Monday, May 27, 2019

Part V: The Final Frontier (So Very, Very Tired)

Wow, I’ve spent so long talking about who I think shouldn’t win and there’s little space to say who should get the nomination. I guess based on what I’ve previously written, you the reader can understand now where I’m coming from and where I hope the party and the country go from here on out. We need a candidate that will deal with the problems we face, rather than seek compromise right after their inaugurated. We need someone who will bring progress rather than a return to Neoliberalism and austerity. America has to end the endless wars abroad, and the War on Drugs at home. There needs to be healthcare for all, education for all, labor rights for all, and reproductive rights for all. The Democratic Party needs to become a working class party in order to remain viable, and a Green New Deal has to be pursued in order for human existence on this planet to be viable too. We need a candidate who will fight and will leave no options off the table. Packing the Court? Declaring a Climate Emergency? Nationalizing industries? They all have to be considered.

We need to make up for lost time folks
We have to be as radical as reality. There are only two candidates in the race who understand this, and have a chance of winning. They have the ability to come down from the Mountain, conquer the Plain, seize the Dais, and crush the gatekeepers along the way. They represent the Only Real Hope Tier, and I wish it was the biggest bench in this contest. But what can you do, other than see them get elected? From a process of deduction, it should be obvious who they are by now:

Elizabeth Warren
Bernie Sanders

Yep. Two. Count them again. It’s a depressing number. I wish there was someone younger, someone of color, and someone more radical who could run, but alas, AOC is too damn young and Ilhan Omar was born abroad. I guess there’s something of a blessing here. The radical vote won’t be split and the it won’t be lost amid a cacophony clamoring for Medicare for All on the debate stage. If Warren or Sanders win, it’ll bring up a whole generation of progressives hopefully into office, and it will drag those in the middle to the Left. Victory leaves a garden in its wake.

Of these two candidates, I rank Sanders higher than Warren. In my dream world, Sanders runs, wins, gets a term, then decided not to run again. Instead, it’s his Vice President Warren who follows him into office. Maybe AOC will come after her. Then again, it might be Subcommandante Lee Carter. I understand the desire for a female president and I don’t believe Warren would have that much harder of a time getting elected than Sanders. She’d be just as electable

So why pick Sanders over her? I think Warren has great ideas and solid proposals. It’s good that she leaves other candidates clamoring behind in her wake, looking for policies of their own. Just as Sanders moved the party left in 2016, Warren is crystallizing the commitments of others. They can no longer wear a label like “progressive.” They have to explain their stances. However, I think there are differences between Sanders and Warren, which make me back him over Warren. Needless to say, I would be fine supporting either of them in the general (Tankies, feel free to call me a dirty, dirty lib in the comments)

The first difference is foreign policy. Sanders is much more anti-imperialist in his orientation. He doesn’t just want a “green” army like Warren. He wants to shrink it and bring it home. His whole life he’s opposed intervention and wars abroad and that’s crucial. People forget that the President’s greatest power is as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Congress and the Courts give the Executive the widest latitude here. Warren is nowhere near as bad as Biden, or the rest of the field. I don’t think she’ll get us into a war with Iran. But will she radically change our approach to the country? Or Cuba, North Korea, or Venezuela? Or on the other hand end our blank cheque of support to Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia?

The second different is the relationship to the Democratic Party. Warren wants to take the party as it is and lead it to a more progressive direction. It’s an admirable goal, but without changing the fundamental structure of the Democratic Party, she’ll be constantly blocked by the DNC. The donor class will try and put the kibosh on whatever she proposes. Due to his background running more grassroots campaigns and insurgent candidacies, Sanders has more experience building the mass movements necessary to change the party from within.  The Democrats have to become a party devoted and made up of the working class first and foremost. Otherwise, it’ll never be able to fight directly for the proposals of Sanders, Warren, AOC, or anyone on the Left. The Party needs to speak with one voice and fight as one instead of arguing and fighting amongst itself. Since the rich already have a party, the GOP, they can all go there instead. A Sanders victory will help accelerate that trend. He’ll push the rich out of the party like St. Patrick and the snakes in Ireland.

Lastly, Sanders and Warren have different visions of the economy and what needs to happen with American Capitalism. Warren is a reformist. To be fair, she’s a far greater reformist than anyone since FDR and that should be noted. However, she’ll leave in place the parts of the economy that have brought us back to levels of inequality not seen since the 1920s. What good is to merely reform things so that we may one day have to deal with finance wrecking everything all over again? A stronger approach has to be taken. Warren hints that she might be able to get there eventually. She has proposed putting workers on corporate boards. But Sanders sees the system as fundamentally unequal and unsound. He knows that attempts to regulate it while leaving capital in the hands of an unelected elite is no long-term solution. He understands that the democratic control of the economy is the only way forward. In Sanders’ American it will be for the many, not the few at all levels of society. So as in the ballot box, so as in the boardroom.

I know Warren has more concrete proposals than Sanders, or at least ideas for specific legislation that have managed to percolate to the top of the political discussion. Sanders’ campaign is more about emphasis and stressing values. Both of them have a vision, however it is filtered in different ways that reflect the different personalities running. Remember my old extended metaphor of the Plain and the Mountain? Sanders and Warren are both candidates from the Mountain who are uniquely situates to leave the rafters and seize the Dais. Each of them will do so with their own approach. Warren is coming down from Mount Sinai, with commandments and laws. Meanwhile, Bernie is coming down from Mount Olivet. Either way, they’re coming for your graven images, false idols, golden calves, and fig trees.

Go for a Ride on the Local Train

My poetry empire keeps expanding. Now I'm published in Bangladesh. Read the latest issue of Local Train Magazine in order to read my poem in it.


Sunday, May 26, 2019

Part IV: Dear God No

This is the penultimate installment of my series on the Democratic Primary. Previously, I gave an overview of the general field as I see fit, and then proceeded to discuss the general camps the candidates fall into. So far, I’ve withheld my “endorsement” as it were. That’s not to say I don’t have a preferred candidate, I do. However I think it’s important to explain my views, reasoning, and standards before finally saying who I back. It helps to explain the “why” behind my choice. It isn’t about the personality, it isn’t about the optics, and it isn’t about the narrative. It isn’t even about the vague concepts of “electability” or “normalcy.” It’s about the policy I support first and foremost. Okay, the overall direction and structure of the Democratic Party is important too, but that’s tied up in policy as well. What good is it to restructure and redirect the party without an aim to effecting its positions?

Before I explain who I support and why, I want to discuss who should absolutely not get the nomination. There is a cluster of candidates who would be a step backward in nearly every way for the party. The previous essay introduced the concept of the Mountain and the Plain. To recap, visualize a convention hall. Near the front are gatekeepers and defenders of the establishment. In the rear, sitting above the proceedings, are the radicals, which I call the Mountain. In between these two groups is the Plain. The candidates of the Mountain want drastic changes to be made and the candidates in the front want to stop them. The candidates of the Plain want to negotiate between the two. I called the group up front Backset Democrats. You could call them candidates of the Dais as well.

But there is a group of people running who I think can’t even be considered that liberal. They are behind the Dais, if you will extend the metaphor. They are in the shadows of the Convention, refusing to acknowledge the Plain, let alone the Mountain. Their issue isn’t necessarily one of ideology. The trouble is they don’t really have much of one, which means they uphold the dominant thinking of our time without even understanding why they believe the things they do. Money explains a good deal of their positions and why they are men of style and no substance. Yet even the style they affect is one that is dull and uninspiring. Nominating the men who stand in this position would be a disaster down ballot, not to mention for, you know, human civilization.

So, who are these shadowy figures?

John Delaney
Tim Ryan
John Hickenlooper
Joe Biden

This cadre of candidates includes three people with very little shot of winning the nomination and the candidate who is currently at the top of the polls. I know it may seem strange that the most disastrous men running occupy these two extremes of viability. But this is a strange bunch of candidates. They think Trump is an anomaly and the major problems facing this country are matters of rhetoric and civility. The current state of the Republican Party doesn’t register with them and they’ve forgotten what happened during Obama’s presidency. The Rich aren’t to blame for our problems either. These men believe in bootlicking for the ruling class and bootstraps for the rest.

Maybe some of these names can be swapped out with the Backset Democrats. One of the things that makes the Backset a little bit better is that they are younger, more diverse, and occasionally have a new insight or idea. They may be Neoliberals, which at least means they have something “new” to them. The above mentioned men are Metaliberals. Their positions are abstract like metaphysics, and again, they are falling behind the center of the party. Unfortunately thanks Biden, there is an overwhelming amount of funding, press, and endorsements held by this faction.

Why would nominating these candidates be a disaster as I keep saying? Overall, they are out of step with the party faithful in an era where turnout is more important than appealing to some fabled center. They have no vision for combating automation, climate change, and wealth inequality. On all other forms of inequality they seem to be just as clueless. They back the American imperial project wholeheartedly and at home seem to have no issue with the carceral state. Specifically? Let’s start with the first three. John Delaney is the product of gerrymandering in Maryland, and calls himself “a solutions-oriented moderate.” Tim Ryan ran against Nancy Pelosi because he thinks she is too far left. A former aid to Jim Traficant, Ryan is shaky on abortion rights and wants the nation to practice mindfulness to solve its problems. Finally there’s Hickenlooper who is in the pocket of the fracking industry. Oh, and he opposed marijuana legalization, which may or may not have something to do with being in the brewpub business.

These three candidates don’t merit much further discussion. They are polling around 1 percent each at best in the polls. On average, they’re more likely to reach 1 percent together. They are not a threat to Sanders, Warren, Harris, or any of the candidates whose politics seem to deal with the reality of America as it is rather than the misremembered dream of what it once was. That’s why it’s important to focus on Joe Biden.

The former Senator from Delaware and two-term Vice President is currently leading in the polls. He was also leading in all the polls taken before he announced, which was a little presumptuous of the media. It’s hard to say how strong this support is or what accounts for it. It’s safe to say it’s mostly nostalgia at this point, a desire to return to the Obama presidency. Since Joe Biden ran with Obama, it’s easier to see how voters link the two together. Hilary Clinton made appeals to those who missed her husband’s time in power, and Biden is making a similar appeal. Of course, Hillary was always a much stronger candidate on her own than Joe ever was. She did win the popular vote in the 2008 primary, whereas Joe went nowhere in his runs back in 1988 and 2008.

