FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

De Blasio and the Left

On August 16th I wrote an article for my blog titled “A Dossier on Bill de Blasio”  that mentioned in passing his occasional appearance at NY Nicaragua Solidarity steering committee meetings nearly 25 years ago, something I likened to Obama’s overtures to antiwar activists on Chicago’s South Side—an investment that could pay future dividends. As de Blasio escalated up the electoral ramps in New York, he was careful to retain his liberal coloration even though he became an ally of Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn pol who once belonged to Meir Kahane’s terrorist Jewish Defense League.

When Hikind spearheaded a drive to force Brooklyn College to add a speaker reflecting Zionist policies to a meeting on BDS, de Blasio issued the following statement: “The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is inflammatory, dangerous and utterly out of step with the values of New Yorkers. An economic boycott represents a direct threat to the State of Israel–that’s something we need to oppose in all its forms. No one seriously interested in bringing peace, security and tolerance to the Middle East should be taken in by this event.”

Despite his anti-landlord rhetoric, he also endorsed Bruce Ratner’s downtown Brooklyn megaproject that ran roughshod over the local community’s needs. Originally based on a design by superstar architect Frank Gehry, the project so appalled novelist and Brooklynite Jonathan Lethem that he was inspired to write an open letter to Gehry calling the project “a nightmare for Brooklyn, one that, if built, would cause irreparable damage to the quality of our lives.”

There’s lots of excitement among liberals about the prospects of a de Blasio mayoralty. As might have been expected, the Nation Magazine endorsed him in the primary election as “reimagining the city in boldly progressive, egalitarian terms.” Peter Beinart, a New Republic editor who has gained some attention lately for veering slightly from the Zionist consensus, wrote an article for The Daily Beast titled “The Rise of the New New Left” that was even more breathless than the Nation editorial. Alluding to German sociologist Karl Mannheim’s theory of “political generations”, Beinart sees the de Blasio campaign as “an Occupy-inspired challenge to Clintonism.”

Most of Beinart’s article takes up the question of whether de Blasio’s momentum could unleash broader forces that would derail Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2016. Perhaps that analysis can only be supported if you ignore the fact that de Blasio was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager when she ran for senator from New York in 2000. The NY Times reported on October 7, 2000: “At the White House, the president, Mrs. Clinton and her campaign team can often be found in the Map Room or the Family Theater, drilling for her debates, or fine-tuning lines in some speech.” One surmises that Bill de Blasio was there.

Reporting for CounterPunch on July 26, 2005, Joshua Frank referred to Hillary Clinton as the Margaret Thatcher of the Democratic Party, a reference to her acceptance of a top position with the Democratic Leadership Council, a body that sought to expunge all traces of George McGovern style liberalism from the party.

With respect to de Blasio’s campaign being “Occupy-inspired”, it is important to note that in an interview with Bhaskar Sunkara in the Nation, he tried to dance around the sticky problem of Bloomberg’s eviction of the protestors from Zuccotti Park: “The location that they were using did become a problem. I think it was appropriate to say that that had to change.” Of course, it had become a problem. It was a constant reminder that people were unhappy about the rich lording it over the rest of society.

Despite de Blasio’s liberal image and even more radical connections a quarter-century ago, he would have probably followed the same path as Oakland’s Mayor Jean Quan who sicced 600 cops on Occupy activists on October 25, 2011 just two weeks before Bloomberg’s sweep of Zuccotti Park. If anything, Quan had an even more radical past than de Blasio. In the 1960s she was a member of the Third World Liberation Front when she was an undergrad at Berkeley. But when you begin to run City Hall in a major American city, you have to leave all that behind you. Law and order comes first.

On September 4th I was contacted by Javier Hernandez, a NY Times reporter who was working on an article about de Blasio. He had seen my article and wanted more information about his role at the NY Nicaragua Network. I told him (and an NPR reporter who contacted me later on) that it was difficult to remember what someone said or did that long ago. I referred him to people who had remained active with the network long after I had dropped out. Hernandez dug up material from younger people whose memories have remained sharper than my own. They helped him recreate the Bill de Blasio of the good old days:

Mr. de Blasio’s answering machine greetings in those days seemed to reflect a search for meaning. Every few weeks, he recorded a new message, incorporating a quote to reflect his mood — a passage from classic literature, lyrics from a song or stanzas of a poem.

