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The Fine Art of Political Backstabbing

by CLANCY SIGAL

Jerry Brown, my California state’s Democratic governor, is a crushing disappointment.  We voted for him over the former Ebay CEO, rightwing Republican Meg Whitman, who promised to fire 40,000 public workers and end welfare, mainly because Brown trailed nostalgic clouds of progressive glory.   A one-time governor himself, he banked on us remembering that he is also the semi-hippie son of a much-loved 1960s two-term governor, his dad Pat Brown.  Since Jerry’s election, using the flim-flam Houdini magic of “slimming down the deficit”, he has behaved like Mitt Romney – or Meg Whitman – or any other business CEO slashing and burning at the most vulnerable in programs for the poor, disabled, community-college students and just about all of us who are not rich.

He’s just announced that, tax cuts or not, he will “man up” and further slash welfare, health care for the poor, cut home services for the elderly, and help destroy California’s once-model University and community college systems by chopping their already burnt-over budgets.

It seems only yesterday, historically the blink of an eye, that California voters, in the midst of a similar depression, came very close to electing a “socialist” governor, the muckraking author and pamphleteer Upton Sinclair who, remarkably, had won the Democratic nomination in 1934.

His ‘EPIC’ – End Poverty In California – program included agricultural coops, a progressive corporate income tax, relief for “under water” home owners and public works projects to get people back to work.

Upton’s utopian slogan “Production for use – not profit” drove conservatives nuts.  In what historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. calls  the “first all out public relations Blitzkrieg in American politics,” the corporations, led by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s L.B. Mayer, struck at Sinclair in a series of dirty tricks culminating in fake “newsreels” showing homeless, unshaven, criminals and Bolsheviks flooding into California if Sinclair won.  Which he almost did.

Voters, especially the luckless and unemployed, preferred Sinclair over his strike-busting Republican opponent, the sitting governor, Frank Merriam.   Up to the last moment the election seemed in the bag for Sinclair and the mildly leftish Democrats.  New Deal President Franklin D. Roosevelt – with his White House clout and national Democratic machine – apparently had promised full support to Sinclair as the official Democratic nominee.  But when it became alarmingly clear to FDR that the bankers and industrial chiefs hysterically loathed Sinclair and his EPIC reforms, the president stabbed his own party’s nominee in the back and actively sabotaged Sinclair’s campaign.   Sinclair lost to the anti-labor Merriam by a slim magin.

Today, in Wisconsin, in the massive Recall Governor Walker campaign, following FDR’s betrayal scenario almost exactly to the letter, President Obama is back-stabbing progressive Democrats by refusing to say a single word against the ultra-reactionary, union-busting, social-services-slashing Walker, a way far out Republican financed by the sinister billionaires the Koch brothers.

Obama is afraid or unwilling to come to Wisconsin to back up his most fervent supporters.  With only a little more time to go, in a finely balanced contest, with the Republicans outspending progressives 20-to-one, Obama’s Democratic National Committee stubbornly refuses to invest a penny in the battle to unseat Walker.

This is kamikaze politics.   A Walker victory would be a disaster for Democrats nationally.   If a grass-roots movement like the citizen Recallers manage to dump Walker it could be the start of a liberal-progressive rollback all across the country.

What’s the problem for the suicide-bent Democrats at the top of the Obama machine?

It’s very late in the day.  Recalling Walker could still win if, for example, Obama got off his duff, laid aside his beloved bomber jacket, and came to Milwaukee to get out the inner-city black vote that could make all the difference.  A lot of Wisconsin blacks and other “minorities” don’t like the current Democratic nominee, former Milwaukee mayor Tom Barratt, because they bitterly recall a vaguely racist campaign he ran against the then-incumbent African American mayor.  Obama lifting a finger in Milwaukee could tip the recall.  He won’t.   Probably for the same reason, as reported by author David Maraniss, that as a young stud when his girlfriend said “I love you” Obama’s pathetically weak response was, “Thank you.”

One is always left guessing why Obama does anything.  A speculation about why he and the top Democrats are sabotaging their own future is that Wisconsin has too few electoral votes to matter and anyway why antagonize the Koch brothers and other rich Republicans who – in Obama’s chronic fantasy – can be won over?  Thus, sweet reasonableness turns into self-immolation.

Clancy Sigal is a novelist and screenwriter in Los Angeles. His most recent book is A Woman of Uncertain Character. He can be reached at clancy@jsasoc.com

 

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Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Black Sunset

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