To the consternation of the Democratic party establishment and the mainstream media, Bernie Sanders is once again proving that he has strong support, both in terms of getting large numbers of volunteers signed up and in small donations. The party establishment hates him because he is not part of the neoliberal wing that encompasses the Clintons, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden, plus many of the other contenders for the party’s presidential nomination. Sanders and Warren are the two people who are taking direct aim at the control by the oligarchy of pretty much all the major institutions of American political and economic life.
As a result, we are seeing the familiar playbook being used to try and marginalize them by focusing on trivial issues. Matt Taibbi writes that he has seen this kind of smear campaign play out before.
The satirist Ambrose Bierce, author of the Devil’s Dictionary, once defined radicalism as “the conservatism of tomorrow injected into the affairs of today.”
What Bierce wittily captured — that today’s radicals are tomorrow’s normies — means that at any given moment, the current political establishment will be fighting off the inevitable.
The practice of painting dissident challenges as selfish, hypocritical acts — as opposed to the selfless altruism of corporate-funded candidates — has been going on forever. Long before Sanders was framed as a thin-skinned, cranky narcissist who’s “all about himself,” Dennis Kucinich went through the same thing.
Kucinich was/is living proof of the Bierce aphorism. When he announced his run for president in October of 2003, the Ohio congressman “stood up against corporate interests,” promised to revoke NAFTA, endorsed decriminalization of marijuana, called for universal health care and trumpeted “amnesty and legalization for illegal immigrants.”
He was the only candidate promising to withdraw troops from Iraq, and in those jingoistic years after 9/11, he not only brought an imam on stage for his launch, he took a shot at Columbus Day.
Many of these ideas are now blue-state orthodoxy. “Universal health care” is an official goal of the Democratic Party, even if the party doesn’t mean it in the same way Kucinich did. He was right about Iraq — he was the only one right about Iraq in that field — and significant parts of the electorate are beginning to suspect he was right about NAFTA, the legalization of marijuana and a bunch of other things.
But back in the 2000s, when Kucinich still had a small voice in national politics, he was routinely denounced as something worse than a radical: a kook, nut and egomaniac. I covered both of the Kucinich runs for the presidency and saw how frustrated he became over time as his ideas were ignored and his campaigns were denounced as indulgences
The anger toward the political establishment that drives support for such politicians began to be visible over a decade ago, long before Sanders or Gabbard were factors in any kind in national politics.
Those voters aren’t selfish, or hypocrites, or Kremlin favorites, and they’re not going anywhere. What a lot of DC-based reporters and analysts don’t grasp is that if you remove Bernie Sanders from the scene, there will still be millions of people out there mad about income inequality. Remove Gabbard, and discontent about the human and financial costs of our military commitments will still be rampant. Removing Warren won’t cancel out anger about Wall Street corruption.
Cory Doctorow also weighs in on the attempts to marginalize Sanders. Adam Johnson also asks the following pertinent question:
Why does the New York Times take rich liberals at their word that their concern with Bernie Sanders is that he would lose to Trump, rather than the obvious, glaring fact that his election would run counter to their interests?
The New York Times (4/16/19) profiled a network of “wealthy liberal donors” who, shockingly, are not fans of Bernie Sanders, who according to the same report has rejected their big-bundler funding and instead opted for small donations. (The Times reported the same day that 84 percent of Sanders’ donations are less than $200; by contrast, only 37 percent of Kamala Harris’ donations are.)
That a network of multi-millionaire and billionaire donors would dislike a candidate who not only rejects their funding, but is actively trying to tax them at rates not seen since 1960, would surely be enough reason to explain why these wealthy elites would want to “stop” his nomination. But not to the credulous New York Times, which takes at face value rich donors’ claim to oppose Sanders because they believe he simply can’t defeat Trump.
For the wealthy, ideology simply doesn’t exist. No, they’re just Very Concerned about fielding the Best Candidate.
It’s a variation on the Inexplicable Republican Best Friend trope FAIR previously documented (2/26/19): Instead of assuming that lifelong conservatives may just prefer more conservative politicians, progressive-bashing GOP pundits are propped up as neutral observers simply looking out for the Democratic Party. Just the same, super-wealthy Democratic donors can’t oppose Sanders because they simply prefer more centrist, pro-Wall Street candidates; they must have a sincere, pragmatic concern he would lose the general election.
Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum, who is very much in tune with the Democratic party establishment, was a solid Hillary Clinton supporter in 2016, and never misses a chance to disparage Sanders. Just recently he gave what he said was his ‘underinformed take’ on the current crop of presidential contenders. ‘Underinformed’ is putting it mildly. Here is his capsule summary of Sanders “Old, crotchety, and takes himself way too seriously these days” which is just a series of gratuitous slurs. What does it even mean to say that he takes himself way too seriously? It means nothing of course. But what best captures the attitude of people like Drum is his comment about Kamala Harris: “Serious, experienced, and has acquitted herself well in the Senate. Progressive, but not so progressive that she can’t appeal to moderates. I’d be happy to see her nominated.” Of course he would. She is cut from the same neoliberal cloth that is much loved by people like Drum.
The sentence ” Progressive, but not so progressive that she can’t appeal to moderates” really says it all. These people are so enamored of the ‘moderates’ (i.e., people just like them) that they are terrified of anyone who they think will really challenge the status quo.
Marcus Ranum says
The democrats are preparing to lose to Trump again. This time, it’s going to take hard work, but they’re going to do it.
The Democrats have been preparing to lose to Trump since 2011.
Steve Bruce says
I’m generally very sceptical of criticisms of “identity politics”, which the right wing constantly deploys, but seeing some of the idiotic criticisms against Sanders wielded by the Centrists I’m beginning to think that there is some truth to that right wing talking point.
I thought you were going to talk about the ridiculous accusations that he’s somehow a hypocrite because he’s made a lot of money off of his book, as if every socialist is a hypocrite if they own private property. It’s a lot like the thread over on Fierce Roller where a bunch of theists tell atheists what they are supposed to believe.