Media talk and speculation about the primary contests is so non-stop that one hesitates to add one’s bit to the noise. Still, we’re at a point where each of us may be ready to take stock of what’s shaping up and what we see ahead.
Here is my take, with my own set of hopes, fears and uncertainties.
I support and am inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign and expect to vote for him in the California primaries. I don’t think he will win. I know that millions of his supporters, especially the young, don’t share this old man’s assessment (or the apparent media “consensus”) . I guess I’m glad they don’t because they are busy changing political “reality”. The Sanders campaign has expanded awareness on the nation’s most fundamental economic and political problems. If the movement generates staying power in the political life of the country, it may prove to be the catalyst for progressive change we so badly need.
Despite its astonishing accomplishments, the Sanders campaign is obviously not free of flaws and problems. For her part, Hillary Clinton reenforced in the primary debates some worrisome characteristics and connections familiar through her many years of experience in government and politics. I’ll get back to that, but none of my questions challenge an overarching conviction: whether it’s Hillary or Bernie as the nominee, nothing less than the most expansive and united democratic coalition, through and beyond the elections, can defeat the reactionary onslaught that Trump, Cruz and the GOP have unleashed.
It should not be taken for granted that the outlandish GOP spectacle — the racism, xenophobia and open hostility to democratic values — guarantees that a Trump or a Cruz would face certain electoral defeat. The Trump phenomenon reflects deep problems that are not temporary. The mass frustration and anger surfacing in this long electoral season will only grow if our crisis of economic inequality and political disfunction continues to deepen. Pundits like to equate the “populism” of Trump with the Sanders call for a “popular revolution”. History tells us that even though both speak to widespread public discontent, they are as different as night and day. During the great crises of the 1930s, the populism of democratic, trade union and socialist movements accomplished major reforms and strengthened democracy in the USA and many other countries. The outcome of ultra-right populism in those years was very different, never to be forgotten.
It isn’t a simple task to bring about solidarity among all those determined to defeat Trump, Cruz and what they represent. Neither Clinton nor Sanders can count on automatic support from constituencies that favor one over the other in primary contests. Rivalry between the two candidates has been heated even though each agrees that the other is much better than any GOP alternative. The differences between them are not trivial, and some are so important that they will continue to be battled over long after the next president takes office.
Differences are not necessarily a bad thing, but they are not all of equal significance. Among voters, there are bound to be different judgements and priorities that determine individual choices. Some choose Hillary mainly because they want her to be our first woman President. That judgement is certainly worthy of understanding and respect even if one favors Bernie.
While Sanders’ criticisms of Clinton wound her, I believe they are important and necessary beyond tactical campaign considerations. His all out challenge to Wall Street and the corrupting role of big money in politics is the cornerstone of his campaign’s exceptional appeal, especially among youth. It also offers some guidelines for an ongoing movement to achieve fundamental social change.
The frank airing of differences, fueled by the persistent anti-Wall Street message of the Sanders campaign, has revealed that the base of the Democratic Party (along with a large swath of independents) is well to the left of the Democratic establishment. That pressure has moved Hillary to adjust her positions on some important economic and social justice issues. But the long term connections of the Clintons to big money and Wall Street are an undeniable drag on prospects for basic change if Hillary takes over as President. It isn’t that nothing significant can be gained with a Democratic president who is not Bernie Sanders. However, more important than any individual is whether pressure for a “popular revolution” against oligarchy and for social justice becomes an irrepressible influence in politics and in every battle over vital issues.
In fact, there is a very major issue that calls for a lot more pressure on Hillary Clinton. She has yet to budge on matters of foreign and military policy. It’s not just a matter of “judgement” going back to her support of the US war in Iraq. As Sanders notes, she has been a consistent advocate of interventionist policies aimed at “regime change” despite repeated disasters. She has won the confidence of the neocon war hawks, who are “comfortable” with her even as they trash Obama as “weak”. The Republicans in Congress badgered her over the killing of US diplomats in Libya, but her real culpability was leading the charge for another “regime change” that brought about chaos and an additional base for ISIS. Although she embraces Obama to her advantage in the debates, she fought his reluctance to risk another Libya-style military intervention in Syria and to try diplomacy instead. On Israel and Palestine, her talk to AIPAC was far from reassuring, except perhaps to Netanyahu and the right wing extremists who are expanding the Occupation and assaulting democracy within Israel itself.
There is no more important matter for the United States (or for the whole world) than the need for a pro-peace foreign policy. The top priorities have to be preventing nuclear war and coping effectively with climate change.
Many thoughts are crowding in as I write, but I know I’ve already gone on too long. The movement rallied by Sanders is huge and inspiring, but it is certainly not the sum total of progressive expression in our country. There are many committed progressives who are voting for Hillary in the primary contests, some active in important movements on economic needs, equality and social justice. The Sanders campaign has not connected fully with communities of color, especially in the South, yet progressive social change is inconceivable without their full and equal involvement.
Tom Hayden, one of America’s brightest and most committed activists for peace, has supported Sanders, but has decided to vote for Clinton in the California primary. I will vote for Sanders, assuming he’s still running, because I want his core message to resonate through the Presidential election and beyond. But all of us — progressives, liberals, socialists, democrats of every bent — will welcome each other in the good fight to bar Trump, Cruz or any such from the White House.
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News out of Virginia: Gov. Terry McAuliffe, insider Democrat and long-time Clinton ally, "used his executive power on Friday to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons, circumventing the Republican-run legislature." Would that have happened without "Black Lives Matter" and the focus on reform of the criminal justice system during the Clinton-Sanders debates?
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