By Jim Miller
Last week, Hillary Clinton paid a visit to her base in San Diego at a breakfast fundraiser in the home of Qualcomm executive Irwin Jacobs, which was billed as “A Conversation with Hillary.” Clinton arrived in a motorcade with two San Diego police cars and entered through the back door.
Of course, to be part of the conversation, you had to drop $1,000 to $2,700, the maximum contribution for an individual allowed under federal law.
Indeed, the Clinton machine has been hauling in big bucks for months now and, as of early July, had raised $48 million and is well on the way to the $100 million goal the campaign has set for the end of this year with the lion’s share of that money, both in this cycle and over the course of her career coming from moneyed interests, from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.
None of this should come as any surprise to those who know the Clintons’ history as the ever-opportunistic darlings of the Democratic Leadership Council and their spawn, the new Democrats, committed as they are to keeping the party squarely in the corporatist corner. Still, it’s dismaying. As Doug Henwood succinctly puts it:
A country that looks more and more like a frank plutocracy, with a deeply alienated and atomized population and rotting social and physical infrastructure, needs something fresher than another Clinton. (That her opponent could be yet another Bush is even more depressing.)
What could we expect from a Hillary presidency? My guess is that it would be Wall Street–friendly, militarized and secretive — though seasoned with mostly empty rhetoric about uplift, community and inclusion. It would do little to address polarization and rot. In fact it would be a perfect embodiment of polarization and rot. There will be strenuous efforts over the next year and a half to argue otherwise, but they will convince no one but loyalists.
One might think that with the Republican side setting itself on fire with the deliciously absurd Trump circus, it might be time for a real conversation about issues on the Democratic side, but as Matt Taibbi notes in “In the Age of Trump, Will Democrats Sell Out More, Or Less?,” proxies for the Clinton machine, like Barney Frank, are already hard at work selling the same old lines about how progressives, such as Bernie Sanders, just need to get out of the way so the corporate Democrats can protect us against the even more evil Republicans.
As Taibbi puts it:
The Democrats could take this godsend of a Trump situation and use it as an opportunity to finally have a healthy primary season debate about what they want to stand for in the future. But nah to that. They’ll probably just hoover donor cash and use press surrogates to bash progressives the way they always have. Trump or no Trump, if politicians don’t have to work for your vote, they won’t.
But fortunately for the country, Bernie Sanders isn’t listening to the Clinton surrogates.
Bernie and #BlackLivesMatter
While Hillary Clinton was being escorted into her breakfast with millionaires, Sanders, a soft target without a protective security brigade, was in Seattle getting shut down by #BlackLivesMatter protesters.
Unfortunately, in response, some of his white progressive supporters both at the event and over social media reacted with hostility as others rushed to express dismay and/or other more thoughtful musings.
Folks inside the #BlackLivesMatter movement, on the other hand, issued this statement:
At this time, #BlackLivesMatter does not endorse any presidential candidate. Moreover, we are not affiliated with a political party. Our work is not funded or driven by any political party nor is it influenced by local or national candidates.
As stated in our mission, #BlackLivesMatter is an ideological and political intervention; we are not controlled by the same political machine we are attempting to hold accountable. In the year leading up to the elections, we are committed to holding all candidates for Office accountable to the needs and dreams of Black people. We embrace a diversity of tactics. We are a decentralized network aiming to build the leadership and power of black people. We do not endorse any political party and we are not supported by any political party. Our political aims we’ve stated clearly.
Historically, all political parties have participated in the systematic disenfranchisement of Black people. Anti-black racism, especially that sanctioned by the state, has resulted in the loss of healthy and thriving Black life and well-being. Given that, we will continue to hold politicians and political parties accountable for their policies and platforms. We will also continue to demand the intentional dismantling of structural racism.
In the midst of this firestorm in the mainstream, alternative, and social media Sanders responded by hiring Symone Sanders, a prominent African American criminal justice reform advocate, putting out a comprehensive platform on fighting institutionalized racism and police brutality, and having #BlackLivesMatter and immigrants rights activists open his next campaign event in Los Angeles where an overflow crowd of more than 27,000 people roared in approval.
As the Los Angeles Times reported:
Sanders, who has been interrupted several times at previous rallies by Black Lives Matter demonstrators calling on him to address police shootings, invited the group to open his rally in Los Angeles. “There is no president that will fight harder to end institutional racism,” he told the crowd.
He also gave time to an immigrant rights activist, and pledged to bring the millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally “out of the shadows.”
“Eleven million people cannot continue to live in fear,” Sanders said.
So rather than rejecting the #BlackLivesMatter protest, Sanders took advantage of the opportunity it provided to strengthen his message and forefront his already solid record on racial and civil rights issues and won praise from several BLM activists.
After this, Clinton was forced to make a point of meeting with BLM protesters who had been shut out of one of her events.
One of the protesters involved, Daunasia Yancey, explained that they asked Clinton about “her and her family’s history with the war on drugs both at home and abroad, and how she felt about her involvement in that violence that has been perpetuated, especially against communities of color and against black folks . . . We wanted to know her reflections on her involvement as first lady, as senator, and as secretary of state . . . I heard a reflection on failed policy.”
Thus, despite efforts on the part of Clinton and her proxies to go after Sanders on race, it would appear that, by really listening and responding deftly, Sanders has turned this moment into a chance to refine his position, and along with #BlackLivesMatter, continue a national conversation about the intersecting issues of class and race. This is a far cry from Bill Clinton’s “Sister Souljah moment” and Hillary Clinton’s embarrassingly tone deaf 2008 South Carolina primary effort. That is to be applauded.
Some Thoughts on Race and Economics
What’s really at the root of the #BlackLivesMatter protests of Sanders is a larger question about how issues of race and racism do or don’t intersect with economics. The answer is that racism and economics have been deeply intertwined from the beginning.
Some of the most groundbreaking historical scholarship of late such as Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism addresses how slavery birthed American capitalism as we know it.
As Baptist puts it, “The idea that the commodification and suffering and forced labor of African-Americans is what made the United States powerful and rich is not an idea that people necessarily are happy to hear. Yet it is the truth.” Baptist’s book is part of a growing body of new scholarship on the history of capitalism in the West that points out that slavery was not an aberration from but indeed the model for what came later.
Hence while Sanders could have done a better job of talking about this interrelationship, those who suggest that his focus on economic inequality is somehow completely separate from the history and present practice of racism are also off the mark. Indeed, a focus on race bereft of economics is just as flawed as a focus on economics that ignores race. As Martin Luther King famously put it, “the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together.”
Where is Labor?
Sadly, my national union, the American Federation of Teachers, made headlines recently by rushing to endorse Clinton before the AFL-CIO. This was not well received in many circles. In anticipation of this move, my local, AFT 1931 voted to endorse Sanders back in May because we value the role he is playing in bringing vital issues into the national spotlight, and we wanted to see him push the discourse to the left.
As California Federation of Teachers President, Joshua Pechthalt (who was one of the two who voted against the Clinton endorsement on the AFT’s national executive board) put it in a message to CFT members:
[It was my argument that] the progressive movement would best be served by delaying an endorsement for as long as possible. Bernie Sanders’ campaign and message have served to pull the Democratic Party in a more progressive direction. He has raised important issues of economic inequality and provided, along with Elizabeth Warren, a sharp critique of Wall Street and the banks.
He has also advocated for free higher public education and has spelled out the most progressive populist message we have heard from a mainstream candidate in a long time. His position as an independent socialist has been a breath of fresh air and he is gaining traction on issues that resonate with the American people.
Recently Sanders did receive the endorsement of the nurses but much of the rest of labor has yet to make the call. My guess is that the AFT story may repeat itself in other places with the rank and file sympathetic to Sanders while the leadership falls prey to the “bet on the winner to be at the table” logic that still holds sway in much of labor even as union workers have less and less reason to have faith that Democrats in Clinton’s mold will be there for them when the chips are down.
There is a chance, however, that Sanders’s bold populist message and near perfect labor record will be enough for him to win the day at the AFL-CIO, particularly if he continues to build momentum.
The Left of the Left
And then there are those for whom, the “socialist” Bernie Sanders is not left enough because he is running as a Democrat. As Joshua Frank argues in Counterpunch:
Sure, Bernie will talk tough when it comes to these failed policies. He’ll criticize fast tracked free-trade agreements and corporate plutocracy, but his hardy embrace of the Democrats continues to undermine his own criticisms. It’s as if Bernie got a job at a coal mining outfit in hopes of stopping the melting of ice caps in the Arctic. His bid for the White House is simply a dead end and a waste of scarce resources.
So on one side, Bernie has the Clintonites trying to force him out so Hillary can coopt the progressive message and, on the other, he has #BlackLivesMatter pushing him on race and some but not all leftists condemning him for not doing anything to build an independent politics.
Even Noam Chomsky chimed in on the Sanders run arguing that even though it was unlikely Sanders would win:
I’m glad that Sanders is running. A good way to bring important ideas and facts to people. His candidacy might also press the Dems a little in a progressive direction. In our system of bought elections he has scarcely a chance of getting beyond the primaries, and even if by some miracle he were elected he wouldn’t be able to do anything, lacking any congressional representatives, governors, etc. As far as I can see he’s a thorn in the side of the Clinton machine, which is not a bad thing.
In sum, there hasn’t been a spectrum of debate this wide in a primary season in quite a while. Perhaps this current conversation will help folks on all sides further and deepen their analysis rather than take part in the kind of circular firing squad for which the left is famously known.
Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will
The smart money, of course, is on the very dismally depressing Clinton vs. Bush petty, mud-slinging triangulation fest that Doug Henwood fears, but there is something inspiring in Bernie’s no bullshit, against all odds campaign against plutocracy.
He has already surpassed the expectations of many and is building a really solid campaign talking about fundamental issues rather than focus group-tested “conversations.” With historic levels of economic inequality, a racial divide growing deeper, and the existential threat of catastrophic climate change, we need a political revolution.
Why not vote for the only guy in the race who really wants one?