Every candidate attracts unrealistic expectations but the Democratic idea that Joe Biden is going to fix everything that is wrong under Donald Trump has brought magical thinking to a fever pitch. Newsflash: if things get any better, it won’t be much better.
Once again the Democratic Party is asking progressives to vote for a presidential nominee who says he disagrees with them about every major issue. This is presented as an offer they cannot refuse. If they cast a protest vote for a third-party candidate like the unionist and environmentalist Howie Hawkins of the Greens or stay home on that key Tuesday in November, Donald Trump will win a second term—which would be worse than Biden’s first.
Which is better for the progressive movement? Fall into the “two party trap” and vote for Biden, or refuse to be coopted and possibly increase Trump’s reelection chances?
My new book Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party documents the last half-century of struggle between the party’s left-leaning voters and its right-leaning leadership class. History is clear. When progressive voters compromised their values by supporting corporatist candidates, they were ignored after the election. Only when they boycotted a general election did the DNC start to take them seriously.
Throughout the 1980s party bigwigs manipulated the primaries in favor of establishment corporatist candidates over insurgent progressives: Jimmy Carter over Ted Kennedy in 1980, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis over Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988. Democrats were united but unenthused; all three lost.
Jimmy Carter won once, and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama each won two terms, all three with progressive support. Democratic victories didn’t help progressives.
Most people have forgotten that Carter was the first of a string of conservative Democratic presidents. He brought back draft registration. The “Reagan” defense buildup actually began under Carter, as Reagan himself acknowledged. Carter provoked the Tehran hostage crisis by admitting the despotic Shah to the U.S., boycotted the Moscow Olympics and armed the Afghan mujahdeen who morphed into Al Qaeda.
Carter became the first president since FDR not to propose an anti-poverty program. Instead, he pushed a right-wing idea, “workfare.”
Progressives got nothing in return for their votes for Jimmy Carter.
Like Carter, Clinton and Obama governed as foreign policy hawks while ignoring pressing domestic issues like rising income and wealth inequality. Clinton pushed through the now-disgraced 1994 crime bill that accelerated mass incarceration of people of color, signed the North American Free Trade Agreement that gutted the Rust Belt and sent hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas, and ended “welfare as we know it,” massively increasing homelessness. Obama bailed out Wall Street while ignoring Main Street, smashed the Occupy Wall Street movement and supported Al Qaeda affiliates that destroyed Libya and Syria.
There was only one arguably progressive policy achievement over those 16 years: the Affordable Care Act, which originated in the bowels of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.
Progressives kept holding their noses and voting for Democrats. Democrats took them for granted. Democrats didn’t push to increase the minimum wage. They watched silently as generation after generation succumbed to student loan debt. As the earth kept burning, they hardly lifted a finger to help the environment except for symbolic actions like Obama’s fuel efficiency regulations, which required less than automakers were doing by themselves.
Personnel, they say in D.C., is policy. Clinton had one progressive in his cabinet for his first term, Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Obama had none. Citigroup chose his cabinet.
After the defeat of Bernie Sanders in 2016, progressives tried something new. Millions of disgruntled Sanders primary voters either stayed home, voted for Trump or cast votes for third-party candidates like Jill Stein. Hillary Clinton, who was so sure she could take progressives for granted that she put Sanders at 39th on her list of vice presidential picks, was denied her presumptive shoo-in victory. (Don’t blame Stein. Adding all of her votes to the Hillary Clinton column would not have changed the result.)
Three years later, something remarkable happened. Most presidential hopefuls in the 2020 Democratic primary campaign emerged from the centrist corporatist wing of the Democratic Party yet felt pressured to endorse important progressive policy ideas. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and even Michael Bloomberg came out in favor of a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Most of the mainstream candidates proposed some sort of student loan forgiveness and Medicare For All. Nearly all support a Green New Deal.
What forced the Democratic Party to shift left after decades of moving to the right? Fear that progressives will withhold their votes this coming November. After years of empty threats from progressives, the November 2016 voter boycott proved they wouldn’t sell their votes without getting something in return.
The answer to the question, what should progressives do, is easy in the long term. Progressives should boycott Democratic candidates who don’t credibly pledge to support progressive policies. Biden says he would veto Medicare For All. He opposes a Green New Deal as well as student loan forgiveness. He is hawkish on Russia and Venezuela. He doesn’t want your vote. Why give it to him for free?
The trouble is, every election is also about the short term. Progressive voters have to game out the next four years.
If Trump wins, he may have the opportunity to appoint another Supreme Court justice. He will certainly appoint more federal judges. He will continue to coddle hate groups and spew lies. Many of the weak and vulnerable will suffer. On the other hand, activism will be sustained. Resistance and possibly even revolutionary change may emerge. Trump will be a lame duck likely wallowing in scandal; very few presidents get much if anything done during their second terms.
If Biden wins, his Supreme Court picks may not be significantly more to the left then Trump’s. He is likelier than Trump, who shows restraint on interventionism and ended the occupation of Afghanistan, to start a new war. Big problems will get small solutions or none at all. Streets will be quiet. If there are any demonstrations, for instance by Black Lives Matter, his Department of Homeland Security will suppress it as Obama did to Occupy. As under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the left will go back to sleep. Progressives will watch Biden appoint one corporatist cabinet member after another as their dreams of making the country a better place fade away.
