Papering over the party’s internal conflicts only led to defeat. Without open debate, victory will never come
By Bill Curry
In April, Bernie Sanders and Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez took off on a bumpy cross-country road trip. Their “unity tour” mostly served to highlight their differences and remind people that Sanders is not actually a Democrat. May it be a lesson to Democrats: Unity requires agreement, which requires debate.
Many expected 2016’s losing party to engage in fierce debate and a bloody civil war. Had Republicans lost, they’d have opened fire on one another in their concession speeches. Democrats took another tack. First, they rehired all their top management; their discredited consultants and decrepit congressional leaders. Then, in the spirit of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, they cancelled the debate.
Party elders say it’s no time to squabble. They always say that. The specter of an emotionally arrested, proto-fascist fraud in the White House adds force to their argument, but ducking debate is what got Democrats here in the first place. This is in fact the exact right time, maybe even their last chance, to have one. So, what’s stopping them?
In 2016 Sanders backers fumed over the Democratic National Committee’s conniving with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. But the DNC could screw up a two-car funeral. It’s too ineffectual to effect anything as big and complicated as an election. Progressives made Clinton. Without labor, she’d have opened the 2016 campaign with three straight losses (in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada). Labor’s top goals were blocking trade deals and enacting a living wage. Sanders was with labor. Clinton wasn’t. He outperformed her in nearly every general election poll. Labor went with her anyway, often without consulting the rank and file.
Most old line, Washington-based African-American, women’s, LGBT and environmental groups did likewise. It was the progressive establishment, not the party establishment, that secured Clinton’s nomination. The udemocratization of the Democratic Party starts with the democratization of the left.
Bernie Sanders won a handful of concessions in the Democratic National Committee’s platform, with the party lining up behind his vision on the minimum wage, financial regulation and other issues.
A draft version of the platform was released Friday, amid an ongoing battle to get Sanders to end his presidential campaign and endorse presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The platform explicitly calls for a $15 minimum wage, a position long espoused by Sanders.
“Democrats believe that the current minimum wage is a starvation wage and must be increased to a living wage,” the text reads.
“We believe that Americans should earn at least $15 an hour and have the right to form or join a union. We applaud the approaches taken by states like New York and California. We should raise and index the minimum wage, give all Americans the ability to join a union regardless of where they work, and create new ways for workers to have power in the economy.”
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.
The future of American democracy depends on our response to the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. And that legacy is not just about defending civil rights; it’s also about fighting to fix our rigged economy, which yields grotesque wealth inequality; our narcissistic culture, which unleashes obscene greed; our market-driven media, which thrives on xenophobic entertainment; and our militaristic prowess, which promotes hawkish policies around the world. The fundamental aim of black voters—and any voters with a deep moral concern for our public interest and common good—should be to put a smile on Martin’s face from the grave.
The conventional wisdom holds that, in the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton is the candidate who will win over African-American voters—that her rival, Bernie Sanders, performed well in Iowa and won New Hampshire on account of those states’ disproportionate whiteness, and that Clinton’s odds are better in the upcoming contests in South Carolina and Nevada, two highly diverse states.
But in fact, when it comes to advancing Dr. King’s legacy, a vote for Clinton not only falls far short of the mark; it prevents us from giving new life to King’s legacy. Instead, it is Sanders who has championed that legacy in word and in deed for 50 years. This election is not a mere campaign; it is a crusade to resurrect democracy—King-style—in our time. In 2016, Sanders is the one leading that crusade.
Clinton has touted the fact that, in 1962, she met King after seeing him speak, an experience she says allowed her to appreciate King’s “moral clarity.” Yet two years later, as a high schooler, Clinton campaigned vigorously for Barry Goldwater—a figure King called “morally indefensible” owing to his staunch opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And she attended the Republican convention in 1968! Meanwhile, at this same moment in history, Sanders was getting arrested for protesting segregation in Chicago and marching in Washington with none other than King itself. That’s real moral clarity.
With integrity and principle, the Vermont senator is calling Americans to a political revolution.
By the Editors of The Nation
A year ago, concerned that ordinary citizens would be locked out of the presidential nominating process, The Nation argued that a vigorously contested primary would be good for the candidates, for the Democratic Party, and for democracy. Two months later, Senator Bernie Sanders formally launched a campaign that has already transformed the politics of the 2016 presidential race. Galvanized by his demands for economic and social justice, hundreds of thousands of Americans have packed his rallies, and over 1 million small donors have helped his campaign shatter fund-raising records while breaking the stranglehold of corporate money. Sanders’s clarion call for fundamental reform—single-payer healthcare, tuition-free college, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, the breaking up of the big banks, ensuring that the rich pay their fair share of taxes—have inspired working people across the country. His bold response to the climate crisis has attracted legions of young voters, and his foreign policy, which emphasizes diplomacy over regime change, speaks powerfully to war-weary citizens. Most important, Sanders has used his insurgent campaign to tell Americans the truth about the challenges that confront us. He has summoned the people to a “political revolution,” arguing that the changes our country so desperately needs can only happen when we wrest our democracy from the corrupt grip of Wall Street bankers and billionaires.
Americans are fed up and fighting back. Seen in isolation, the Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter, the climate-justice movement, the immigrant-rights movement, the campaign for a financial-transactions tax, and the renewed push for single-payer healthcare may seem like unrelated causes. Taken together, they form a rising chorus of outrage over a government that caters to the demands of the super-wealthy, while failing to meet the needs of the many. They share a fury at a politics captured by special interests and big money, where pervasive corruption mocks the very notion of democracy.
In Bernie Sanders, these movements for greater equality and justice have found an ally and a champion. In contrast to the right-wing demagogues who exploit these crises to foment division, the Vermont senator has reached into a proud democratic-socialist tradition to revive the simple but potent notion of solidarity. We must turn to each other, not on each other, Sanders says, and unite to change the corrupted politics that robs us all. His campaign’s funding reflects this commitment, spurning the support of corporate super-PACS and relying instead on millions of grassroots donors. Thanks to his campaign’s integrity, Sanders alone has the potential to unite the movements emerging across the country into one loud, irresistible demand for systemic political change.
The rapper says Sen. Sanders has been a fighter for black rights for decades.
By Lelita Cannon
Earlier this week, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was parlayin’ with Killer Mike, throwing up what could inevitably be mistaken for gang signs, and going to soul food restaurants in The A like it was just a typical day in the ‘hood. Now, if that’s not a white man trying to assimilate into Blackness, I don’t know what is. That’s damn near the Blackest thing I’ve seen this year. Even Obama hasn’t courted his rapper-supporters in the same manner.
Moderate historical research on The Sand Man—my personal nickname for Bernie, because I hope he puts his wack-ass rivals to sleep come the 2016 election—will hip you to just how black this man is. He was born and raised in Brooklyn. In 1941. That’s less than 100 years removed from when black slavery (allegedly) ended in the United States. Before gentrification. Way before that lone pioneer Columbused–I mean, “settled”–downtown Brooklyn. Do you realize how black that is? I’m talking a Brooklyn that preceded Spike Lee Joints and bodegas.
The mainstream media continues to be shocked that Bernie Sanders keeps gaining traction against frontrunner Hillary Clinton. However, if you look at what Sanders actually stands for, it is well within the mainstream of what used to be the Democratic Party.
Ever since Jimmy Carter, it has been evident that much of the Democratic electorate, and for that matter much of the country, is more progressive in its core values than what Democratic presidents have been offering. As big money has crowded out grass-roots democracy, the policies that people crave are simply not on offer.
So there is a pent-up demand for a candidate who can articulate popular frustrations. The fact that a 74-year-old, self-described socialist transplant from Brooklyn to Burlington, Jewish no less, is the surging vessel of these demands only tells you how deeply felt they must be.
But Bernie is no more radical than, say, Harry Truman, FDR or LBJ (when he was thinking about domestic policies). My friend Peter Dreier, a few months ago, performed a real service when he compared key Sanders positions with public opinion generally.
As Dreier reported, overwhelming majorities of Americans support a higher minimum wage: 74 percent think corporations have too much influence; 73 percent favor tougher regulation of Wall Street; 58 percent support breaking up big banks; 79 percent think the wealthy don’t pay their fair share of taxes; 85 percent favor paid family leave; 80 percent of Democrats and half the public generally support single-payer Medicare for all; well over 70 percent of Americans support workers’ right to unionize; and on and on.
No wonder Sanders is gaining ground.
Republicans have been disparaging Democrats as socialists — even centrist ones like Barack Obama — ever since FDR. So if this be socialism, let’s make the most of it.
