Last year I was writing at a different site and on April 10th I published a piece titled: The Real Issue in America is About Class, But the Politicians Won’t Talk About It. When I left that site all my writings were trashed, but I’ve recovered most of them. This particular post was written at a time when Hillary Clinton was assumed to have the Democratic Party nomination locked up and the smart money was betting on Jeb Bush to be the Republican nominee. Much has changed since then, most surprisingly being Bernie Sanders challenge of Hillary, in conjunction with Donald Trump seemingly the strongest Republican candidate. In this election cycle the media pundits have been gobsmacked by the twists and turns. This post, which was based on a great article I’d read, actually provides some explanation of what is really going on. I believe that nobody in politics fully understood at the time the ramifications of the 36 years of class warfare in America, waged since the election of Ronald Reagan.
Now five months before that piece, right after I had voted in the 2014 Election I wrote another piece: Bernie Sanders for President and Damn the Consequences, reflecting my disappointment in the election results. This article had also been trashed, but I recovered it as well. I’m combining the two posts now because I think the real explanation for the surprises of this election cycle is that the American people on both sides of the aisle understand that the current American “Game” is rigged against them and they are flocking to the two candidates that are not promising business as usual.
From April 10, 2015
Every so often I come upon an article that so perfectly sums up my point of view that I feel the urge to share it here. There are more than a few options open to me in doing so. I could paraphrase the article with quotes, but since the author expresses it so well, what point would that serve? I could link it, but if you’re like me, the probability of following the link would be subsumed by other things intruding on my consciousness. My solution is to present various quotes from the article as teasers for you to read the whole of it and leave the decision up to you if your curiosity is whetted. The Invisibility of Class, and the Hegemony of Conservative Ideas, in Contemporary America.
“The next long race to the White House is now upon us, and those who comment professionally on the comings and goings of American political life already have an emerging list of potential presidential candidates to follow around yet again. And as they do so, if the past is any guide, the important issues that go on without change, day after day, are likely to fall out of public view once more. Or if they do not, they are likely to be downgraded — in the dominant political dialogue — into issues whose only importance is the light they shed on the standing of one political candidate or another.
Poverty will likely be one such issue. Low wages, Income inequality, the rights of employees at work — these are likely to be others. All of them are issues of class with which leading politicians are invariably reluctant systematically to engage.”
The issue of economic class in America has become a topic that is either ignored, or dismissed as Marxist nonsense. By conflating a discussion of the American class system with radicalism is the technique used to ignore the obvious truths about our country and debase any political debate about how to deal with our country’s problems.
“The Republican Party is a major part of the problem here. Its politics combine a relentless denial of the importance of class in the creation of America’s current economic and social ills with a consistent servicing of the interests of the privileged section of the very class division whose existence Republicans are so keen to deny.
Partly the issue is a conceptual one. The invisibility of class is central to the Republican vision of a society of atomized individuals. Indeed it is difficult for anyone with such a view of the world to speak easily about classes at all. For once the argument is conceded that a group of people can have similar economic experiences and rewards because of the social position they collectively share, it becomes impossible to explain those rewards simply in terms of the personal qualities of the individuals receiving them. Leading Republican politicians often fudge this underlying and profound difficulty by blaming the federal government for all social ills — individual self-improvement blocked by political interference, not by class privilege — and by focusing their class analysis on Americans only as consumers. Many leading Republicans now concede that middle-class living standards are currently under pressure; but they do so while simultaneously ignoring the fact that members of the middle class are employees as well as consumers, and that accordingly will only experience a rise in their living standards if that is accompanied by an equivalent rise in their wages. Indeed, the status of Americans as workers does not normally loom large in the conventional Republican cosmology.”
