Ted Rall’s latest is a no-holds-barred look at the civil war raging within the Democratic Party in the graphic style of his national bestseller, Bernie.
There’s a split in the Democratic Party. Progressives are surging with ideas and candidates like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 72 percent of Democratic voters are progressives. But centrists like Tom Perez and the Clintons still run the DNC party apparatus–and they don’t want to compromise. Intraparty warfare exploded into the open in 2016. It’s even bigger now.
The struggle goes back decades, to the New Left and the election of Richard Nixon over George McGovern. It continued with the Democratic establishment’s quashing of insurgent progressives like Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader and Howard Dean. The vast scale of the DNC’s secret conspiracy to stop Bernie Sanders in 2016 nomination came out courtesy of WikiLeaks.
Will Democrats again become the party of the working person? Or will the corporatists win and continue their domination of electoral politics? Ted Rall gets to the bottom of the story neither the Democrats nor the Republicans want you to know: how the civil war in the Democratic Party poses an existential threat to the two-party system.
There is no room for progressives in the Democratic Party.
No matter how many votes he or she gets, no progressive will be permitted to be the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.
Progressives who try to work inside of, contribute to and support the Democratic Party have no real chance of moving its candidates or policies to the left.
Remaining inside the Democratic Party achieves nothing; to the contrary, it is insidiously counterproductive. Working for “change from the inside” strengthens centrist politicians who oppose progressivism with every fiber of their being.
If American electoral democracy has a future, and progressives want to be part of that future, there is only one way forward: create and build a new party in which progressivism isn’t merely tolerated or partly accommodated as some fringe or necessary nuisance but is its core mission.
We need a New Progressive Party.
The reason is simple: progressivism and corporate centrism are not parts of an ideological spectrum. Centrism isn’t watered-down progressivism; centrism directly opposes progressivism. Centrists want wars and don’t care about the poor; progressives want no wars and care deeply about the poor. There is no room for compromise between the two.
A New Progressive Party will go nowhere if, like the Green Party, it is poorly funded and disorganized and unable to field a slate of candidates across the board, from city council to state representative to congress. It must begin robustly, it must grow quickly, and it must be the only viable outlet for real progressives. Go big or go home.
This could be done. Now is the perfect time.
Keep reading. I’ll explain how.
Anyone who believes progressives have a place inside the Democratic Party should reflect on the experience of Bernie Sanders. (Those with an interest in recent history can delve into the dispiriting experiences of others who have tried to move the party left from the inside like Ted Kennedy, Jesse Jackson and Howard Dean, only to be ignored, snubbed and cheated.)
In both 2016 and 2020 Democratic-aligned media companies marginalized, misrepresented and deprived Sanders of coverage proportionate to his level of support in the polls. In 2016 the Democratic National Committee literally sold itself to Hillary Clinton’s center-right campaign apparatus, which conspired with the DNC to short Sanders on vote counts and deprive him of access to party data. In 2020 the DNC appears to have derailed Sanders’ frontrunner status by arranging for candidates Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar and others to drop out and endorse the Joe Biden one day before the key Super Tuesday primaries.
This is not one of those “better luck next time” scenarios. Sanders is too old to run again. AOC and her fellow progressive Squad are too young to mount a serious challenge to the DNC moderate hierarchy any time soon. Progressivism inside the Democratic Party is unlikely to again surge to Bernie levels for at least a decade.
Progressivism in general remains vibrant. Bernie Sanders has 31% of the 2020 primary popular vote. Elizabeth Warren, who has withdrawn, has 10%. Even if we assume that other former candidates like Pete Buttigieg didn’t get a single progressive vote — which isn’t likely — at least 41% of Democratic primary voters currently support progressivism. That makes about 20% of the electorate overall. Roughly 20% of non-voters, or about 9% of the total electorate, are progressive.
A New Progressive Party should therefore be able to count on roughly one of five voters out of the gate, with short-term potential of 30%. Not bad in a three-party system.
Now consider two factors that point to growth. As even corporate media concedes, progressive ideas like socialized medicine and a guaranteed living wage have suddenly exploded in popularity due to the coronavirus crisis and resulting economic freefall. Given the grim projections for the economy during the foreseeable future, 20-to-30% looks more like a floor than a ceiling.
There is greater potential of building a party from the grassroots than from the top down. Even while the presidency remains elusive, local politics are quirkier and thus offer opportunity for growth. Sanders began as mayor of Burlington; AOC won a surprise challenge to a long-time incumbent Democratic congressman in Queens. A Progressive farm team could and would spring up quickly in left-leaning college towns like Madison and Charlottesville.
But how? The D-R duopoly has rigged the system in its favor. Ballot access is tough. They control the presidential debates and coverage by the news media.
As I wrote above, funding is crucial. The fact that Bernie Sanders raised over $100 million so far in 2020 from small donors proves that progressives can raise cash for a cause they care about. So how do you start this new party?
The first step is to convene a founding meeting in a big venue like McCormick Place Convention Center. (Chicago is easy to get to from everywhere in the U.S.) Launch a Kickstarter to cover the cost of renting the hall; unless there are enough pledges to cover the total, no one has to pay up and the attempt is over. It serves as the first test of whether enough progressives are ready to break away from the Democratic Party.
The agenda of the first convention of the New Progressive Party will be dedicated to debating and agreeing to a platform, electing party officials and setting a strategy for the next election.
The newly-elected officials of the party then fan across the nation and start building local organizations in their own communities to recruit, fund and campaign for candidates to local and state office. Like the Democrats and Republicans, every four years there will be a national primary and convention to present a candidate for the presidency.
Some will argue that the creation of a party just for progressives will split the left. That assumes that the Democratic Party represents the left. The truth is exactly the opposite: the Democratic Party is where the American left goes to die. If the left wants to live, it must fight and struggle for the things that it cares about on its own, in its own home.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Establishment media is ridiculing Bernie Sanders for stating some simple truths: establishment media was out to get him, the DNC was out to get him and young voters who support him haven’t been good about showing up at the polls.
But that doesn’t mean that Bernie Sanders didn’t make mistakes. So let’s take a look at those.
No matter what happens between him and Joe Biden, and it isn’t over yet, Sanders deserves credit for some remarkable achievements. In the face of formidable establishmentarian opposition, Jewish, with a speaking manner that is anything but conventional in U.S. politics, relying only on small individual donations and promoting a political agenda many Americans would consider radical, Bernie Sanders currently controls 42% of the Democratic primary vote against a recent sitting vice president. Much of his agenda, including making college affordable, increasing the minimum wage, and improving the healthcare system, has become mainstream Democratic Party policy after many decades during which the party didn’t even pretend to give a damn about normal people. Bernie Sanders is running an issue-based campaign, not one based purely on personality. Even if he loses, historians will mark this election as evidence of the strength of progressive and left-leaning electoral politics.
But he’s not perfect. There are things that he could have/could still do better.
Politics is first and foremost about framing, and Sanders isn’t great at it. “Medicare for All” is meaningless to millions of Americans who have had no contact with Medicare and don’t know anything about it. “Free healthcare” would have been easier to understand and would not have turned off or confused union members who already have decent healthcare plans. “Free college tuition,” on the other hand, tells too little of the story. Sanders’ plan only helps low-income college students but many voters seem to still think that he wanted to use their taxes to help out children of wealthy people. The “Green New Deal” hasn’t been defined or well-publicized beyond the fact that it would be expensive.
Sanders’ plan for student loan forgiveness was also presented in a problematic fashion. Many Americans don’t have college degrees; they wondered, why should we pay for those who do? Many other Americans went to college, took out student loans and then paid them back. Why shouldn’t millennials do the same? There are good answers to those questions: millennial student debt is many factors higher than Generation X and Baby Boomer debt because tuition has skyrocketed at a rate much faster than inflation. Student loan forgiveness would stimulate the economy by freeing up young people to buy cars and homes. People who already paid their loans should have been added as beneficiaries of his plan so that they didn’t feel like suckers due to a simple accident of birthdate. Most importantly, Sanders should not have proposed student loan forgiveness without coupling it to a free college tuition program and/or job retraining program for people who are older and don’t have college degrees or need retraining in order to retool for the 21st century.
Speaking of costs, I found it endlessly frustrating that Bernie Sanders never seemed able to clearly answer the question of how he would pay for his proposals. Generally, he should simply have said: “I’ll take it out of the Pentagon budget.” Maybe this wasn’t true. If it wasn’t true, he should have made it true. Not only is the defense budget bloated, most Americans, including people who favor strong military, know about the $800 toilet seats. I’m not sure why he didn’t bash the military.
He also hasn’t been good about explaining Medicare for All. What he should have said was, everyone is going to pay less for healthcare, so much less, that even though your taxes will go up a bit, you’ll still come out way ahead. And if you got hit by something catastrophic like cancer, it would all be covered. Instead, he talked about how European countries somehow managed to pay for national healthcare plans. He’s right about that, but Americans have been told that Europeans pay high taxes. He needed to explain in plain language that that would not happen here.
