shipwreck-watching

In a “Time for These Two Democrats to Go,” March 23, 2015, Bill Moyers wrote:

As for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, she embodies the tactics that have eroded the ability of Democrats to once again be the party of the working class. As Democratic National Committee chair she has opened the floodgates for Big Money, brought lobbyists into the inner circle and oiled all the moving parts of the revolving door that twirls between government service and cushy jobs in the world of corporate influence. . . . So imagine now the Democratic National Convention this July. Presiding over it will be, yes, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, tribune for a party of incumbency, money and crony capitalism. Follow her as she makes the rounds of private parties where zillionaire donors, lobbyists and consultants transact the real business of politics. Watch as she and Hizzoner Rahm Emanuel of Chicago greet and embrace. Then imagine those thousands of young people outside the convention hall who have arrived from long months of campaigning earnestly for reform of the party they see as an instrument of their future, as well as members of Black Lives Matter and other people of color for whom Rahm Emanuel is the incarnation of deceit and oppression.

This is why Emanuel and Wasserman Schultz must go. To millions, they are enablers of the one percent, perpetuators of the Washington mentality that the rest of the country has grown to hate. What a message such servants of plutocracy send: Democrats — a bridge to the past.

But there is no sign that she will be leaving her position as DNC chair.  As a matter of fact, five days after Moyer’s article, March 28, President Obama endorsed Wasserman-Schultz for Congress against her progressive rival, Tim Canova, with these words:

Debbie has been a strong, progressive leader in Congress and a hardworking, committed chair of our national party since I proudly nominated her to the role in 2011. . . . Throughout my time as president I have seen Debbie bring an unwavering commitment to her family, her constituents, and our shared goals of protecting seniors, supporting working families and expanding economic opportunity for more people.

Given the explicit and at times shady ways in which Wasserman-Schultz, together with the DNC and state party officials, has undermined opposition to her preferred presidential candidate, Obama’s endorsement amounts to an assault on the progressive wing of The Party, formerly known as the Democratic Party, perhaps even more so than his (likely, eventual) endorsement of Clinton.  To add insult to injury, he called Wasserman-Schultz a progressive leader.  This endorsement shows a failure of imagination on Obama’s part, and too much concern for protecting his legacy by supporting people who support Hillary.  No doubt he is assuming Clinton will win, in part because all of those young people and progressives will flock back to The Party when fear of the GOP nominee kicks in.

But this is terrible miscalculation.  Hillary may very well win, but you can’t hold The Party together through fear, which is about where we are now.  Let’s be clear, this is not 2008.  The Party will not recover in the same way this time around.  Fear will only take you so far.  The Party in its current incarnation is doomed, if not now, in the next decade or two.  To get a better idea of why, let’s contrast 2008 to 2016.

  1.  In 2008, the energy and enthusiasm were with Obama, in large measure because of his young supports.  The situation will be upside down if Hillary wins.  She will win without the enthusiastic support of younger voters, the future of The Party.  As Moyers points out, they will feel unheard and ripped off, especially as they see one of the symbols of all that is wrong with The Party, Wasserman-Schultz, running the convention.  Don’t expect them to put much energy into electing Hillary in ’16.
  2. In 2008, progressives were led to believe Obama was in fact more progressive than he turned out to be.  (By which I do not mean to suggest that he has not accomplished things worth accomplishing while in office.)  This wasn’t only because progressives were reading the Obama Rorschach through rose-colored glasses.  It was because of the way the campaign played up his background to progressives as a community organizer, as well as other aspects of his biography.  Also, his campaign ran under the banner “Change You Can Believe In.”  Progressives didn’t just delude themselves.  They were misled.  You can bet that they will be more careful in the future.  Hillary is not now and never will be viewed as a progressive.
  3. One of the ways that Obama brought The Party together was through his willingness to offer Clinton an important and visible position in his administration, as well as pay off her campaign debts.  Hillary knew that she would be getting a real prize, which would help her down the road in another run for the office.  She and Bill worked hard for Obama in the 2008 election, and this effort was certainly self-interested.  This will not happen in 2016; Sanders will not take a position in a Clinton administration.  And given the way that the Clinton campaign has conducted itself, it’s unlikely he will be very enthusiastic on the trail for her.*
  4. Social media has changed, and this is a big difference from ’08.  Yes, of course in an earlier incarnation it was important in 2008, but there has been a transformation in how people use it.  Specifically, Twitter has made it possible for large numbers of folks to communicate with those sympathetic to their position, and they get reinforced by their respective communities for doing so.  They can also raise large sums of money for a candidate without depending on an established party.  Yes, it is difficult to run political conversations in 140 characters, but it’s great for quick supportive comments and circulating articles, pictures, and video.  However, speaking mainly to the like-minded can have the effect of hardening positions, especially when people feel shut out of a conversation by the mainstream media.  People won’t readily give up views that have been reinforced daily for months and for which they can always get support on-line.**
  5. We are further from the crisis of 2008, but the vast majority of Americans are still anxious about how the economy will affect their futures. Nothing that has happened since 2008 has had much of an effect on the basic structural problems in the economy, which have produced huge wealth disparities.  The Millennials are voting for Sanders not only because youth is more idealistic.  In this case, youth is also being more realistic.  There is nothing they can see in Clinton’s policy proposals or in her deep institutional attachments that will fundamentally alter the situation.
  6. The  distrust of the system has grown since 2008 as more information has become available about how serious the inequities are in our society.  You can readily find information, thousands of tweets each day, on how rigged the system is.  People are now using words in public not heard since the 1960’s and early 1970’s: the establishment, the system, the plutocracy, the oligarchy, etc.  This isn’t going to go away with the election of Hillary Clinton, because her administration’s policies will be too “incremental” to make a dent in the underlying problems.

The Democratic elites are in la-la land if they think they will go back to business as usual, if Bernie loses.  It’s as if the short term thinking that we often find on Wall Street, when companies seek quick profits and not long-term gains, has infected our political leaders.  All they can think about is getting through the next election, winning, and keeping as much of the present system intact as possible for The Party to continue.  They are blind, or cynical, or both.

The Party is over.  Maybe not this year.  Maybe not next.  But in historical terms, someday soon.  The Millennials will be in charge in a few years.  They won’t forget how their attempts to reform the system were shut down.  Progressives won’t forget that how, when push comes to shove, The Party establishment rallies around its insiders.  People are discovering and sharing their knowledge about a rigged system.  If the system doesn’t change, this won’t end.   This election, even if Sanders loses, will be a watershed.  It’s now fair game once again to raise the issues that FDR’s Democratic Party thought were central to its mission, which The Party’s current leadership has conveniently side-stepped and effectively silenced, preferring to support a “centrist” and enabling the machinations of a  Wasserman-Schultz.

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* In her latest, Clinton declares she won’t debate Sanders in New York before the April 19 unless he changes his “tone.”  If you follow Twitter, you will see that the tone angle is a stand-in for Sander’s alleged sexism.  Clinton is telegraphing to her followers that it’s okay to continue criticizing Sanders as insensitive to women and a sexist, while making her debate excuse plausible to her followers.  This is beyond lame, and has only infuriated Sander’s supporters.

** This is only reinforced by the exhilarating effects of true independence from the mainstream media, when traditional outlets dropped all coverage of the Hawaii caucus results reporting.  The effect of this story has been electric and only enhanced people’s sense of freedom from establishment media, establishment politics, and political establishments.

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