The author explains why the issue of the middle class living standards is not important to Republicans and why Democrats ignore it as well.“……primarily the problem that Republicans have with talking about entrenched class divisions is that while many of them are actually well aware of the existence of such divisions they have nothing substantial to offer to those on the wrong end of the basic rich-poor divide. It could hardly be otherwise, given their party’s commitment to the notion of trickle-down economics (in spite of all the evidence about its ineffectiveness), and its passion for cutting taxes and government welfare spending (in spite of the evidence that such spending brings down the level of poverty more rapidly than any other single thing). You only have to note the content of the current Republican budget to recognize the Party’s willingness to erode still further the desperate plight of the American poor. This is a budget that increases military spending and reduces the rate of corporation tax while repealing the expansion of Medicaid to the near-poor and by phasing out improvements in the Earned Income Tax Credit and the child Tax Credit — effectively raising taxes in the process on more than 13 million low-income families. But since it does no good in a democracy to run on a platform that promises greater income inequality and yet more hardship for the least privileged, Republican lawmakers have to pretend otherwise — and they do. They do by regularly emphasizing a conservative social agenda, by continually telling people that prosperity awaits anyone who is willing to strive for it, and by persistently celebrating the existence of a class of the super-rich as a role model for the super-poor: this latter on the increasingly specious grounds that uniquely in America the rags-to-riches route out of poverty is still available to those with exceptional entrepreneurial capacities.”
The author shows that this ignoring of class issues is also done by the Democratic Party for reasons of their own.
“…….It is not as though the modern Democratic Party, and the coalition of interests that it seeks to represent, is as blind-sided by Republican rhetoric as the state of US public opinion might lead one to suppose. Democrats know about class divisions, and they understand the need to reduce poverty and increase wages. It is rather that, on a day-to-day basis, they continue to lump all their potential voters into the broad category they insist on calling “the middle class.” In conventional Democratic Party discourse these days, we are either all members of the middle class or we are welfare recipients, as though there is not still a recognizable American working class located precisely between the middle class and the poor. In consequence Democratic legislators tend to package their economic concerns as a set of discrete problems and requirements, and to subsume them into a wider agenda in which those problems and requirements have (at most) only equal status with a parallel set of social problems and requirements.”
There is a reason why the Democratic Party and liberals/progressives are uncomfortable with making their argument about class and instead focus upon discrete issues: ”
“This greater comfort, among American progressives, with the agenda and progress of social movements rather than with those of class forces is both understandable and costly. It is understandable, because one particular way in which American exceptionalism has historically demonstrated itself is by a uniquely American combination of economic exploitation and social oppression. The American working class as a whole has been exploited down the years in the standard capitalist way — paid less than the value of its output — to allow companies to accumulate excessive profits. But that process of exploitation has then been enhanced by the super-exploitation (the social oppression) of many of the workers involved — super-exploitation through the differential treatment of workers by virtue of their gender, their ethnicity and their race. Setting some workers against other workers, rather than setting workers as a whole against the employers who regularly underpay them, has been a genuine American specialty since the very beginning of the Republic, one that only very strong periods of working class industrial militancy and political radicalism has ever managed to challenge: the 1930s and late 1940s being the great examples. But the adverse impact of that division on the strength of progressive forces in the United States has been, and remains, enormous. For at the very least, it has left each social movement obliged to struggle on alone, winning some limited political and legal victories without being able to address directly the economic realities experienced by its members on a daily basis.
The rise of social movements in the absence of parallel economic ones has had one other serious long-term political consequence. It has helped push more and more white working-class men into the arms of a revitalized Republican Party. The failure of the modern Democratic Party, under its centrist leadership, to defend even so basic an economic right as that of forming a trade union — the failure, that is, to stop the spread of “right-to-work” legislation — has left more and more semi- and unskilled workers of all genders and all ethnic backgrounds vulnerable to the full vagaries of capitalist markets, and created such high levels of job insecurity across the entire base of the American labor force as to allow conservative politicians to play the old “divide and rule” class game all over again.”
In the last segment of this article the author David Coates expresses what he feels needs to be done to deal with the issue of “class” in America. I’ll leave you to read the entire article, which I think brilliantly lays out why ignoring “class” in the American political discussion, actually perpetuates the disparity between classes and has begun to destroy what we thought of as the “middle class”, which is forcing more and more Americans into dependent poverty.
