Monday, March 07, 2016

Should Democrats Worry About Their Own Possible Civil War?

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With the Republican Party in what amounts to an officially declared civil war and its would be standard bearers being more or less all crazy, it would be easier for Democrats to gloat.  However, the reality is that the Democrat Party has its own divisions and truly serious issue of voter apathy, indifference and, in my view out right laziness.  Elections truly matter, yet too many in the Democrat base literally sit on their asses and fail to vote unless a particularly charismatic candidate manages to motivate the.  Worse yet, the party establishment is out of touch with the base in many ways albeit not as horrifically so as in the case of the GOP. In addition, the Democrat establishment has not pandered to hate-filled extremists and Neanderthals as has been the case with the GOP for over 35 years or more.  A piece in Salon looks at the very real issues that the Democrat establishment needs to address (Are you listening Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Hillary?).  Here are excerpts:

Yeah, I know, let’s back up for a minute. I said “post-Bernie landscape.” Deal with it. I’m not going all “I told you so,” even though I did. There really was an opening after New Hampshire, a moment when we all sensed a potential tipping point that could have happened but didn’t quite. That window slammed shut in Nevada and South Carolina and across the South, and I’m not buying the higher-math hypotheses about how Sanders might make inroads with African-American voters in other regions in a way he spectacularly failed to do in the South, and then might win Michigan or Ohio or Florida and push on toward a big victory in New York that flips the race upside down again. I could certainly be wrong, because wrongness is the order of the day in 2016. But I think the next few weeks are about Bernie’s supporters moving through the stages of the K├╝bler-Ross model and coming to grips with reality, helped along ever so much by uneasy Clintonite gloating.
But here’s the real point: None of that is actually the point. What happens next is far more important. If the Bernie Sanders campaign of 2016 had a purpose, and still has one, it goes far beyond Bernie Sanders. If the question was whether a septuagenarian senator from Vermont who calls himself a socialist could win the Democratic nomination or the presidential election, the answer was always exceedingly likely to be no. We were all startled to discover how possible and even plausible “yes” looked, for a moment there, and in that possibility we caught a glimpse of a possible future. Bernie Sanders was at best a highly imperfect messenger for such possibilities of political revolution and democratic redemption. If you were designing a candidate to be unelectable on a national scale, you could hardly do better than a crotchety old Jewish guy from Brooklyn whose political ideology has not budged since 1963 and who represents the smallest and most liberal state in the nation. (OK, I exaggerate: Wyoming actually has fewer people than Vermont, not to mention a lot fewer NPR listeners.) 
Indeed, the most striking aspect of the Sanders phenomenon is that he came as close as he did, given how poorly suited he was for the role. Let me say it again: Bernie Sanders was never the solution, and Hillary Clinton, much as she has done to earn the ire and mistrust of critics on the left, was never the problem. They are both symptoms or symbols, and in the short run the outcome of their symbolic collision was not in doubt. But the long run, and the collision between the forces behind Clinton and Sanders — that’s an entirely different matter.
As Sanders’ most ‘roid-raged and testosterone-fueled supporters will ultimately admit, Hillary Clinton is vastly preferable as president to any possible Republican, semi-lovable Rust Belt New Ager John Kasich included. If Clinton runs against Trump or Cruz or Rubio, each of whom is a dangerous opponent in a different register, the distinctions are stark and undeniable. She represents what I recently heard Jeb Bush describe as “regular-order democracy,” and look where that got him. Those guys represent pitchforks and screaming and strange things on fire and the most gruesome scenes from “Game of Thrones.” You won’t catch me hauling out the “Coke vs. Pepsi” line from the Ralph Nader era in this particular election. The 2016 choice is more like last week’s Nestea from the back of the fridge versus a foul-smelling mystery beverage that might be diesel fuel or lawn chemicals or sorority-house vomit, but that someone in a Halloween mask has promised will get you really wasted. 
For Hillary Clinton and the political faction she embodies or represents, America is pretty much OK, both in itself and in its relationship to the world, and American politics are mostly OK too. Yeah, the Republicans have gotten really weird and increasingly crazy and some significant tweaks are needed to correct for that: We need to consolidate gains in LGBT rights and push back on women’s reproductive freedom and confront the lingering legacy of racism. We can make guns a little tougher to buy, make college a little more affordable and make sure that working people have slightly more resources and better healthcare. Those are not bad things! Moreover, it’s understandable that to many Democratic voters those sound like realistic and potentially achievable goals, whereas the Sanders agenda of “political revolution” and free stuff for everyone sounds unhinged and impossible.
The problem with all that is not the agenda itself but the reassuring frame of “regular-order democracy” around it, in which such things might actually happen. No such democracy exists, which was and is the fundamental point of the Sanders campaign. You won’t hear Hillary Clinton use the term “oligarchy” to describe the way the United States is governed, as Sanders does in every stump speech. Why should she? She’s one of the oligarchs, or more properly one of their trusted employees. You won’t hear her say that free-market capitalism has utterly failed to improve the lives of ordinary people, or that the neoliberal economic regime of low taxes and government austerity is a disastrous scam that has robbed from the poor and given to the rich. Or that much of this resulted from the deregulation of financial markets carried out by her husband’s administration and a Democratic Congress, as directed by their oligarch overlords.
Hillary Clinton genuinely believes, I suspect, that things are not nearly as bad as hothead Bernie makes them sound, that most of the problems are things a competent and compassionate administrator can fix, and that the Democratic Party hasn’t made any fundamental mistakes. Change a couple of the proper nouns and that is exactly, word for word, what Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney believed too. A similar comeuppance may be on the way. The Democratic establishment is desperately trying to ignore the moment of popular awakening embodied by the Sanders campaign, or to explain it away. Hence we are told that only young white people want single-payer healthcare, tuition-free public universities or a $15 minimum wage. 
We’ve heard the arguments from advocates of the Democratic Long March for many years: On some uncertain day that lies just beyond the visible horizon, we will have our permanent demographic majority and we can start nudging the party away from being the Slightly Gayer Republicans and back toward genuine progressive priorities and policies. 
What those people generally don’t explain is who’s going to make that happen in a political party that has deliberately stripped itself of any core ideology or fundamental set of principles (I’m sorry, but “niceness” and “tolerance” do not count), a party that lacks any coherent socioeconomic base and whose voters no longer even pretend to care unless there’s a charismatic presidential candidate at the top of the ticket.  We already know that the devastating GOP sweep of the 2014 midterms, which produced the largest Republican congressional majority since Herbert Hoover was president, resulted from record low turnout and widespread voter apathy.
Party insiders and “activists,” if any can still be found in that demoralized institution, can’t and won’t make any of that possible. It will take a rebel incursion, an invading force of newcomers from outside the Democratic Party and outside politics, to inject the necessary vitality. It will take a new generation who don’t carry the scars of the Cold War and the Reagan era, who are uncontaminated by the party’s ideological decay and free of its defensive assumptions about the nature of political reality.
Hillary Clinton will almost certainly be the 2016 Democratic nominee, and of course our attention will now shift to the historic nature of her candidacy. But the strange curse that has followed Clinton’s entire career refuses to release its grip, and in the year of the Sanders revolution and the Trump garbage fire she feels a little bit like yesterday’s papers. I think that’s a big reason why Clinton supporters seem so angst-ridden; even in victory she’s had the rug pulled out from beneath her once again.
It was the campaign of Bernie Sanders — quixotic, doomed and fighting uphill against enormous odds — that struck genuine terror into the hearts of the political establishment.
Even in apparent defeat, it introduced us to a newly politicized generation and a whole range of unimagined possibilities, and made clear that the Democratic Party fortress is not as well defended as everyone thought. As we have seen so vividly at the other end of the spectrum, a political party that has drifted off its moorings and alienated its base can become a zone of invasion and conquest and heated internal conflict. Such a conflict has been brewing on the left for decades, and now it’s here. As we have also seen, it could get ugly.
Nothing shows the rot within the Democrat establishment more than Debbie Wasserman Schultz supporting pay day lenders who are the equivalent of loan sharks.   In my view, she needs to go as DNC chair.  That said, notwithstanding her flaws, we must make sure Hillary wins the White House in order to save the nation form more GOP insanity.

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