His achievements include the bipartisan VA reform bill: “Frankly, without him, I don’t think we would have gotten it done.”
By Sarah Mimms
In the Senate, Bernie Sanders should be all alone.
Sanders is constantly ribbing Republicans in his trademark condescending Brooklyn-accented tone. He offers up legislation that’s so far to the left that it couldn’t get a vote even under Majority Leader Harry Reid. He’s the curmudgeon in the Senate Democratic conference, rarely satisfied with how far his leadership will go to pursue progressive policies, and not afraid to vote ‘nay’ when his leaders come up short. And none of his Senate colleagues, on either side of the aisle, think he could ever be elected president of the United States; most of them even believe he shouldn’t be.
But rather than earning the frustration and ire of his peers in the vein of other Senate hard-liners such as Sen. Ted Cruz, Sanders has managed to be respected—even liked—by much of the chamber, according to members on both sides of the aisle. The Vermont independent actually has much more in common with Sen. Tom Coburn, the now-retired “Dr. No,” whose hard-line opposition killed many bills in the Senate but also earned him the respect of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
Sanders also has been able to work well with his colleagues. He’s passed bipartisan legislation and forged strong relationships with members of both parties in nearly 25 years on Capitol Hill. But most of all, members say, even when Sanders is ideologically an outlier, he lets others know where he stands. He’s not the type to suddenly stab a colleague in the back. And that’s earned him respect both on and off the Hill.
“A lot of people here talk about what they believe in, but they don’t act on it,” Sen. Mark Warner said. “He always acts on what he believes. … We can agree or disagree, but you know where he stands.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including Sanders himself, point to last year’s deal to improve the disastrous, scandal-ridden Veterans Affairs Department as a highlight. After weeks of negotiating with a cadre of Republican colleagues, Sanders helped pass the deal on a 91-3 vote in the Senate. “In a pretty dysfunctional Congress I helped pass, in a bipartisan way, the significant veterans bill, which increases health care to veterans and lowers waiting times, and I’m proud of that,” Sanders said. “That was a significant step forward.”
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.
Brooklyn-born, Vermont-fueled, Bernie Sanders promises a revolution if he’s somehow elected president next year. Does Hillary have to watch her back?
Mr. Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, violates most laws of American politics. He proudly calls himself a socialist, a label vilified by Republicans and avoided by most Democrats. He is not outwardly charming; he rarely glad-hands and his speeches are often mirthless. Like a modern day Jonathan Edwards, who found Eugene V. Debs rather than Jesus Christ, he thunders about the dying middle class and oligarchies eroding democracy. Cross him, like one camera-holding man who yapped at him in Keene to take a position on the Edward Snowden affair, and earn a stern rebuke. Why wouldn’t he answer the man’s question? “Because you’re rude, and you’re shouting out things and I don’t really like that,” Mr. Sanders groused.
Despite a thorny approach to retail campaigning, Mr. Sanders’ quest for the White House is on an upswing. Last week, a Wisconsin Democratic Party straw poll showed Mr. Sanders trailing Ms. Clinton only 49 to 41 percent among delegates. On Observer.com, Brent Budowsky wrote, “There is a very real prospect that Mr. Bernie Sanders wins an outright victory in the Iowa caucus.” Donations are flooding in; he raised $1.5 million in the 24-hour period after he announced his candidacy in early May. He has since raised cash from more than 100,000 individual donors.
For a long time, Mr. Sanders’ unbridled liberalism was out of vogue. The Clintons, slashing the welfare rolls and deregulating Wall Street, ruled the booming 1990s. The Soviet Union collapsed; some socialists had lost a lodestar, though Mr. Sanders firmly insisted it was the democratic socialism of the Scandinavian countries, and not the authoritarianism of Russia, that he extolled.
A Sanders supporter in Keene underscored this point, gently chastising a reporter for asking whether an avowed socialist could win over voters nationwide.
“He’s a democratic socialist, like another celebrated Jewish socialist—Jesus,” he said.
Still, after a one-term African-American senator with a funny name rose from nowhere to whip Hillary Clinton, the Sanders faithful are suddenly asking, And why not Bernie? What seems more far-fetched: Barack Hussein Obama, around 2007, becoming leader of the Free World or a socialist Jew (a member of Congress for 24 years and former mayor, to boot) becoming president in 2016? (Never mind Mr. Obama was telegenic and three decades younger.)