Why I’m supporting the Jewish socialist (again)
…when he hasn’t even announced a run yet.
When I hear, “I’m just not voting for an old white man,” speaking of the Jewish Bernie Sanders, the degradation of American political discourse hits me in the face like a shovel.
Inequality is worse than it has ever been. The world’s species, topsoil, fisheries, forests, and potable water are disappearing, and the oceans are rising. Fascists are taking over governments in reaction to mass migrations caused by war and capitalism (including climate change). Forty percent of the US lives in a state of deep economic precarity. 44 million people live in the US without health care, and another 38 million have health care that is inadequate and threatens them with bankruptcy in the event of an expensive illness or injury. Women earn only 80 percent of what men do in the same jobs, and the gap between black and white is 27 percent. We’ve been in perpetual war abroad now in one way or another since 1990, and we were in perpetual covert and overt wars every year before that going back to 1940. Our government foments coups against democratically elected governments on behalf of Wall Street, and the Pentagon has impunity to steal trillions of dollars with no accountability. Police continue to stop, arrest, harass, and shoot people of color at rates far higher than they do whites. Schools are failing. Our very groundwater is being poisoned so a few capitalists can scratch out the last bits of oil and gas from between the upper layers of the earth’s crust. And none of this rises to the level of the age and color of a candidate (we are talking about Sanders here, of course).
<<I would hope that instead of looking for a personality, we’re looking for policies. And whether those policies come from a President Bernie Sanders or whether they come from a President Cory Booker or President Elizabeth Warren, none of those–two of those, by the way, I don’t think are even plausible. I don’t think people are looking for personalities.
We’re looking for solutions to the issues that the Black community has been fighting for decades and decades; mass incarceration, police abuse, corruption in the police department, poor quality affordable housing or lack of affordable housing, lack of access to decent healthcare, jobs, decent paying jobs with decent benefits, quality public education for our children. These are issues that we have been fighting, along with employment discrimination, housing discrimination, discrimination in the financial sector, that we’ve been fighting for … I’m going to correct myself. Centuries, not decades. Centuries. And we shouldn’t be looking at a politician, necessarily, but who among those politicians are talking about those policies . . .
. . . Interestingly enough, Sanders has been engaging a lot of people outside of the traditional progressive left who have been educating him, so to speak, on different solutions to these unique issues that Black people face. There was an amazing report that was published by Duke University. Some of the coauthors were Sandy Darity, Darrick Hamilton, Antonio Moore, and they outlined the different myths for how to address the racial wealth gap. In the solutions to that policy were some of the issues that these people have been talking about for decades, like baby bonds and different kinds of specific economic vehicles that most politicians wouldn’t want to call them reparations, because reparations is like a dirty word in politics almost. But they are forms of reparative justice that would help Black people the most, but would not be limited to just Black people, but they would absolutely help the bottom stuck among us.
And Bernie Sanders has been educated on these policies and he’s come into agreeing with some of them, and I think he has included some of them in his platform. So that’s hopeful. He’s on his way to having that kind of conversation about our economic plight that we need for a politician to have. And as far as electoral politics on a national level is concerned, I think right now he is the best shot at having that conversation that we have among this current field.>>
So Bernie hasn’t been resting on his laurels after his historic challenge to the neoliberal establishment. (I’m not sure he ever rests.) You wouldn’t know it from MSNBC or CNN. If you watched them, you’d assume Senator Sanders is dead. They are trying to pretend he’s dormant, to erase his existence from the minds of their viewers . . . fortunately, those viewers are far fewer these days.
As I wrote recently in Strategic Realism, “The retrenchment strategy of the Democratic establishment is (a) to unite with neo-conservatives and other anti-Trump imperialists as a bloc to blunt the forward momentum of the left, and (b) to try and beat back the left insurgency in the Presidential Primaries by promoting candidates based on statistical scatterplots and focus groups.
“Here’s a black guy, and its Cory Booker. Here’s a black woman, and it’s Kamala Harris. Here’s a younger white dude whose claim to fame is getting beaten in Texas, but he’s ‘charismatic.’ This is the ABBC formula: anything but Bernie Sanders.
“It’s like we are the children at a party watching a magician, and the magician fans a handful of cards, saying, ‘Pick a card, any card.’ Here is your black card. Here is your female card. But the magician has already pre-filtered the deck.
“You can recognize whether identitarian arguments are made in good faith or not, but it requires us to get our intellectual asses up out of that comfortable recliner called “virtue signaling.” (More on that, here.) Remember, if you will, that Hillary Clinton tried to outflank Bernie Sanders in a debate before a mostly African American audience, by saying something like, ‘If we break up the banks, will that cure racism?’
“Logicians will cringe; but Clinton knew exactly what she was doing. She was shifting the debate between two white people in front of black people from class (upon which there are common interests across racialized boundaries) to race (in a way that called forth solidarity between classes among African Americans as if it opposed the class argument). Identitarian, but entirely unethical.
“This race-class contradiction has no easy answers, because there are times and places where each approach is warranted. The first question ought to always be motive, and that requires context. Clinton was trying to reinforce the Democratic establishment’s own manufactured narrative of Sanders’ ‘insensitivity’ to questions of race by any means necessary, because black millennials were already supporting Sanders at a rate of 52 percent.