That’s why the high level of support Biden needs to be treated with skepticism. It could very well implode when punctured by the appropriate scandal or screwup on the debate stage. It could also change based on something Trump does. I think it’s highly sensitive to the strength of the economy. There’s an increasing risk of a recession every month we get farther away from the end of the last one. When the economy goes south, Biden career defending financial interests might not look so appealing to the primary electorate.

Then again, nostalgia may carry the day for Joe like it did for Argentinians and Juan Peron in the 1970s. It certainly seems to carry him around very much in his everyday life as well. He seems to pine for a time when a senator could be friends with a segregationist then pal around with lobbyists and fundraisers, without anyone giving him flack for it. We don’t have many previous elections to go by when judging how strong this nostalgia factor is. There have been candidates campaigning on normalcy (Harding and Eisenhower) and candidates who made appeals to a mythic past (Reagan and Trump). But they never represented a previous era of politics so strongly in their person. The closest I can think of it Hillary Clinton in 2008. Her run, in part, represented a return to the glory years of the late 1990s after the tragedy of Dubya.

Yet, even with her run against Obama, she could make a legitimate case that a vote for her was moving forward. If nominated, and then elected, Clinton would’ve been the first female President (a feat that would’ve been no less true if she was elected in 2016 as well). Joe Biden doesn’t have that kind of historical feel behind him. A vote for Biden only means a change in so far as Trump isn’t president. There is no sense of the future about him. He’s all about the past, a walking historical reenactment. He was yesterday’s man in 2008, when he floundered in the primary and was raised from a political dead end by Obama. He’s like LBJ in that sense. Successful in the senate but unable to reach national office on his own, LBJ depended on JFK to give his career the boost it needed to get him into the White House.

Okay, it also depended on Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, Sam Giancana, Fidel Castro, and the Hunt Brothers as well.

Could Biden surprise us all and pull a turn like LBJ? I suppose it’s possible. It’s possible Trump is a secret Marxist accelerationist too (who else has ever made Capitalism look so bad?) People often forget that while he was a standard New Deal Democrat in economics, socially LBJ was still conservative. He watered down Civil Rights legislation in the Senate, when he couldn’t defeat it’s passing outright with other Southern Democrats. Once he became president, LBJ became our most left-wing president. He expanded the New Deal, passed Civil Rights and Voting Rights legislation, and opened up immigration. Biden might decide that Washington is worth embracing mass politics.

It would be an impressive turn. Biden was an opponent of desegregating schools via busing. He opposed abortion until the 1990s. He authored several punitive crime bills that disproportionately oppressed communities of colors. Biden even clashed with Elizabeth Warren back in the day over bankruptcy legislation, that made it harder for families to discharge medical debt. His foreign policy record is abysmal too. He voted for the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, and increasing military budgets. To give credit where it’s due, he authored legislation to fight violence against women (Fight? Combat? Destroy? I wish there was a stronger word I could use that isn’t itself violent). However, he did put in an exemption for backrubs and hair sniffing. Oh yeah, and his treatment of Anita Hill helped put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court.

Despite all that he could be the candidate who ends our wars abroad, repeals the Patriot Act, closes Guantanamo Bay, passes healthcare for all, demilitarizes the border, kills Taft-Hartley, brings back Glass-Steagall, recognizes Palestine, opens up full relations with Iran and North Korea, takes us off our carbon addiction, or at least makes progress to all these goals. Then again, I remember when people thought Obama was going to do some version of this as well. Back then, it made sense to project on him. He didn’t have a record. Biden does and that record is bad. Bad for a Democrat even in 2008, bad for the Democratic Party today, and bad for America and the world.

Biden could certainly beat Trump, despite the fact he’s more of a subsidiary than a candidate. However a victory against him isn’t necessarily as guaranteed as people make it out to be. The Republicans will use his record against him too. Now, Trump has done worst than Biden but that doesn’t matter. The party in power (and conservatives by and large) can always be hypocritical. It’s not fair, but it’s true. They’re not the ones trying to change things. Everyone else who is a Democrat, a Liberal, a Progressive, or a Leftist is. As a result, the people hold them to a higher standard. One can’t think of Trump’s crimes and character flaws canceling out concerns about Biden. Rather, Biden’s issues will put a damper on his criticism of Trump. This is especially bad if you’re trying to appeal to voters in the “center” which is Biden’s whole strategy.

It’s this reliance on the center that also makes his nomination problematic. Elections today are determined by turnout and inspiring people to vote. Clinton’s loss in 2016 is more about the collapse of the Obama coalition since 2008, than any other factor. She failed to boost Democratic turnout and as a result fell short of victory. Now, if we didn’t have an Electoral College she would be president. It’s true her numbers in 2016 roughly matched Obama’s in 2012. But you have to play by the rules of the elections we have, not the rules you want (you wouldn’t run for Prime Minister of America, would you?)

Now, Biden could still win with this strategy. There’s another important issue with it though. It will impact down ballot races, where motivating the base is especially vital. The Democrats need to hold the House, win the Senate, and capture state houses and governorships. Otherwise, any attempt to pass legislation or appoint judges is dead in the water. And no, Republicans won’t change after Trump is defeated. Remember how we thought that happened after McCain lost in 2008? Or Romney in 2012? It didn’t happen then, and it won’t happen after 2020. The Democrats need an inspiring candidate who will bring out voters loyal to the party in all races. Trying to win over moderate Republicans means only that you end up with more divided government. They will vote against Trump and for every reactionary ghoul in other races.

