner at which the candidates spoke.
Zanecchia’s second choice for president is Donald Trump.
Attempting to interpret the electorate for the Wall Street Journal (The Life of the Party, January 30-31), John O’Sullivan, a prominent writer, highly regarded in conservative circles, agrees that Democratic Party loyalty plays a diminished role in this electoral cycle. He sees changes in the Democratic Party as creating a gulf: “These changes have orphaned a very large class of voters. Working-class Americans no longer feel well represented by the Democrats…”
But he sees a similar gulf lurking in a significant section of the Republican Party, producing: “ the people now saying that they will vote Trump for president. Early media analyses tended to assume that these voters were Tea Partiers under a new flag. But… Philip Bump… found that Trump supporters were younger, poorer, less educated, less conservative, more moderate, more likely to call themselves Republican, less likely to call themselves independent…, more likely to be white and less likely to be evangelical than were Tea Party supporters on all these points.”
Mr. O’Sullivan is troubled because these Republican-in-name voters are less willing to carry the water for the corporate Republicans. They eschew the anti-government dogma that welds corporate Republicanism together with the Tea-Party: “Tea Partiers stress constitutional limits on what government can and should do; Trump supporters are enthusiastic for getting things done and aren’t too particular about how that happens.”
The Trumpets and Trumpettes lack enthusiasm for free-market ideology: “[L]ibertarianism and its prophet, Sen. Rand Paul, have been pushed aside by the rush of popular support to Mr. Trump, who represents, if anything, a movement from libertarianism to activist government.”
And most alarming to Mr. O’Sullivan and the corporate Republicans, “…Mr. Trump has sweepingly promised to preserve entitlements against… reforms, discouraging other Republicans from making this tough case.”
Thus, the Trump segment of Republican voters departs sharply from the corporate Republican playbook and represents somewhat of a challenge to the core corporate ideology of Republican Party bosses.
Of course the Trump constituency openly embraces the anti-immigrant racism stirring in all the elements of the Republican base. O’Sullivan sees this more of a tactical issue than a principled difference.
Something is stirring in the US electorate
Dissatisfaction within the two parties is not new. The desire for a break from the past, for change, drove the Obama election. And the rise of the Tea Party signaled turmoil within the Republican Party. While Obama and the Tea Party were both responses to a continued deterioration of confidence in US institutions and politicians, the challenges never threatened the two parties’ pro-corporate programs-- the Obama phenomena never eroded the dominance of big business or the banks, nor did it pretend to do so; the Tea Party never distracted the Republican Party from its mission to promote capital, big and small. Both parties were confident that they could stage manage dissatisfaction and tame dissent in the final act.
The Sanders and Trump successes suggest that voters are not appeased by the thin gruel offered by the party elites this go-round. But something more profound is occurring—a refusal to settle for the usual charade. Moreover, party loyalty is unusually thin this time, challenging party leaders’ ability to count on a transfer from one candidate to another. What the pundits call “unpredictability” is actually the exercise of a new level of political maturity and independence.
A recent Pew Research Center poll (December 8-13, 2015) bears out the mood of voter alienation: 62% of all respondents maintain that “the federal government does not do enough for middle-class people.” Thus, the notion that anti-government sentiment runs deep in the populace is a media-inspired illusion. Instead, people want better government.
Furthermore, the respondents harbor no illusions about the political parties. Sixty-two percent (62%) believe that the Republican Party favors the rich. And only 32% of the public believe that the Democratic Party favors the “middle class.”
One should not be fooled by the dodgy term “middle class,” so popular with class-conflict deniers. Respondents understand the term as roughly synonymous with “working class”: “When it comes to what it takes to be middle class, there is near unanimity in the public that a secure job and the ability to save money are essential for middle-class status.” (Pew)
Thus dissatisfaction is understandable when “middle class” is coupled with the finding that “Majorities of self-identified middle-class (58%) and lower-class adults (73%) say that good jobs are difficult to find.”
An even more recent Pew poll (released 2-10-16) shows a remarkably strong unhappiness with the US economic system (presumably capitalism!): “A substantial majority of Americans – 65% – say the economic system in this country ‘unfairly favors powerful interests.’” Fewer than half as many (31%) say the system “is generally fair to most Americans.”
While rejection of “the establishment” and “business-as-usual” marks a new level of political maturity, it is not accompanied by a comparable ideological clarity; the public shares only a murky vision of alternatives. The expression of dissent through such diverse electoral vehicles as Sanders and Trump demonstrates this point.
Nonetheless, the successes of the Sanders campaign, despite many weaknesses, open up an opportunity for the left in the US. Sanders has successfully and unapologetically embraced words like “socialism” and “revolution” in his campaign narrative. Never mind that he may use the words in a modest, unthreatening way; they have been effectively banned from main stream US political discourse for most of our lives. To the shock of many, a Boston Globe survey of New Hampshire Democratic Party primary voters prior to the February 9 vote found that 31% described themselves as “socialist,” over half of those between the ages of 17 and 34 did so as well.
Certainly many only have a hazy idea of socialism, but any one afraid to discuss socialism with others in this climate should surrender her or his leftist badge.
The failure of intense red-baiting to gain traction at this moment is equally remarkable. Consequently, the occasion to interact with an angry electorate looking for fresh answers should not be lost to the socialist left.
While Democratic Party values have inexorably moved rightward over the last 25 years or more, its loyal followers have just as deliberately moved leftward. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that Democrats describing themselves as “Very Liberal” rose from a mere 9% in the Bill Clinton era (1992) to 22% in 2016. Whatever “Very Liberal” means, it should be fallow ground for those of us offering a fresh alternative. It is surely apparent that the barrier to moving politics leftward is the Democratic Party establishment and the two-party stranglehold on change.
Lest anyone harbor illusions, the insurgencies are very far from victory. The two party establishments are not going to surrender—they will fight ferociously to the end. After all, the two parties belong to the elites and their corporate partners.
On the Republican side, should a corporate Republican fail to rise to successfully challenge Trump, Michael Bloomberg stands in the wings with a threatened independent run. The party’s corporate masters would rather he scuttle the ship temporarily than see Trump set back Republican chances for the next decade, especially with the emerging minority majority.
Should Clinton falter on the Democratic side, Biden is waiting in the wings, ready to accept a hand off. Rigged primaries, media assaults, and other traps lie ahead for Sanders before a stacked convention. We must remember that the Democratic Party doesn’t belong to the people.
The left must offer ideas of substance and clarity, along with bold alternatives, to the young idealists supporting Sanders’ quixotic campaign or they may retreat to indifference and inaction. A lot is possible.