Tag Archives: Democrats

Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label

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            Bernie Sanders is currently the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. He and everyone else knows exactly how the Republicans will attack him if and when he becomes the nominee: old-fashioned redbaiting.

            China became communist in name only during the 1980s, the Soviet Union shut its doors in 1991, the Cold War is dead, and the 64% of Americans under age 50 have no memory of an actually-existing socialist regime. Yet Trump and the GOP have already broadcast their plans to hang the “democratic socialist” label around Bernie Sanders’ neck.

            Whether such archaic fear-mongering—against long-dead adversaries—will be effective even with elderly voters is anyone’s guess. Considering the fact that 40% of Americans consistently tell pollsters they prefer socialism or communism to capitalism, branding Bernie Sanders as a nefarious democratic socialist might have the unintended effect of bringing out people who don’t normally vote to support an ideology they’ve never had the chance to get behind before.

            On the other hand, only 76% of Democrats say they would vote for a socialist.

            One thing is for sure: the socialism thing will be Sanders’ biggest challenge. And so what? Every candidate enters the game with a handicap of some sort.

            Elizabeth Warren has acquired a reputation for deception and opportunism. Amy Klobuchar plays a mean girl on TV and behind closed doors. Pete Buttigieg is gay; only 78% of voters say they’d consider a gay candidate. He’s also inexperienced. Joe Biden appears to have been suffering from dementia for years.

            Political weaknesses are inevitable; what makes or breaks a candidacy is how his or her campaign chooses to address it. History’s answer is clear: take it on honestly, directly and credibly.

            Own your crap. Americans voters hate sneakiness and avoidance.

            Bernie has no one but himself to blame for this potential electoral albatross. As Paul Krugman of The New York Times points out, the independent senator from Vermont is not really a socialist: “He doesn’t want to nationalize our major industries and replace markets with central planning.” He is a New Deal Democrat indistinguishable from old liberal figures like Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. The economic model Sanders wants to establish isn’t the USSR or even Yugoslavia, but the Scandinavian countries with their superior safety nets and enlightened penal systems. Capitalism as we know it would continue, albeit with reduced overall cruelty.

            Bernie is a social democrat, not a democratic socialist. For some unknown reason, however, he chose to label himself as a democratic socialist. “It’s mainly about personal branding,” Krugman speculates, “with a dash of glee at shocking the bourgeoisie. And this self-indulgence did no harm as long as he was just a senator from a very liberal state.”

            Now he’s going to have to explain himself and his beliefs to American voters who have been propagandized through education and the media to believe that socialism equals communism equals totalitarian dystopia.

            If he’s smart – and there’s no reason to believe that he and his staff are anything but—he will own the phrase and address those concerns head on.

During the 1960 campaign John F. Kennedy responded to worries about his Roman Catholicism that he might take orders from the pope in a speech that allowed anti-Catholic voters to take a chance on him. “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act,” Kennedy said.

            Aware that he was going to run for president in a few years, Barack Obama discussed his drug use as a young man, specifically the fact that he had tried cocaine, in his memoir and in an interview published ahead of the race. By the time he ran in 2008, the coke thing was old news baked into the politics of the time.

            “Democratic socialism” is a pretty meaningless term. Which is not necessarily bad. Because it doesn’t define an existing party or ideology in the real world, Bernie can imprint his own definition upon his awkward tabula rasa.

            Like every crisis, this is an opportunity. Voters want to know what Bernie stands for. Their confusion about democratic socialism (confusion caused by Sanders’ weird word choices) is his chance to explain himself and his policies.

            The one thing he should not and cannot do is to shy away from the S word. No matter how much he protests, Republicans are going to call him a Marxist, a communist, a socialist and worse. So there’s no point in protesting. “Yes,“ he could say, “I am a socialist. A democratic socialist. A democratic socialist is a person who cares more about you as an ordinary American than about greedy billionaires and corporations who pollute your water and lay you off at the drop of a hat.”

            Nothing neutralizes an attack more effectively than to cop to it.

            If nothing else, even if he loses, Bernie can rehabilitate socialism as an acceptable economic alternative. In the long run, that would be a greater accomplishment than anything Sanders could accomplish in eight years as president.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the forthcoming “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.)

Corporate Crap That Doesn’t Kill Bernie Just Makes Him Stronger

Sanders supporters before a campaign event in Des Moines on Monday.

            On January 19th the New York Times oddly co-endorsed Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar for the Democratic presidential nomination. Two days later, the key New Hampshire primary showed Warren down four points. Bernie Sanders’ surge continued. What happened?

            To the extent that they ever did, the editorial boards at corporate-owned media outlets no longer seem to be helping the candidates they support. But I think it goes further than that. In a Democratic Party increasingly dominated by insurgent progressives, authenticity (or the perception thereof) is a politician’s most valuable asset. The approval of “mainstream” establishment entities has become a curse. The imprimatur of an officialdom widely seen as hopelessly corrupt dilutes a candidate’s reputation for authenticity, independence and the voters’ belief that he or she will stand up for we the people over the powers that be.

