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What Next for Bernie?

Sen. Bernie Sanders Attends Rally For Nevada Democrats In Las Vegas
Last week’s deluge of dust is finally settling.

As of this writing, nothing is yet official, and the DNC is calling for a total recanvassing of the results – perhaps they hope (without good reason) that this would somehow help their man Joe Biden and harm Bernie Sanders — but it is plain that Sanders and Boy Wonder Mayor Pete are effectively tied in the race for “state delegate equivalents” in the Iowa caucuses, and that Sanders has a small but significant lead in the popular vote.

When only about two-thirds of the results had been released, the media slant, since Biden was plainly a lost cause, had been that Buttigieg would win; indeed, that he had already all but done so.

He did do better than most people thought he would. That is bad news, sort of. But it was a forgone conclusion that one or another “moderate” would emerge from the pack before long. As well him as another. Meanwhile, the Iowa Democratic Party has taken a hit, and the caucus system along with it.

The good news is that Biden came in fourth. The former Vice President was clobbered not only by the two progressive candidates, but also by the mayor of a medium sized Indiana city who had never even won a statewide election before. This won’t be enough for Democratic Party grandees and their media flunkies to decide to send him back to pasture, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Then, the day after the caucuses, Donald Trump, the worst American president ever, delivered the dumbest, most mendacious, and most belligerent State of the Union address in U.S. history. It was essentially his campaign rally speech, but with a tad less red meat thrown in for his base.

Along with impeachment, that speech seems to have caused his approval ratings to rise, almost to fifty percent. Evidently, in Trump’s America, despicability (“deplorability” in Clintonese) radiates out.

On the plus side, some Democrats boycotted the speech and others walked out; best of all, Nancy Pelosi tore up her copy when it was all over.

But, as is their wont, most Democrats were civil to a fault; indeed, way beyond a fault. Why, for instance, with the cameras running, did they not all lose their dinners when the Donald had his aging trophy bride bestow the Medal of Freedom on one of the pioneer buffoons of rightwing talk radio, the heinous and mortally ill but still bloviating Rush Limbaugh, aka “the driveling dirigible?”

In other “breaking news” – these days there seems to be no other kind – there was Trump’s acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial, notwithstanding the fact that he had been proved guilty as sin, many times over and far beyond any reasonable doubt.

Then he spent the next day congratulating himself and the Republican Party (minus Mitt Romney) for “vindicating” his sorry ass. Unless that was his guile talking, the man is utterly without self-awareness or shame.

***

It goes without saying that the world would now be far better off had Hillary Clinton, the Queen of Chaos, as per the title of Diana Johnstone’s 2015 book, and of ineptitude, and the very embodiment of the neoliberal-liberal imperialist-corporate and Wall Street friendly politics that made Trump possible, not managed to lose in 2016. She lost to a third-rate conman and reality TV character, an amoral narcissist whose every word, tweeted or uttered aloud, is a transparent lie.

That took some doing. Bill Clinton gave opportunism a bad name; now Hillary has done the same for rank incompetence. Go Clintons!

And, believe it or not, with another presidential election looming, there she is again, fuming against Sanders and going into hiding to avoid being served with a subpoena arising out of Tulsi Gabbard’s defamation suit. Clinton accused Gabbard of being groomed to be a Russian agent. She must have been channeling her inner Trump, perhaps even her inner Roy Cohn. The difference is that she has no Dershowitz ready to mouth off about how she has every right.

Towards Gabbard, she and her media buddies are merely dismissive and condescending. Towards Sanders it is something else altogether; she is going after him with all the vim and vinegar she and her pitiful loyalists can muster. Even James Carville is in on the act; still hideous after all these years.

No surprise that she would blame the rival that she and Debbie WTF Schultz’s DNC rigged the nomination process against for her 2016 loss; she blames everything and everybody but herself. It is her way.

The truth is, though, that once Sanders threw in the towel, he campaigned for her more times than she and Bill together can shake a stick at.

In short, Hillary is a piece of work.