And in 2024, we will again face a choice between a rabid right-wing Republican and a wimpy sell-out Democrat. This election, Democrats will say as they always do, is too important for ideological purity. Progressives should wait until some future election when less hangs in the balance. Perhaps in 2028? Maybe 2032? 2036?
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
As a society degenerates, life cheapens. The rhetoric that follows death coarsens. Respect paid to fallen rivals is replaced by triumphalism.
Historians observed this trend in ancient Rome. As republic turned to empire and domain expanded and so also arrogance and hubris, vanquished chieftains who previously might have been allowed to keep their thrones as the head of a vassal state were gruesomely executed at public triumphs. Early Christians got tossed to the lions. Gladiatorial combat became all the rage.
The assassination of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by U.S. special forces operating under orders from President Trump reminds us that ours is a nation in moral decline—bloodthirsty and crass, functioning more like a vengeful crime family sending a message to its rivals than a nation of laws, a hell pit so devoid of basic ethics that it doesn’t even occur to its ruling party’s adversaries to raise the question of legality.
Nor does it cross the minds of journalists to mention the United States’ responsibility for the rise of ISIS. Rather than defend the secular socialist government of Bashar al-Assad or staying out of it, the Obama Administration armed and funded the Free Syria Army, parts of which allied with ISIS. This began the civil war. By most accounts al-Baghdadi was radicalized by his time in a hellish prison in U.S.-occupied Iraq—that’s on George W. Bush.
Inserting the caveat that ISIS committed many terrible crimes under al-Baghdadi ought not to be necessary here. Alas, such is the depth of our depravity that to omit such a mention is to risk being accused of approving of ISIS, its religious extremism, its kidnapping, enslavement, torturing and beheading because one suggests, as I do here, that a culture that had not lost its moral moorings would not tolerate what Trump did, what the media fails to question and what even those on what passes for the “left” not only tolerate but cheer.
So here: ISIS sucks. Moving on:
“Thank you and congratulations to our special operations forces and others involved in tracking and getting rid of ISIS/Daesh leader Baghdadi,” tweeted Tulsi Gabbard.
Getting rid of.
Gabbard is, by far, the least militaristic candidate for president.
“In tone and substance,” Vox noted, “the announcements of the deaths of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Osama bin Laden couldn’t have been more different.” In 2011 Barack Obama used “nearly clinical tones” in his taped statement; Trump made fun of the dead jihadi, dubiously claiming that he left this world “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way” before detonating a suicide vest. He “died like a dog, died like a coward,” Trump told a press conference. Perhaps Caesar had something similarly classy to say about Vercingetorix.
If ISIS had been defeated as the president previously stated, the death of al-Baghdadi wasn’t a military victory. Worse than the BS was the undiluted repulsiveness of the president’s statement. Trump’s degeneracy did not spring out of thin air; rather, it was the culmination of his predecessors’ increasingly shameless contempt for the human lives we have given them the power to snuff out, and their discovery that holding up a severed head as a trophy can get you votes.
Obama played it cool. He put his surrogates in charge of his death-gloating. “If you are looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it’s pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” Vice President Joe Biden bragged as he stumped for Obama in 2012. No one in the media questioned the White House about the lack of legal justification for the operation.
“We came, we saw, he died,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cackled in 2011 after she watched on TV as a U.S. drone missile hit the Moammar Khaddafi’s car, driving him into the hands of American-armed radical Islamists who sodomized the Libyan leader with a bayonet. Running for president in 2016, she reminded audiences that she’d been in the Situation Room watching bin Laden being whacked.
“Good riddance,” George W. Bush said after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was hung and decapitated. Bush invaded Iraq on the pretext that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. In fact, Colin Powell admitted to associates that the evidence he presented in a ballyhooed speech to the United Nations was “bullshit.” Saddam never threatened the U.S. Impeaching Bush for conning America into war, Nancy Pelosi said in 2006, was “off the table.”
We have come a long way since 1981, when Ronald Reagan, a conservative Republican, signed Executive Order 12333, which states: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”
E.O. 12333—which remains in force—was part of the aftermath of the Church Committee hearings of the 1970s, which exposed assassinations and other illegal acts committed by the CIA in Latin America and elsewhere at the height of the Cold War. American spooks conspired to murder political adversaries and heads of state, mainly on the left, all over the world. Back then, the political class had the grace to pretend to be ashamed.
When asked whether they had ordered extrajudicial assassinations, presidents of that era issued what came to be known as the Glomar response: they refused to confirm or deny. They would never have admitted, much less boasted about, murdering people. The press would never have looked the other way. If they had, the American people would not have tolerated either the politicians or the journalists.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
More and more, the media seems especially enraptured with political candidates whose policy positions are vague to the point of being nonexistent. It helps if you are somewhat good-looking, young, and have a certain charisma if you want to appeal to today’s journalists. But no one cares about what you want to do to actually help people.