Monday Morning Bernie Backing

The growing push to defeat Trump by any of the following means:

  • Taking the CIA’s warmongering on faith and blaming Vladimir Putin for everything,
  • Accusing the FBI,
  • Pressing for majority rule despite the electoral college,
  • Protesting voters being stripped from the rolls,
  • Objecting to intimidation at the polls,
  • Trying to undo the blocking of votes by those lacking IDs,
  • Remedying broken and insufficient and unverifiable machines,
  • Counting paper ballots where they exist,
  • Threatening impeachment over Trump’s unconstitutional presents and emoluments from foreign nations unless he sells his foreign businesses,
  • Arguing for disqualification on the ground of mental illness,
  • Praying and fantasizing,

would be far more energized and popular if the “defeated” candidate were Bernie Sanders, who — judging by all existing polling (and theorizing what his general election campaign would have looked like) — would almost certainly not have been defeated by any means in the first place.

It’s worth thinking for a moment what could have been done differently. The corporate media could have not acted like the corporate media, of course. Democratic Party loyalists and super delegates and (most) labor unions could have not behaved like sold-out masochists. The DNC could have put the slightest effort into pretending to have a fair and open primary. People who wanted to overturn a corrupt system and imagined they saw the solution in Donald Trump could have switched their brains on. Women and men could have chosen substance over tokenism. Many African-Americans could have chosen substance over slime. People who can’t be bothered could have gotten up off their butts. Old people could have demonstrated the wisdom of the young.

But what might Bernie Sanders, his staff, his volunteers, his supporters, or his critics have done differently? Despite the many things Bernie and his people did right, were there things that might have been done a bit better? Note that this is not identical to the question “Is Bernie Satan?” Note also that it is a question being asked by people who worked long days for Bernie.

If you read Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything by Becky Bond and Zack Exley who worked for the Bernie campaign you’ll get one view. If you read Bernie & the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution by Jeffrey St. Clair who threw tomatoes from the peanut gallery, you’ll get another.

Here are some points on which I believe I largely agree with St. Clair:

1. Bernie should have opposed militarism. We now have Trump threatening increased military spending, not to mention xenophobia, bigotry, hateful violence, and a cabinet of warmongers. But we also have Trump proposing to end wars of overthrow and to de-fund boondoggles like the F-35, a pet Vermont pork project of Bernie Sanders. Bernie was hardly more convincing than Trump on ending wars, avoided mention of the military budget whenever he could, and proposed no truly peaceful agenda of transition to peaceful industries, investment in foreign aid and diplomacy, adherence to the rule of law, a halt to drone murders, an end to foreign arms sales and gifts — including gifts to brutal governments. What if Bernie had appealed to those who oppose mass murder? What if peace lovers for Bernie had been added to Veterans for Bernie, Latinos for Bernie, and the dozens of other Bernie groups? (The word “peace” shows up randomly in a list in Exley’s preface to his book but otherwise goes unmentioned.)

2. Bernie should have challenged the candidate he was supposedly challenging. Bond and Exley write that they had a policy of not criticizing She Who Must Not Be Named, nor even naming her. Trump won his primary by challenging his opponents. Every past candidate who has ever won any election, as far as I know, has challenged his or her opponent(s). If Hillary Clinton’s record, just as it was, had belonged to a Republican, the critique of it that Bernie would have put forth would have been devastating. But she was a Democrat, so he largely let her go. Here was someone who had taken millions into her family foundation from foreign governments and weapons makers and then approved deadly weapons deals, who had pushed fracking on the world, who had backed coups as well as wars, who had pushed banking and media consolidation, welfare destruction, mass incarceration, police militarization, and just about every other bad policy during the Decline and Fall. Yet you had millions of people imagining that Hillary and Bernie basically shared an agenda. And you had millions of people who knew little about Bernie, whom the corporate media found less interesting than the creep from Fifth Avenue who pulled no punches. (Yes, corporate media opposed Bernie for substantive reasons, but the signs were clear that if he would only speak out against Clinton they would air his statements.)

3. Bernie should have vigorously challenged dubious outcomes in Iowa, Nevada, and elsewhere and made clear that he would fight for honest vote counting.

4. Bernie should have sued the DNC for fraud.

5. If denied the nomination, Bernie should have run as an independent, with Jill Stein or otherwise — his commitment not to having been erased by the DNC’s slanting of the primary.

Here are some points on which I believe I basically agree with Bond and Exley:

1. Bernie’s campaign’s strength lay in volunteers and secondarily in small donors, not in establishment support or big money or, for that matter, acceptance by big media. It showed that big money and big media can be challenged. (I probably go off the Bond-Exley rails in suggesting that this also shows an independent might make a real challenge from outside the two parties if there were general awareness of the fact.)

