Democrats in Dis-Array

With rumors flying that establishment Democrats might hand Hillary Clinton her hat before the Democratic Convention to replace her with Joe Biden, John Kerry or some other grey-suited hand-job for empire and the Chamber of Commerce, the greatness that is the U.S. in 2016 keeps mounting. (Bernie Sanders’ name must have been accidently left off of the list— an oversight no doubt soon to be corrected). That Mr. Sanders’ program is the ghost of Democrats past (circa 1964) suggests that the Democratic establishment must be looking toward the future (1980). Michael Dukakis appears to still be alive and available. This written, being alive might not be a requirement for making the list.

Lighthearted banter aside, hungry and desperate is a good place for establishment Democrats to be— now maybe they can relate to their constituents. In what dark, deeply-frozen corner of hell do Messrs. Biden and Kerry ‘compete’ against the Democrats’ record of unwavering service to their plutocratic overlords and Donald (“I invented Swift-boating”) Trump? The clever strategy is to support Mr. Sanders’ bid for President, undermine his program at every turn, making sure to attach ‘socialist’ to every engineered failure, and then bring neoliberal, neoconservative Hillary Clinton back to ‘clean up the mess.’ This has been Barack Obama’s excuse for seven years now, so why not try it for real with Mr. Sanders?

Not to be a naysayer, but wasn’t Mrs. Clinton’s gender identity reason for 50% of the population to vote for her according to Democratic identity politics logic? And while Messrs. Biden and Kerry more likely than not have their feminine sides, grey is potent cover for additional ‘sides’ among the living. In the plus column, much like Mrs. Clinton, Joe Biden never saw a heinous slaughter he didn’t love. In the minus column, John Kerry’s sequential policy positions— he was for it before he was against it, are no match for Mr. Trump’s ability to hold two diametrically opposed positions at the same time. America’s got talent.

Mr. Biden is known colloquially as ‘the Joe Lieberman of Delaware,’ a term that relates the two by name, by financial industry support for their campaigns, by neoconservative foreign zen economicspolicy tendencies, by neoliberal economic tilts and by nuanced elegance in their public pronouncements. As with Mrs. Clinton, both intend to ‘govern from the center,’ meaning from the inner circle of neo-liberal, neo-conservative hell. Like Mr. Biden and Mrs. Clinton, John Kerry ‘reluctantly’ voted for George W. Bush’s war on Iraq before he mumbled a few words under his breath against it. In contrast to the business cliché, failure is never an orphan in official Washington.

‘Big’ John Kerry is a working class hero who in early life was made to attend boarding schools below his station before joining the ‘Skull and Bones’ street gang at Yale under threat of not receiving his full inheritance. Known for his brevity of speech, concision and warm demeanor, Mr. Kerry of late has been forced to choose between summers in Aspen and touring the Mediterranean on one of his yachts. Mr. Kerry is ‘down’ with the ‘working man’ because managing his wife’s inherited fortune is hard work. Regarding his Iraq War vote, Mr. Kerry was recently asked “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” His answer was that he had ‘the help’ do it.

Apparently, the unifying criteria for making the Democratic Party list is having voted for George W. Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq. American politics has long been of engineered crises that politicians vie against one-another to resolve. The well-sold storyline of self-generated jihadists who ‘hate America’ requires looking past the last half-century of Western (largely American) chaos creation across the Middle East. Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and John Kerry all share responsibility with the (George W.) Bush administration for the destruction of Iraq and for the refugees now drowning in the Mediterranean and driving racist and nationalist backlash across Europe.

That responsibility for conspicuously failed foreign entanglements is a necessary qualification for inclusion in the Democratic Party establishment is telling in two senses: (1) the Washington establishment that includes senior Democrats doesn’t see the moral, humanitarian and strategic disaster of the U.S. war against Iraq as a failure to be avoided in the future and (2) there were apparently enough ‘pluses’ like corporate profits earned and geopolitical goals met that one million people dead and a region in chaos were ‘worth it’ to those driving policy in Washington. Democratic Party loyalists without family connections and well- funded inheritances may wish to ask themselves which side of this imperial line they believe that they fall on?

In similar fashion U.S. President Barack Obama responded to the twin crises of economic disarray and environmental disaster— caused by state-capitalism run amok, by fully reviving the theoretical and institutional core of both, Wall Street. In the waning months of his Presidency Mr. Obama now seeks to burnish his ‘legacy’ through empty gestures that depend on his inability to get policy goals enacted for their powers of suasion. That he took care of the rich and powerful while ‘partisan resistance’ prevented policies that might benefit the rest of us from being conceived and implemented is posed as an accident of history while its uni-directionality is evidence of clear intent.