            Much to the frustration of ruling elites, Bernie Sanders keeps gaining support despite repeated attempts to sandbag him. It began, of course, with a well-documented campaign by the Democratic National Committee to cheat Sanders out of a fair shot at the nomination in 2016. Though less brazen, the sympathies of the DNC, still dominated by Hillary Clinton allies, remain evident in the current cycle. As in 2016, Democratic-aligned media outlets rarely mention Sanders other than to frame him as an elderly fringe wacko. The “Bernie Blackout,” featuring graphics of TV polls where Sanders’ name had been excised, became so ridiculously obvious that it got its own Reddit.

            The last few weeks have been especially instructive. There was the infamous sandbagging of Bernie Sanders at the hands of a CNN moderator. “Have you stopped beating your wife?” became, seconds after Sanders issued a categorical denial, “why did you tell Elizabeth Warren that you did not believe that a woman could win the election?,” a statement that wouldn’t be sexist if he said it and that runs counter to everything he has said and done over the last 40 years.

            Next came the bizarre New York Times two-fer endorsement of Warren and Klobuchar, which included the demonstrably false claims that Bernie Sanders is hard to work with in the Senate and refuses to compromise. This was quickly followed by the news that Hillary Clinton, the nation’s least popular political figure, told a Hulu documentarian that “nobody likes” Sanders, the most popular, and that he’s a “career politician.” As opposed to herself and her husband?

            In the bubble-wrapped imaginations of ruling elites like Clinton and the editors of the New York Times, the hoi polloi care deeply about what they say and think. They think we take their lead.

            Reality is quite opposite.

            It’s not that we don’t listen. We do. We pay attention to what Those In Charge say and what they want us to do—so that we can do the exact opposite.

            Contempt for our “leaders” is one of the key reasons Donald Trump won the presidency. “To the extent that people are using Trump as a way of venting about their general unhappiness, trust is irrelevant,” Stanford University political scientist Morris Fiorina observed during the summer of 2016. “They’re just trying to send a message that they’re tired of being taken for granted and screwed by both sides.”

          People wanted to send another message, albeit a childish one, to the elites: we hate you. 14% of Americans have a “great deal” of confidence in the news media. Congress’ approval rating is 27%. Last time Gallup bothered to check, Hillary was at 38%.

            Americans’ disdain for their masters was placed in sharp relief by polls that showed that many Trump voters would have voted for Bernie Sanders had he been the Democratic nominee and that one out of ten Bernie Sanders’ primary supporters ended up voting for Donald Trump in the general election. Trump and Sanders were the change candidates in a change year. And 2020 is even changier.

            We are witnessing political jiu-jitsu. The more viciously that neoliberals attack Bernie Sanders, the higher progressive estimations of Sanders’ authenticity rises.

            Many on the left, me included, have held doubts about Bernie Sanders. We worry that he isn’t far left enough, especially on foreign policy. After all, he’s OK with drone assassinations, was pretty much silent about the Israeli invasion of Gaza, praised the illegal assassination of Osama bin Laden that denied justice to 9/11 victims, and has not proposed specific numbers by which he would cut the Pentagon budget.

            Even on domestic issues, Sanders’ forte, he is weaker than we would like. The $15-an-hour minimum wage he is pushing for now would have been OK when he started working on it years ago, but due to inflation $20 or $25 an hour would make more sense now. By global standards, Sanders is no radical. He’s a garden-variety liberal—the Democratic Party under FDR.

            Fortunately for him, reactionary goons like the New York Times remind us that whatever his shortcomings Sanders is still the best game in this very right-wing town, the farthest left Democrat to have presented himself for our consideration in the last 40 years.

            If Hillary Clinton and CNN and MSNBC hate Bernie so much, maybe he’s all right.

            It is increasingly likely that Bernie Sanders will become the Democratic nominee and perhaps President of the United States. If and when that happens, when this “democratic socialist” takes the oath of office, he ought to give a shout-out to the clueless enemies who made his victory possible.

(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.)

The Problem with Voting Strategically Is That You Vote against Yourself

Many self-described liberal Democrats say that they plan to vote for someone to the right of them because they want to be strategic, they want to vote for someone who could appeal to moderate or centrist swing voters. But how do they know their strategy makes sense? It never has worked in the past.

Going for Medicare for All Proves That Radicalism Is the Only Way

Moderates who love incrementalism constantly say that is the only way to get things done but the current debate over healthcare shows that the exact opposite is true.

For Kamala Harris, It Looks like It’s Pretty Much the End

Early in the Democratic campaign for president in 2020, former prosecutor and California senator Kamala Harris looked like she was up and coming. Her high point was challenging Joe Biden at a debate about his previous opposition to court-ordered busing in the early 1970s. Soon it became clear, however, that she was more of a troll than a real candidate with real issues. Even though the corporate media didn’t talk about it much, progressive Democrats didn’t have much use for the news that she had deliberately sent an innocent man to death row and then not wanted to talk about it afterwards. Now she is closing offices and laying off staff. Looks like the beginning of the end.

