There are ways to understand politics which help explain how ugly they get. It’s not just a polite discussion about the future of a country. It can be war, just short of a shooting one. And this is especially the case in highly divided nations. We live in such a moment. Ours is extremely divided.
So if you think of these as battles, with carefully staged supply lines, and long-range planning, your thinking will change. The results, while not obvious, can be lethal to the losing side. Why when you examine politics and agendas you need to ask, who benefits? Ultimately there are two ways for politics to turn out:
* You have a small group that controls all of what happens in the government to benefit themselves.
* You have a government that benefits a majority of the people.
Most nations run somewhere in between. The United States though is closer to the first scenario and has been for at least twenty five years when the Third Way took over the Democratic Party. This brings me to the first stage in any political campaign: CONTROL.
National elites are of two types. They either control a party outright, or they execute a takeover. For the Democrats, this take over of a more friendly to the corporate business elite party, started in the late 1960s, early 1970s. It was driven by things like a revolt against the welfare state of the mid-century, the exact same welfare state that benefited those rebels with cheap college, for example. Then there was the civil rights movement and concessions to the African American community, to a lesser extent Mexican Americans. This drove southern politics, where a lot of this movement took shape under the shadow of a liberal establishment.
To be brutal, mid-century liberals did not notice when they take over started. It was a well-staged military campaign lasting over two decades. It started in places like your school board, and the city council. Some of the early training came at school government, and Democratic clubs, with winning slates to the central committee and state party delegates. Then they got into committees where local party platforms are written.
It is in these places that like-minded young activists met. And from there, many were elected to state-level offices. And again, alliances were struck. Some of these young Turks built a voting base, with the name recognition they built from lower offices, and some went to Congress. The class of 1976 was important, it was young and ready for revolution. They knew they wanted to overturn that mid-century liberal establishment.
After President Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980, the fate of that liberal establishment was sealed. Reagan marks the beginning of a selfish age in the United States and a corporate takeover of both parties. For Democrats, the balance went from mid-century liberals to the third way. By 1992 Bill Clinton was President, and the liberals were facing the same collapse we have seen globally.
The second stage of any campaign is to discourage your ideological enemies from organizing and voting. And in this sense, the American progressive movement makes it very easy for the DLC. This is a group that rarely organizes in an effective manner. Rallies do not count unless you can get people to the ballot. And this has been effectively the problem with progressive politics for at least two decades.
Fast forward to the present.
We are at a point of inflection. The country is desperate for the kinds of policies that once were far from crazy. Medicare for All was part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights.
Americans also want better living standards and the kind of near free to free university education we once had. This is the same education that prepared a generation of politicians that dismantled it.
Americans want an economic system that is fair and allows people to do far more than just survive. Fun fact, the minimum wage peaked in its acquisitive value in 1968. It remained at that level, it would be anywhere from $17 to $30 dollars per hour, depending on who you read. Ergo, $15 dollars an hour is good but does not get to 1968.
Yet, this matters…unlike those blue dogs who worked their way up, and realigned their party, progressives are trying to change things from the top down, and predictably facing resistance. It gets worse, the youth is repeating an American pattern: The youth still do not vote in numbers where any politician cares about them. However, seniors do, and seniors are the base for many a blue dog.
Progressives seem to be all over the map, and do not get people elected to local boards (though some of that is starting to change. Some local Central Committee seats are now in the hands of self-ascribed progressives and activists, but the numbers are still low.) and then there is California, where there is a progressive backbench, and a more conservative backbench as well. This is not the rule nationwide though, and it needs to be.
Yet, we have a presidential campaign that is at the heart of the movement. If he fails to deliver a nomination…
But we still are missing the votes. It is as if the general of this army does not have a long-range strategy. And by that, I mean the long-range strategy that will allow progressives to take over the party in an effective fashion. This plan has to be as long-ranging and effective as that of the Democratic Leadership Council. In fact, progressives need that kind of ideological planning, and the Center for American Progress has not been effective in that role. Party because this involves money, and one way to blunt progressives is to bleed corporate money into progressive organizations. So progressives may have to do this the way movements were built at the end of the 19th century, and that is a hard slog. The web though makes it easier.
Many progressives are under the delusion that if they take the presidency this will be enough. I will say it now. Given the control of the party by the neoliberal wing, Sanders will be one of the most ineffective presidents in modern history. This is because progressives lack the infrastructure at all levels of the party to enact his policies. And full disclosure, I like his politics.
There is this belief, coming from the last forty years involving the imperial presidency to the point that many Americans confuse the president with a proto-king. This is why many presidents, not just Barack Obama or Donald Trump, try to pass things by using executive orders. However, Trump has an easier time since his ideological wing does control large parts of the Republican Party infrastructure. Whether that is due to fear, or actual control is a good question.
Democrats do have two dominant wings, the Progressive lane, and the Third Way. The latter has been ascendant over the last forty years and has vast swaths of party control. In the recent past, we have seen some life on the Progressive end of the equation. What we have yet to see is a coordinated, nationwide, take over of the party. Partly because all we need is the presidency.
There is great frustration on the part of the progressives, that comes out as a series of conspiracy theories. No, the moderates coalescing behind a moderate candidate is not a party putting a thumb on the scale, or a conspiracy. It is raw, intelligent politics. It had the desired result.
Then there is the youth vote. I was hoping that FINALLY, they would show up. But they did not, and this has been a long story going back at least fifty years. The only time when the youth vote showed any signs of life was 1972, right after eighteen-year-olds were given the vote. For the most part, young people go to rallies, participate in social media, and YouTube, but they fail to take the last critical step: VOTE. One reason perhaps, is that they do not understand how critical primaries are. Anecdotally I heard a whole series of excuses from young Sanders supporters who could not be bothered to take that final step. But, #neverBiden is their current mantra.
Older voters who saw him come to defeat are also near despondent. And they are also in the same lane. I am not going to beg people to vote, or shame them. It is their business. However, I will point out that the DLC took over the Democratic Party by understanding this reality. You do not take over a party by staying home. You show up and vote for your slate every time. You work for your slate every time. You explain your ideology and your plans, all the time.
I also understand that every election a number of voters will do that, and the winning coalition brings into their tent a whole new universe of voters. Incidentally, this is what Sanders has promised, and has yet to materialize. I fear Joe Biden may fail to do that in November, but we have an ongoing disaster that will help whoever wins the primary. It is far from over, and mathematically Sanders could still overcome the lead Biden does have, but we will know when the votes are tallied. If people stay home, it is indeed over.
Long term Progressives need to figure out how they take over a party. It is not sexy, and it is not fun. Forming a third party is fantasy since it is not 1852. And the rules to get onto state ballots are such that a third party will have issues. You don’t believe me, just ask the Green Party. I guess some progressives will try to do that, and then reality will hit them like a freight train. I wish this was not the case, but it is. In other words, they need to stop bringing rubber knives to nuclear war.
Could all this lead to civil unrest? I have written elsewhere that we are in the midst of a cold civil war. However hot wars or hot revolutions require people to show up. If they cannot show up to vote, I suspect that the next step will be a bridge too far.