The Sanders Conundrum
Protesters camp out in Senator Chuck Schumer’s Capitol Hill Office, November 14, 2016 (source)
by Gaius Publius
co•nun•drum (kə-nŭnˈdrəm) n. A paradoxical, insoluble, or difficult problem; a dilemma: "the conundrum, thus far unanswered, of achieving full employment without inflation” (Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.)
I'm writing this to pose a question, not to offer an answer, at least not for now. Consider:
1. It's important to oppose Trump, especially now that buyer's remorse is setting in and Trump's voter base is freaking out about, among other things, Republican (non-)support for Social Security and Medicare. It's important for progressives to get involved in that discontent and help guide it.
2. Among progressives, Bernie Sanders is the perfect messenger and catalyst to speak to and for that discontent, that reaction and rebellion.
3. And yet, if the way he catalyzes, inflames, and channels that opposition also blesses the neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party (who also want to cut Social Security and Medicare) as something better than they are — if Sanders helps paint them in false colors — is that really a win, either for Sanders or the nation?
Again, the last is a real question and not just a rhetorical one, since opposition to Trump must be effective or we're all in trouble.
The question is a conundrum, as defined above, and I don't think I'm ready to answer it. But I do think it the question must be asked, and asked now, before we get too far into the game of "Making Neo-Liberal Democrats Look Like What They're Not ... Again."
Because if this is the wrong game to play, the repainting neo-liberals game, Bernie Sanders of all people is exactly the wrong person to be playing it.
Here's TYT reporter Jordan Chariton making the case that Sanders is making a mistake. Note: I'm not making that case until I give more thought to the alternatives, but I do want you to notice that the question Chariton asks is a valid one.
Writing at Mediaite, Chariton says (my emphasis):
Bernie Sanders Has The Right Message—But The Wrong StrategySchumer's history of vacuuming up Wall Street cash to consolidate personal power in the Democratic Party is well documented at DWT (more here). Chariton again:
As a progressive journalist who doesn’t hide the fact that I personally support Bernie Sanders, it’s bittersweet to come to this critical conclusion: the progressive icon has the right message, but the wrong strategy.
Sunday was a classic example. Sanders, alongside Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, brought out 8,000 people to a save Obamacare rally on a freezing cold Michigan day.
And trust me, they weren’t there for Schumer’s electrifying speech.
So, you might ask, where’s the problem? Of course, it’s a good thing to energize thousands of people to come out during an election year, much less a random, off-election year Sunday.
But the problem is who Sanders is allowing to piggyback off his powerful, consistent message. Schumer embodies everything that’s wrong, not only with the Democratic Party, but American politics in general. He’s a politician that, over the years, has invested more in his own personal perseverance of power than in helping the average, working class person he’s entrusted in to represent.
[T]he Schumer’s of the world, whose votes on economic issues don’t depart much from Republicans, are able to fool many Americans into thinking they are the ones fighting the good fight for the average Joe—just by being on the same stage and grabbing the same headlines as Sanders.Because it's really easy to see that this as a con on Schumer's part, isn't it? He's clearly using Sanders to "phoenix" himself and his fellow bought Democrats as somehow better now, newborn, using the fact that Sanders and they are on the same side of some fights, or at least, this fight. (If you don't believe that the Democratic Party as a whole are using Sanders this cynically, watch Democratic House and Senate votes during the Trump cabinet confirmations. If the votes go down as I think they will, I bet you'll conclude that the Party is the same as it always was, the same as it was last year when it was rejected by the voters as "not the solution we were looking for after all.")
Why should Sanders allow a Democrat like Schumer—who’s against the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, who played a key role in getting derivates deregulated for the big banks, who takes oodles of cash from oil companies destroying our planet, who stayed silent while police illegally shot at and abused unarmed water protectors fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline—to stand next to him and con less politically-astute Americans into thinking he’s some type of progressive warrior?
And yet, how can Sanders, who clearly understands the danger Trump represents, reject such a partnership? Would you reject such a partnership, if you were Sanders, and risk being less effective by hitting the road alone?
A bit more from Chariton:
This does more than damage hearts and minds of progressives: it risks setting up the Democratic Party —which certainly looks like it will still be a bought-off, Republican-lite party in four years— as the protagonist in the 2020 thriller that seeks to take down the evil Republican boogeyman, President Trump.There are two armies in the field against us, not just the one. Those who don't see that didn't support Sanders in the primary. And despite all the institutional thumbs on the electoral and media scales, millions upon millions of people supported Sanders in the primary — against a candidate, Hillary Clinton, whom they saw as representing all they rejected; and against policies, "Clintonism," that they saw as taking America even further down a deadly, destructive road. Those people, Sanders supporters, want to see both armies crushed, not just one; and they want to see real progressive policies rise from those dual graves.
And once victorious, America will be back where it’s been for the last eight years: improving on the surface, but structurally drowning as the majority live paycheck to paycheck while most of the money keeps funneling to Schumer’s donors.
Chariton asks, what good does it do in the end to defeat Trumpism, if as you do you position Clintonism as the natural alternative in the next election? As the protest group All of Us said in their petition when they staged demonstration in the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer (image above):
“Donald Trump won by channeling anti-establishment anger and worry about long-term economic decline, and pointing the blame at people of color and immigrants. He sold his supporters a racist lie, and gave them an outlet for their rage at a broken system. The only way to stop his disastrous policies now, and beat the Republicans in 2018 and 2020, is through a vision of our own that acknowledges that the system is broken and places the blame where it belongs—with Wall Street, the big corporations, and a political establishment that is beholden to them.Yet, many would ask, as I'm sure Sanders does ask — how do you not go to war with Trump alongside anyone who will help you defeat him?
“Insisting that trickle-down economics and corporate friendly policies are working is what lost Hillary Clinton the presidency—and that’s why we can’t let Wall Street Democrats like Chuck Schumer lead the party any longer. Schumer, as one of the U.S. Senators who has received the most contributions from Wall Street, exemplifies the establishment that voters across the political spectrum have rejected.”
Does Sanders — do progressives — have a path against Trump that doesn't involve restoring one enemy while defeating the other? How do we turn anger at Trump into a win for progressives, instead of a win for the Clinton wing of the Party?
I'll leave you to ponder that. A conundrum.