For Progressives, Capturing the Democratic Party is More Important Than Beating Donald Trump kik

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            Nothing, leading Democrats say, matters more than beating Donald Trump. 2020, they argue, is the most important election of our lifetimes (OK, they always say that).

            It’s not true. If you’re a progressive voter, taking back control of the Democratic Party from the DLC-Clinton-Biden centrist cabal is more important than defeating the incumbent.

            For four long decades progressives—Americans who put people before profits—have been living in the political wilderness. Progressives account for 72% of Democratic voters. Figuring lefties had nowhere else to go, party leadership took them for granted, ignoring their desire for a stronger social safety net and fewer military adventures in favor of a pro-corporate agenda. What other choice did they have, vote Republican?

            People who often didn’t vote turned out for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 primary campaign, proving that many non-voters weren’t apathetic. They were disgusted. After the DNC got caught pulling their usual dirty tricks, however, sabotaging Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton, enough Bernie-or-Busters boycotted the November general election or cast protest votes for Trump to cost her the election.

            Look at what happened! Progressives scored their first major win since the War on Poverty of the 1960s.

            Yes, Trump has been a disaster. He is a terrible president, an international embarrassment, insane, brazenly corrupt, overtly racist, with over-the-top authoritarian tendencies.

            But consider the alternative.

            If Hillary Clinton were running for reelection, progressivism would still be on the outs. Like Obama, Hillary wouldn’t have appointed a single liberal, much less progressive, to her cabinet. She’s so far to the right of Trump on foreign policy that she might have gone to war against Iran. Russian national security analysts concluded that Clinton was crazy enough to start World War III. She’s equally awful on domestic stuff. Hillary is against any increase in the minimum wage. She opposes Medicare For All. She hates the Green New Deal. Her bankster backers would be running wild.

            Because progressives withheld their votes in 2016, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the Democratic frontrunners, enjoying the combined support of 50% of primary voters. Both support a $15 minimum wage, Medicare For All, free college tuition and the Green New Deal. There is no way, no how, that those policy positions would be part of a Clinton 2020 campaign.

            Progressives are so close to seizing control of the Democratic Party that they can taste it. Why, at mile 25 of this political marathon, should they let up on the pressure? They’re about to win!

            If Bernie Sanders is the nominee, supporting him is a no-brainer for progressives. He’s been one of them forever. He’s trustworthy. (It’s a different calculus for leftists like me. Among other things, he needs to swear off militarism.) Progressives will vote for him.

            Warren’s bonafides are squishy. She used to be a Republican, endorses capitalism and keeps Hillary on her speed dial. Is she a prog-come-lately or another fauxgressive who would sell out to Goldman Sachs? She would have to come up with some way to reassure voters that she’s more Sanders than Clinton.

            But what if the DNC shoves Joe Biden or another centrist/moderate/corporatist down our throats again? As usual they’ll say that we have to pull together behind some turd in order to defeat the dastardly Donald Trump. But why?

            History is clear. Lame-duck presidents don’t get big laws, new wars or much in the way of policy accomplished during their second terms. Nixon had Watergate, Reagan was hobbled by dementia and Iran Contra, Clinton was impeached because of Monica and the second Bush spent his last four years in the quagmires of Iraq and then the bursting of the subprime mortgage meltdown. Obama avoided scandal but an intransigent Republican Congress left him with little to show for years five through eight.

            By 2021 Trump will almost certainly have already been impeached. Congress will probably still be Democratic. I ask my fellow Trump-haters: what exactly are you so afraid of in a second term? What do you think the president can do in a second term that he hasn’t already done? Does he strike you as the kind of person who has been plotting some big right-wing surprise to unleash in case he wins reelection?

            Forget the Supreme Court-is-everything argument. As Obama proved when he refused to push for Merrick Garland, Democrats don’t move the needle. Anyway, it’s a right-wing court now. Write that sucker off.

            There is a nightmare scenario: Trump dies early on. Mike Pence has three years to establish himself before running in 2024. That would really and truly suck. That is a real risk. But is fear of a Pence planet powerful enough to go back to letting the centrist scum take progressives’ votes for granted?

            If the DNC robs Warren or Sanders in favor of Biden or whomever or Hillary again, Democratic progressives have little to lose by boycotting the general election again. It may be that the corporatists need to be taught the same bitter lesson a second time: without progressives there is no Democratic Party.

(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.)

“Far Left”? There’s No Such Thing in This Democratic Party

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            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.

            Beto O’Rourke, Fox News says, had a “far-left presidential platform.” He likes pro-corporate jobs-exporting free trade agreements, backs a blank check to Israel’s right-wing government and wants to send teenagers to prison for 15 years for sexting. If that’s far left, I have a Palace of the Soviets I’d love to sell you.

            “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.)