He ignored my advice to own and explain his self-described “democratic socialist” label. He probably assumed that it would be more of a problem in the general election against Donald Trump, but what he underestimated was the Democratic Party’s long history of red bashing as well as the well-established fact that other people will define you if you don’t do it yourself. He should have followed the example of JFK when he gave a speech assuring Americans that he would not take orders from the pope as a Roman Catholic. Sanders should have given a speech entirely about democratic socialism.
Some things, it’s hard to do anything about. A campaign has the candidate that it has with a personality that he or she comes with. Bernie Sanders has an underlying vulnerability and warmth that his tendency to bellow often covered up. The media had a field day portraying him as a guy who likes to yell a lot. This is where something like “The Man from Hope” video that the Bill Clinton for President campaign created would have come in handy. A biographical look at Bernie’s roots in Brooklyn, his childhood struggling in a working-class family and the premature death of his mother due to poor healthcare would have helped to humanize a very human person.
Images of him being manhandled by cops during his participation in the civil rights movement of the early 1960s couldn’t have hurt him with African-American voters who ended up turning out for Joe Biden.
Of course the biggest mistake Sanders made may not have been a mistake at all. He ran inside the Democratic Party. They were never going to let him have the nomination.
He had to know that. (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
To hear centrist Democrats tell it, going left is too risky. The problem with their narrative, is that they have been losing election after election by going too moderate. So why are they still getting away with presenting themselves as the reasonable ones?
America has lots of leftists. Forty percent of voters say that they would prefer to live in a socialist country than a capitalist one.
Yet America has zero leftists running for president.
Think about that the next time someone tells you that we live in the greatest country on earth, or for that matter, that this is a democracy. If the United States was democratic or, more precisely, had a truly representative form of government, 40% of the electorate would have someone to vote for.
According to the mainstream media, the Democratic Party is left. And the current crop of contenders for president has never been more left.
“If Democrats select a nominee who is unelectable because of a far-left or socialist agenda, then their beds will be made,” frets The Hill.
“As a left-wing San Francisco liberal I can say to these people [progressive candidates]: What are you thinking?” asks Nancy Pelosi. How can you be “a left-wing San Francisco liberal” and vote to invade Afghanistan?
It’s BS but over time, even the most strong-minded among us succumb to the never-ending tsunami of propaganda. Like Winston Smith in “1984,” we doubt ourselves and believe the lies. No wonder 47% of Americans say that the Democratic Party has moved too far left.
Now more than ever, we need a reality check. Electoral politics has no space whatsoever for the real, actual left: Communism, socialism, left anarchism, left libertarianism, etc. Corporate journalistic outlets employ no actual leftists. There is no organized left in the United States.
Under a socialist economy, workers own the means of production. This is important because it means they are no longer exploited. As Karl Marx wrote: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution.” So those who aren’t able to work due to physical or mental infirmities, for example, have equal access to the good things in life.
Though the “green new deal” espoused by Bernie Sanders would theoretically employ millions of Americans as government workers, those employees wouldn’t own their workplaces. Similarly, “Medicare for all” would abolish private insurance but it wouldn’t put healthcare workers on the government payroll as is the case in other countries. Those two ideas, if implemented, would resemble New Deal-era programs like the WPA and CCC. Contrary to the dogma of the conservatives who currently control the national political dialogue, if it’s socialism for the government to hire somebody, then any place with a single cop is a socialist country.
None of the 2020 candidates for president in the Democratic primaries favor the nationalization of currently private businesses that would be required to achieve a socialistic economy. You can’t have a far left without nationalization or socialism.
None of the Democratic candidates oppose war in the manner of pacifists, much less adapt to the analysis of the left that there should be no war but class war. “The main enemy is at home,” noted the German Spartacist Karl Liebknecht, referring to the ruling classes. “We differ from the pacifists,” Lenin wrote during World War I, “in that we understand the inevitable connection between wars and the class struggle within a country; we understand that wars cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and socialism is created; we also differ in that we regard civil wars, i.e. wars waged by an oppressed class against the oppressor class, by slaves against slaveholders, by serfs against landowners and by wage workers against the bourgeoisie, as fully legitimate, progressive and necessary.”
A left—certainly a “far left”—candidate for president of United States would categorically oppose all wars of aggression, imperialism, and neocolonialism. Contrast that leftist ideal to the most anti-militaristic Democrats in the current race.
Tulsi Gabbard, arguably the most stridently antiwar candidate in the cycle, nevertheless touts her military service even as she declaims “regime change wars.” She praised President Trump’s order to assassinate ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. She took $100,000 in campaign contributions from arms dealers. “When it comes to the war against terrorists, I’m a hawk,” she said. “When it comes to counterproductive wars of regime change, I’m a dove.”
Bernie Sanders, also on the left flank of the Democrats, told me that he would continue the drone assassinations that have killed thousands of innocent people. He voted for the authorization to use military force after 9/11, and 20 years before, to allow Bill Clinton to bomb Serbia.
We will never get the chance to live in that better world embodied by the ideal of socialism and communism unless we understand that we have an awful lot of work to do before we can get there. Allowing commentators and the Democrats themselves to describe anything that’s going on in mainstream electoral politics as “far left” is self-destructive and an endorsement of the worst kind of lie, the fiction that the most important ideals are represented by anyone in American political life.
(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.)
Clintonite corporatists still control the Democratic National Committee despite their long string of failure at the polls. But the overwhelming majority of Democratic Party voters—72%—are self-identified progressives.
44% of House primary candidates in 2018 self-IDed as progressive. If you’re after the Democratic nomination for president you have to be—or pretend to be—progressive. Even Hillary Clinton claimed to be “a progressive who gets things done.”
All the top likely contenders for 2020 claim to be progressive—but they would prefer that voters ignore their voting records and unsavory donors. “Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris have spent the past two years racing to the leftmost edge of respectable opinion,” reports New York magazine. “In recent weeks, they have also all reached out to Wall Street executives, in hopes of securing some funding for their prospective presidential campaign.” It does no good for your heart to be in the right place if your ass is owned by bankers.
“You don’t just get to say that you’re progressive,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told progressive donors recently.
Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, called the 2020 election a chance to “leverage our power.” She says it’s critical “that we have some very clear guidelines about what it means to be progressive.”
Here are those guidelines.
You can’t be a progressive unless you favor a big hike in the minimum wage. Elizabeth Warren, the first pretty-much-declared candidate for 2020, wants $15 an hour. But she told a 2013 Senate hearing that it would be $22 if it had kept up with increases in worker productivity. The official inflation rate makes that $24 today. And according to the real inflation rate (the official number as it was calculated before the Labor Department downgraded the calculation in 1980 and 1990) at ShadowStats.com, $22 in 2013 comes to at least $35 today.
If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968 using the same methodology used to track inflation at the time, it would be closer to $80 per hour.
What should be the progressive demand for the minimum wage? Nothing less than $25 per hour.
(For the record, I see no reason why the minimum wage should be lower than the maximum wage. But we’re talking about progressivism here, not socialism or communism.)
Thanks to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign “free college became a litmus test for liberals,” notes The Atlantic. But a 2017 bill cosponsored by Sanders and Warren defines “college for all” rather narrowly. It only addresses public colleges and universities. It would “make college tuition free for families earning $125,000 a year or less and allow current student loan borrowers to refinance their debt at lower interest rates.”
A quarter of American college students attend private schools. Considering that the average cost is $35,000 a year and some run as high as $60,000, even families earning more than $125,000 need help too.
The progressive stance on college should be three-pronged. First, the obscene $1.5 trillion student loan business should be abolished. Student loans should be replaced by grants but if loans exist at all they should be a zero-profit government program. Second, all outstanding loans should be forgiven or have their interest rates dropped to a zero-profit basis. Third, the government should rein in out-of-control public and private college tuition and fees—which have gone up eight times faster than wages—by tying them to the official federal cost of living index.
Progressives agree that Obamacare didn’t go far enough. With 70% of voters in favor, even centrist Democrats like Kamala Harris have climbed aboard Bernie Sanders’ call for “Medicare for all” bandwagon. Warren, Gillibrand and Booker now say they want single-payer public healthcare. Being progressive, however, means demanding more than what mainstream politicians deem practical—it’s about pushing hard for more ways to improve people’s lives.
In 2020 progressives should be calling for nothing less than universal healthcare. If it’s good enough for the rest of the developed world and many developing countries like Botswana and Bhutan, why not us?
I cosigned a letter to Sanders calling on the Vermont senator to use his platform as the country’s most prominent and popular progressive to talk more about foreign policy and to openly oppose militarism. Now it’s time to get specific.
Progressives should demand that U.S. troops come home from any country that did not attack the United States—i.e., all of them. They should put an end to the disgusting drone wars. The bloated nearly-$1 trillion Pentagon budget should be shredded; let’s see what they can do with $100 billion (which would still be far more than Russia’s defense spending).
From banks that charge usurious credit card interest rates to employers who fire full-time employees and hire them back as “independent contractors,” there are plenty of other targets for progressives to go after.
Progressives: you are no longer the ugly stepdaughter of the Democratic Party. You own the joint. Now’s the time to demand what’s yours, what you want and what’s right.
(Ted Rall, the 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.)
One year after Donald Trump took office and the Women’s March supposedly marked the rise of a new anti-Trump Resistance, it is crystal clear that the Resistance amounts to nothing more than a campaign to elect more Democrats to high office. The only trouble is, Democrats never push for liberal, much less progressive or left, politics once they get into power. The Democratic Party is where the American Left goes to die…and Trump hasn’t changed that.
“I am not a member of any organized political party,” Will Rogers said ages ago. “I am a Democrat.”
So frustration with America’s officially-licensed nominally liberal political party is not new. Even for them, though, I can’t imagine that any party ever worked as hard to pull defeat from the jaws of victory as the Dems are doing now.
Democrats ought to be poised for great things. True, they recently suffered a shattering rout. But eight months feels like a million years ago. Trump’s disapproval rating is a whopping 64%. That’s Nixon During Watergate level — and it includes a third of Republicans, who say the president has no respect for democratic institutions. (What are the other two-thirds thinking?)
After a mere five months in office, impeachment is a realistic possibility.
And OMG the non-Trump Republicans — they’re stuck! Tax cuts for the rich and infrastructure bills are dead letters. They can’t repeal Obamacare — not their “mean,” benefits-slashing way — without pissing off the vast majority of the country. And they can’t not repeal it without pissing off the GOP’s hard-right base. “I don’t know that we could pass a Mother’s Day resolution right now,” Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said in March. They’re even more screwed now, reduced to trying to pass their secret repeal bill in the dead of night so no one notices.
Oh, to be a Democrat in an age of GOP political suicide! Except for one big problem: they’re in even more trouble than the Republicans.
Many Dems think they’re headed to a big win in 2018, dreaming of taking back both houses of Congress. After four years of Trump (or four years of Trump, impeachment, then Pence), a grateful nation will turn to the Democrats — right?
I wouldn’t bet on it.
Pundits are so focused on the civil war tearing apart the GOP that they’re missing the even wider schism within the Democratic Party. Despite leading the party to defeat, the centrist-Third Way-DLC-Hillary Clinton wing of the party still runs the DNC and the state apparatuses. They’ve never made nice with Bernie Sanders or his leftist-progressives — the party’s base and its most committed ideologues — after repeatedly insulting and marginalizing them during the campaign. To the contrary, they’re still at it.
You’ve been there with a spouse or a former friend: the two factions don’t speak the same language. Cynical incrementalism versus ambitious idealism don’t mix. So, as Democrats have tried to process 2016, talking (i.e., blaming) has only made things worse.
Certainly, Democrats may pick up seats next fall. But they certainly shouldn’t feel cocky about 2020.
Even if Trump is removed from office in disgrace, my first-Pence-then-Ryan scenario would leave the Republicans with a more united party and a standardbearer (Ryan) whose relatively sane demeanor will be less likely to motivate Democratic voters to the polls to vote against him.
Which leaves the question of who Democratic voters would be asked to vote for.
The answers are not promising.
The current frontrunner is New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. Once a promising charismatic upstart in the Obama vein, however, he has followed the golden footsteps of Hillary Clinton by selling out to the big Wall Street banks. Occupy Wall Street is dead but its death-to-the-banks spirit lives on among the Bernie Sanders faction of the party. As Hillary learned, Democrats can win nominations without the Bernie folks, but not general elections.
Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, a center-right operator best known as the Clintons’ personal real estate guarantor, is gearing up a proto-campaign. He has a certain charisma. But consider how The Politico describes his elevator pitch: “a popular swing-state governor with a record to run on, a business background, and more connections to donors than any first-time presidential candidate ever.” Sounds like a winner…in 1992.
True, progressive stalwart Elizabeth Warren is flirting with a run — but this political animal predicts she won’t pull the trigger. So is Bernie Sanders. But he’ll be 79 in 2020. He’s energetic, but still — odds are, he’ll stay in the Senate.
Things can and will change. At this writing, though, there is no presidential prospect left enough for the Berners to get excited about and right enough for the party leadership to allow.
You can bet the Republicans will benefit from that vacuum.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at ANewDomain.net, editor-in-chief of SkewedNews.net, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.