Tag Archives: Bernie Sanders

The Promise of Tulsi Gabbard: A Partial Response to Skeptics

25 Feb

[Prefatory Note: This post is a slightly modified text of my responses to questions put to me by Daniel Falcone, published on Feb. 19, 2019 in Counterpunch with the title, “Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard.”

I use a more positive title here that better captures my sense of her candidacy. Since the interview Tulsi Gabbard made a strong and encouraging statement condemning Monsanto for trying to hide the evidence of the harmful impacts on human health arising from the continued merchandising and use of its highly profitable pesticide, Roundup. I think Gabbard has adopted an admirable stand. It is consistent with the willingness of Gabbard to give concrete meaning to her attacks on Wall Street and income/wealth inequalities. As my title suggests, I find Gabbard a promising candidate despite some false past steps, and believe she currently deserves the benefit of the doubt from all of us.]

 

The Promise of Tulsi Gabbard: A Partial Response to Skeptics

 

  1. The left seems to be divided on the candidacy of tulsi gabbard for president. What are your thoughts on this split?

 

I find it premature to pass judgment on Tulsi Gabbard either for her past socially conservative positions or her controversial political visits to autocratic foreign leaders. She twice went to Damascus to meet with Bashar al-Assad of Syria and to Delhi to meet with Narendra Modi. I find her explanation of these meetings, especially with Assad, acceptable, at least for now. She adopts a position, with which I agree, that meetings with foreign political leaders, including those that are viewed most negatively as essential initiatives for those who seek peace, and abhor war. She has compared her initiatives in this regard with her endorsement of Trump’s meetings with Kim Jung Un of North Korea to achieve a breakthrough on denuclearization and demilitarization of the Korean peninsula.

 

Her meeting with Modi did seem to involve an indirect endorsement of this political leader who has encroached upon the freedoms and democratic rights of the Indian people, especially the Muslim minority and progressive intellectuals. In her defense, she was brought up during childhood as a serious Hindu and remains observant, the first ever Hindu to be elected to the U.S. Congress, and it is humanly natural that she would welcome the opportunity to meet with the moat important Hindu leader in the world.

 

What I find attractive about her political profile is that she has evolved in progressive directions during her political career, and along the way has shown an unusual degree of political independence. Her resignation as Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) so as to support Bernie Sanders seems to me a strong and impressive signal as to where her heart and mind is situated. It was a bold principled act for a young and ambitious political figure. I also find her assertions that the war/peace agenda is the most important issue confronting the American people to be a further indication that she thinks and feels for herself, and is willing to ignore the taboos of mainstream American politics. I know from a common friend that she was deeply shaken personally by experiencing some months ago the supposed imminent nuclear attack that was aimed at Hawaii. Although, fortunately the attack turned out to be a false alarm yet not until after giving Hawaiians, including Gabbard, a horrifying existential appreciation of what is deeply wrong about basing national security on a nuclear capability. As a country, we desperately need candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination who are sufficiently aware of the menace of nuclear weaponry, and seem ready to do something about it, which means confronting the nuclear establishment that has killed every effort to get rid of nuclear weapons, most recently Obama’s 2009 Prague speech committing himself to working toward a world without nuclear weapons. None of the declared candidates seems to me nearly as motivated to do this as does Tulsi Gabbard. She can be viewed as a ‘Sanders Plus’ candidate, that is, Walll Street plus the Pentagon (a shorthand for global militarism).

 

Gabbard brings political skills, wide ranging experience, and a winning personality to her candidacy. She has engaged in electoral politics since the age of 21, is a genuine and attractive TV presence, and exhibits an engaging combination of composure, commitment, humility, and humor when explaining her worldview. The fact that she volunteered for combat duty in Iraq and yet emerged as critical of war making, and regime changing interventions and the coercive diplomacy that accompanies it, is a further encouraging feature of her political persona. It contributes credibility and depth to her anti-war stands on foreign policy. She connects her commitment to seeking peaceful ways of achieving foreign policy goals with the impact of her direct exposure to the ugly realities of war: “I have seen war first-hand is why I fight so hard for peace.” How many of the presidential candidates can match either half of this claim? Given the US role in the world, we cannot be content with presidential candidates that are progressive on domestic issues but evade or are mainstream on foreign policy litmus test issues.

 

I agree that we do need to look at the dark sides of aspiring politicians, but we should do so in a discerning and empathetic manner. There are no absolutes when it comes to evaluating political profiles. I believe we should generally be more attentive to the trajectory of political and personal behavior, and not hold to account a person’s coming of age beliefs, indiscretions, including long ago misguided views of acceptable partying behavior. In other words, it is not only what they did or are accused of doing back then, but far more significantly, what they have done since then. Have they convincingly changed course, and taken with conviction enlightened and progressive policies on race, sexual harassment, and sensitivity to those who are marginalized and vulnerable minorities.