Once in office, Biden will almost certainly side with capital against labor, and with growth against the environment. Joe Biden thinks he can compromise with Mitch McConnell over Supreme Court judges and the Planet Earth over Climate Change, I don’t know which is more delusional. As a result, he will burn all bridges of working-class support leading him and the Democratic Party vulnerable as the crises of late stage capitalism literally heat up. A Biden victory in 2020 most likely means another GOP sweep in 2022, and the possibility of a competent fascist getting elected in 2024. Maybe it’ll be an Ivanka Trump/Stephen Miller ticket, or Tom Cotton/Steve Bannon.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Part III: The Plain and the Mountain

In my last post, I discussed a tier of candidates who will pretty much do everything in their power to return the party to the 90s and keep it there. Whether it’s the 1890s or the 1990s is the main point of contention among them. None want to update the Democratic party to fit in with the values of its members, or confront a changing world. Their solutions are unworkable and their ideas are old. They believe in a return to a much-fabled normalcy, which is about as Utopian as the proposals of Fourier or Lyndon LaRouche. Putting them at the top of the ticket would be wrong and it would be a losing strategy, especially down-ballot.

Now we move on to those candidates who are slightly better than the Backset Democrats previously discussed. They at least understand the direction the party and the country are moving in (left, and towards disaster, respectively) and what to do to accommodate these changes. Some of them are fairly chameleon-like in their politics, such as Gillibrand, and that is worrying. However, this group of Democrats, are still amenable to pressure. They may not be ideologically committed to either change, nor the status quo, but they can be moved.

Call them the Progressive Centrists, although I think the term Centrist here has to be understood in relation to the party as a whole. It is not about left or right, rather the Plain and the Mountain. Students of the French Revolution will understand what I mean. Listeners of Mike Duncan’s podcast will too. The terms left and right are based on where people sat in the National Assembly in 1789. Supporters of the king sat on the right of the legislative body, those who wanted more radical changes sat on the left. Since then, we’ve come to use left-wing and right-wing to describe political beliefs. However, back in Revolutionary France, this distinction gave way in the subsequent National Convention, where delegates grouped themselves based on a different arrangement that was dictated by the particular seating of their meeting hall in the Tuileries Palace.

Here, there were seats close to the main dais, seats behind them, and then seats on an elevated platform around the room. Delegates chose to sit close together based on their beliefs, with the right-wing Girondins sitting together near the front and the left-wing Jacobins and others sitting in the gallery. In between them was the majority of the Convention, men who would vote with either faction. They became known as the Plain (or Marsh) while those radicals who occupied the galleries became known as the Mountain.

The reason for this little history lesson is that I think this arrangement shows how the factions in the current Democratic party operate. The National Convention in sense looks very much like a political convention today, with more conservative party leaders at the front and center, the party faithful representing states in the middle, and the activists and radicals in the rear and the galleries (the new Mountain). The candidates of the Plain represent those who believe in the Democratic Party, but also want it to do more. They are reformists and progressives of different stripes who are moved by the voices coming from the radical peanut gallery.

Here are the candidates of the Plain as I see them:

Kamala Harris
Kirsten Gillibrand
Andrew Yang
Bill De Blasio
Julián Castro

…and sometimes

Buttigieg (Schrodinger’s candidate)

Of course, unlike the Plain in the French Revolution, they are more willing to lead on their own terms, rather than allow others in the Democratic Party’s factions to dictate the direction of the party. They want to bring the left and right together in the spirit of common agreement on the common good in order to defeat Trump. They see the need to update the Party as well, and do things to appeal to younger voters. Hence you have Andrew Yang and his proposal for a basic income, and his internet-centric campaign. You also have Castro arguing for Reparations for African-Americans and Harris even talking about potential support for Medicare for All (though she’s walked that back recently, remember the Plain listens to both the Mountain and the donors up at the Dais).

They all have their problems, which is why I put them above the Backset Democrats and below the candidates who are either of the Mountain, or willing to come down from it. The first is that they do not go far enough to solve the problems of this country. The second, is that they are too willing to moderate themselves for the interests of the donor-class. The third is that most of them have been in office before and haven’t used it to try and advance their own agendas. Harris was a reactionary prosecutor. Castro didn’t do much about the affordable housing crisis at HUD. Gillibrand was a fairly conservative congresswoman when it came to immigration. Yang was a capitalist.

DeBlasio probably has the most progressive accomplishments of anyone running besides Warren and Sanders. However, what’s concerning about him is the lack of a structural vision for the government and the party. After all, he was hampered the most in office from a fellow Democrat: Governor Andrew Cuomo. It would be great if he could run with ideas about improving the power of cities and local government at the expense of states, and how to revolutionize the country’s transportation systems. DeBlasio’s a big guy, but he needs big ideas to stand out. Things could change. DeBlasio might start issuing one policy idea after another, making pledges left and right to the Mountain.