“Clinton can mouth the self-help and “entrepreneurial” platitudes of the black business/political class and mobilize support from these key subaltern leaders for an agenda that is disastrous for African America as a whole, playing the race card, even though Sanders’ policy goals — which were geared toward the working class as a whole — would, if enacted, vastly increase the social and political power of African Americans.
“This is the identity politics that many on the left decry, and rightly so, but to generalize about it removes the context that determines whether appeals to identity are appropriate and helpful or inappropriate and harmful. There can never be a yes or no answer to the puzzle of identity politics. We have to put in the effort to judge each circumstance by its own dynamics.
“Class analysis can help resolve this issue, but it’s a good deal more complicated than proletarian versus bourgeois. Black society, inasmuch as it is distinctively African American, is still organized into bourgeois, civil society, a middle/working class, and a vast unemployed and legally disabled underclass. But the Black “political class,” as critical voices like Black Agenda Report emphasize, is joined at the hip with the white bourgeoisie and with (selectively integrated) civil society interlocutors who “manage” a good deal of black politics.
“Yet, as black persons in a civil society fraction that answers to the white bourgeoisie, on the one hand, and an aggressive and hostile party of white supremacy on the other, this comparatively privileged group are still obliged to adapt to a Democratic establishment for self-defense — completely understandable — and these dependencies distort black class politics as much as they do white class politics. Class dynamics between a hegemonic group and a subaltern group are always this complicated.
“When Clinton pulled her little ‘banks and racism’ stunt on Sanders, it should be fairly obvious, she was being cynical and manipulative . . . and what we might call a vulgar identitarian. Her purpose was to muddy the truth.
“When African Ameircans raise the alarm after a black Harvard Professor is hit with a ‘driving while black’ offense by racist cops, this is identitarian as well, but necessary to point out how race operates as an active framework even against well-to-do black folks. This identitarian call-out is valid, ethical, and non-manipulative. That said professor is well-to-do is not the pertinent issue in this case. Race trumps class. There’s no innuendo and disinformation, as we see with Clinton. The purpose of identity in this case is to unify around a particular truth.”
All that said, I am not supporting Sanders because I think he’s a perfect candidate. There is plenty to criticize, but our choices from now until the end of the Democratic Primaries are what they are, and we are obliged to choose the best candidate to (a) represent as many of our real interests as possible, and (b) defeat Republicans. (Trump has destroyed the “no-lesser-evil” argument, and I was one who used to espouse it.)
So, in a sense, we are fighting both party establishments by turns, until there is a viable alternative to those parties (we are so not there yet). I think of the Democratic Party as a kind of rough terrain we have to cross to get as near to the hilltop of political triage (socialism) as we can.
Right now, based on policies, the best alternative in view remains Senator Bernie Sanders.
Electability is that other consideration, but it’s a tricky little pup that sometimes bites. It bit Hillary Clinton’s supporters in their hindparts in 2016, after so many voters went for Clinton as a defensive measure against Republicans . . . and it turned out that Sanders would have fared far better against Trump than Clinton, and won by a handy margin.
My early support for Sanders is not even with an eye to the victory yet, but in the salutary effect his candidacy has already had (look at our fierce freshmen Congresswomen) and will continue to have specifically in the campaign process. That is, keeping what the people want — in particular single payer health care, a $15 minimum wage, free tuition, and a Green New Deal — front and center, and forcing other candidates to respond to those issues in ways that clarify everyone’s positions.
Sanders has a vast and readily mobilizable network that he and his allies have been nurturing since before the 2016 follies. He is already a force that no candidate can ignore, no matter how hard the twits and tools at MSNBC and CNN try to pretend he is dead (and their teeth are so white, they could put out your eyes).
The Sanders network has already built alternatives to the networks brought to you by Big Pharma and Wall Street.
Socialist cadre organizations, especially the Democratic Socialists of America, grew by leaps and bounds after the Bernie phenomenon took hold. People are now unabashedly looking into the idea of socialism.
Ayanna Pressley, the first Black Congresswoman from Massachusetts, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, toppling an establishment giant, Sharice Davids, a First Nation lesbian won in Kansas, Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, and that other Muslim woman — Motown’s very own Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian in Congress and the first person in Congress to drop an F-bomb on Trump in front of the cameras. These seeds grew in the soil prepared by the 2016 campaign . . . not just as a kind of Bernie cult of personality — he has always warned against that — but because it happened at the right place and time in history to provide a voice to people that the rich and their neoliberal representatives had quit listening to . . . or continued to transparently manipulate.
Here, finally, is the last reason I’ll list for encouraging Sanders to run and offering support in advance. This is my ex-soldier speaking. In 2016, we fought our way around 40 percent across the treacherous terrain of the Democratic Party — a land filled with sly and dangerous enemies. But we were not beaten back. The fight stalled, out of necessity, to both wait for the next cycle and to form a tactical alliance with Democrats (think the US and Soviets against Hitler) to break Trumpism. Trump is now a shell, his staff under indictment and his family on deck. You don’t give ground away if you know you have to take it back. We have it. We are inside. Now, we mount the next push, for 80 percent of the voters this time, and if it’s 60 percent, then we’ll rest and change out socks and get ready for the next push. With each day, we are stronger, and each day they are weaker. And we need right now to be preparing AOC or Rashida Tlaib for candidacy in 2024.
Sanders remains the most leftist of all the Democratic hopefuls. That center of gravity is needed during the Primary season to hold our 40 percent and advance toward 80. Sanders is the recognizable flag to keep us oriented.
Run, Bernie, Run.