 

We should also give political figures the benefit of the doubt when they exercise the freedom to depart from conventional orthodoxies. In this regard, no matter how much we might abhor many aspects of the Trump presidency, the fact that Gabbard withheld judgment on his foreign policy in the Middle East or Korea, and in relation to global militarism is understandable, even commendable. To be confident about such a positive assessment, we have to await further clarification of her positions on these and other issues before reaching a judgment. The question we should ask ourselves in  whether on balance Gabbard deserves to wave a banner

before the American people proclaiming her commitment to a progressive political future.

 

  1. How closely does gabbard criticism and support correlate to criticism and support for Assad?

 

I regard it as a mistake to merge criticism of Gabbard from the left with attitudes toward the situation In Syria, including the Assad leadership. Gabbard was seemingly naïve when she spoke after her meeting favorably of Assad’s apparent willingness to give assurances of his democratic intentions for the country. Yet at the same time no one has spoken with any moral and political authority about how to respond constructively to the Syrian disaster since its inception in 2011, including the wizards of the Belt Way, the voices of the national security establishment, as well as the most strident civil society activists pro and con military intervention by the US.

 

As I understand Gabbard’s mission, it was to work toward the end of violence in Syria and the restoration of political normalcy, enabling the withdrawal of American troops. She was reported as concerned about the perverse peculiarity of the US Government teaming with al-Nusra and even ISIS so as to promote the insurgency against the legitimate government, however tarnished, of Syria. Supposedly, the first priority of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East since 9/11 is counterterrorism, so it is only Pentagon ideologues who overlook the contradictions between what American leaders want us to believce and what we do when it comes to Syria, and elsewhere. We may criticize Gabbard for seeming to take Assad’s words at face value, but we should note the context in which all approaches by Washington to Syria have failed. The old Nightingale dictum fits: “first, do no harm.” I think that Gabbard passes this test better than most, including those that mount criticism of her Syrian initiatives.

3. Is gabbard a “progressive” in your view both domestically and foreign policy wise?

 

I believe that Gabbard has exhibited many strong progressive tendencies, but the whole picture of her outlook, especially on foreign policy remains cloudy. Her strong backing of Sanders in 2016 is weighty evidence of a progressive approach, but we need more specifics with respect to health, education, taxation, immigration before feeling confident about supporting her ideas on domestic policy. With respect to foreign policy, there are now more blanks to fill in than clear indications of where she stands on critical issues and her broader worldview relating especially to such global challenges as climate change and global migration. It would be helpful, and revealing, if Gabbard can free herself from the AIPAC core of the Israeli lobby and its powerful donor community. She would win many adherents, and lose some, if she adopted a position if she crafted a more balance US approach to relations with Israel and with regard to the Palestinian struggle for basic rights. It would also be reassuring if Gabbard were to demonstrate support for the UN, international cooperation on issues of global scope, issue a call for nuclear disarmament negotiations, and express some understanding of why it has become so critical to anchor American foreign policy on the basis of respect for international law.

4. The hard left is taking gabbard criticism very hard and accusing social democrats and marxists of engaging in “identity politics” and support for “neoliberalism.” How did these terms (important in accurate application) become so vague on the left?

 

I am not sufficiently conversant with this line of debate to have strong opinions, yet I share the sense that criticisms of Gabbard from several ideological perspectives has been exaggerated, dogmatic, and unbalanced. She deserves the chance to present herself as a presidential candidate without political smears. There are enough positive features of her candidacy and background to make me conditionally favorable, but this could change if she takes a hard line on ‘Islamic radicalism’ or Iran that some of her critics condemn her for. At this point only a wait and see attitude is constructive. In a search for much needed unity, looking back to the failures of 2016, the Democratic Party would do well not to adopt hostile attitudes towards any candidate who seriously challenges Trump’s hateful national chauvinism and the Cold War hangover that I label ‘the bipartisan consensus’ (that is, neoliberalism plus global militarism plus special relationships with Middle Eastern autocrats). Gabbard mounts such a challenge to a degree that compares favorably to her Democratic rivals for the nominations

5. Which group of politicians and sets of voters identify more with Gabbard in your view, sanders and the left wing of the Democratic Party or Rand Paul and advocates of libertarianism. I fear the latter.

 

It is too soon to tell, although you raise a troublesome possibility. In my view, at this stage, I regard Gabbard as similar in appeal to that of Sanders with a more troubling mixture of positions offset or balanced by her war/peace emphasis, and her readiness to learn from experience and to give voice to independent views. These positions may collide with both the current liberal outlook and with the national security consensus, which although anti-Trump, has kept the Cold War mentality alive and well as the operative worldview of both of the two established political parties as well as of the deep bureaucratic state. In this latter sense, there is some resemblance to the positions taken by Rand Paul, his willingness to stand alone and his ad hoc anti-militarism, but her attitude toward social issues seems distinctly anti-libertarian to me, making such comparisons misleading and unfair.

 

In general, I remain sympathetic with the Gabbard candidacy. I find it refreshing that a young and energetic woman from Hawaii who is a practicing Hindu is running for the presidency at this time. To be sure she has baggage, not least of which is her apparent uncritical reaction to Modi, the autocratic leader of India. Before judging Gabbard we should keep in mind that the other more promising candidates each have serious blemishes with respect to their past or their current policy posture. I think at this early stage of the political campaign it is well to let many flowers bloom, and observe closely which wilt. My guess is that Tulsi Gabbard will fare well as the candidates come before the public to state their arguments for gaining support of the American voting public, but less well with the monied special interests. If this is so, it exposes the plutocratic character of American national politics more than it does the strength or weakness of a given political figure.

 

Some say Gabbard is too young, too far from the American mainstream, and too exotic in background to become a credible candidate, that she has faded from view even before ever being fully seen. Let’s hope this sort of judgment is overridden by a surge of appreciation for Tulsi Gabbard’s promise and potential.

 

 

 

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On (Not) Loving Henry Kissinger

21 May

On (Not) Loving Henry Kissinger

 

There is an irony that would be amusing if it was not depressing about news that Donald Trump has been courting the 92-year old foreign policy sorcerer Henry Kissinger. Of course, the irony is that earlier in the presidential campaign Hilary Clinton proudly claimed Kissinger as ‘a friend,’ and acknowledged that he “relied on his counsel” while she served as Obama’s Secretary of State between 2009-2013. It is indeed strange that the only point of public convergence between free-swinging Trump and war-mongering Clinton should be these ritual shows of deference to the most scandalous foreign policy figure of the past century.

 

Kissinger should not be underestimated as an international personality with a sorcerer’s dark gifts. After all, he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his perverse role in Vietnam diplomacy. Kissinger had supported the war from its inception and was known as a strong proponent of the despicable ‘Christmas bombing’ of North Vietnam. He had earlier joined with Nixon in secretly extending the Vietnam War to Cambodia, incidentally without Congressional knowledge, much less authorization. This led to the total destabilization and devastation of a country that had successfully maintained its neutrality for the prior decade. It also generated the genocidal takeover by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s resulting in the death of a third of the Cambodian population. It was notable that the Nobel had been jointly awarded to Luc Duc Tho, Kissinger’s counterpart in the negotiations, who exhibited his dignity by declining the prize, while Kissinger as shameless as ever, accepted and had an assistant deliver his acceptance speech because he was too busy to attend. Significantly, for the first time, two members of the Nobel Selection Committee resigned their position in disgust.

 

The more familiar, and more damning allegation against Kissinger, is his association with criminal violations of international law. These are convincingly set forth in Christopher Hitchens The Trial of Henry Kissinger (2001). Hitchens informed readers that he “confined himself to the identifiable crimes that can and should be placed on a proper bill of indictment.” He omitted others. Hitchens lists six major crimes of Kissinger:

            “1. The deliberate mass killing of civilian population in Indochina.

  1. Deliberate collusion in mass murder, and later in assassination in         Bangla Desh.
  2. The personal suborning and planning of murder, of a senior constitutional officer in a democratic nation—Chile—with which the United States was not at war.
  3. Personal involvement in a plan to murder the head of state in the democratic nation of Cyprus.
  4. The incitement and enabling of genocide in East Timor.
  5. Personal involvement in a plan to kidnap and murder a journalist living in Washington, DC.”

Whether the evidence available would support a conviction in an international tribunal is far from certain, but Kissinger’s association and approval of these unlawful and inhumane policies, and many others, is clear beyond reasonable doubt.