This primary has had an interesting effect so far, with candidates releasing all kinds of proposals in order to catch up with one another. Warren leads the pack here, with Sanders, Booker, Castro, Harris, and Yang behind. It’s an interesting contrast to the 2016 Republican Primary, where there were so many candidates running and hardly anyone felt the need to create any policy proposals. The only person with any ideas was Trump. They were all terrible, but no one was trying to meet him with ideas of their own. Consequently, it helped him dominate the discussion at the Debates. If anything, it shows just how intellectually bankrupt the Republicans are, and how “conservatism” in America has reached a complete dead end. Unfortunately, this sclerotic movement still holds sway over a major party, creating a situation I outlined in my previous post, where only one party has any real debate inside it, and then has to compromise with a party that doesn’t.

Oh well, now let us turn to our attention to the Mountain. This is where the activists, the radicals, the rabble rousers, and left-wing of the party sit. In the Convention, they are elevated, seeing all the action, but at a distance. Consequently their voices travel farthest and they are closest to the doors, making them the faction most likely to bolt if things go bad enough for them. The Mountain has its candidates, but I think it’s important to distinguish that they fall into to two groups. There are the candidates who are of the Mountain first and foremost and willing to stay there. Then there are those who have been on the Mountain, have seen the promised land, and want to lead the rest of the Democrats there. You can probably guess who I believe are in the latter group. The former includes the following:

Jay Inslee
Marianne Williamson
Tulsi Gabbard
Mike Gravel

What makes these candidates “of the Mountain?” Well I think in part its because they are identified with a particular issue. They are not generally interested, it seems, in advancing a broader set of proposals. Instead, they want to argue for a radical position in regards to a single problem facing the country. There’s nothing wrong with that, only that you can’t win the nomination this way, unless it’s 1896…the issue is bimetallism…and you’re William Jennings Bryan.

That said, I’d prefer these candidates over the Plain and the Backset Democrats. Why? Because they are willing to actually change the status quo on issues that have caused or will cause immense suffering here and abroad. One thing about the Mountain, is that it can look into the future and across national borders. That’s a strength, but the Mountain, like any political faction has its weaknesses. There’s the issue of seeing so far into the future, that they lose sight of the present. There’s also an impatience with the very mundane and boring aspects of politics and party processes. Finally, there can be a blinkered vision that focuses too much on a single issue (as vital as that issue might be).

As far as issues go, there are two main ones that define these candidates. The first is Climate Change, which is the center of Jay Inslee’s campaign. If the media really was as left-wing as conservatives say it is, and Climate Change the liberal conspiracy it’s supposed to be, he would be getting far more attention than Pete “the South Bend Mr. Bean” Buttigieg. Inslee understands there is a problem and it has to be confronted by all necessary means and at all deliberate speed. It’s a real issue, not like “radical Islamic extremism” or whatever combination of words thereof conservatives think you need to say to defeat terrorism. If I had to have a single-issue candidate in office, he’d be the one. Nothing else is as important.

Then there are two candidates who represent the Mountain’s views on foreign policy, more or less. The less is represented by Tulsi Gabbard. The more is being pushed by Mike Gravel. They want an end to interventions in other countries, though Gravel is willing to go much farther than Gabbard. It’s unclear how strenuous her opposition is. Is she against certain current engagements but fine with the overall size of the armed forces and the powers of our intelligence agencies? Mike Gravel is the only one who is clear on reducing everything, bases, invasions, incursions, and budgets. Unfortunately, he’s too old to be president and his campaign is more meme-powered than anything else. He represents the Mountain at it’s highest peak. Incredibly serious about the issues, not serious enough about the process.

Finally, there’s Marianne Williamson. I don’t know what to make of her or how to describe her policies. Again, it’s another peak Mountain campaign. She has a firm commitment on reparations. However there’s also an emphasis on New Age mysticism. In the past she’s described herself as a “bitch for God,” so there’s that too. Maybe she can help reclaim religion from the right, if nothing else.

Poetry, the Brownest of the Brown Liquors

An unknown commenter says this poem over at the Rye Whiskey Review is "nice." I think you'll agree. It's better than the backset, that's for sure.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Part II: The Lamestream of Backset Democrats

Here is where I begin my analysis of the candidates in the race and try to convince my fellow Americans, why there are only two people worthy of having their name at the top of the ticket. Maybe I don’t have a network behind me, but I think I am just as insightful as Jonathan Chait or Chris Cilliza or Cilia or Cilicia, whatever it is. I’ve examined the field of political ideologies thus far, and I’ve read the Wikipedia articles on every single American president, election, primary, and convention. That must be more than any of the so-called experts have achieved. For instance, despite their myriad analyses, few of them have mentioned the 1924 Klanbake.

The term, “at a crossroads” is often overused. It is often misused too. Sometimes people forget the origin of the phrase goes back to the play Oedipus Rex. Specifically, it describes the scene where Oedipus unknowingly kills his father Laius, at a crossroads. He then sells his soul to the devil in order to play the blues lyre so he can bring his wife back from Hades. The band Cream made a song about it. But the truth is the Democratic Party has to decide what it believes and what it wants to fight for. Opposition to Trump isn’t enough. Although Trump might be at the top of the ballot, there’s so many other races to consider. The Democrats have to get people out to vote for them. This requires a unified vision and platform people can get excited about.

