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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Tilting at Windmills?

Two months have passed since the 2018 midterm elections, yet Democrats are already jumping into the 2020 Presidential race with many more candidates on the way. Typically, candidates are reluctant to go against an incumbent, but the Democrats smell blood in the water with the Trump Presidency.

This is another “new face” moment when Party leaders sense that Democratic Party voters are angry at nearly all of the US institutions and disgusted with past choices.

Earlier moments of flagging voter confidence necessitated fresh faces to bolster class rule. For example, in the wake of the Nixon fiasco, the Democrats found a relatively unknown “aw shucks” peanut farmer/governor from the South. Jimmy Carter, a “Mr. Clean Jeans” with an unblemished record as an administrator, served in sharp contrast to the Nixon sleaze machine. By 1978, he had betrayed the last iteration of a progressive, New Deal-like Democratic platform and roused the somnolent then “lion of the Senate”-- Ted Kennedy-- to run against him in the next primary.

Bill Clinton, another governor, but this time with youth and charm, rode the health care issue to victory. It is easy to forget that universal, low-cost healthcare was the number-one issue nearly thirty years ago and still remains unsolved. And every Democratic candidate will run in 2020 again on healthcare reform, though the Democratic Party leadership is working overtime to stealthily dilute any popular “Medicare for All” program in order to make it corporate friendly.

The twin catastrophe of costly wars and a collapsing economy associated with the Bush administration drove public confidence in US institutions to a new low. Once again, ruling class legitimacy required confidence builders. Seizing the opportunity, the Democrats offered both a reliable, established policy hand-- Hillary Clinton-- and a new fresh, untainted face-- Barack Obama. Both came with a bonus appeal to urban social liberals and identitarians: first woman President or first African American President.

Obama proved better suited to ruling class purposes, raising and spending over twice as much money as McCain in the general election.

Like Carter, Obama was all promise and little change. Despite two years of rare command of both the legislative and the executive branches, Obama only delivered on a Rube Goldberg health care bill written by the insurance industry. Of course, its failings are the reason that the healthcare crisis remains at the top of national issues.

Frustration with “hope and change” opened the back door to the vile Donald Trump and his military/con men coterie. Trump became a gift to the Democratic Party and the deeply discredited media (polls show that most people thought that the media was a monger for “fake news” well before Trump coined the term). With Trump’s bombast and crudity, Democrats and cable news windbags can trash Trump without wrestling with deeper issues. Moreover, they could invent a few issues of their own and further their saber-rattling, militaristic agenda. If your corporate masters won’t allow you to tackle inequality, systemic racism, and deteriorating living conditions, then resort to fear and distraction.

Presented with the prospect of a campaign against a bumbling, egomaniacal Donald Trump burdened with falling approval ratings, a herd of Democratic Party politicians and officials are scraping together cash and scrambling for operatives and supporters. Some are really only jockeying for a Vice-Presidential anointment. Still others, for future consideration or a step up in job title. An announcement and a tour of the hinterlands serves as a beauty contest for some future considerations. But there are still many with sufficient self-regard that they plan to run for a shot at Trump.


What’s new in this election-- or appears to be new-- is a sizable, pesky left wing in the Democratic Party. To be sure, the Party’s left today is a tepid left by historic or international standards. But economic duress often generates a left turn. It is established that younger people’s fate was the most damaged product of a decade of halting growth, greater inequality, and fewer opportunities for better jobs in the wake of the 2007-2008 collapse. So it is no surprise that “socialism”-- ill-defined socialism-- is more popular with youth than it has been in many generations.

Bernie Sanders brought the idea of socialism into a Democratic Party that had even cast off the term “liberal,” embracing “progressive” in its place. Cold War Democrats rivaled Republicans in denouncing socialism.

Of course Bernie embraced Scandinavian-style social democracy, but his use of the forbidden word was welcome indeed.

It is worth remembering that the Sanders primary campaign in 2016 garnered 46% of the delegates at the Democratic Convention despite the widespread sabotage of his campaign by the Party leadership and the powerful effect of conservative superdelegates. Sanders polled well against all of the Republican candidates and in states later critical to Trump’s victory. Nothing demonstrates better the dissatisfied mood of the country two years ago.

But since 2016, the Democratic Party establishment has shown no interest in embracing, even tolerating Sanders-style leftism. They have marshalled a host of arguments-- pragmatic, technical, seldom ideological arguments-- about electability, diversity, demographics, experience, etc. They muster a slew of “realities”-- budgetary limits, need to compromise, unintended consequences, etc.-- that hinder change. They aim to paternalistically keep the Party’s left within the tent without even remotely advancing a left agenda.

To a great extent, Sanders has made their work easier. Aside from some minor Convention reforms, he has neither asked nor demanded any substantial programmatic changes in the Party. He has loyally supported the Party, its strategy, and its candidates since the last Presidential election. Unlike insurgent counterparts in the Republican Party, Sanders makes no non-negotiable demands; he refuses to elevate principles above accommodation to the Democratic Party center. Whether Sanders consciously serves the Party (“sheep-dogging”) or naively believes that he can maneuver among shameless corporate Democrats is irrelevant. He has crippled his effectiveness.

The current face of the left ‘insurgency’ within the Democratic Party is the youthful, attractive and very able Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. What is not surprising is how the Democratic Party establishment and its media henchmen have lined up against her. What is surprising is how deft she has been in meeting their often ridiculous attacks. Tainted Democrats from millionaire Whoopi Goldberg to Neanderthal Joe Lieberman have dismissively scorned her.

Where she wants to go, where she will be allowed to go with her streak of relative independence is yet to be determined. But surely, her challenging of the Democratic Party leadership is an exciting development.

Ocasio-Cortez’s introduction of a 70% marginal tax rate for mega-salaries was a surprise, a welcome and politically shrewd surprise. For the Democrats who speak “progressive” when they are out of power, this idea presents an embarrassing problem. Pelosi and her cohorts have indignantly attacked Trump over his tax breaks for the rich and corporations, but they will never embrace a real, concrete, and popular tax policy as a centerpiece in the coming election.

Ocasio-Cortez has also drawn attention to the notion of a “Green New Deal.” Despite the fact that the term remains more of a slogan than a policy-- how much Green? how much New Deal?-- Democratic Party policy wonks and the new House leadership are blocking anything even remotely related to crafting such a policy.

For those who were snookered by the contrived faux-progressivism of the “community-organizer” legend, Barack Obama, Ocasio-Cortez presents a more credible role model.


Of the early Presidential prospects, the hollow corporate Democrats would likely be most happy with Beto O’Rourke, the upstart who raised a record $83 million dollars to run a Senatorial campaign that advanced virtually no serious issues. With a name that is instantly a campaign slogan and with overflowing congeniality, O’Rourke defines the “moderate” candidate sought by empty suits.

In the Obama mold of attractive, youthful and flamboyantly moderate candidates are Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar. All are ambitious, anxious to please, and ill-disposed to advance a peoples’ agenda.

Similarly, the avuncular crowd-- Joe Biden and sleepy Bob Casey-- are dependable centrists and accommodators, but not likely to answer to the “new face” moment.

Representing the Party’s left, Sanders remains the most viable candidate, though the media has already begun to dig up dirt to undermine his chances. Should he falter, Elizabeth Warren offers a Sanders-lite candidate with a credible record of assailing the bankers around the financial crisis, but little policy-wise beyond repeating that she is an advocate for the “middle class.”  

The most intriguing candidate is Tulsi Gabbard, the only Democrat to dare to challenge the Democratic Party foreign policy consensus. Gabbard has courageously and vocally defied the apologists for US wars and US interventions throughout the world. Nearly alone, she has stood against the war mongers who stoke confrontations and aggression, and she has even defended Syria’s right to peacefully determine its own future. Measured against almost any Democrat, her congressional record and her public positions today are decidedly the most radically advanced.

Yet the attacks on her candidacy began almost immediately after she announced plans to run. Rather than weigh her legislative record, her projected issues, critics dredged statements made in her youth and misstatements since renounced. They accuse her of being “left hard-realist” in outlook, “homophobic,” “virulent anti-gay activist” (CNN, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Daily Kos etc., etc.), loved by the “Conservative Media and the Far Right” (The Daily Beast) and on and on. ad nauseum. Many liberals and the moderate left-- especially the speech moralizers-- shook their fingers in Gabbard’s direction over past indiscretions. Significantly, one of Gabbard’s openly gay House colleagues, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, came to her defense. Her voting record with the organization that claims to represent the greatest number of sexually diverse members is 100%.

But it can’t go unnoticed that the same standards are not applied to other candidates. No one has challenged Elizabeth Warren for being a Republican until an epiphany in1995. No one is probing the past views of the many “liberal” Bible-thumping Christians who populate the House and Senate and run for office. If they attend churches that oppose abortion or same-sex marriage, does that not disqualify them? Or do we judge them on their own current public posture, as we should?

And recall the sickening obituaries by these same news sites a month ago of ex-CIA chief, Reaganaut George HW Bush, eulogies that found nothing to fault in his loathsome history. All was forgiven.

No, the real grounds for the attack on Gabbard lie elsewhere. Gabbard dared to question the official narrative that Assad is a butcher and the US should push to overthrow him. She also criticized Israeli apartheid, another foreign policy disqualifier with the media, the pundits, and the Democratic Party leadership.

It should not be lost on the Democratic Party left that no other candidate will speak as boldly on these issues, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. And it should not be lost on the left, in general, that no prominent Democratic leader has stepped up to defend Gabbard’s foreign policy positions, her right to legitimately hold them, or her right to run for President on these issues.


Denied a sense of history by 24-hour cable news noise and suffering social media addiction, it should come as no surprise that most voters demonstrate no grasp of the history of reformism, of insurgencies in the Democratic Party. As some left pundits like to remind us: “The Democratic Party is where good ideas go to die!”

There is much truth in this epigram. With the exception of extraordinary moments like the Great Depression and the 1960s mass insurgencies, the Democratic Party as an institution has shown overwhelming resistance to any movement to change its character from fealty to the capitalist agenda. Its existence as an opposition force is based solely on cultivating an image moderately distant from the other more shamelessly pro-corporate, unabashedly capitalist party. For the most part, the Republican Party has established the capitalist, ruling class line and the Democrats have occupied a position minimally to the left of that line, an option available when the preferred line falters. That would appear to be the logic of a two-party system when both parties are capitalist.

The details of history support this thesis. Within a few years of the close of the Second World War, the Democrats were in retreat from Roosevelt’s New Deal vision, especially its foreign policy. The turbulent sixties were dampened by assassinations that effectively disrupted electoral politics and frightened potential insurgents who likely suspected that the spate of assassinations was more than a coincidence.

When Senator George McGovern secured the Democratic Party nomination in 1972 and promised to further democratize the process, extend the Great Society, and revise US foreign policy, the media, the Democratic Party establishment, a conservative labor leadership, and Cold Warriors subverted, sabotaged his campaign and emboldened the re-elected Nixon administration.

When that same Nixon administration was disgraced and the Republican Party damaged, the Democrats enjoyed a rare freedom of action with a veto-proof House and Senate domination in 1976. The platform promised a reduction in military spending, full employment, a low-income housing policy, comprehensive national health insurance with universal coverage, acceptance of busing for racial integration, rejection of nuclear energy, and a host of other progressive reforms. This was to be the last New Deal-like Democratic platform. It was betrayed within two years.

By the mid-1980s, the Democratic Party was reborn as Reaganism-lite. As The New York Times noted, virtually all of the reforms of the 1976 and 1980 platforms were discarded. In their place was a new focus: “The [1984] platform contrasts in a number of key areas with the 1976 platform on which Jimmy Carter and Mr. Mondale were elected, and the differences say a good deal about the path the party has chosen this year. Abortion and Homosexual Rights.”

In place of welfare-related programs, the Democrats offered “Cost containment.”

“The 1984 platform mentions marijuana for the first time in its section on crime and drug control,” signaling the Democrats’ developing fixation on criminalizing drug use. “What may be the only overt mention of liberalism in the 1984 platform,” The New York Times notes, “maintains that the answer to crime is 'neither a permissive liberalism nor a static conservatism.’”

Similarly, the Democrats’ fascination with global, unfettered markets emerged at this time: In the view of The New York Times, “The party is more concerned about world trade now than it was in 1976, with attention rising from two paragraphs to nearly 2,000 words. Very little of the campaign protectionist language survived into the final draft, however, which observes that ‘the international economy is the area in which we must compete.’”

As the grand liberal chronicler, The New York Times, underscores above, the 1984 Democratic Party platform marked a watershed in the abandonment of New Deal thinking in the party, a change that entrenched even further in the ensuing years. By the election of Bill Clinton, the process was completed, allowing the Democrats to successfully attack and dismantle the New Deal welfare system. An attempt by Clinton and Newt Gingrich to privatize social security was only derailed with the distraction of Monica Lewinsky.

