FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Galluping to Absurdity

by

shutterstock_342185006

Sometimes the absurdity of the United States’ reigning corporate-managed media and politics culture really knocks me out. If you’ve been following the 2016 Democratic presidential primary race, you probably recall when a corporate media operative (I forget which one but I’m not sure it matters) running one of the televised debates (or “town halls”) confronted Bernie Sanders with the findings of a June 2015 Gallup poll showing that just 47% of U.S. citizens would vote for a socialist as U.S. president.

By stark contrast, the media operative noted, Gallup found that 93% would vote for a Roman Catholic, 92% for a woman, 92% for a Black person, 91% for a Hispanic, 91% for a Jewish person, 81% for a Mormon, 74% for a gay or lesbian person, 73% for an evangelical Christian, 60% for a Muslim, and 56% for an atheist. How, the talking head wanted the self-described “democratic socialist” Sanders to explain, could Bernie think he had any chance of being elected to the White House given these numbers?

The first absurdity here was a problem of apples and orange. With the possible and very partial exceptions (relating to matters of government and religion) of “atheist” and “evangelical Christian,” none of the categories tested by Gallup for political viability other than “socialist” suggested anything in the way of political, policy, r social program. All of the categories except “socialist” refer to identities of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Not being a matter of officially sanctioned identity politics, “socialist,” was the orange in Gallup’s apple barrel, making the comparison a little bizarre.

What would the Gallup poll have looked like, I wonder, if it had included any or all of the following categories: “capitalist,” “plutocrat,” “war hawk,” “militarist,” “imperialist,” “friend of Wall Street,” “corporatist,” “agent of corporate America,” “fossil fuels champion,” “corporate welfare advocate,” “recipient of huge big business contributions,” “fake populist,” “fake progressive,” “police-state champion,” “financial deregulation advocate,” “standardized test champion,” or “corporate privatization advocate”? For what it’s worth, most of these terms accurately describe all of the truly viable presidential candidates in this and past U.S. presidential elections. And it is likely that “socialist” would post better numbers than any of these categories if Gallup had tested for them.

This is certainly true among younger voters, who Gallup found five years ago to respond more favorably to the word “socialism” than to the word “capitalism” (a reflection among other things of U.S. capitalism’s frankly miserable performance for all but the already well-off in this century). In its poll last June, Gallup found that fully 69% of younger voters (18 to 29 years old) would vote for a socialist presidential candidate.

A second absurdity is that candidates combine multiple identity politics markers along with different policy agendas and ideological positions. Does it help Sanders overcome his “socialist” problem (47%) that he’s ethno-culturally Jewish (91%)? What are the chances for a lesbian (74%) socialist (47%) and Muslim (60%)? How about a gay (74%) “Hispanic” (91%) atheist (58%) who is a Catholic (93%) or an evangelical (73%) or a Muslim (60%)? What about a female (92%) war hawk (I’m guessing 10%), imperialist (10%?) corporatist (8%?), capitalist (30%?), and neoliberal recipient of huge business campaign contributions (7%?) like Hillary Clinton?

A third absurdity is the assumption that Bernie Sanders is actually a socialist. Why, because he occasionally says so? I can call myself a Deadhead because I like the Grateful Dead’s music and take a very occasional hit of marijuana but I didn’t follow the band around on its concert tours and I don’t get stoned on anything remotely like a frequent basis. I’m no Deadhead.

In a similar vein, Bernie is no socialist, despite his own stubbornly absurd if occasional reference to himself as one. He’s a New Deal liberal. In Western Europe he would be at most a right-leaning social democrat. His vision for America is one in which commanding heights economic decisions and ownership remain firmly in private, profit-taking hands while the government intervenes to a limited extent with the purpose of partially regulating some business activities and distributing income and wealth and social benefits in a more egalitarian and humane – less neoliberal – way. As William Blum, an actual American socialist, recently reflected:

“Social democrats and democratic socialists [like Bernie Sanders] have no desire to get rid of the profit motive…In defining what democratic socialism means to him [in a speech at Georgetown University last November], Sanders said: ‘I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production.’…I personally could live with the neighborhood grocery store remaining in private hands, but larger institutions are always a threat; the larger and richer they are the more tempting and easier it is for them to put profit ahead of the public’s welfare, and to purchase politicians. The question of socialism is inseparable from the question of public ownership of the means of production. The question thus facing ‘socialists’ like Sanders is this: When all your idealistic visions for a more humane, more just, more equitable, and more rational society run head-first into the stone wall of the profit motive … which of the two gives way?” (William Blum, “Is Bernie Sanders a Socialist?” Anti-Empire Report, #143, February 5, 2016)

Answer: the profit motive. The “private sector” still rules under Bernie’s recommended “political revolution.” He can call himself a socialist but he says nothing about the need for a social revolution to expropriate the expropriators and remove the masters of wealth and property from the disastrous private ownership and control of economy, society, politics, and culture – from private/corporate ownership and control of the means of production, finance, distribution, and communication.

It isn’t just that Sanders isn’t actually a socialist. It is also that his liberal-progressive New Deal Keynesian agenda would present a danger to actual socialism if was enacted (a rather fantastic possibility under the currently existing balance of class forces in U.S. politics and policy) in the name of socialism. As another actual American socialist, Gary Leech, recently noted on CounterPunch, “not only aren’t Sanders’ [social-democratic] policies socialist, they actually pose a threat to socialism. If elected, Sanders’ policies would likely moderate the capitalist model both domestically and globally, but they would leave intact the fundamental global injustices inherent in the capitalist system. And when those capitalist policies implemented by a self-proclaimed socialist ultimately fail to address these global injustices in any meaningful way, it will be socialism that will be discredited.” (G. Leech, “Why America’s Next President Will Not be a Socialist,” Counterpunch, January 25, 2016).

Leech didn’t need to worry all that much about the threat. Sanders had only slightly more chance of becoming the next U.S. president than I did of becoming the Grateful Dead’s lead keyboardist.

The real tragedy beyond all this farce is that the United States and the world very much need democratic socialism, the real thing, not the neutered variant that Bernie has been selling. The profits system, rooted in private ownership of the means of production (among other things) is pushing humanity and other living things over the cliff of an environmental catastrophe that has frankly emerged as the biggest issue of our or any time. There are simply no viable environmental or social solutions – no chance for a decent and democratic future – under the continuing half-millennium rule of the world capitalist system. It’s global eco-socialism or mere barbarism (already well underway) if we’re lucky, to update Rosa Luxembourg for the age of melting ice caps and poisoned coral reefs. Put that in your pipe and smoke it as the Sanders campaign fades in the well-worn rear view mirror of plutocratic U.S. political history. Mourn the Bernie thing if you must (no tears here) and then organize, organize, organize.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail