The Struggle For The Democratic Party’s Soul

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The Struggle For The Democratic Party’s Soul

By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

“We always tend to blame the wrong people. We blame the banks.” – Michael Bloomberg, attacking Occupy Wall Street, 2011.

“You have $500 in the bank, and you spend $2.75 on a subway swipe in the crumbling MTA. A billionaire has $64 billion in the bank and spends $350,000,000 on TV ads bragging about how good of a mayor they were. You’ve spent more of your wealth than the billionaire has.” — Jack Califano, Sanders 2020 Deputy Distributed Organizing Director.

“Mike Bloomberg is the perfect climate candidate for 2007,” Charles Komanoff, co-founder of the nonprofit Carbon Tax Center

California’s March 3 presidential primary will be the most consequential one in history, for three simple reasons:

1. California has never gone so early,
2. The election has never been so wide open,
3. It’s a key battleground in the struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party—with 415 delegates at stake, more than 10% of the total and 30% of those at stake on Super Tuesday.

Will the party look to its own billionaire to save it in the battle to defeat Donald Trump? Or will it turn to an anti-billionaire champion instead? Or will it muddle along somewhere in between? Although things could change by the time California votes, right now there appear to be two possible candidates for each of those options:

  • Billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg,
  • anti-billionaires Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders,
  • and in-betweeners Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg. They’re not billionaires, but they’re not focused on fighting them, either.

In turn, each of these three pairs presents distinct differences. Bloomberg’s extreme wealth, troubled racist, anti-Muslim history as a three-term Republican mayor of New York City, and habit of using his wealth to stifle critical voices makes Steyer seem almost monk-like in comparison. Yet, even if Steyer is ethically far superior to Bloomberg, he’s still a billionaire, nonetheless.

Labor lawyer and philanthropist Dianne Middleton sees only one anti-billionaire choice.

“It is time for real political change,” Middleton said. “Bernie Sanders has been unwavering in his determination to take on the billionaire class, the fossil fuel industry, and big pharma. He calls for immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship, an end to the prison industrial complex, college debt, endless war and – his signature stance – Medicare for all.”

Middleton went on to say, “He has my wholehearted support because he says, ‘It is not about me. It is about us.’ Any student of history knows change must come from the bottom up. Enough with ‘gradual change’. It isn’t working.”

But Sanders isn’t the only one calling for sweeping structural change and relying on small donors to do so. Warren is doing so as well, but they come from different political lineages.

Sanders comes out of the working-class democratic socialist tradition of Eugene Debs and Michael Harrington, whose book, “The Other America,” inspired the War on Poverty. Democratic socialists see the very existence of billionaires as a moral failure: such extreme concentrations of wealth necessarily entail profound widespread deprivation as well.

Warren comes out of the more middle-class progressive tradition of Teddy Roosevelt and Robert La Follete, who see billionaires as threats to both fair markets and a functioning democracy. The two traditions are distinct—sometimes at odds (the progressive city manager model had both anti-corruption and anti-socialist motivations), but sometimes overlapping (as when the Socialist Party supported La Follete’s 1924 presidential campaign). Both opposed oligarchic power in pre-Great Depression America, and both contributed to the creation of the New Deal. Warren’s more detailed focus on restoring governmental integrity reflects the progressive tradition’s focus, which was echoed by Peter Warren, a founding member of Indivisible San Pedro.

He cited two things he said needed doing, which so far, only Warren is addressing:

Elizabeth Warren said she would create an independent DOJ task force to investigate corruption by government officials during the Trump administration.

The Democratic presidential hopeful said her goal is to restore “integrity and competence” to the federal government after President Trump leaves office.

“If we are to move forward to restore public confidence in government and deter future wrongdoing, we cannot simply sweep this corruption under the rug in a new administration,” Warren wrote.

Warren is also crystal clear on Bloomberg’s unfitness, in light of his 2008 remarks blaming the financial crisis on the roll-back of redlining—a GOP narrative that even most Republican economists refused to endorse.

“Anyone who is out there trying to blame African-Americans for the financial crash of 2008, anyone who defends bank discrimination and then blames the victims is not someone who should be representing our party,” Warren said on MSNBC over the weekend.

Bloomberg’s redlining remarks came to light after a 2015 recording of racist remarks defending his stop-and-frisk policies at the elite Aspen Institute.

“Ninety-five percent of murders, murderers and murder victims, fit one M.O. You can just take a description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops. They are male minorities, 16 to 25,” Bloomberg said. “The way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them. And then they start, ‘Oh, I don’t want to get caught,’ so they don’t bring the gun.”

Bloomberg then issued a statement saying he “inherited the police practice of stop-and-frisk,” and “By the time I left office, I cut it back by 95%”—an utterly misleading statement, since stop-and-frisks increased over 700% before coming down, primarily because of a lawsuit which ended with the practice being found unconstitutional. Rates were still double in Bloomberg’s last year compared to his first.

But racist narratives and policies are just one facet of a broader “authoritarian streak,” writer and radio host RJ Eskow wrote recently at Common Dreams:

As mayor, Bloomberg had a history of suppressing peaceful demonstrations, sometimes with brute force. His police spied on Muslim gatherings and engaged in racially-biased “stop and frisk” tactics that expanded sevenfold under his leadership. He took advantage of privatized public spaces, including Zuccotti Park, to suspend basic liberties within them, while renting out his police force to the banks the movement was protesting. His unconstitutional suppression of Occupy even included the needless destruction of the movement’s library.

Bloomberg has spent massively to bury and obscure that history. For example, a chapter about NYPD surveillance of Muslims that mentioned Bloomberg eight times was deleted from a 2015 report on anti-Muslim bias in the United States from the Center for American Progress, which receives major funding from Bloomberg. Now he’s betting that Democrats just won’t care — that they’ll put up with anything to beat Trump, and he’ll spend whatever it takes to convince them that only he can do it, despite years of polling to the contrary. Notably, Sanders polled stronger than Clinton vs Trump during the 2016 primaries and continues beating him solidly today.

“Electability” was the number one concern cited by former Port Attorney Pat Nave. “I’m supporting Bloomberg, Buttigieg and Klobuchar,” Nave told Random Lengths. “I think voters are looking for people who can address health care, gun violence, prescription drug prices, income inequality, infrastructure, etc. and they don’t care whether they have an R or a D after their name,” he said. “I think a good ticket would be Bloomberg/Buttigieg or Bloomberg/Klobuchar.”

Nave’s citing of what “voters are looking for” reflects a widely observed phenomena this election cycle: voters adopting a pundit-like concern with what others may be motivated by. But others, such as homeowner activist Janet Gunter, remain focused on what concerns them.

“The environment is my greatest priority,” Gunter said. “I completely believe that we are in a literal ‘freefall’ in killing our planet and depleting any remaining healthy environment. The short term stock market and 401K values of our time will not protect our children and their children from the ravages of environmental ruin.” In fact, economic losses due to climate change are mounting far faster than had been expected.

“Any of the candidates running are better than Trump on that issue,” Gunter said. But there are also substantial differences as well. All the candidates except Bloomberg have agreed in principle to a Green New Deal. When it was introduced as a House Resolution by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, he called it impractical and announced his own plan instead, pledging to redouble his efforts to phase out coal plants while announcing he would not run for president. When he changed his mind and entered the race last November, InsideClimate News ran a story asking, “Why Aren’t Activists Excited About a Run for President?” which had multiple answers—mostly coming down to being out-of-touch and behind the times.

“Mike Bloomberg, with all his vision and good will, is too discordant of what is the new reality of forcing the ultra-rich to give up huge portions of their wealth to finance the Green New Deal,” Charles Komanoff, co-founder of the Carbon Tax Center said. His support for natural gas as a bridge fuel put him further at odds with most climate activists, who also see him as discordant with environmental justice concerns that are an integral part of the Green New Deal.

But there’s also differences among the other candidates as well. Data for Progress did a detailed analysis, identifying 48 essential Green New Deal components, and determined where candidates:

1. addressed a component with a proposed federal policy or action,
2. acknowledged a component but lacked clear policy details, or
3. did not include a component.

It rated Sanders, Steyer and Warren’s plans as “very thorough,” and rated Klobuchar, Buttitieg and Biden’s “thorough.” Sanders addressed 45, and acknowledged 1, Steyer addressed 40, and acknowledged 3, Warren addressed 38 and acknowledged 6. Buttitieg addressed 30, and acknowledged 7, Klobuchar addressed 21, and acknowledged 11, Biden addressed 26, and acknowledged 9.

“I was a 100% Bernie supporter but also now like both Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg,” said Jesse Marquez, founder of Coalition For A Safe Environment. He laid out a detailed list of things he was considering, from past accomplishments to having a published campaign blueprint on major issues, and the support of local community leaders and organizations.

“I would have to lean toward Tom Steyer because he is from California. No other state has provided unique pioneering leadership in the nation like California,” he said. “Tom researched and invested in grassroots organizing concepts and solutions to help address major community issues.”

“I think the most important issue is the choice voters have to make between becoming an authoritarian society again, or to continue to try to perfect a republic that uses a democratic base as its model,” said June Smith, former co-chair of the Port Community Advisory Committee.

“We know that education is essential to the ability of people to make rational, not just emotional, choices, and we also know that the dissemination of factual knowledge is at the base of that education. We must all choose,” she said, adding, “I’m not certain, yet, of my choices, but I know a couple I won’t vote for: Blumberg, Sanders (I think he’s too ill and shrill) and Gabby.”

Healthcare is another major concern that’s been subject to enormous confusion and fear. Medicare for All enjoys continued support despite many months of attacks, according to extensive polling by Data For Progress. “In a randomized trial, the Democrat running on Medicare for All performed between 4 and 10 points better than a Democrat running on improving the ACA [Affordable Care Act],” they reported, just before Christmas.

This polling directly clashes with the conventional wisdom that there’s a trade-off between big, transformational plans and political practicality. Most importantly, Data For Progress noted, “In all cases, the Medicare for All Democrat easily defeated Trump.”

In the next two weeks, the choice will be in Californian’s hands.

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