2. Bernie’s campaign’s strength in volunteers could have been much better utilized than it was. I base this in large part on Bond’s and Exley’s testimony, and with understanding that every presidential election campaign is always a chaotic disaster and that nonetheless much was well done.

3. At the core of Bond’s and Exley’s concept of “Big Organizing” is big policy — that is, the practice of proposing major policy changes large enough to inspire people to work for them. Also part of it is big asks. Bond and Exley give the example of someone who had never signed an online petition but who responded as soon as he was asked to turn out and risk arrest to help end climate change (not an example from the Bernie campaign). I agree and would add that this could have gone farther. That is, Bernie’s policies could have been bigger. And his asks could have been bigger. Apart from phone calls to potential voters, Bernie’s volunteers could have been given bigger asks to behave as nonviolent activists on the issues they cared about — which could have changed the topics of debates and news reports.

4. Organizing needs both online and offline components, but also needs some level of media attention / public awareness. That last bit is not discussed much by Bond and Exley because they had as much of it as they could handle. They could have used more. And many good causes could use any at all.

5. Bernie could have done better at reaching out to African Americans. Becky Bond authored a chapter on this that I think is about right and worth reading.

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  • diogenes

    When the Democratic Party central apparatus prevented Bernie Sanders nomination it did what it was created to do and has always done — served the will of its masters, the Wall Street oligarchy, to whose predatory dominion Sanders presented a genuine challenge. This is the primary lesson Americans need to learn from this election, and which all the official media and all the phony “alternative” media are working hard to prevent anyone learning: that the Two Party System prevents democracy, now, and every election, and has done so for all our lifetimes and all our grandparents lifetimes. Nothing will change by peaceful democratic progressive means and in peaceful democratic progressive directions in America until Americans understand this basic fact and act like intelligent adults to work around it.

  • Tim Chambers

    The Left needs to do far more than run its candidates for President, because even if we make it to the White House, it is only one branch of government. As the Obama years have shown, if the Opposition is strong enough, nothing positive will get done. The Left needs to read the Republican Party playbook. It needs to unify around some core constituencies and core issues relevant to those constituencies, and pursue power at the local and state level first, then at the national level. We need to find candidates for every available office, and stop dividing voters according to hyphenated identities. We can do so within the party structure if we take over the party structure the way Clinton’s DLC did during the Reagan/Bush years.

    The one thing that makes Republicans so powerful in the south is by gerrymandering Left-leaning voters into overwhelming majority districts, allowing them more districts with comfortable Right-leaning majorities. Until we control the politics at the state level we have no chance of operating at the national level. Above all, we need the discipline to be a concerted opposition when that is our role to play.

    Perhaps the bright side of Trump’s election is that the Democratic Party will finally learn how to be an opposition party, but given the way it rolled over for Shrub, I somehow doubt that it will.

    • LEGOates

      “As the Obama years have shown…”? For the love of Mog, the first wto years of his term he his party had 59 Senates seats and a 257:178 edge in the House and an engaged active base; in other words,the sort of impetus not seen since 1932, and he did fuck-all.
      Piss-poor example

      • Tim Chambers

        Obama never intended to implement Progressive legislation. He was DLC from the beginning. As a “community organizer,” he worked for the Pritzger interests in Chicago, and the Blue Dogs he ran with were more concerned with the bond holders and bailing out Wall Street than they were with helping Main Street.

        If the first two years of Obama prove anything, it is that the Democratic Party is just as elitist as the Republican Party and it is time for working people to stop investing in either party. The activists in the NGO world, who don’t want to mess up their fingernails, need to get down and dirty with some real politicking.

        • LEGOates

          “Obama never intended to implement Progressive legislation.” Bingo.
          (Can you say “Just another Wall Street whore?”.)

  • profmarcus

    I am so utterly, totally, and completely disgusted with politics.

    Talking about how things could have been done better, could be done better next time, how to get better candidates, how to circumvent gerrymandering, arguing over identity vs. class divisions, how to reform the party structure, what we can learn from Trump’s election, is a pathetic and empty exercise. We’ve been down that road too many times already.

    The planetary ecosystem is collapsing and that collapse is poised to accelerate dramatically. Capitalism and democracy have both morphed into tools for control by the elites and are inexorably destroying what’s left of government by the people. A pathological narcissist and his retinue of uber-rich, empathy-free oligarchs will be taking the reins of the country in little more than a month. People are feeling pangs of regret that we didn’t vote for a corrupt, power-crazed, she-devil instead, and we’re worrying about POLITICS? Please…

    As much as reading Chris Hedges makes me want to blow my brains out, I am reluctantly coming to think he’s right. The only that that’s going to stop this train wreck is those of us with our eyes open coming together, standing shoulder to shoulder, doing what we know is right, and to stop putting any faith whatsoever in a system that is broken beyond repair.

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