The political debate frame has shifted to the left

It was interesting to read reports of the recent back-and-forth between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton as to who is a real progressive, with both claiming the label. It was not long ago that Republicans had managed to so damage the label of even the perfectly honorable political tradition of liberalism that leaders of the Democratic party shied away from it, and veered into the so-called ‘third way’ neoliberalism policies that they would describe as centrism or moderate or some such euphemism.

The fact that the Democrats have now zipped past liberalism and embraced progressivism and are even edging towards socialism is a welcome step. Although Sanders has long and proudly declared himself to be a democratic socialist, I don’t think that he can take credit for this change in the zeitgeist. I would say that grass-roots movements such as the anti-WTO rallies, the anti-war movements in the wake of the Afghanistan/Iraq/Libya/Syria debacles, and the Occupy movement all laid the foundations of this shift. But Sanders has to be given credit for being the first among major politicians for recognizing that change was in the air and that the time had come when his views were entering the mainstream. Young people, who are in the vanguard of those grass roots movements, have naturally flocked to him. Sanders crushed Clinton by a whopping margin of 84%-14% among Iowa voters in the 17-29 age group.

Good evidence of the impact that this has had on the debate is how the head of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein has come out of the shadows and is openly warning about the danger that Sanders poses, calling it a “dangerous moment” in American politics. No doubt he fears a resurgence of earlier periods of popular anger at the oligarchy. These people patronize young people as brainless, ill-informed and naïve.

For people who so very pleased with themselves for ostensibly being so much smarter than everyone else, people like Blankfein are oddly uncreative when it comes to deflecting criticism.

The people who don’t like them are always overemotional communists. All those young people who are flocking to the Sanders campaign? Dupes, misled by dumb professors who’ve never been to Cuba.

And their anger toward Wall Street? Causeless and random, just a bunch of folks riding an emotional pendulum that brainlessly swings back and forth. Don’t take it personally, people are just moody that way.

The fact that Sanders and his young following scare people like Blankfein is a good reason to vote for him.

Clinton, along with her husband, is a fully paid up member of the neoliberal movement and has raked in huge sums of money by giving speeches to Goldman Sachs and other banks and corporations, getting $675,000 from that bank alone. She realizes that she cannot plausibly claim to be more progressive than Sanders, however much she now pivots to embrace the label. So she describes herself as a ‘progressive who gets results’, which is a wink and a nod to those opposed to progressivism that she will sell progressives down the river to placate the oligarchs.

But her responses as to why she took so much money from the banks have been awkward to say the least. Defending the payments she got from the financial sector, she challenges critics to identify a single vote that she has changed because of the money she received. Elizabeth Warren has actually provided one instance of that.

But Clinton is being deliberately obtuse to think that is the only way that money works. The oligarch’s preferred method is to identify people who are already sympathetic to them and will do what they want and then help them get into office. Such people are more reliable agents for serving their agenda than those who have to be bribed to change their views. And they have clearly identified her as one of them and have been nurturing her progress for a long time. I suspect that they would prefer her to even Donald Trump because what they really want are people who are liberal on social issues because then the liberal/progressive wing of the Democratic party will be quiet when they advance policies that favor the oligarchy. They succeeded with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton would slip right into that groove. That is the reason why Blankfein warns people against Sanders but not against her, even though she claims the same progressive mantle as Sanders.


  1. Robert,+not+Bob says

    Mr. Banker is using the Fallacy of Excluded Middle for all he’s worth. It’s the main (secular) conservative argument. Appealing (naturally…) to older voters.

  2. Trickster Goddess says

    Anyone under the age of 27 wasn’t even alive during the cold war and the only system they have knowledge of is capitalism. Even people up to the age of 40 or so have very little cultural memory of the clash of the political ideologies of the time. So the Wall St. bankers trying to raise specters of evil socialist boogiemen fall completely flat.

    Even for those who were adults during the cold war, it is a fading memory of a different world order in a different age and the idea of socialism no longer evokes any visceral feelings of an existential threat. And combined with today’s capitalism-only world on corporate steriods, older people may be open to re-evaluating their feelings on the subject.

  3. Milton says

    Hi Mano,

    In addition to “money for access/influence” and backing candidates predisposed to their agenda, there is a third way in which large political contributions influence policy. All the research on cognitive bias and how we make decisions suggests people like Hillary is more likely to favour policies which advantage her contributors, even if she herself is unaware she is being influenced.

  4. Al Dente says

    Someone who makes more in a month than most people make in their lifetimes should not be whining about taxation and regulations.

  5. lorn says

    Whichever Democratic candidate wins the presidency they will enter office as lame ducks the first day. The congress is going to, short of significant numbers of Republican office holders committing suicide or have a ‘road to Damascus’ epiphany and becoming liberals, be deadlocked from day one and no laws will be passed or modified. In that context the Democratic presidency starting January 2017 is going to go down as a failure. Doomed by political constipation.

    Bernie’s proposed laws aren’t going to see the light of day. He can propose all the fine and much needed progressive laws he wishes. He will see them die simply because the GOP will have the votes to block it. If historic trends are any guide the immovable blockage by the GOP in congress will only further solidify in the mid-year elections. At best any Democratic president will be occupied in an extended rear-guard action. Helping progressives hold out until the demographics and redistricting tilts the field toward the liberal side.

    The choice of Bernie or Hillary is simply a matter of which will be the least damaging to the progressive movement to see fail. Hillary will have a major accomplishment under her belt the moment she walks into the Oval Office. She would be the first woman president. Bernie would be the first Jew, something he hasn’t pressed, but otherwise he is just another old white guy.

    Would you rather see Bernie fail slowly over four years, or Hillary.

  6. John Morales says

    lorn, no comment about your ongoing defeatism, but on this:

    Bernie would be the first Jew, something he hasn’t pressed, but otherwise he is just another old white guy.

    It’s interesting to know that you consider Jews are considered to be white people (unlike Muslims) in the USA.

  7. Nick Gotts says


    For all I know, you may be sincere, but when I see someone produce such a convoluted argument against voting for real progressive change, my inclination is to think that such change is something they are keen to avoid.

  8. doublereed says

    The fact is that Bernie Sanders policies are actually popular. Ignoring the corruption difference, the difference between Hillary and Bernie as President would be their tactics. Bernie Sanders is not afraid to actually propose popular things and force the republicans to openly be against many popular proposals. Hillary and Obama do not put the republicans into this position. They allow them to hide in these vague middle grounds.

    Force them to unequivocally denounce veteran’s benefits. Force them to respond to questions of women’s autonomy. Force them to answer questions about racism. Force them to admit that they are against working families. Many people recognize that Republican policies benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, but the mainstream media very rarely calls them out for this directly. However, if politicians openly declare that against one another, that forces the media to talk about it.

    The way to beat the republicans is to fight them out in the open, not try to cut deals. If your policies are more popular, then your strategy is to beat the opposing team into submission with your sheer popularity.

  9. lorn says

    As with so much of life, timing is everything. Neither Bernie, nor Hillary, can do anything without a substantial Democratic majority, possibly even a super majority, in both houses of congress.

    Fact is that the GOP will be able to block all Democratic efforts, and will continue to be able to until such time as the Democrats win more seats than are up for grab in this election cycle. This will not change this election cycle and, given historic trends of mid-terms going against the party holding the presidency, may only change in the 2020 election.

    That isn’t defeatism, pessimism, or negativism. It is a basic understanding of math and how many votes are necessary to pass, or block, legislation.

    The next president is likely to be a Democrat and the most likely response to this will be Republicans marching in lock-step to block their every move. The next president will be facing what Obama has been facing for the last two years.

    If Democrats play our cards right there will be a revolution. But the starting date for this revolution is in 2020, not 2016.

  10. Holms says

    So basically voting for progressive candidates won’t make much difference, therefore don’t even attempt to do so. Cool.

  11. lorn says

    Without a serious majority in both houses the plans to reform this, that, and the other thing, all very attractive and desirable, are meaningless because none of them will become law. Free college tuition is a grand idea. But without a congress that will pass it, you might as well throw in pony rides on the moon and a flying car in every driveway because none of it is going to become law, or get funding.

    While keeping the presidency Democratic is necessary to keep the GOP from running the board and returning the nation to the 1860s, it is not sufficient to bring about change. The progressive agenda is dead on arrival if it shows up before there are the congressional votes to make it law. Loudly proclaiming goals which you will not have the power to pull off is a political dead-end.

    What needs to happen is progressives need to stop worrying about which Democrat gets into the white house and start focusing on winning seats in the legislative branch. I personally think that Hillary will fulfill the role of as hard-pressed lame-duck with style and grace. She will have made her mark the day she gets sworn in but she seems uniquely suited to the frustrations of political trench warfare.

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