Of course, there were insurgencies along the way-- some shallow, some Quixotic. The Kennedyesque Gary Hart campaign was hollow and symbolic; Jesse Jackson successfully broke through the racial barriers constraining a Black national candidate by projecting a remarkably radical economic and peace program in the primaries, only to be buried by corporate fundraising funneled to the Democratic establishment; the Deaniac campaign of Howard Dean was innovative and boldly challenging of the war consensus, but was sunk by a corporate media exercising its powers to submerge Dean under waves of derision.

History suggests that the Democratic Party is a corporate monolith only moved to change in order to meet profound crisis coupled with extreme mass pressure. Even then, it remains a capitalist party, a party that puts the interests of capital before all else. And when it is forced to make concessions, its corporate masters move as quickly as possible to reverse them.

History shows that these moments of concession are extremely rare. Nonetheless, new generations of well-meaning activists are intent upon foregoing the more radical-- actually the more promising, but more tasking-- alternatives of independent, revolutionary politics. As insurgents have in the past, they will attempt to reform the nonreformable.

One can only hope that when the new generation, excited again by the idea of socialism, recognizes the futility of transforming the Democratic Party, they will not fall into cynicism and settle for polishing the capitalist apple. One can only hope that they will find a home where they are more welcome.

Greg Godels

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Coarse Politics

How can it happen that an unpopular right wing US President can, in effect, call to end seven years of an undeclared war against the government of Syria, a UN member nation, inducing most of the liberal establishment to recoil and challenge the prospect of peace?
How is it that a Marine General who earned the sobriquets “Mad Dog” and “the butcher of Fallujah” can be canonized by large sectors of the left as a role model for reasoned sobriety and judgement?

How can US left icon, Noam Chomsky, often an outspoken opponent of US aggression, oppose the removal of US troops from Syria when the troops have no legitimate role in that country?

Surely, these sensible questions signal that some political thinkers have lost their way, that widely accepted, firmly planted political alignments have become unmoored.

On the surface, the Trump presidency and the intense, sharply divided response to it have forced all events or actions-- from the most innocuous to the most menacing-- into ill-fitting, pro- or anti-Trump boxes.

For example, the recent deaths of two young migrants in Federal custody have been laid at the doorstep of Donald Trump with his loud, vulgar, and racist anti-immigrant banter. While no tears should be shed for Trump, singling Trump out exculpates the bi-partisan, near-universal support for creating the draconian ICE in 2002. Further, it neglects the prior documented questionable deaths at the hands of ICE (107 deaths from 2003 to 2007, for example). Nor do the self-righteous Trump foes acknowledge the long enduring corruption and no-bid contracts plaguing ICE. Much of the anti-Trump crowd were silent during the Obama years when 2.4 million immigrants were deported by the “Deporter-in-Chief.” Of those deported in 2015, around 40% had no criminal convictions. Apparently, the plight of immigrants is only of interest to “resistance” liberals and their media cheerleaders when it can be used against Trump and his gang.

The current government shutdown-- snagged on Trump’s insistence of funding for an anti-immigrant wall-- has generated howls of indignation from the Democratic Party’s “resistance” fighters and the cable television warriors. They rightly see the Trump wall as a draconian affront to the dignity of immigrants and an hysterical response to exaggerated fears. And yet these same human rights indignados fail to acknowledge the infamous wall constructed by the Israelis to deny access to their Palestinian neighbors, stripping them of their dignity and their well-being. The parallel escapes them, achieving no traction in the corporate media.

Similarly, the brutal killing of Khashoggi, the Washington Post writer, at the hands of Saudi officials has become-- thanks to Trump’s clumsy, outrageous defense of the Saudi Crown Prince-- a stick to beat Trump.

Trump’s pathetic defense of Saudi criminality coincided-- a remarkable coincidence-- with the release of a study by a CIA-linked organization that announced that 85,000 children had been killed by the Saudi military and its allies in Yemen’s civil war. The shock wave rolling through the corporate media was worthy of Claude Rain’s wry movie discovery of gambling in Casablanca’s Rick’s Cafe.

Never mind that independent, but marginalized media has been chronicling Saudi atrocities in Yemen for the war’s nearly four-year duration. Never mind that US support for Saudi intervention, as well as actual clandestine US intervention, pre-date the Trump administration.