This in essence is what account for the rise of Donald Trump on the Right and Bernie Sanders on the Left. The shrunken American Middle Class and the devastated American Working Class contains many people who have lost faith in our system and are searching for a different political sensibility. Who knows if either Sanders, or Trump will succeed? The most important American issue has been brought to the forefront, where it goes is anybody’s guess. Here though is where I would like it to go:
Even though I voted last week, afterwards for the first time in many years I paid only the slightest attention to the results that evening. In fact, I must admit that since then I haven’t pored over the numbers in the way that I would have in the past. After last Tuesday’s debacle, I started and then deleted a few posts dealing with the reasons for the Democratic defeat, since my heart wasn’t in it yet. Frankly this election cycle around I just didn’t give a damn, because although there were significant differences between the two sides, the Democrats in the end had shown an unwillingness to support the issues that I care deeply about. I had expressed my distress with the direction of the party and liberals in general here, and here , and finally here . Actually over the last six years of Barack Obama’s Presidency I’ve written many times about what I saw as the failure of his policies. Now I’ve also written about the systemic problems he faced, not the least of which was rampant racism among a significant portion of his detractors. Beyond the racism was also the puerile political perspectives of the mainstream media and its Beltway centric “Punditocracy”. These “perspectives” reflected the beliefs in the status quo by those who have benefited by the indebtedness to the oligarchs who run this country. Despite these obvious handicaps, in the end the failure of the Democratic party falls on the shoulders of our President and its leaders, who in their own self-interest lost sight of the needs of the “base” of the party. Though they bemoan the “low voter turnout” this election, they still fail to see why their policies were responsible for low voter turnout and the indifference of the electorate. This morning I read an article that dissects all of these issues and it finally shook me out of my lethargy to write this post that needed writing.
Appearing 11/10 on Huffpost, the article by Michael Brenner is titled: The Democrats Political Suicide . Mr. Brenner’s premise is that by adopting conservative policies the Democratic Party sold out its main constituents and also hurt progress on programs that the Democratic Party has traditionally stood for. I agree that this is the crux of the matter and has reflected the Democratic moving to the right since they were scared into cowardice in the face of the supposed “Reagan Revolution” in the 1980’s. As he wrote: “For six years the Democrats have been bent on committing political suicide. Or so it seems. President Barack Obama has been the point man for this bizarre self-immolation. That period represents the culmination of a long 30 year exercise in political obtuseness that has seen a steady estrangement from the party’s roots and a fatal mimicking of their Republican rivals. 2010 saw the first fruits of the project. Despite every plank in the traditional GOP program being exposed as rotten and the cause of national disasters at home and abroad, the Democrats under White House leadership contrived to allow the opposition to paint them as the problem. What should have been 1934 became 1994. Now the party has had both wrists slashed as it awaits morosely and impotently for the coup de grace in 2016.” On its own this paragraph provides a complete overview of the Democratic Party’s failure but the author is not content to leave it lie there and so provides cogent specifics as you will see.
“Yet, party leaders react with surprise. They beat their breasts and gnash their teeth — how on earth could this have happened? Who could have predicted this debacle? This bizarre tale knows no precedent in American political history. The explanation, though, is readily apparent for those willing to look at the record. The formula did not require anything as exotic as hemlock; rather the more prosaic ingredients were imbibed gradually. The most toxic have been these.
One, alienate your core constituencies. That includes reneging on a pledge to help the trade unions; launch a campaign of vilification against school teachers — from kindergarten through college; attack civil liberties protections; commit to reductions in Social Security and Medicare; stiff the environmentalists. In short, do to them in a calculated way what a Republican president would do instinctively.”