Like many others, I had hoped that one of the few good things to come from her defeat would be that for a while at least, unless and until Chelsea gets the bug, we wouldn’t have Clintons to kick around anymore. But that nasty woman won’t give up.

Nearly everyone took it for granted that Clinton would win in 2016. Trump ran to boost his brand; Sanders to get his ideas out and to move the Democratic Party leftward. Perhaps, as many thought at the time, he also ran to keep justifiably wary progressives on board the Clinton bandwagon. These seemed like reasonable motives at the time.

But Clinton and the Clintonism she espouses defeated these expectations.

The good news is that, despite her efforts, Sanders’ views have not just gotten a hearing; they have taken root and flourished.

The bad news, of course, is that while the Trump brand may have taken a hit, Trump himself, along with Ivanka and Jared, and Trump’s idiot adult sons, aided and abetted by the kakistocrats they have empowered, have given the lie to the formerly comforting thought that, no matter how inane and shallow our politics becomes, “it can’t happen here.”

“It,” of course, refers to home-grown American fascism of the kind that Sinclair Lewis wrote about in his thusly named1935 novel, and to what Philip Roth had in mind in The Plot Against America (2005). “Kakistocracy” is a venerable but much underused term meaning rule of the worst, the most inept and most vile.

Sanders got, and deserved, criticism for all he did for Hillary four years ago; she got and still gets far too little for being a first-class ingrate.

Sanders did nearly all he could, but he could not do the impossible; he could not get his supporters enthused.

Many Americans, some three million or more than voted for Trump, understood that, compared to the alternative, Clinton was of course the lesser evil. But hardly anyone who was not a woman of a certain age intent on seeing a woman elected president in her lifetime could actually enthuse over the prospect.

Had Sanders split the Democratic Party back then, either by going over to the Greens or by running independently, he would have made himself politically unviable in much the way that Ralph Nader did twenty years ago, but to a far greater extent.

Of course, we now know that Hillary would have lost anyway; that she assured her own defeat regardless of anything Sanders might have done. Prospectively, though, no one could have known this for sure, no matter how inconceivable a Trump victory may once have seemed.

Therefore, the good that would have come by striking a blow at our disabling duopoly party system, and therefore at “bipartisanship,” would likely have been more than outweighed by the harm that would have been done to the prospects for making the Democratic Party more than just a perennial lesser evil after the 2016 election was over.

How successful the Sanders campaign will be over the next few months in that monumental endeavor remains to be seen.

Success depends on Democratic voters not falling for the torrent of nonsense spewing forth from corporate media scribblers and chatterers – MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is an especially egregious example — and from politicians on the campaign trail about the purported virtues of “moderation.”

Let’s be clear: moderation is about keeping that wretched party’s establishment — and its “donor class,” as Sanders calls their paymasters — in power. Sanders is hardly a radical, but it is a good bet that, in their hearts, those miscreants would rather keep him out of power even more than they want to see the Donald go.

Luckily for them, and unluckily for the world, they can easily deny the evidence that is so readily at hand, the lesson of the 2016 election above all, because they seem to have common sense on their side. That would be the kind of common sense that, say, led physicians years ago to insist on patients remaining bedridden for long stretches of time after major operations.

That advice seemed so obvious that it hardly even needed to be tested against the evidence. In time, however, countervailing evidence became impossible to ignore. A sounder approach would have become apparent sooner, but for the fact that sometimes things worked out satisfactorily for surgery patients anyway; not because of excessive bedrest, but in spite of it.

More likely than not, something much like that would be the case in the 2020 election, even if Democrats again go moderate, as they did in 2016. If Trump continues to decompose mentally in plain sight, and as more facts about his past and present seep through the seemingly impermeable skulls of his supporters, even moderates, even Biden, should have no trouble defeating him. This would be a far surer outcome, however, were the Democrats to nominate Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

There is some irony in the fact that, at the same time that the chances of getting anything good, rather than merely less bad, out of the Democratic Party have improved – thanks mainly to Sanders’ campaigns and the 2018 elections – moderates have become even worse than they used to be.

