By Robert A. Vella
When I was nine years old, my parents finally got a divorce. Although the tortuous, drawn-out process was a traumatic experience for everyone involved, we were all extremely relieved once it was over. The need to keep the family together for the children’s sake was overwhelmed by the disharmony caused by the two parents living in close proximity to each other and hating every minute of it. It was a classic case of irreconcilable differences.
I remember quite vividly the verbal exchanges between mother and father. As time went on and the animosity rose, simple disagreements turned into heated arguments, opposing opinions turned into vicious insults, communication turned into open hostility, and lucidity turned into irrationality. A very messy divorce, it was.
Call me hyperbolic, if you will; but, what I see happening now within the Democratic Party looks eerily similar. The establishment versus populist divide which has erupted this year between centrist Hillary Clinton and progressive Bernie Sanders shows no signs of abating. Both sides have dug-in to their respective entrenchments, and the exchanges between the two camps are becoming more personal and more nonsensical with time.
“Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”
In an embarrassing display of political subjectivity, Joshua Holland of The American Prospect wrote this puzzling editorial on Friday, titled Will Clinton Move to the Center? Don’t Bet on It.:
Conventional wisdom on the left holds that Hillary Clinton is poised to tack right as she moves into the general election. “Triangulation,” after all, is the Clinton brand; the common view is that centrism must course through their veins.
But Clinton will almost certainly prove this view wrong, and not because big donors’ influence has waned, or because she’s a leftist at heart. The reality is that dramatic shifts in the American electorate and innovations in modern campaign strategies have made courting the center both inefficient and less effective. It’s not the 1990s anymore.
Huh? If Hillary is poised to tack left for the general election, then why didn’t she do so during the primaries when the electorate was dramatically more liberal and progressive? Holland’s reasoning (which you can read for yourself) makes no sense at all, and instead suggests a desire to see an American electorate that could have materialized but never did because of growing populist discontent and civic disengagement primarily amongst the young.
David Corn of Mother Jones offered a completely different view Friday, though no less subjective, on the Clinton/Sanders battle, titled Can Bernie Sanders Take Yes for an Answer?:
Bernie Sanders has won. Not the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Another candidate in the race collected millions more votes and secured a majority of delegates. But Sanders, the independent socialist senator from Vermont who has spent most of his political career running against Democrats, has achieved a tremendous ideological triumph. He has pushed—or pulled—Hillary Clinton, that other candidate, and the entire Democratic Party in a progressive direction, while proving that his anti-corporate, big-money-bashing populism of the left can inspire millions.
That’s a big deal. A two-term senator who had a small national following and not much influence on Capitol Hill prior to his presidential crusade has become a policy kingmaker. He now must ask whether what he has accomplished is good enough to allow him to turn to the task of defeating Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee. Or does Sanders really believe he should continue his fight against Clinton and the party?
So, according to Corn, Bernie was successful in pushing Clinton to the left and now should fade back into obscurity for the sake of defeating Donald Trump – presumably because the November electorate won’t be so liberal nor progressive (the opposite view of Joshua Holland). I might suggest that he reread his own editorial. Sanders is not a Democrat, he is in Corn’s own words an “independent socialist.” The Vermont Senator’s highest priority is not to defeat Trump, it is not to elect Hillary, it is not even for himself to win the presidency. Sanders’ highest priority is to restore a progressive agenda back into the political system which has both abandoned it and attacked it. What Mr. Corn and the Democratic Party establishment fail to understand is the very nature of progressivism and why it is so important to its supporters.
Democratic Party leaders often bemoan their schism with progressives, wondering why there’s so much friction between them when they all have so much in common. On social issues like civil rights, marriage equality, voting rights, education, abortion, immigration, gun control, police and prison reform, and a whole host of similar issues, there’s little-to-no separation at all. On many other critical issues such as the minimum wage and student debt, the policy differences are small and vary only in extent. Indeed, the number of issues which the party leadership and progressives generally agree upon is huge in comparison to the number of issues which separate them. However, those few issues in disagreement are really big ones; and, two might be insurmountable – the neoliberal empowerment of corporations over people, and an imperialist foreign policy.
From Time – What Bernie Sanders Still Wants:
The biggest test of Sanders’ enduring influence will come next [now this] week in Orlando, Fla., when a draft written by a small group of Sanders and Clinton allies goes up for a vote before a 187-member committee of Democratic delegates. [clarification by The Secular Jurist]
Sanders aides said in interviews that the biggest issue at stake—and the one where they may have the most leverage—is opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation trade deal that President Obama supports.
“It’s NAFTA on steroids,” Zephyr Teachout, the Democratic candidate for Congress in New York’s 19th district, said in an interview. Teachout, a Sanders endorser, is a rising star in the Democratic Party’s progressive ranks. “It offshores jobs and offshores power.”
It is the policy plank where Sanders and his aides believe they have the most leverage. But opposition to the TPP did not make it into the draft of the platform, largely because of President Obama’s influence.
From CNN – Sanders: Clinton too willing to use U.S. military:
Bernie Sanders unleashed a sharp attack on Hillary Clinton over foreign policy on Sunday, casting her as too eager to use U.S. military force and saying her family charity’s acceptance of foreign countries’ contributions could be a conflict of interest.
The Vermont senator told CNN’s Jake Tapper the former secretary of state is too quick to “rush in” and remove dictators and he criticized Clinton’s approaches to Iraq, Libya and Syria.
“I worry about that, yeah, I do. I think her support for the war in Iraq was not just an aberration,” Sanders said of Clinton’s vote to authorize the Iraq War, in the interview that aired on “State of the Union.”
“I think that her willingness to kind of push President (Barack) Obama to overthrow (Libyan leader Moammar) Gaddafi and lead to the kind of instability that we’re seeing now in Libya — not inconsistent with her other views on Syria, where she wants a no-fly zone, which I think can suck us into never-ending conflict in that area,” he said.
To progressives, Hillary Clinton is a corporatist, a globalist, a warmonger, untrustworthy and corrupt (see: Lynch meeting latest episode to strain Clinton trust). To the Democratic Party establishment and its supporters, Bernie Sanders is a disruptive socialist, a protectionist, a pacifist, idealistic and unappreciative of political pragmatism. Here’s a sampling of comments recently posted to this blog which espouse these views.
From Sanders: Wins and Losses in effort to make the Democratic Party platform more progressive:
“Apparently, then, the Democratic Party no longer cares about the environment, workers or people who still can’t afford quality health care? Disappointing, even with the slight concessions deigned wins. Have to keep an eye on that Glass-Steagall one – seems pretty squishy. The environmental stuff sounds written to appease the fossil fuel industry and totally nix any progress on climate change.”
“Clinton’s attempts at appeasing the left were always feeble at best. Look for a Clinton Administration to be even less progressive than the Obama Administration has proven to be. TPP Appears headed for a vote in the lame duck session, which would negate any need for her to backtrack on that one again – unless she openly opposes the notion of lame duck passage before the election.
Minimum wage legislation is so far overdue that states have had to raise theirs in lieu of a raise of the Federal rate. Sad that George W. Bush was the last to raise it.
You are right, I think, to say that they are bound to serve interests which do not care about these issues. Those interests seem diametrically opposed to ours in this regard. Too bad we lose out when dealing with GOP or Corporate Dems. Since that is the choice we seem to have been given in this election, I’m not optimistic we’ll see many positive outcomes pertaining to these issues for at least the next four years”
From Dear Tony Blair: It’s Not the Pitch, It’s the Product.:
“I simply don’t see how to move fully forward without someone tough enough to use the back room type deals, who knows the skeletons of other lawmakers, who can put pressure on the opposition and use their own actions against them. I believe Hillary Clinton is the one who can do that. I think she is realistic enough to know their is a limit right now to how far things can be bent to the progressive side, and has the steel and fortitude, the connections to make progress happen and turn back the tide of regression.”
“See that is why I did not support Senator Sanders, because he insists on jumping from point A to point Z with no steps between. Instant health care for all. Free shooling for all. Heck we can’t get partial health care for some, and we are seeing public schools cut to the bone and deeper by the opposition. I support universal single payer health care. I have been in countries where it works great. I have canadian relatives that love the system they have. But there is NO way to go from what we have to the end product without a lot of steps in between and arguably much deal making.”
From Hillary’s Centrism: Who needs the Left, anyway?:
“Hillary is an excellent Republican candidate this year, which is what all neocons know and why they support her.”
“To me, I would vote for mickey mouse if he had a chance to beat trump, trump must never get near the white house and the Presidency.”
“You know, I don’t mind Bernie Sanders challenging Clinton in the primary, and I would support him as I reluctantly supported President Obama when she conceded to him. No the problem I have with Senator Sanders is after the race was run and he even admitted he lost, he still couldn’t bring himself to do the honorable thing. He seemed to me to turn into the very people I am against, those who lose but still insist on having things ALL their way regardless. If he had stopped and supported the outcome, I and I have read many of those on the democratic side would have championed more of his wants and ideals. However he is draining the good will that some had by simply insisting on dragging it all out publicly. He is losing the ‘high Road’ to wallow in the mud by insisting on still having his way… by saying over and over he got so many votes..( which he can be proud of yes ) but denying the many more votes for clinton. He is disregarding the voters supporting Clinton the same way he is insisting NOT be done to his supports. That is two faced and self serving and diminishing of him and his movement. I am sorry but now instead of seeing him as a gallant challenger sticking up for the far progressive movement, wanting what was almost impossible to achieve without intermediate steps, he now seems to me to be another in a sad pile of self serving politicans trying to have his glory, not to relinquish the stage after his act was played. He seems to have gone from a person of the people to a self righteous old man who refuses to give up the crowds of admirers he never drew before and won’t ever have again. That will be his legacy I am afraid of, because I did and do want more for him. He seems to me now an old actor refusing to admit the others have moved on without him, refusing to acknowledge their place , desperate to hold on to the last few ovations and the bit of applause he can get. It may be even in his mind he sees himself the winner in a contest he lost. I had wanted him to go out with his head held high, saluted by the party he never joined but demanded so much from, and then be a senior statesman ready to stand proudly for the people. I no longer think of him that way sadly because he refuses to leave the limelight to let the other do their part.”
If I was a counselor arbitrating a marriage dispute, I would advise the unhappy couple to go their separate ways. Irreconcilable differences are… well, irreconcilable. I’m beginning to see anecdotal evidence of a strong push towards third-party candidates from voters who currently identify as Democrats, Republicans, and Independents (see: Election 2016: Not Enough Clothespins). Like the song said…
“There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear”
Wonderful and informative piece.
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Thanks again, Jeff.
A shake-up is needed. I’d only hope the earthquake would be strong enough for you guys to adopt a parliamentary system.
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I agree! I agree!
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