In the beginning, Anna Langthorn was just another Democrat with a broken heart. True, like most progressives, she’s spent the last six months in emotional turmoil. But this—the very beginning of her political career—was before all that. Langthorn, who at 24 was recently elected to be the youngest ever Oklahoma State Democratic Chair, hadn’t lost an election or seen her candidate concede. She’d never even voted.
That was almost a decade ago, and she was only 17—still in school and recently dumped. “This isn’t a very feminist story,” she cautions, laughing. But, she explains, she’d been broken up with and was “incredibly distraught.” In desperate need of a distraction, Langthorn picked a new hobby almost at random. Sure, she figured, why not politics. “I already read the news and was politically aware—probably more than the average 17-year-old,” she says. “But I wasn’t very involved or proactive.” She immersed herself in local campaigns, places where passion, even obsession, were not only considered normal, but rewarded. Langthorn got involved with the local Democrats and volunteered, landing internships during her last two years of high school with candidates and the state party apparatus itself. She skipped most of the pomp and circumstance of her own high school graduation to attend the Oklahoma State Democratic Convention (“I couldn’t miss it!”) and worked on campaigns throughout college.
I believe, deeply, that we have to be leading on women’s issues and LGBT issues and the issues that are affecting communities of color while we drill down on that economic populist message. We need to fight for fairness, but we need people to know that we’re fighting, which isn’t happening in the state now.
But I don’t think we have to temper our message or water down progressivism to appeal to older voters. Voters want good health care and they want good housing and good education. They may say, in rural Oklahoma, that they’re less concerned with black lives, but there are black rural voters that need to be reached and engaged too. They may say they don’t care about abortion, but plenty of women are getting abortions and even more are getting access to birth control under our current laws.
Insider Dems simply do not accept the fact that the party must break its bonds with big money and link itself with grassroots activists.
By John Nichols
The most significant election result for Democrats on February 25 wasn’t the selection of former labor secretary Tom Perez as the new party chair at an all-too-predictable gathering of Democratic National Committee members in Atlanta. It was the result announced that evening in Middletown, Delaware, where environmental attorney Stephanie Hansen won what was supposed to be a close special election for an open State Senate seat with 58 percent of the vote. That win gave Delaware Democrats something their party now has in only five other states: “trifecta” control of the governorship and both houses of the legislature. In other words, they can govern.
The point of political parties is to win elections, thousands of them, in communities like Middletown, and to add those victories together so that people with a shared set of values—as opposed to the same campaign donors—are in control of city councils, legislatures, and Congress. Democratic insiders lost sight of that point over the years, becoming so presidentially obsessed that they told themselves they could somehow survive without legislators and governors, congresspeople and senators. If they could just keep the presidency, these Democratic partisans imagined, everything would be OK—and the media, which is more focused than ever on Washington, reinforced that fantasy. Then Hillary Clinton lost, and the Democrats suddenly recognized that they were at their weakest point since 1928 in the House, and at their weakest point since 1925 in the states.
No matter who won the competition between Perez and Representative Keith Ellison to lead the DNC, the new chair’s only real job was always going to be to end this losing streak. That’s not some crass partisan calculus; it’s an absolute necessity if America is going to undo not just Trump and Trumpism but the program of inequality and injustice that contemporary conservatives advance. Ellison had the bolder vision for merging the “demonstration energy” of the resistance to Trump with the “electoral energy” that Democrats must muster in 2018. His approach extended from the left-wing, small-donor-funded, millennial-energizing presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders, which Ellison backed—and which Perez, and most of the party establishment, opposed. The Working Families Party’s Dan Cantor described Ellison’s narrow defeat as “a missed opportunity”—and so it is. But it’s important to recognize that a majority of DNC members were willing to miss that opportunity, as they’ve missed so many others over so many years.
Quo Vadis, Senator Bernie Sanders? For months Sanders has scored higher in the national polls against Donald Trump, than Hillary Clinton, highlighting some of her drawbacks for the November showdown. Yet, with one primary to go next Tuesday in the colony known as the District of Columbia, the cries for him to drop out or be called a “spoiler,” are intensifying. Don’t you understand that you have been vanquished by Hillary? You must endorse her to unify the party.
No, Bernie has other understandings beyond his principled declaration in speech after speech that his campaign is going all the way to the Democratic Party Convention. Between the June 14th D.C. Primary and the July nominating convention, lots can happen. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” (The run-up to the primary is a perfect time for Sanders and Clinton to forcefully advocate for DC Statehood.)
Maintaining the solidarity of Bernie’s voters increases the seriousness with which his drive to change the rules, rigged against insurgents, in the Democratic Party, led by the unelected cronyism of the Superdelegates, comprising nearly 20% of the total delegates. Sanders’s triad of protections for workers, students and patients, coupled with squeezing the unearned profits of Wall Street for a wide public works program, needs more visibility. Political Parties should be about serious subjects. Voters want to replace some of the tedious convention hoopla with some authenticity. Perhaps Senator Sanders could also urge Hillary Clinton to choose a running mate who would be more substantive and not just a tactical choice or an obeisant person. The pundits marvel at his ability to reject PAC money and raise millions from a large pool of small donors, with contributions averaging around $27—self-imposed campaign finance reform. The Chattering Class should also be impressed with how strongly Sanders’s message has resonated with the electorate.
There are still lessons that Sanders can teach the decadent corporate Democrats for whom this 2016 campaign may be their last hurrah. It is called political energy. It is the lack of political energy that explains why the Democratic Party, year after year, cannot defend the country from the worst Republican Party, on its own record, in Congressional history. It is political sectarianism that explains why the Democratic Party, with majoritarian issues at hand, has not landslided the Republican Party that votes for many bills which often register support under 30% in the polls. It is this absence of political energy, seduced by big money in politics, that the Sanders youth movement is aiming to topple. The Sanders people understand that breaking the momentum breaks the movement. That is why the longer range rebound of Bernie Sanders, right after Labor Day, must be mass non-partisan civic mobilization rallies driven by reforms and redirections that are for the people at large. That such class-levelling, peace-waging, freedom to participate in power for a more just society may benefit the Party’s electoral prospects is a collateral benefit from a galvanizing civil society.
Liberal critics like Paul Krugman argue that Sanders’s economic platform is unrealistic. They are dead wrong.
By Robert Pollin
Does Bernie Sanders’s economic program amount to pie-in-the-sky nonsense? The short answer is no. All of his major proposals are grounded in solid economic reasoning and evidence.
But that hasn’t stopped a major swath of leading liberal economists and commentators to insist otherwise. Paul Krugman has led these attacks from his New York Times perch, charging repeatedly that Sanders makes “outlandish economic claims,” embraces “deep voodoo” economics, is “not ready for prime time,” and so forth. A recent Washington Post article by columnist Steven Pearlstein cites several other liberal economists criticizing Sanders’s support for Scandinavian-style social democratic policies, concluding that his program “promises all the good parts of the Scandinavian model without any of the bad parts.”
Sanders’s economic agenda certainly represents a dramatic departure from what has come out of mainstream Democratic Party circles for a generation, to say nothing, of course, of the Republicans. The key elements of Sanders’s program include a “Medicare-for-all” single-payer healthcare system; an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour; free tuition at public colleges and universities, to be financed by taxing Wall Street transactions; opposition to trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that have weakened the wage-bargaining power of US workers; large-scale public investments to build a clean-energy economy and rebuild the crumbling US infrastructure; and strong Wall Street regulations to promote productive investments and job creation over casino capitalism.
By contrast, the Democratic Party under Bill Clinton embraced an only moderately less aggressive pro-business agenda than the Republicans. Clintonomics featured Wall Street deregulation, NAFTA, and only tepid support for policies benefitting working people and the poor. This is how, over the full eight years of the Clinton presidency, average wages ended up being 2 percent lower than the average under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and nearly 10 percent less than under Jimmy Carter’s “years of malaise.”
When Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders told The Nation last year that he was “prepared to run for president,” he said he would do so only if it was clear that progressives were enthusiastic about a movement campaign seeking nothing less than “a political revolution.” It was an audacious proposal—but after traveling the country for a year, Sanders decided that the enthusiasm was there and announced in late April as a candidate for the Democratic nomination. There were plenty of doubters then. Two months into the campaign, however, everything about this candidacy—the crowds, the poll numbers, the buzz—is bigger than expected. That says something about Sanders. But it also says something about the prospects for progressive politics. In late June, The Nation sat down with Sanders for several conversations that asked the longtime Nation reader (“started when I was a University of Chicago student in the early 1960s”) to put not just his campaign but the moment in historical perspective for our 150th-anniversary issue:
The Nation: Your campaign for the presidency has surprised people. The crowds are big; the poll numbers are stronger than the pundits predicted. You’re a student of political history. Put what’s happening now in perspective. Are we at one of those pivot points—as we saw in the 1930s—where our politics could open up and take the country in a much more progressive direction?
Sanders: Obviously, we’re not in the midst of a massive depression, as we were in the 1930s. But I think the discontent of the American people is far, far greater than the pundits understand. Do you know what real African-American youth unemployment is? It’s over 50 percent. Families with a member 55 or older have literally nothing saved for retirement. Workers are worried about their jobs ending up in China. They’re worried about being fired when they’re age 50 and being replaced at half-wages by somebody who is 25. They’re disgusted with the degree that billionaires are able to buy elections. They are frightened by the fact that we have a Republican Party that refuses to even recognize the reality of climate change, let alone address this huge issue.
In 1936, when Roosevelt ran for reelection, he welcomed the hatred of what he called “the economic royalists”—today, they’re the billionaire class—and I’m prepared to do that as well. That’s the kind of language the American people are ready to hear.
The Nation: As long as we’re talking about the evolution of public policy, let’s talk about the evolution of a word: socialism. You appeared on ABC’s This Week and, when you were asked whether a socialist can be elected president, you did not blink; you talked about socialism in positive, detailed terms. I don’t believe a presidential candidate has ever done that on a Sunday-morning show.
Sanders: Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, often criticizes President Obama, incorrectly, for trying to push “European-style socialism,” and McConnell says the American people don’t want it. First of all, of course, Obama is not trying to push European-style socialism. Second of all, I happen to believe that, if the American people understood the significant accomplishments that have taken place under social-democratic governments, democratic-socialist governments, labor governments throughout Europe, they would be shocked to know about those accomplishments. One of the goals of this campaign is to advance that understanding…. How many Americans know that in virtually every European country, when you have a baby, you get guaranteed time off and, depending on the country, significant financial benefits as well. Do the American people know that? I doubt it. Do the American people even know that we’re the only major Western industrialized country that doesn’t guarantee healthcare for all? Most people don’t know that. Do the American people know that in many countries throughout Europe, public colleges and universities are either tuition-free or very inexpensive?
I have always believed that the countries in Scandinavia have not gotten the kind of honest recognition they deserve for the extraordinary achievements they have made…. The Danish ambassador, whom I talked to a couple of years ago, said to me that in Denmark it is very, very hard to be poor; you really have to literally want to be outside of the system. Well, that’s pretty good. In Denmark, all of their kids can go to college; not only do they go for free, they actually get stipends. Healthcare is, of course, a right for all people. They have a very strong childcare system, which to me is very important. Their retirement system is very strong. They are very active in trying to protect their environment…. And, by the way, the voter turnout in those countries is much higher; in Denmark, in the last election, it was over 80 percent. Political consciousness is much higher than it is in the United States. It’s a more vibrant democracy in many respects. So why would I not defend that? Do they think I’m afraid of the word? I’m not afraid of the word.