The Democratic Party’s donors vetted Barack Obama out the wazoo before the 2008 election, as did the party’s establishment. He passed these tests with flying colors. The powers that be wanted a moderate, and that is what they got.

They also got someone who was intelligent, cautious, and wise; and who, like Jacky Robinson, was a good choice for breaking through the color line. Before Obama picked him to be his running mate, Biden, being Biden, praised him for being “articulate and clean.” He was more than that.

However, his virtues did not stop him from becoming President Drone, the Deporter-in-Chief; and they didn’t stop him from saving the banks after the financial debacle of 2007 and 2008, but not the people that neoliberal banking practices brought to ruin.

On the plus side, though, his moderation didn’t stop him from moving the country closer to regarding health care as a right, albeit by moving forward in disabling ways and in baby steps, or from keeping neocon and liberal imperialist chicken hawks, Democratic and Republican alike, from expanding the Bush-Cheney wars beyond Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Israel lobby was, and still is, eager for the United States to launch a potentially catastrophic war against Iran; so were the Saudis and their allies among the Gulf states; and so were the neocons in America’s foreign policy establishment, people like John Bolton, the odious creature now deemed “the adult in the room” by the liberal commentariat. To his credit, Obama held these pressures off as best he could.

And while he was not above Cold War revivalism or going after China – his administration’s euphemism was “pivoting” towards Asia — he was not especially gung-ho about that either. In short, he was about as good as a Clintonite could be.

Unfortunately, that would be not good at all – not good in its own right, and not good for having laid down the foundations for Trump’s rise to power.

A Hillary presidency would have been a third Obama term only worse; and, while times have changed, it is still relevant that Biden is worse even than she.

Every initiative of consequence that Clinton has ever taken on has come to a bad end – from Hillarycare in her stint as First Lady, to Honduras, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and so on in her Madam Secretary days. Biden, however, has never been right about anything.

Arguably, some of the other moderates, even Buttigieg, are marginally better, but each and every one of them is bad news too.

And now, as if the mainstream Democratic Party isn’t already bad enough, the DNC has given hyper-billionaire Michael Bloomberg its imprimatur.

If Bloomberg wants to throw away his money on TV advertisements or whatever — a pittance for him, but nevertheless a king’s ransom even in a process that already runs on obscene levels of spending – then by all means let him do it. Think of it as a stimulus package with a message that, even when not overtly noxious, would be well countered by chants of “Eat the Rich.”

Tom Steyer is at least a good billionaire; his express positions are in no way worse than the best that any of the moderates have to offer. But Bloomberg is already leaving him standing in the dust.

In any case, the idea that only billionaires can save us, is a lot less appealing than it once seemed, especially now that Sanders has shown how “we, the people” can mobilize to save ourselves.

***

Billionaire Bloomberg’s candidacy, like Clinton’s pleadings and, most amazing of all, John Kerry’s musings about entering the race himself – so far he is still a Biden surrogate — show how firmly resolved the anti-Trump sectors of the ruling class are. They are determined to keep their power intact, to cede nothing or almost nothing. No fundamental challenges allowed!

If all goes exceedingly well, the Sanders campaign could lead to fundamental changes, but hardly anything that Bernie is now proposing is at all radical. Even so, it is enough to cause the powers that be to circle round the wagons.

It is no longer just a matter of CNN and MSNBC, and our “quality” press, “reporting” on the electoral circus as if the Sanders campaign weren’t happening. Eventually, what we might call, following Freud, “the Reality Principle” made that strategy unsustainable. A no-holds-barred corporate assault is therefore underway. Expect it to intensify mightily in the weeks and months ahead.

In much the way that the UK’s Brexit vote presaged Clinton’s ignominious self-inflicted defeat, the attack on Jeremy Corbyn, by Blairites and other neoliberal UK ruling class toadies, and by the British version of our Israel lobby, portends what will soon be coming down here. Corbyn’s honorable but self-defeating way of dealing with the situation also offers lessons on what not to do.

Corbyn’s socialism was more socialist than Sanders’, and, unlike Sanders, he has been a true and consistent anti-imperialist throughout his long political career.

Nevertheless, outside some still marginal Congressional quarters, Sanders is the best, perhaps the only, friend the Palestinians have in mainstream American politics at the national level; and his opposition both to Islamophobia and to genuine anti-Semitism is as good as it gets on our shores.

Needless to say, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, much less criticisms of Israeli governments and their ethnocratic policies, are not the same thing, notwithstanding the decades long efforts of Zionists in Israel and around the world to identify the two. Their latest ruse is “the working definition of anti-Semitism” proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), a bit of tendentious chicanery that rightwing and centrist governments and institutions have taken up with glee. By identifying anti-Semitism with morally defensible political positions that are in no way anti-Semitic, the IHRA definition aids precisely what it purports to combat.

The positions Sanders takes on Israel-Palestine are actually quite “moderate” – he even still promotes the so-called “two-state solution,” despite the fact that, thanks to Israeli settlements policies, there is hardly any land left for a viable and independent Palestinian state. Even so, his views, essentially the views of most voters, including Jewish voters, too young to draw Social Security pensions, are way out in left field compared to those of the Democratic Party’s grandees.

Corbyn was shamelessly smeared not quite for being an anti-Semite – that charge would be too preposterous even for the likes of a Dershowitz to level – but for not fighting Labor Party anti-Semitism militantly enough. That charge too was nonsensical but, like so much of the nonsense that the Israel lobbies of the world promote, it did gain traction and resonate.

Sanders and his supporters should prepare for AIPAC et. al. to launch a full Corbyn against him. Since he is Jewish and proud of it, they will have a hard time calling him an anti-Semite. Expect, however, to hear a lot about “self-hating Jews.”

The way to deal with this, and also with the broader corporate assault upon his candidacy, is not to turn defensive. That was Corbyn’s mistake. It is to go on the offense with all the might that Sanders and his supporters can muster.

This will involve threading the needle with care. Even before Mitch McConnell, taking time off from packing the federal judicial system with retrogrades and troglodytes, engineered a Senate impeachment trial that was, as even Chuck Schumer was moved to say, “perfidious,” it was plain that the Republican Party, the party of the spineless, base, and servile, would never let Trump be convicted and removed from office.

And so, the task falls to the electorate – assuming, of course, that Trump won’t somehow manage to abrogate the election results if they don’t go his way.

On that score, Democrats ought now to be preparing for what they will do should Trump encourage the hardcore “deplorables” who crawled out from under the rocks he overturned to rampage in ways that disrupt the normal transfer of power. That certainly could happen here.

However, for even a peaceful electoral rebuke to come out well, not just in the first week of November, but also in the many weeks, months, and years after that, it will be necessary to assure that what ought to be a tactical alliance only does not turn into a strategic retreat.

From a strategic point of view, Rashid Tlaib was absolutely right to call on her supporters to boo the name of Hillary Clinton, and to lead them in that derisive, and much criticized, performance herself. But that bit of political theatre was injudicious at a tactical level at this point in time.

It is like when anti-fascist protestors disrupt Trumpian speakers. Then attention turns to the morality of the disruption itself, not to the morality of what the disruption was about.

There can be times when disruption does do more good than harm, but those times seldom arise. Tlaib was forced to apologize for booing because she was insufficiently sensitive to situations of that kind.

Civility and militancy can go hand in hand, however; and, for progressives obliged to make common cause with Clintonite Democrats, it will be imperative to find ways to do precisely that.

Sanders, so far, has shown a way. The task for his followers is to follow his lead, but also not to let him give in strategically the way he did – perhaps wisely, perhaps not — in 2016.

***

Sanders would also to do well to follow Warren’s example, when she started campaigning with Julián Castro. For her, a Latino male from Texas, a state with plenty of electoral votes, that could conceivably go Democratic this year, is just what the doctor ordered.

African Americans, it seems, are still largely in Biden’s corner. Of all the Democrats running, he would almost certainly do them the least good, but many older, less progressive African Americans don’t seem to get it; in their minds, Biden is Obama’s best buddy, and Obama is the next best thing to God.