Now a little history on this turn to the right by Democrats is in order. In 1980 Ronald Reagan won 489 electoral votes to Jimmy Carter’s 49. The reaction in the media was that Reagan had won in a landslide, but the reality was that Reagan had only won 50.8% of the popular vote. Also in the race was John Anderson, a Republican turned Independent who won 6.6% of the popular vote, which was a significant amount. Then there was the Libertarian Party whose candidate was David Koch, yes one of the Koch Brothers, who garnered almost a million votes. Carter, the sitting President, was thought weak due to his handling of the Iran Hostage Crisis, which featured ABC’s Nightline each night counting down the days the crisis lasted. In our screwed up Electoral College System it is quite possible and has occurred many times, where the Electoral Vote seems overwhelming and the popular vote rendered insignificant by the media ignoring it. However, in my book winning only 50.6% of the electorate does not a mandate make, yet the Beltway Pundits declared the Reagan victory a landslide and bought into the idea that he had a strong Conservative mandate. The Republicans claimed it was so and curiously the Democratic Party leaders also went along with the idea that “the people have spoken” and thus they must move the Democratic Party further “Right” if they wanted to regain power. In this context we see the more than 30 year trend of Democrats moving rightward and alienating their core constituencies. The self serving rational for alienating these constituencies is that these people have no where else to go and so constitute a captive audience. Brenner goes on in his assessment of the Democrats’ suicidal activities.
“Two, curry favor with your party’s traditional enemies: Wall Street, Big Pharma, the Christian Right, the energy and industrial agriculture trusts. That has the dual effect of blunting your message and blurring your image while emboldening the objects of your favors to demand even more.”
And so we have seen our President and our Democratic Party leaders seeking campaign contribution and favors from the Wall Street Titans who caused the 2008 financial collapse through their own greed, fraud and general ineptitude. We saw our newly elected President deal with the Financial Crisis he faced upon election by going to to Wall Street insiders Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner as his financial gurus. His new Attorney General, Eric Holder, ensured that no criminal prosecutions would be pursued despite overwhelming evidence of widespread fraud on the part of the major banks. The “Bailout” became one primarily serving the interests of these criminal institutions, while pursuing small ineffective programs to aid the rest of the population.
The Democrats also began to cater to the “Religious Right” and Obama even suggested the loathsome evangelist John Hagee to preside at his inauguration, even though Hagee had strongly and loudly campaigned against him. “God Bless the United States of America” was heard in every speech until people began to think it was written into the Constitution, when in fact it was a very recent, hypocritical invention. In a similar fashion the President’s policies catered to the worst elements of corporate irresponsibility, which as Mr. Brenner stated emboldened them to make even further demands. Meanwhile, a once enthusiastic Democratic electorate began to become disillusioned with our President and his party. Mr. Brenner goes on with his enumeration:
“Three, permit the Republicans in Congress to exploit to the fullest their irresponsible tactics by never denouncing them for what they are or moving to challenge them on their own electoral turf. As a corollary, go along with the coy designation of the Tea Party controlled radical reactionary Republican Party as self-styled “conservatives.””
Throughout the Obama years I think everyone who reads the above has a sense of familiarity with it. We have seen the most vile, racist Republican attacks upon Barack Obama, ridiculously painting him as both a Nazi and a Communist, with only mild push-back from elected members of his party, with certain notable exceptions such as Bernie Sanders (really an Independent), Elizabeth Warren and Alan Grayson. We have also seen Democratic Party leaders insist that some of the most progressive elected Democrats like Anthony Weiner and Elliot Spitzer resign their positions for minor sexual indiscretions. This is to be contrasted with Republicans such as David Vitter, with greater indiscretions remaining in place with Party support. In my opinion both Weiner and Spitzer lost the support of their own party because they remained as critics from the Left and had the temerity to denounce conservative actions. While this inaction by Democrats could fairly be called cowardice, to me it also indicates that their core principles weren’t really Democratic Party principles in the first place.
“Four, enable the Republicans to shape public discourse by monopolizing the airways and media. Democratic silence, timidity, defensiveness and evasion have given the Republicans the free run of the playing field. On this score, the party’s leadership has been abject — the president above all. Endless visits to daytime TV shows to schmooze about nothing in particular undercut respect for the presidency, neutralize the advantage of the incumbency and motivate the public to tune out or denigrate important messages. Mr. Obama seems oblivious to the obvious truth that most of the country stopped paying attention to what he says years ago.”