Over time, he became more focused on his city job, and using the tools of government to effect change. The answering machine messages stopped changing. He no longer attended meetings about Nicaragua.

His friends in the solidarity movement were puzzled. At a meeting early in 1992, Mr. de Blasio was marked absent. A member scribbled a note next to his name: “Must be running for office.”

If he told his comrades that he was running for office, he would have likely reassured them that it would be to challenge corporatist values after the fashion of Beinart’s new new left. Hernandez writes:

Increasingly, he was distressed by what he saw as “timidity” in the Democratic Party, as it moved to the political center in the dawning of the Clinton era, and he thought the government should be doing more to help low-income workers and maintain higher tax rates.

Nowadays de Blasio would probably confess to this being a youthful indiscretion, at least to those who were not eager—like me—to debunk the notion that he is an “Occupy-inspired” candidate. I for one am anxious to see Bill de Blasio become the next mayor of New York as part of the long, difficult but necessary task of waking Americans up from the deep slumber that allows them to trust capitalist politicians to turn back the ever-increasingly cruel attack on their standard of living. If you pay careful attention to what is happening behind the scenes, you will see that de Blasio will likely be known as the Big Apple’s version of Barack Obama. The NY Times reported on September 11:

But as Mr. Lhota [the Republican nominee] seeks to secure support, Mr. de Blasio, aware that his rhetoric has unsettled powerful people, has quietly been in touch with several establishment figures recently, including Rob Speyer, the chairman of the Real Estate Board of New York, and the financier Steven Rattner. Both men have close ties to Mr. Bloomberg, and supported the campaign of Christine C. Quinn in the Democratic primary.

In some of these conversations, Mr. de Blasio has played down his unabashedly liberal positions, pointing out that no public-sector union has endorsed him, and saying that he would represent the wealthy as well as the 99 percent if elected mayor, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The marketing of Bill de Blasio, like that of Barack Obama, has been most skillful. Most experts in the field regard the ad that featured his son Dante, sporting a 60s style Afro (de Blasio is married to an African-American), as key to his success. It played to both liberal and African-American constituencies. Two of Obama’s top campaign advisers are now working for de Blasio. His campaign manager is Bill Hyers and John Del Cecato has been producing his commercials.

Although I had no trouble telling the NY Times or NPR what I remembered about de Blasio, I sent the NY Post packing. To my surprise, some of my email correspondents charged me with abetting a redbaiting campaign against de Blasio as if NY Times readers or NPR listeners would be scandalized about the candidate’s youthful fling with the left. They make it sound as if going to Nicaragua was something to keep secret, like a New Yorker magazine cartoon of bearded anarchists assembling a bomb in the Paris sewers.

The Times article accurately noted that “Tens of thousands of Americans — medical workers, religious volunteers, antiwar activists — flocked to Nicaragua hoping to offset the effects of an economic embargo imposed by the United States.” Like Bill Clinton’s antiwar activities at Oxford, Kerry’s testimony to Congress as an embittered Vietnam veteran, or Obama’s friendship with CP’er Franklin Marshall Davis in Hawaii, these are the sorts of things you expect young people to do. It is only hard-core radicals who continue challenging the system well into their sixties and seventies such as the unrepentant author of this article.

The irony is that no matter the intent of the NY Times reportage, it will only make de Blasio more attractive to people sick and tired of business as usual. Today very few people have any idea of what Nicaragua stands for, many knowing it only as a spot featured from time to time on the House Hunters show on the HGTV cable network with a couple of gringos looking for a place on the beach at an affordable price. In fact Daniel Ortega would fit right in at some of those meetings de Blasio is going to right now. He learned long ago that the only way to get ahead in Nicaraguan politics is not to offend Uncle Sam. But at least Daniel Ortega came to this point only after putting up a valiant if doomed resistance that tested his own mettle and those of the people he risked his life to liberate. Bill de Blasio came a lot cheaper.

Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.wordpress.com and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

More articles by:

Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.org and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail