Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Bernie Sanders and the Revolution to Come

Passing the Progressive Torch: Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders

And so democratic socialist standard-bearer Senator Bernie Sanders has suspended his campaign for the Democratic Party nomination for US President.

With around half the primaries contested, he trailed former Vice-President Joe Biden by over 300 delegates and with surveys giving Biden a roughly 2:1 advantage in forthcoming contests, Sanders could not see a realistic way to win. Coupled with the hobbling of his campaign, which had thrived on mass rallies and town hall events, by the coronavirus crisis, the institutional barriers thrown up by the Democratic Party establishment in the form of the Democrat National Committee have yet again stopped any progressive traction within the party.

There is some evidence of ballot tampering - notably, on Super Tuesday, when Biden's campaign decisively pulled ahead after a dreadful start, data indicated something amiss in states where Sanders won the exit polls but lost the actual vote, but with extraordinary differences well beyond the normal margin of error. And from the outset the mess in Iowa stymied Sanders' momentum, although it did get moving afterwards for a short period until the sudden turnaround in favour of the previously badly flailing Biden in South Carolina. The withdrawal of all the centrist candidates in favour of the clearly ailing former VP, coupled with Elizabeth Warren's refusal to back Sanders when she withdrew, effectively handed the nomination to Biden and his vague, liberal platform.

And so, just as Corbyn was crucified by a range of tactical manoeuvring by his centrist opponents and their corporate media paymasters in the UK, so in the USA once again the Establishment has spiked and neutralised a major challenge. They may be popping the champagne in the DNC tonight, but in truth the path ahead for them is infinitely harder than the typically pompously naive centrists can imagine.

Joe Biden - confused
For Joe Biden has to be arguably one of the worst, if not the worst, candidates the Democrats have ever nominated. Aside from his self-evident health issues, which appear to be some form of dementia or Alzheimers, his provenance is poisonous.

While faced with the mercurial Trump some may still fondly remember the Obama years, when Biden served as the President's loyal deputy, many aspects of his career raise serious questions - his civil rights record, contrary to his propaganda, is poor going back decades, as has been his approval of wars and welfare cuts. A rape allegation from a Democrat activist and former staffer of Biden has gone uninvestigated alongside a myriad of other issues about his invasion of women's personal space and unwelcome touching. And while Democrats may have invoked legal process to try to impeach Trump as ineffectually as Don Quixote tilting at windmills, the incumbent President was in fact worrying a very real sore when he tried to induce the Ukrainians to investigate Biden's son Hunter over his lucrative involvement in the energy sector in their country.

Senior Democrats seem to acknowledge this and blatantly, having rid themselves of Sanders' challenge, rumour is rife that Biden will, in fact, not become their final candidate for President. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose profile has been substantially boosted by his very visible leadership of the state's response to the Covid-19 epidemic, or even former 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton, are both touted as possible replacements, in spite of neither having won a single delegate to the Democrat Convention. Taking the democracy, such as it is, finally and irrevocably out of the Democratic Party.

So what now for the progressive and socialist movement? Sanders' relentless advocacy for fully-funded public health has been completely and dreadfully validated as tens of thousands of US lives succumb to coronavirus, with poorer and ethnic minority communities disproportionately affected. His huge movement, which has effectively mobilised tens of thousands of younger people and others towards a socialist or at least social democratic platform, remains intact and vibrant, hungering for change and social justice. And with the pandemic set to utterly transform politics around the globe, the USA will be no exception.

All the inequality, the underinvestment in crisis preparation and lack of effective public health facilities and staff, as well as the low level of welfare in the USA, has never been more poignantly and powerfully evident than now. While President Trump has enjoyed, inevitably, a miniature boost in the polls as he heads up the government response to the national crisis, his veering backwards and forwards around how to respond to a threat he ignored for weeks, then played down for weeks and for which even now he declares all manner of wild and unproven solutions that never turn out leave him vulnerable to attack.

Just as Cameron and Osborne's prominent involvement in the Remain campaign handed the UK Euro-referendum to the Brexiteers, so the DNC's eagerness to put up Biden or Clinton or even Cuomo against Trump plays directly into his hands in the November poll. It is unsurprising that a leaked recording showed that he feared Sanders above all other potential Democrats - for Sanders' stance on issues like opposing free trade deals like the job-thieving NAFTA, or on tackling the influence of political lobbying in "the swamp" posed a direct threat to Trump's tried and tested card, even as the incumbent, of being in Washington but not of it. While centrists fantastically claim that Biden can reach out to supposed "moderate" Republicans who nevertheless backed Trump in 2016, in truth, it is Sanders' agenda of radical change that is far more likely to cut into the President's base of the alienated and oppressed working class and turn their anger into something more positive.

By contrast, Biden or Clinton could not appeal to such voters in a century of trying - it is precisely because of them and their betrayal of the decades' old New Deal Coalition that Trump and other populists have been able to rise and harness voters' disillusion into racism and xenophobia rather than challenging the gross wealth of the tiny elite.

With a clearly misplaced loyalty, Sanders has already lauded Biden in a show of unity, while stating he will stay on the remaining primary ballots, though inactively, in order to influence the final party policy platform in the autumn. But that is almost certainly a forlorn hope. Biden and his ringmasters have made clear that they will stick with the same unimaginative, business-as-usual Democrat agenda that left Trump catapulted into the Oval Office four years ago.

Sanders' socialist torch will now pass on, skipping a generation from him to much younger politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and their colleagues in the Progressive Caucus within Congress and others outside the legislature. The Green New Deal, central to Sanders' movement, will continue to inspire and attract millions of younger voters as the climate crisis eclipses by far the current virus pandemic, but it will also increasingly raise the question of how long, and why, they should persist with the institutionally totalitarian, pro-corporate, corrupt Democratic Party - or go their own way. With socialism as popular as capitalism among young US adults even before the current crisis, new routes to change will inevitably be mapped out and taken. If ever there was a time for a third party/ independent run by a credible progressive candidate, it is now.

Third parties are effectively barred from competing in the USA, a fact missed by much of a world  still dazzled by the propaganda that it is supposedly the "land of the free". While not formally banned, they frequently have to find much higher, often prohibitive thresholds of sometimes tens of thousands of electors to nominate their candidates while Democrats and Republicans enjoy automatic ballot access and even then remain excluded from the public funds handed over to the two main parties. With the media stitched up to advocate the status quo, like much of the rest of the world, voters are powerfully corralled into voting for the "right" candidates, who, contrary to myth, are distinctly not the best of the USA.

Yet the Republicans themselves once replaced the Whigs almost overnight, and strong third candidate Presidential runs have occurred as recently as 1992 when Ross Perot polled nearly one in five votes running as an independent on an anti-free trade platform. With Biden or any replacement distinctly flaky and Trump vulnerable over the Covid-19 crisis and the economic one to follow, could there be a better time? Wouldn't a Sanders-Cortez ticket, perhaps in conjunction with existing radical third parties such as the Greens, have a uniquely powerful chance of delivering the revolution he and his supporters have worked so hard to prepare for?

It sadly remains an unlikely outcome, but in a world of social lockdown, viral pandemic and economic dislocation, this may be the best and possibly last chance to effect real change to the USA, and the rest of the world, before the gathering storms of global warming, resource depletion and societal collapse hit our fragile Earth.

And while an independent candidacy is remote, the challenge will endure - the ideas and the movement Bernie Sanders shaped, harnessed and energised will go on. As the crises facing the planet and our species become clearer, its cry will become sharper, and as the vested interests threatening our survival are ultimately forced break cover, its demands will become ever more radical.
 "Not me. Us."

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