And there is the big lie of RussiaGate: unsubstantiated charges of interference in US domestic affairs lodged by the same US intelligence agencies and their cohorts that have mounted large-scale subversion, influence-peddling, corruption, and even military intervention in the affairs of uncounted governments for decade after decade.

The interminable Mueller investigation still gives hope to the liberals that Trump can be linked to the evil Russians as well.

It is easy to dismiss the inconsistencies, the selective blindness of US liberals as mere hypocrisy. Undoubtedly, it is that. But something deeper is behind the hypocrisy that commits liberals to side with the neo-conservatives, the FBI, the CIA and the other intelligence agencies that spy on our citizens, the war-mongering generals, and the monopoly media that gave us “weapons of mass destruction” and fairly elected Venezuelan “dictators.”

The hypocrisy emerges from the deeply embedded bi-polarity of the US political system and its ill-fit with the political realities of today. The two bourgeois parties that define US politics constitute a narrow continuum that can neither confine nor give coherent meaning to the ongoing crisis of decadent US capitalism. And two-party thinking casts little light on the crisis.

In today’s terms, the permitted political norms fail to explain and address Trumpism without resorting to conspiracy theories and bizarre alignments. Trump’s rise requires a wholesale examination and possible exposure of the profound corruption and dysfunctionality of the two-party system and its monopoly capitalist base. To explore Trump’s meaning (beyond his raging ego, his country club bigotry, and his unbounded ignorance) and delve into his administration's restore-the-empire nationalism, its faux populism, and its inconsistent foreign policy requires a commitment to candor that the political leadership and the corporate media are not prepared to make.

The dramatic loss of legitimacy by the media, the two parties, the judicial system, the Congress, the banks, and other institutions over the last decade is a well-established fact substantiated by numerous polls. Yet poll respondents still show confidence in the military and the intelligence services. It is no wonder that political leaders and the corporate media cling to these institutions like long lost lovers. It is no wonder that politicians seek out veterans for office, wave flags at every opportunity, and promote unceasing militarism. It is no wonder that the media rely on stables of ex-generals and retired intelligence operatives. Rather than address the collapse of legitimacy, US rulers choose the road of sleazy opportunism.

The once widely touted and grudgingly accepted post-Cold War US global dominance is now challenged on many fronts. PRChina and Russia and other countries and blocs defy US demands and policies and assert their own interests. It’s a different world-- less compliant than the world that GHW Bush found in rallying allies to the first war with Iraq. The ever-increasing number of international sanctions attest to the desperate attempts by the US to stem the tide of defiance. US elites in both parties and in the media refuse to recognize a world without US hegemony. Instead of striving for global parity, US elites resort to contriving aggressive, irredeemably evil villains.

Neither the political parties nor the corporate news/entertainment complex acknowledge the devastation wrought by the long continuing march of economic inequality and the catastrophic destruction rendered by the 2007-2008 crash upon the security and well-being of working people in the US. Blinded by stock market euphoria and class arrogance, elites in both parties neglected the interests of millions of voters who proved pivotal in the 2016 election. They prefer to dismiss grievances and lecture the working class on accommodating the stark, new realities of market morality.

Shrewdly, Trumpism advances its dishonest, unrealistic promises to the forgotten, its pledge to restore the US to greatness, its demand of global leadership, and its caricaturized scorn of real political cynicism and media shallowness. It appeals to a constituency unrecognized and unrecognizable by the liberal elites who have reduced political discourse to a very narrow conversation uncritically friendly to both monopoly capitalism and its institutions.

In the political void left by Democratic Party barrenness, the Trump circus thrives. With a Democratic Party beholden only to corporate interests. along with the issues troubling the bourgeoisie and petite-bourgeoisie, the attack upon the Trump malignancy takes the absurd forms that we witness daily.

While another election may send Trump packing, it will not magically reverse the many decades of bankrupt and decadent politics that opened the door to Trumpism. It is foolish to count on a corrupted Democratic Party leadership to pave a new course different from the tragic road travelled by both parties from Reagan to Trump.

Recall that many in Europe longed for a time when the embarrassing absurdity of Silvio Berlusconi would vacate the electoral scene. But without an authentic and committed movement against monopoly capital, Italy is today saddled with the equally ugly and perhaps even more dysfunctional Lega and Five Star Movement.

The lesson should not be lost on the US liberals who are prepared to sell their integrity to the enemy to secure the exit of Donald Trump.

Greg Godels