When former President Bill Clinton left office his powers of public suasion approximated the stock market bubble that his deregulation of Wall Street, privatization of publicly funded technology and serial bailouts of failed finance had blown. The stock and housing bubbles that ex/imploded under George W. Bush were a direct result of these finance-friendly policies. And the temporary prosperity they created hid the social catastrophes that his ‘ending welfare as we know it’ and ‘three strikes, you’re out’ were in the process of creating. Properly measured, Mr. Clinton’s legacy is of a skilled charlatan who effectively sold his class war against the poor and Middle Class to its victims as being in their interest.

Excessive partisanship has always and everywhere in Washington been blamed for policies that exclusively benefit the powers-that-be. Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Clinton were able to get broad, sweeping neoliberal agendas passed like the ‘liberation’ of Wall Street, Mr. Clinton through deregulation and sequential bailouts (emerging markets loans, hedge funds) and Mr. Obama through consequence-free bailouts followed by ‘watered-down’ (oh, what unexpected misfortune!) re-regulation, austerity budgets and trade ‘agreements’ that benefit corporate campaign contributors. The job-outsourcing trade ‘agreements’ that Republicans were unable to pass were given liberal patinas by Messrs. Clinton and Obama. Partisanship didn’t prevent all agenda items from being implemented, only those that might have benefited the rest of us.

Lest this be left unstated, the ‘paradigm’ at work is power— economic power as it is congruous with political power. Democrats need Republicans as enablers, as cover from / for pesky voters. If only we elect a majority of Democrats they can do what they say they want to do! Barack Obama had just such a majority in 2009 and 2010 and he pissed it away on bank bailouts and scam mortgage relief programs. Plausible reports had voters angry at Mr. Obama’s betrayals bringing House Republicans back to power in 2010 and to the Senate in 2012 (because ‘it takes 60 Senators to break a filibuster’). Ah, inflation— a majority used to be 51 Senators.

The paradigm is important. For all of the talk of George W. Bush’s foreign policies being rogue, they directly followed from Bill Clinton’s, who’s followed from Daddy Bush’s. Mr. Clinton gave ‘liberal’ cover for Mr. Bush’s war against Iraq just as much as his wife (Hillary Clinton) grandstanded as the reluctant Democratic ‘grownup’ who would see that it was properly managed. (It was according to the American standard: a few people made a lot of money while a whole lot of people died). Barack Obama’s ‘innovation’ of robotic murder (drones) is (1) completely fucking insane and (2) among the most morally bankrupt conceptions in human history. But at least no ‘Americans lives’ were lost….

The exact nature of the institutional insanity behind drone murders requires further exploration. A useful constraint on wanton slaughter is having to face alleged adversaries at the risk of seeing their humanity. War ‘works’ through a process of dehumanization— the (George W.) Bush era practice of calling all Iraqis ‘the enemy’ was matched by the cartoon idiocy of his ‘good guys’ versus ‘bad guys’ dichotomy that has so poorly served American underclasses in the context of ‘thin blue line’ police practices. The problem is that the rhetorical device is categorical rather than act based— once one group is denoted as being ‘good’ and another ‘bad’ the determining criteria, a/k/a ‘due process,’ is lost.

The Obama administration brought this institutional dysfunction to its logical conclusion by filling the skies of the Middle East and North Africa with murder robots and defining the hundreds and thousands of randomly murdered victims as ‘terrorists’ by the fact that they were murdered rather than through any semblance of due process. The economic analog can be found in the millions of well-paying jobs that have been outsourced through trade agreements pushed by the bi-partisan Washington establishment for the benefit of Wall Street and connected capitalists. The people whose lives were interrupted and / or destroyed through the sudden (and often permanent) inability to earn a living (1) bore no responsibility for their economic fates and (2) were just numbers on a spreadsheet to those doing the economic calculations from afar.

The political establishment in Washington, including leadership of ‘the people’s Party,’ the Democrats, has descended so far down the neo-liberal, neo-conservative rabbit hole that recovery from ‘the inside’ is well-nigh impossible. Despite odd rumblings of difference, Bernie Sanders is the New Deal Democrat that Barack Obama would have been if Mr. Obama weren’t a committed neoliberal tool. Electing Mr. Sanders would buy the Democrats a few years of pretending that they give the slightest crap about the rest of us. My bet is that they aren’t clever enough to take it.

The chance that Hillary Clinton will be replaced as the Democratic establishment’s candidate for President is remote. The cadaverous and enthusiastically uninspiring alternatives are evidence of the deeply insular and remote state of official Washington. That this establishment prefers proponents and supporters of radically failed economic policies and imperial wars to the social compromises of Bernie Sanders’ New Deal revivalism is evidence of what voters and citizens can expect from Mrs. Clinton if she is elected. The future as imagined by the political establishment is both grim and needlessly constrained. The only certainty is that we— the other 99.99999% of humanity, will be on the losing side of history unless we decide otherwise.


Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.