While its true that today our media increasingly acts as a Corporate mouthpiece, the opportunity existed for Democrats to force their way into the discussion by attacking their opponents openly and aggressively enough to get the media to react as they always do to potential conflict. In the battle for the public mind the Democrats brought a penknife to a machine gun fight. Speaking of the “gun” issue the Democrats failed to take advantage of the overwhelming public support for action after the various tragedies in our public schools. The truth is that those of conservative and Republican stripe are much more dedicated to their core issue than are their Democratic Party counterparts, whose raison d’etre appears to be the perks of being elected to high office.
A few more points made by Mr. Brenner that are easily recognizable and which he goes into in depth in this worthy article:
“At a time when Americans feel more discontent and view their prospects more darkly than on any occasion since the depths of the Great Depression, the Democrats have defaulted”
“They present no robust defense of government as the people’s instrument for meeting communal needs and wants. Rather, they incline toward the assumption that government and public programs should be viewed skeptically.”
“Privatization has been taken aboard without critical scrutiny; the White House-proposed sequester has resulted in a sharp reduction of all government services, personnel and budgets.”
“The president’s buying into the “austerity” snake oil went so far as broadcasting the Republican propaganda that presents the federal budget as being no different from a family budget. Above all, he went out of his way to buffer the financial barons from condemnation and accountability.”
“The near total neglect of the Detroit crisis pulls into focus these multiple flaws and faulty judgments. A great American city is allowed to founder at the very moment that the federal government is spending hundreds of billions to salvage predatory financial interests. Not only is this tragedy allowed to occur without assistance from Washington, it is studiously ignored.”
“The overwhelming majority of those abandoned by their government are Democrats. Consequently, the populist passions that have raged since 2008 have been diverted from Wall Street to Washington. Almost all American politics is a contest for populist imagery. It provides the only vocabulary for political discourse. Democrats, for more than a century, identified and encouraged that current of populist thinking that found its target in the established power of big business and banking. Republicans have tried strenuously to counteract that tendency by playing on skepticism of government — especially the federal government. That great battle produced the historic victory of the Democratic conception as embodied in the New Deal. It now is in the process of being reversed.”
At this point I’ll leave Mr. Brenner’s article and urge you to read it on your own. He discusses the false hope of Hilary Clinton and the prospects for the future of the Democratic Party and the progressive cause. He offers his own thoughts as to how those who cherish the core Democratic principles can act to turn this around.
Which gets me back to the title of this piece which to this point has probably left some readers wondering whether I pulled it out of my behind. Here’s how I see it. Throughout these last years Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent from Vermont, has been the major elected voice speaking truth to power and speaking for all of the 99% in the United States. There is a strong possibility that he will run for President in 2016 as an Independent. If he does so I will support and vote for him, even though in this rigged game he has little chance to win. Here’s why and it comes from American history. Most of the reforms made by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Administration represented the platform of Eugene V. Debs who ran for President five times for the Socialist Party of America . Though Debs died in 1926, six years before FDR took office, Roosevelt’s administration brought to life almost all of the major planks of Debs’ platform. The first step in taking back America appears to me to be an assertion and articulation of those principles that Bernie Sanders represents and are shared by most people who believe that government should function to promote the general welfare of all of the people, rather than a privileged and powerful few. America needs an updated version of FDR’s new deal, or it will spiral down into a pseudo-religious autocracy catering to the 1% of this country who have taken the benefits of government, while denying them to the masses. I will support Bernie Sanders at the present time because I think he most clearly articulates the ideals that I stand for and it is the powerful articulation of those ideals that is necessary to counteract the propaganda that Ronald Reagan was a savior, rather than a destroyer of the American Dream. The current leadership of the Democratic Party has sacrificed the party’s ideals, in the implementation of a foolish belief that current Republicans, Conservatives and Fundamentalist Christian radicals have any contribution to make towards the welfare of all the people. What they believed was informed expediency, in reality was self-serving stupidity and avarice. For change to occur a strong, clear message needs articulation and currently only Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Alan Cranston have the courage to articulate the message to the American People. The time for the “lesser of two evils” is long past and people of good faith must return to the roots planted in FDR’s New Deal.
Those are my stories and I’m sticking to them.