The party can’t assume people will vote for their slate of candidates just because of Trump. Given our polarized state-by-state elections, there’s plenty of people who might not come out to vote for the Democratic candidate for President if they think the state they live in will go out for him or her anyway. But in doing so, they will ignore all the races down-ballot the Democrats need to win. You know, the races the Democrats used to care about winning. I’m talking State Senators. Aldermen. Comptrollers. Clerks of the Court. (and no, not dog catcher. That’s not an office that’s actually up for the ballot anywhere.)

The Democrats can’t win these without someone who gets people excited, even in blue states. The leaders of the DNC will deny it and the pundits will ignore it, but the truth about politics these days is that you don’t win by appealing to some mythical center. You win by getting your base out to vote. The Democrats, ostensibly being the party of “the people” should have more voters in this scenario. You’d think they’d understand that and push for it, but alas that seems to be beneath the current leadership. As we saw in 2016, they were more interested (as in Chuck Schumer’s analysis) to give up blue collar votes in the Rust Belt in favor of mythical Republican moderates in the suburbs of Philadelphia and Cleveland.

In this portion of my ongoing series on the candidates, I’ll look at the candidates who are…well…meh. These are the men and woman running who can’t really articulate what they will do differently in the White House and what makes their approach to the issues and the electorate more than just a repeat of Hillary’s disastrous run in 2016. They can’t even really explain what makes them unique from one another. Why so many of them are running might be the biggest mystery of the 2019-2020 primary. Here are their names, the absolute meh tier:

Seth Moulton
Eric Swalwell
Michael Bennet
Steve Bullock
Amy Klobuchar
Cory Booker
Beto O'Rourke
Wayne Messam

…and sometimes

Pete Buttigieg

Are they being goaded to run by some entity within the party? Is the DNC or some faction thereof responsible? And if so, are they failing to communicate with one another? It’s hard to explain this phenomenon. We have so many people running for such a small piece of electoral real-estate. Sure, the big donors are all there, but the voters? They’ve largely gone over to the more liberal, progressive, or outright leftist wings of the party. Yet here we have several candidates essentially trying to resurrect Clintonian triangulation and the 1990s. The trouble is, Bill could only do what he did thanks to a particular combination of demographic and economic factors three decades ago. Plus, he had charisma. None of these people running in the Neoliberal lane have anything approaching the personality Bill Clinton displayed.

They also seem to collectively forget how much of a disaster Bill was for the long-term health of the party. Sure, they won the presidency. Then they lost Congress. That consolation prize seemed to be worth it, until they lost the presidency under Al Gore anyway. As a result, America ended up with an emboldened right-wing Republican Party in control of this government, and the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was a brief window of opportunity to realign the country again under Obama’s first term, but what happened? More triangulation, more surrender to Wall Street, and more foreign entanglements. Instead of breaking with Clinton’s Neoliberalism, Obama sought to reinforce it with a kinder face. Now we’re reaping the proceeds of this continued failed strategy. Trump is in the White House. The Conservatives have hijacked the Supreme Court. The GOP controls the preponderance of state houses and governorships across the country.

It is true that once more, the Democrats have Congress to try and stand athwart the Republicans and yell “stop!” But the victory in the 2018 midterms had more to do with disgust and frustration over Trump and the Republicans, than any genuine enthusiasm for the Democrats or their policy.  It can’t be used as a barometer for the voters, or would-be voters in 2020. It certainly shouldn’t be seen as a desire to return to the triangulations of the 1990s and the compromises of the aughts. However this first batch of candidates are clamoring for the presidency under the assumption that what Americas want are grand bargains, entitlement cuts, endless “smart” wars, and the last full half-measure of devotion to the New Deal.

Now I’m being generous. I’m assuming they’re running because they believe in all that and believe that’s what’s best for the country. Maybe they really all want to Vice President. Maybe they are hoping to get a book deal out of their runs. Maybe it’s just pure ambition, which most politicians have, and it only seems like so many mediocre people are running because the Democratic Party has a surplus of mediocre people. It could be that an army of overpaid consultants see them as easy marks, and have goaded them to run in order to line their own pockets.

Sure they will argue they have certain advantages and offer up diversity to the field. In some cases, like Cory Booker, it’s true. Buttigieg too, we can’t forget him (because the media won’t let us). In others, they do represent regions of the country outside the usual “Blue States,” though how that will translate to victories in other states (or even just their own) is unclear. Then there are candidates running on their youth, despite not believing in anything young people want. There’s a veteran or two in there as well. They want to be John Kerry 2.0 it seems.

Collectively their problem is a lack of substance, that points to new ideas, a clear vision, and how to restructure and rebuilt America. At best, what they have are piecemeal reforms. At worse, they will put a happy face on privatization and austerity. This might be the solution to the mystery I mentioned earlier. Maybe so many of them are being encouraged to run by the party so they can put a damper on the whole race. That would explain the strangely high number of them throwing their lanyards in the ring. They are here to crowd out the debate stage and tell us we can’t have nice things. If things get too rowdy in the primary, their role is to remove the punchbowl.

To give any of them the presidency would be a disaster for the party, for the progressive movement, and for the country at large. Given the looming ramifications of Climate Change, they are also a disaster for the world. Why? Because they are the apotheosis of the two trends that have been ruining the Democrats since 1992. The first is ideological. They are proud defenders of Neoliberalism, although their version is just a rehash of an already dated revival. They want laissez faire at home and intervention abroad, open boarders to capital and gated communities for labor. The market over all, yes, and that means you. The Democratic Party not only gave free reign to “free” markets in the 1990s, it did so back in the 1890s as well. That was the heyday of the Bourbon Democrats. But these Democrats are worse than Bourbons, at least the Bourbon Democrats opposed imperialism and interventions. These are Backset Democrats.