 

In some respects as damaging as these allegations of complicity in war crimes is, it is not the only reason to question Kissinger’s credentials as guru par excellence. Kissinger shares with Hilary Clinton a record of bad judgments, supporting some foreign policy initiatives that would be disastrous if enacted

and others that failed while inflicting great suffering on a foreign civilian population. In his most recent book, World Order published in 2014, Kissinger makes a point of defending his support of George W. Bush’s foreign policy with specific reference to the war of aggression undertaken in 2003. In his words, “I supported the decision to undertake regime change in Iraq..I want to express here my continuing respect and personal affection for President George W. Bush, who guided America with courage, dignity, and conviction in an unsteady time. His objectives and dedication honored his country even when in some cases they proved unattainable within the American political cycle.” [pp. 324-325] One would have hoped that such an encomium to the internationally least successful U.S. president would be a red flag for those presidential candidates turning to Kissinger for guidance, but such is his lofty reputation, that no amount of crimes or errors of judgment can diminish his public stature.

 

Kissinger first attracted widespread public attention with a book that encouraged relying on nuclear weapons in a limited war scenario in Europe, insisting that the United States could prudently confront the Soviet Union without inviting an attack on its homeland. [Nucelar Weapons and Foreign Policy (1967). As already indirectly suggested, he supported the Vietnam War, the anti-Allende coup in Chile, Indonesian genocidal efforts to deny independence to East Timor, and many other dubious foreign policy undertakings that turned out badly, even from his own professed realist perspective.

 

It is true that Kissinger has a grasp of the history of diplomacy that impresses ordinary politicians such as Trump and Clinton. True, also, he rode the crest of the wave with respect to the diplomatic opening to China in 1972 and pursued with impressive energy the negotiation of ceasefire arrangements between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Syria after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. As well, TIME magazine had a cover featuring Kissinger dressed as superman, dubbing their hero as ‘super-K.’ There is, in this sense, no doubt that Kissinger has been a master as refurbishing his tarnished reputation over the course of decades.

 

Yet fairly considered, whether from a normative or strategic outlook, I would have hoped that Kissinger should be viewed as ‘discredited’ rather than as the most revered repository of foreign policy wisdom in this nation. Bernie Sanders struck the proper note when he said “I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend.” And when queried by Clinton as to who he would heed, Sanders responded, “I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.” In contrast, the words of Hilary Clinton confirm her affinity for the man: “He checked in with me regularly, sharing astute observations about foreign leaders and sending me written reports on his travels.” In fairness she did qualify this show of deference with these words: “[t]hough we have often seen the world and some of our challenges quite differently, and advocated different responses now and in the past….” This was the only saving grace in her otherwise gushing review of Kissinger’s World Order (2014) published in the Washington Post.

 

Let me offer a final comment on this shared adulation of Kissinger as the éminence grise of American foreign policy by the two likely candidates for the presidency. It epitomizes and helps explain the banality of the political discourse that has dominated the primary phases of the presidential campaign. It is hardly surprising that during this time dark clouds of despair hang heavy in the skies above the American body politic. Before either presidential hopeful even walks into the Oval Office both Trump and Clinton are viewed unfavorably by over half of all Americans, and regarded with a mixture of dismay, fear, and shock by political leaders and their publics around the world. To show obeisance to Kissinger’s wisdom and wizardry is thus emblematic of the paucity of mainstream American political imagination, and should worry all who care about the future of the country and the world.

 

 

Should We Vote for Hillary Clinton? A Meditation

14 Apr

 

 

It seems now almost inevitable that Hillary Clinton will be the candidate for the Democratic Party in November. This inevitability came about by a combination of ‘a Southern strategy’ (where incidentally the Democrats have virtually no chance in the national elections), some close wins in large industrial states in the North, and above all by that peculiar twist in practical democracy known as ‘delegate logic’ (the party state by state rules as to how delegates are allocated among the candidates to reflect primary results, and for the Democratic Party, the pernicious add on of 719 superdelegates, 469 of whom are already announced as committed to support Hilary, while Bernie has garnered a measly 31). ‘Super’ in name only being members of Congress (11% approval rating) and party officials (often ‘hacks’).

 

This process of delegate selection is problematic from many angles and seems stacked against the guiding idea that purpose of the primaries is to determine as fairly as possible who people identifying with a particular party prefer to have as their candidate. As has been alleged by Bernie Sanders, and for the Republicans, by Donald Trump, the system is rigged: the outcome of the vote is shaped by rules that can be manipulated by a skilled ‘ground game’ to deliver a disproportionate number of delegates compared to what would be expected given relative popularity with those who voted in the primary election.

 

Aside from this disturbing delegate mystique there is the question of money. As has been obvious long before the outrage of Citizens United, big money acts as a formidable vehicle for special interests, exerting a pernicious influence on the entire governing process, deforming policy on a wide range of public issues including guns, coal, and pharmaceutical drug prices. In this regard, once again, Clinton’s far from innocent connections with Wall Street, with a superpac, and with all kinds of special interests from fracking to Israel, should be enough to alienate all but the most blindfolded of citizens.