In truth, what Obama did for African Americans, he did mainly just by being there. In nearly all other ways, his administration had precious little to boast of. The only significant exception was how, on Obama’s watch, already enacted civil rights laws were generally well-enforced. That was mainly the doing of his Attorney General, Eric Holder.

However that may be, times have changed; just being there isn’t enough anymore.

Thus, Cory Booker, another Wall Street friendly African American Senator, has not been able to gain traction, even though he is, in many respects, more Obama-like than Obama himself. For much the same reason, Daval Patrick’s candidacy has been, so far at least, all but stillborn.

Kamala Harris too has been unable to play the “of color” card to her advantage. Poor Kamala, she had not been able to play the female card well either. Could it be because she has prosecutor written all over her?

I used to joke about how she would make a fine head of the secret police. I would now say that if she really wouldn’t rather stay in the Senate, that she would probably make a fine Attorney General.

Were that to be her fate, we could take comfort in the fact that she does not seem likely to let certifiable criminals from the Trump administration, including Trump himself and his adult children (minus Tiffany and plus Jared), off the hook. That would put her many notches above Holder whose inclination, like Obama’s, was to give Bush-Cheney era war criminals a pass.

Despite her reported flirtations with the Biden camp, and her lately acquired determination to walk on the moderate side, Harris probably still could redeem herself by becoming Bernie’s Castro.

Ayanna Pressley would be more politically compatible and would surely be better for enthusing the base. But she is committed for the time being to Elizabeth Warren and would probably not want to renege on that commitment. Also, she is from Massachusetts, a state whose Electoral Votes are already in the Democratic Party’s pocket.

I wonder whether Val Demings might serve the purpose. Among the many good things the impeachment exercise accomplished was to bring her to national attention.

Compared to some of the other impeachment managers, especially the Cold War mongering Jason Crow and Hakeem Jeffries, and even Adam Schiff at his most Clintonesque moments, her performance both at the House impeachment inquiry and then in the Senate “trial” was admirable.

If she too is obsessed with the mainstream Democratic Party’s storyline about the wickedness of Vladimir Putin and those pesky Russians he keeps under his thumb, and is smitten by the purported righteousness of freedom-loving (actually, fascistically inclined) Ukrainians, it didn’t show.

Demings used to be a cop and then a police chief; this is not necessarily a bad thing. Better a cop than a prosecutor, and better than most, indeed nearly all, businesswomen or men.

However, Demings’ membership in the New Democrat Coalition, an agglomeration of Clintonites and other moderates, is worrisome. Perhaps she is there more out of political necessity than conviction. This should be fairly easily to ascertain once journalists and political operatives take an interest in finding out.

Perhaps because she was a cop, Demings seems tough as nails in ways that would cohere well with, but also complement, Bernie. Best of all, she is from Florida, a swing state with nearly as many Electoral College votes as Texas.

In short, if her politics is or seems like it could soon become consistent with Sanders’, she could be just what Team Bernie needs. It is worth looking into.

Sanders and many of his supporters go on about how they are making a “political revolution.”

They are indeed doing a lot to make America great again – not in any way that Trump and his hardcore followers are equipped to understand, but in the way that only a continuation of the best aspects of New Deal-Great Society politics can.

Sanders is a good liberal in the true American sense, a homegrown social democrat; revolution is not what he is about.

Even so, thanks to Trump, and despite Clinton and the mainstream Democratic Party, it could fairly be said of his supporters that, if all goes well, their movement could indeed take on a revolutionary character in the fullness of time. It could also be said that, even now, there is a world to win.

A suitable running mate, chosen sooner than later, preferably before the Nevada and South Carolina primaries, would help mightily in that regard.

A not very old, female running mate “of color,” who could become a fine president herself in the Bernie mold should the need arise, would help not just in the general election to come, but also in the primaries and caucuses more immediately ahead, where, in the face of a party establishment and ruling class onslaught, the obstacles Sanders – or if it must come to that, Warren – will have to defeat are panning out to be considerably more formidable than the obstacles either of them would face running against Trump.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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