The second tend they embody is functional. This pertains to what the role of the Democratic Party should be in our system, regardless of its ideology. Instead of being a vehicle and a catalyst for change, these Backset Democrats want a party that acts a gatekeeper to activist groups. Within the party, they want to defend the leadership up at the Dais from challenges coming up the aisles. Whether these movements are for labor, civil rights, peace, or the environment doesn’t matter. It’s a familiar story that’s happened since the 1960s. Activists and movements reach out to the party and in the end get co-opted by it. Seeking power to effect change, they find themselves blocked by the Democrats who now demand votes from them in exchange for progress. In the end, the Democrats capture these movements and hold them hostage. The threat of a Republican victory is used to keep them in line.

The Backset Democrats want to maintain this version of the Party. To a lesser extent almost all the Democrats except Sanders and Warren want to too. But the Backset types, along with Biden and his clones believe this is the only way the party can function. It is the Divine Right of the DNC. They want a party that is muddled, confused, and watered-down. They want a party constantly compromised by itself. While they may think this makes the Democrats seem reasonable, or that this will make their proposals look better, in effect, it just leaves things open for a further compromise with the Republicans to drag everything farther right. What the Backset Democrats fail to realize is that no one is impressed by how much debate occurs within the Democrats to produce a policy. It certainly has no bearing on the further dialectic with the Republicans.

In a way, it is a good thing so many of this type of Democrat are running. It might deprive Biden of some support, especially in regards with endorsements. However as I mentioned above, so many Backset Democrats on the Debate stage might just add more opportunities to prevent an actual discussion of the issues. If there has to be constant debate within the party, it should occur without their hand in it. It is true that the only serious discussion of politics in this country is happening within the Democratic Party. It’s an unfortunate situation. I’d rather have a Republican Party where all the Neoliberals could dwell, leaving a Progressive Democratic Party behind for good. But that doesn’t mean the Democratic Party should support a failed consensus in the meantime or weaken its commitments.

Some of these men and women running have tried to be dream candidates by checking off what they assume to be a list of boxes in the minds of voters. Mayor Pete is probably the most egregious example of this. It’s an unproductive exercise for candidates and the voter. What is needed are not dream candidates, but candidates who dare the voters to dream of a better world. The Backset Democrats don’t want that and we shouldn’t want them because of it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Green Light for Progressive Poetics

More poems for May, one of them is political. Guess which one? Is it the work that appeared in the Green Light poetry month issue, or the poem that appeared in Progressive Poetics? Find out!

2020 Candidate Roundup, Part I: The Great Democratic Party Primary & Other Excursions

Well folks, the clown car keeps getting bigger over at the 2020 Democratic Primary. If this trend continues, pretty soon there will be more Democrats running for President than will be running for the Senate. Good job, Chuck Schumer! It shows you that running for Senate has now become harder than President, otherwise O’Rourke would be trying to take out Cornyn instead of Trump. Running for President means you get to travel! You get to see the country! You get to go to Iowa! You are invited onto CNN for town halls! You get to live on a bus! When you lose you’re considered for a cabinet post, or ambassadorship! You might even get a gig on TV or a chance to sell another book! Lose a senate election though and what do you get? Obscurity.

Although maybe that’s changing with O’Rourke…

Anyway, there’s 24 candidates running with any real shot of winning. By “shot” I think it’s helpful to visualize a basketball court. There’s the candidates standing on a ladder next to the hoop and those right under the next. Then there are candidates aiming from the free throw line, as well as those shooting for a three-pointer. Finally you have people in the stands, who could in theory still make the shot. In total, there are 24 of these candidates in the primary so far. There are of course people running who have no name recognition at all, no money, no presence, no experience, and lack a decent website to boot. These candidates are too numerous to bother with.  They are beyond the court and outside the arena. There’s no chance of them getting the ball inside the net.

I’m going with 24 because it seems Steve Bullock and Bill DeBlasio are running. There’s also people have said they are forming exploratory committees but haven’t filled out that final ream of paperwork to “officially” say they are in the race. Regardless I’m putting the number at 24. That’s who I’m going to deal with in this blog post.

24 candidates, sounds crazy, no? Well, yes, this is a rather large batch. What’s surprising is how little separates most of the people running. The number of White moderates (Dr. King’s favorite people) is extremely high. I guess that’s par for the course. That’s who the party treasures and nurtures, telling them they represent “the real America” (wherever that is). So why not run for president then, since you represent the heartland and you bleed apple pie?

However we can’t let these MWGs (mediocre/moderate White guys) make us too cynical about this field. It does include the most diverse crowd of candidates for either party to date. Several minorities are represented for sure: African American, Hispanic Americans, LGBT Americans, Asian Americans, and Jewish Americans (and no, I’m not going to include Native Americans for Warren). We also have a record number of women running, who in fact, are not a minority. I know that may surprise some people, given how women have been historically excluded and oppressed, but rest assured it wasn’t because of a lack of numbers.

In terms of experience, there’s diversity too. We have gurus and governors, senators and Silicon Valley tycoons, and Congress critters and Mayors. I think that’s good. You don’t want just a bunch of senators, or a group of governors on the stage, because the problems facing this country require action at all levels. So feedback from a local state, house and cabinet perspective is good. Now, that doesn’t mean all that experience is the same and that everyone on the stage should be president if they’ve been in government for years. Only that a little perspective could be welcome.

That said, the debates probably won’t provide us much discussion, or any real debate. It’s not that I’m bemoaning the end of some golden age of public discourse, only that there’s too many people on stage for anyone to say anything of note. If everyone running manages to qualify, there will be 24 people up on the dais, and how much time realistically will each one of them get? Realistically how much have anything to say too? Perhaps we’ll get the first Twitter-style debate. Each candidate will only get to make statements and respond to questions and attacks using 280 characters or less. The jabs and jests might be worth it.

One thing that will have to go is the audience. First, because they’ll have to make room for all the candidates. Second, the candidates will just end up playing for an audience reaction. That’s how the lower-tier ones will try to get to the front of the pack. The Trump strategy. If we have to have a debate (personally I think the Town Halls should just be enough) then let it be someplace without obnoxious hooting and hollering.  Part of the reason Trump was able to dominate in the debate was ability to manipulate the audience and their reaction, even when it didn’t agree with him. That and his ability to use an air horn .

Will the debates be a make or break moment for the candidates? Undoubtedly, they have to be. If a candidate wants to break out from the lower tear of no–names and has-beens (and those who have never-been) they have to speak out and say something, or forever hold their peace. That should make for a little entertainment. The real interesting thing to see is who has already given up on the White House and is trying to position themselves for a VP slot, or a spot in the cabinet. There will be candidates who go after Sanders in order to endear themselves to Biden and the DNC. Watch out for them. Bernie will turn the Blue Dogs into snakes on that stage. Whether he’ll be able to drive them out of the party is another matter.

Then there will be those candidates who realize they have to go after Biden, since there’s no chance of them winning over Sanders voters, and because there’s no chance they’ll be on the ticket with him. Beto, Warren, and Gillibrand are part of this group. To a lesser extent, Gabbard is too. It’s highly unlikely Biden would want any of them as VP. Beto is too male and too White (and his youthful Punk cross-dressing notwithstanding, too straight). Meanwhile, Warren has feuded with Biden over the banks. Gillibrand could be selected, since she balances out the male at the top of the ticket. However, she represents a solidly blue state, can’t win over progressives, and burned her bridges with Hillary Clinton at the height of #MeToo. Her treatment of Franken also makes her a liability in getting the support of party loyalists.

Of course who ends up becoming VP might not have anything to do with the desires of the candidates. If Biden’s current lead collapses (a guy can dream, right?) and nobody has a majority of the pledged delegates, then some serious horse-trading will have to commence. Everyone wants to avoid a contested convention. It makes for great television and a terrible campaign. We haven’t had one since 1976, and the party who had it lost (although maybe shots of Tony Orlando dancing with Betty Ford were what really sank the Ford’s chances of reelection). At that stage it’s quite likely that one of the two front-runners will try to convince one of the mid-tier candidates to come on board and bring their delegates over. Otherwise, the superdelegates will get involved and when they do, that will further split the party.

That’s why if I had to bet on who will be VP, it’s going to be someone like Kamala Harris. Now it’s possible she’ll break out from her position in the current polling and start winning primaries. She’s relying on California’s early start to try and propel her forward with a homefield advantage. If that falls through, she could still end up with a decent pool of delegates that will be necessary to get a majority.  She will provide generational, racial, and gender balance against either Biden or Bernie, who seem to be the likely front-runners at this point. She would also provide a balance with Warren too, if she takes the lead. Harris provides a regional angle as well. The Democrats haven’t had a Westerner on the ticket since…well…really ever. The farthest west candidates have been from Texas or South Dakota.

It’s still too early to see who will be at the top of the ticket. Biden is certainly polling in the lead but the debates could cut that down, especially as people realize what he was actually doing before Obama nominated him for Vice President. Remember, Biden ran twice for president on his own merits in 1988 (before AOC was even born) and 2008. Each time his campaign went nowhere. The only person who likes the real Biden is Biden. For everyone else, it’s either misplaced nostalgia for Obama, a desperate desire for normalcy, mistaking Biden for a meme, or thinking he’s in the middle of the party when in reality he’s on its right. By himself, he’s completely unappealing. Who knows how long his campaign can keep up the illusion that hides the real candidate?

There’s also no telling what will happen in the news between now and the primaries, or what will happen during the primaries as well. Party shenanigans could cause issues with delegate allotment. Plus the instability of Trump means a foreign intervention or a recession that throw a wrench into things. It’s hard to say who benefits from that sort of situation. If we invade Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, or all three, it could make an explicitly anti-war candidate look better by comparison. It might also entice voters to try and put someone more stable in office for its own sake. A recession might lead the party to support someone with a business background, then again, our current president has such experience and look at Trump’s legacy of unnecessary tax cuts, feuding with the Federal Reserve, trade wars, and subsidizing coal plants.

On the other hand, a recession could make the party faithful see red, in a good way. Not in a let's bail out the banks one more time kind of way. Again, a boy can dream.