By Yves Smith. This article was first published on Naked Capitalism.
On every conceivable front, the Democrats double downing down on the strategy that led them to hemorrhage losses in representation, meaning power, at every level of government. In keeping, more and more voters are leaving the party.
The latest repeat of a failed strategy is to try to smear Sanders in a cack-handed effort to win over his base. This is as likely to succeed as calling Trump voters “deplorables” did.
The reality is that the Democratic party leders have no strategy. Instead, they are taking the playbook of a mad scientist in a kitschy horror movie, frantically spinning dials and flipping switches as his invention has gone out of control. His control, needless to say.
The Democrats’ actions made clear they were fixated on the Federal government patronage and revolving door goodies that control of the Executive branch conferred. Beyond the state-that-is-almost-a-country of California, the lucre isn’t large enough for them to deviate from their stance of being party of the 10% and trying to hold onto their traditional base by being marginally less God-awful than Republicans. Reader johnnygl flagged this section of a Washington Post story on how the post-election strategy of Russiaphobia plus Trump bashing plus yet more identity politics isn’t working with voters:
Democrats have lost considerable ground on this front. The 28 percent who say the party is in touch with concerns of most Americans is down from 48 percent in 2014 and the biggest drop is among self-identified Democrats, from 83 percent saying they are in touch to just 52 percent today. That is a reminder that whatever challenges Trump is having, Democrats, for all the energy apparent at the grass roots, have their own problems.
Let’s put this more bluntly: even with Trump turning out, whether by virtue of capture, inclination or not caring, backing solidly Republican positions, with his impulsive foreign policy shows of manhood as an added huge negative, Democrats are becoming more and more immune to lesser-evilism. The party has tried to fool voters too many times with hope and change and other pro-worker cant while delivering the goods only to their wealthy patrons. The defectors aren’t coming back until the party starts to deliver for them.
The Unity campaign is revealing how desperately the Democrats are clinging to their self-delusion. They seem to believe that they can kick Sanders and his voters and yet still get them to turn out at the polls for them. By contrast, Sanders, who knows what moves his base isn’t him personally but his policies, has only upside from participating in this charade. He gets a platform to keep selling his message, while the Democrats kid themselves that they can peel away his supporters without making concessions.
One proof that the operatives recognize the Unity campaign is backfiring is the upsurge in attacks on Sanders via the most loyal Democratic party mouthpieces, the Washington Post and the New York Times. With the election proving that the establishment media doesn’t have much sway with great swathes of the public, these hit pieces are tantamount to throwing water balloons at Sanders from the Acela: they may make gratifying splashes but they don’t do real damage. But they demonstrate yet again how committed the party remains to losing if winning requires giving more to ordinary citizens.
The first smear masquerading as reporting, Bernie Sanders’s strange behavior, ran last week in the Washington Post. It was so obtuse, presumably by design, that I remarked then: “This is either a candidate for ‘Most clueless political piece every written,’ as in ‘What about ‘power struggle’ don’t you understand?’ or Democratic party authoritarianism in action. The two possibilities are not mutually exclusive.”
The article, by Aaron Blake, is intellectually dishonest from the get-go. This is its first paragraph:
Bernie Sanders has embarked on a “Come Together and Fight Back” tour with with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez. But he’s not really helping on that first part.
Really? Sanders launched a Unity Tour and Perez and the Democratic Party establishment decided to come along? This sort of “unity” charade is a Democratic party fixture.
Let us not forget why this exercise is even seen as necessary. The Democrats are trying to win over Sanders voters who correctly saw the selection of Perez as DNC head over Sanders’ pick Keith Ellison as a big fat middle finger to them. This “Unity Tour” is the 2017 analogy of the many efforts to “reintroduce” Hillary Clinton to voters, as if after decades of overexposure, they were somehow in the dark as to what she was about. They presume that if Perez hits the road with Sanders, they’ll come to like the new DNC, even though it is just the same as the old DNC.
The benefit to Sanders is that this is so patently foolish is that all he has to do is play along. He gets to go around the US and keep pitching his preferred policies.
But as Perez is getting boos at virtually ever whistlestop, someone must be at fault! And it can’t possibly be that the Democrats are trying to get the dogs to eat dog food that they’ve already rejected. No, it must be Sanders’ doing. The article proceeds from the straw man that it is Sanders’ job to create Democratic party unity, when the onus is on the party to find a way to reach his voters.
Put it another way: the Post, presumably reflecting the views of the Democratic elite, sees voters as chattel. They actually seem to believe that Sanders is like an old Tammany hall boss, or a union leader, who can deliver a block on his say so. So look at the things the Post views as offenses:
He said that he still isn’t actually a Democrat
He repeated his line that President Trump “did not win the election; the Democrats lost the election” — drawing some angry responses from Hillary Clinton supporters who see this as either a shot at her or as something that Sanders’s primary campaign contributed to (or both)
Sanders’s message has differed from Perez’s in a couple key ways
The big hissy fit, however, that Sanders hadn’t endorsed Ossoff yet, stating yet another obvious fact that Democrats don’t want the children to hear: “Some Democrats are progressive, and some Democrats are not,” and saying he didn’t know enough either way to decide.
Sanders did relent and endorse Ossoff. While purists are unhappy over that move, the reality is that his support will make perilous little difference either way in an affluent district in the South. And as reader Marina Bart pointed out in comments, the tisk-tiskers are missing the real play:
If the entire corporate media is aimed against you, it is very hard to fight back. Six corporations control something like 90% of media distribution in this country, and they deliver the messaging their plutocratic owners desire. Now add Silicon Valley’s corporate-controlled social media platforms, which have the same masters, same agenda, and same willingness to manipulation what information their users can access. Activists alone cannot win national elections. We need some sizable chunk of the millions who don’t really like or want to think about any of this, whether because they’re comfortable or despairing. They want the same policies we want. They just don’t want to work hard to get it, or grapple psychologically with the real situation we’re facing, because it’s upsetting. To reach those voters, we need some media coverage that isn’t aggressively hostile or deceitful. That’s why the Unity Tour was a brilliant thing for Bernie to do, even if it means getting prodded into sort of endorsing a hack like Ossoff.
Bernie is trying a strategy to take over the party from within. To do that means things like “Okay, sure, I’ll “endorse” Ossoff. He’d be better than a Republican. But he’s no progressive, and we need a progressive movement.” And then the Dems scream at him again, and try to squeeze better compliance out of him, but the damage TO THEM is done — lots of discussions of Ossoff’s positions, which means more people find out that he’s opposed to universal health care. I saw people all over the place in the last few days saying they had given Ossoff money and now they were sorry. Next time, maybe they’ll do a better job of vetting the candidates the neoliberal Dems are pushing.
And Bernie trundles on, saying things the corporate media has been hiding: how the Democratic Party lost seats all over the country during Obama’s term, just how bad that is. He’s shown the DNC Chair to be a boor and a boob.
He’s making it much harder for the Democrats to run the play they’re trying to run. He’s slowing down their ability to promulgate numerous false stories about who they are, how popular they are, what policies are popular, where their money goes — all of this is really helpful to any real change, no matter what comes next.
The effort to beat Sanders into line became more obviously two-faced with another hack job, this one in the New York Times, At a ‘Unity’ Stop in Nebraska, Democrats Find Anything But.
The cause celebre is that Sanders has backed a young progressive, Heath Mello, who is running for mayor of Omaha. Per the fixation of the Democrats with the top of the ticket, since when have they cared about a mayoral campaign, particularly in flyover?
Mello’s offense is that he is being depicted as anti-abortion. But that is a trumped up charge. Mello is Catholic. He’s adopted the formula that many Catholic campaigners have so as not to offend fellow Catholics who might be inclined to vote for him: to say he’s personally pro-life but politically supports abortion rights.
So what is his sin that has gotten the attack dogs after him, when anyone with an operating brain cell knows the real issue is his economic positions? This is apparently the only real dirt:
Mr. Mello, a practicing Catholic, supported a Nebraska State Senate bill requiring that women be informed of their right to request a fetal ultrasound before an abortion.
Let us contrast that with the actions of Democratic party vice presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, who also took the position that he is personally pro-life but politically supports the right to abortionsper Politico:
He pledged in his 2005 gubernatorial campaign to reduce the number of terminated pregnancies in the state by promoting adoption and abstinence-focused education. That cycle, the state NARAL chapter ripped Kaine’s GOP opponent, Jerry Kilgore, as “an extremely anti-choice candidate” but still withheld its endorsement of Kaine because he “embraces many of the restrictions on a woman’s right to choose.”
In a 2007 NARAL scorecard, Kaine was described as a “mixed-choice” governor and his state got an F grade thanks in part to a number of laws and other policies restricting access to abortions. Two years later, Kaine upset both local and national reproductive rights groups by signing a law that authorized the sale of customized “Choose Life” license plates. Kaine argued he was supporting free speech, but his critics complained that the law would fund pro-life organizations and didn’t square with another very important hat that he was wearing at the time: Obama’s personally picked head of the Democratic National Committee.
And proving how captured groups will go to bat for Team Dem, the validators for the attack on Mello and Sanders are the heads of the American Federation of Teachers and the pro-abortion group NARAL. But did either of them object to Tim Kaine’s clearly dodgy record? From the same Politico story quoted above:
Tarina Keene, president of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, declined to comment specifically on Kaine’s stance on abortion. Instead, she issued a statement focused on her group’s reasons for endorsing Clinton.
Oh, and what about the sainted Obama, who doesn’t have the vexing problem of having been raised Catholic? Or the Clintons?
In fact. both are official backers of the policy devised by Richard Nixon: of having abortions be legal but keeping them scarce by not having the government pay for them. That of course is not problem to the affluent 10% that is the Democratic party’s true base. The Hyde Amendment, the legislative embodiment of the “no Federal funding of abortions except to save the mother’s life or in cases of incest or rape, became law in 1976. The law was made more restrictive in the 1980s. The only change under the Clinton Administration was to allow for Medicaid to cover abortions for rape and incest.
Recall that Hillary Clinton said that in 2008 abortions should be “safe, legal and rare, and by rare, I mean rare.” categories that are not mutually compatible. And that is consistent with an earlier statement, reflecting her Methodist roots, that she saw abortion as “morally wrong”.
From an Atlantic story in 2016:
For the most part, Clinton’s stance matches the official stance of the United Methodist Church, or UMC—the tradition in which she was raised and remains a faithful member….To understand Clinton, according to her husband, “you should look first at her Methodist faith.” Her youth pastor and lifelong mentor, the Reverend Donald Jones, said she views “the world through a Methodist lens.”….
Clinton has made efforts to reach out to pro-life advocates and, The New York Times reports, she shows sincere respect for those whose stance is motivated by religious belief. It is not clear, however, that the public understands Clinton’s piety or the depth of her attachment to the Methodist tradition.
Needless to say, that resulted in Clinton in having a “nuanced” position on abortion that might look a tad too equivocal. Again from the Atlantic:
One of Clinton’s greatest challenges in the run-up to November will be to persuade the Millennials—people aged 18 to 35—who supported Bernie Sanders to go to the polls. Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum argued recently that young voters appreciated Sanders’ simple and clear rejection of limits on abortion: “He’s for X, full stop. He’s against Y, end of story. Millennials want a decisive answer, Drum said; otherwise it doesn’t “sound like the truth.” Because Clinton is open to regulations on abortion, progressive Millennials may see her as “another tired establishment pol who never gives a straight answer about anything.”
And Obama, the 11th dimensional chess player whose religion has never seemed to impinge on his politics? Obama issued Executive Order 13535, which extended the Hyde Amendment to Obamacare.
But you’d never know that reading the howls of the loyal camp followers, like Lauren Rankin in Allure, who followed close on the heels of the New York Times hit piece with Bernie Sanders’ Actions Show He Values Votes More Than Women. It apparently does not occur to her that a $15 hour minimum wage and other worker protections will give women a much greater ability to get abortions because more women who are now middle or lower income would be able to pay for them themselves.
And this is yet another demonstration of the Democrats embracing failure. Women’s fashion magazines were virtually ordering their readers to support Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Similarly, a female friend described Alternet’s pre-election editorial stance as “How to have better orgasms while voting for Clinton.”
Yet recent polls show that female tribalism didn’t work very well. Sanders has more support among women than men. It appears that women are more acutely aware of the precariousness of their financial position that fashion magazine writers and editors are.
In other words, the attacks on Mello and Sanders are rank hypocrisy. If you are card-carrying neoliberal, you are permitted to have “nuanced” positions on abortion. Bona fide progressives need not apply.
But as much as the mainstream media and orthodox Democrats try to have it both ways, savage Sanders yet win over his base, the more they will prove that he should proceed apace with his bottoms-up takeover campaign.