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.

More articles by:

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

November 21, 2017
Gregory Elich
What is Behind the Military Coup in Zimbabwe?
Louisa Willcox
Rising Grizzly Bear Deaths Raise Red Flag About Delisting
David Macaray
My Encounter With Charles Manson
Patrick Cockburn
The Greatest Threats to the Middle East are Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman
Stephen Corry
OECD Fails to Recognize WWF Conservation Abuses
James Rothenberg
We All Know the Rich Don’t Need Tax Cuts
Elizabeth Keyes
Let There be a Benign Reason For Someone to be Crawling Through My Window at 3AM!
L. Ali Khan
The Merchant of Weapons
Thomas Knapp
How to Stop a Rogue President From Ordering a Nuclear First Strike
Lee Ballinger
Trump v. Marshawn Lynch
Michael Eisenscher
Donald Trump, Congress, and War with North Korea
Tom H. Hastings
Reckless
Franklin Lamb
Will Lebanon’s Economy Be Crippled?
Linn Washington Jr.
Forced Anthem Adherence Antithetical to Justice
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Do Civilians Become Combatants In Wars Against America?
November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
Thomas Knapp
Impeachment Theater, 2017 Edition
Binoy Kampmark
Trump in Asia
Curtis FJ Doebbler
COP23: Truth Without Consequences?
Louisa Willcox
Obesity in Bears: Vital and Beautiful
Deborah James
E-Commerce and the WTO
Ann Garrison
Burundi Defies the Imperial Criminal Court: an Interview with John Philpot
Robert Koehler
Trapped in ‘a Man’s World’
Stephen Cooper
Wiping the Stain of Capital Punishment Clean
Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail