When Samantha Powers praises an article by Cass Sunstein, tweeting it as “important and enlightening”, you can be pretty sure that it is utter tripe. Why? Because these two are leading members of the neoliberal faction that has dominated the Democratic party and is trying hard to make sure that their stranglehold is not weakened by the progressives organizing around Bernie Sanders.
Who are Powers and Sunstein? Powers was US ambassador to the UN during the Obama administration, an admirer and friend of war criminal Henry Kissinger, and ardent advocate of US military ‘humanitarian interventions’ around the world which is often indistinguishable from plain old standard issue warmongering. Sunstein has held various positions in Democratic administrations, most recently as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration. As ProPublica reported back in 2014, “When Washington lobbyists fail to derail regulations proposed by federal agencies, they often find a receptive ear within the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, an arm of the White House Office of Management and Budget that conducts much of its business in secret.” Powers and Sunstein married in 2008, truly a match made in heaven
So what words of wisdom does Sunstein have to offer? Even by neoliberal standards his article is a doozy. He starts by arguing that Donald Trump and Vladmir Putin are both using divisive tactics that were developed by Karl Marx and Lenin in order to ‘heighten the contradictions’ in society.
In short, the Russians tried to foster a sense of grievance and humiliation on all sides. The goal was to intensify social divisions and to contribute to an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and anger, even rage, that would ultimately weaken the nation and make it difficult to govern. Lenin would have been proud.
He then paints a mythical portrait of former presidents as seeking to dampen divisiveness but that unlike them, Trump aggravates divisive factors in order to heighten the contradictions too. Really? Where has Sunstein been living the past decades? Sowing divisions has been pretty much standard politics in the US. Trump is not different. He is just more crass and obvious.
But then we get to the real point of the article right at the end where it becomes clear that Sunstein has been using an article that is purportedly aimed at Trump to really attack Bernie Sanders.
While Trump’s characteristic strategy is to intensify social divisions, and to make what divides Americans as salient and visible as possible, that approach is more often associated with the left than the right (true to its Marxist origins).
In the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders has long been drawn to the approach, arguing that the interests of good, decent ordinary people are sharply opposed to those of powerful and supposedly evil actors (such as “the banks”). As Sanders’ influence has grown, the Democratic Party has moved to the left, sometimes with proposals that are rooted less in careful policy analysis than in a Manichean view of American society.
So there it is, classic neoliberal demagoguery, lumping Sanders in with Marx, Lenin, Putin, and Trump in one incoherent mess. Sunstein doesn’t actually come right out and say that Sanders is one of Lenin’s ‘useful idiots’ but he leaves that implication hovering in the air. This is why neoliberals are a menace within the Democratic party. Their goal is to preserve the status quo but put a liberal gloss on it.
Across the Atlantic, Jeremy Corbyn received a rousing reception at a conference of center-left parties in Brussels when he called for abandoning neoliberal economics if progressive parties want to win elections again.
Mr Corbyn said low taxes, deregulation and privatisation had not brought prosperity for Europe’s populations and that if social democratic parties continued to endorse them they would continue to lose elections.
He berated the longstanding leadership of the centre left, telling delegates from across the EU: “For too long the most prominent voices in our movement have looked out of touch, too willing to defend the status quo and the established order.
“In a desperate attempt to protect what is seen as the centre ground of politics: only to find the centre ground has shifted or was never where the elites thought it was in the first place.”
“But we can offer a radical alternative; we have the ideas to make progressive politics the dominant force of this century. But if we don’t get our message right, don’t stand up for our core beliefs, and if we don’t stand for change we will founder and stagnate.”
He continued: “The neoliberal economic model is broken. It doesn’t work for most people. Inequality and low taxes for the richest are hurting our people and harming the economy as even the IMF now acknowledges.
“It is, my friends, possible to win those arguments if you engage with them and put them out there. We will continue to do that. If our message is bold, and our message is radical, if we listen to what the majority actually want, we will prove the elites and their pundits wrong.”
Powers and Sunstein (and their patrons the Clintons) represent the past that should be abandoned. The ideas of Sanders and Corbyn represent the future.