 

An assortment of insiders defend party control over the primary process through the selection of delegates. They argue that it helps keep so-called ‘insurgent’ candidates from stealing a nomination from a candidate who has passed through the authenticating filters of party loyalty. Policy wonks point out that if the Republican Party had superdelegates, Trump would be out, and likely Cruz too, and thus it is claimed that the party credentials of the superdelegates provides a hedge against extremism or a triumphant maverick, whether from right or left, or even from Hollywood.

 

Tom Hayden, always clear and with a long record of progressive engagement in the American political process, comes down in favor of Clinton on the basis of several mutually reinforcing arguments: the need for unity among Democrats to assure the defeat of whoever the Republicans put forward, Bernie’s lack of a thought through and politically attainable agenda, and most of all, Hilary’s overwhelming support among African Americans and Latinos, including both the Cogressional Black Caucus and the Sacramento Latino Caucus. Hayden emphasizes that his links to these minorities are personal as well as ideological, through marriage and paternity, suggesting that his identity and private life creates an affinity that takes precedence over other considerations. Along the way, he affirms Sanders call for social justice in a number of particulars (student debt, universal health care, tax policy, minimum wage, trade policy), as well as his more moderate stand on foreign policy when compared to the interventionist past of Clinton. I wonder about this reasoning. Should we not ratify the Sanders movement that has excited the young across the nation as an urgent call for change? What we do know is that Clinton even if she delivers on some liberal reforms will not change the fundamentals of American political life, which urgently need changing: the plutocratic control over policy, the kneejerk deference to Pentagon budgetary greed, the unquestioning indulgence of the predatory ways of Wall Street, and the slavish acquiescence to Israel’s defiant militarism.

 

Of course, there is a serious liberal side to this debate that deserves to be considered. It is a matter of ensuring the victory of a Democrat in November coupled with the belief that Clinton is far better situated than Sanders to ensure such an outcome. Clinton is almost certain to appoint empathetic jurists to the US Supreme Court and other federal courts, she will uphold and advance the rights of women, and she will steer the ship of state with a steady and experienced hand.

 

Even granting the above, there are some limits on this liberal position that should not be pushed aside. On foreign policy, there is no doubt that Clinton is experienced, informed, and reliable, more so than Sanders. At the same time her judgment and instincts seem as untrustworthy as those of Henry Kissinger, the foreign policy guru whom she has unfortunately singled out for praise. Kissinger has favored every failed intervention that the US has undertaken in the last half century, including even Vietnam and Iraq, encouraged the 1973 military coup in Chile against the democratically elected Allende government, and was positive about the genocidal approach taken by Indonesia toward the resistant and oppressed indigenous population in East Timor. With this in mind, I would greatly prefer Sanders’ qualities of judgment to Clinton’s record of experience.

 

Against this background, I am left with is a choice between ‘red lines’ and ‘the lesser of evils,’ or as most liberals prefer to put it, ‘the glass half full,’ regarding Hillary as the best choice among those available, and in many respects impressive in ability and achievement. Beyond this, she would be the first woman to become president, and if we are lucky, she might even fashion a memorable legacy around climate change, environmental policy, health, women’s rights, student debt, an enlightened judiciary, international trade regimes, and more.

 

What troubles me, even with a keen awareness of the dangers and antipathies associated with a Republican presidential hopeful, almost regardless of who it ends up being, is the belief that there are certain deficiencies of character or lapses of judgment that deserve to be treated red lines, which once crossed are decisive. Clinton has crossed some lines that are bright red in my eyes. I find it hard to overlook her Iraq War vote back in 2003, her continuing admiration for Kissinger, her lead role in producing the Libyan disaster, her push toward intervention in Syria, and her fawning AIPAC speech delivered during the present campaign. The latter is in some respects the most disturbing of all, being purely opportunistic while exhibiting zero sensitivity to the long ordeal of Palestinian captivity and abuse. Despite her nuanced mind, Clinton comes across as a crude opportunist. For me the thought of Clinton’s fingers close to the nuclear button is hardly reassuring, although less scary than the prospect of Trump or Cruz exercising such an absolute power over human destiny. 

 

Of course, we can try and convince ourselves that most of the bad stuff is behind her and that the really good stuff lies ahead. We can firm this hope up with an expectation that Sanders will use his considerable leverage effectively, nudging her left on economic policy and making her more cautious about intervention. But it is a gamble at best, and once in the White House, special interest and bureaucratic pressures will put the Sanders agenda on a distant back burner.

 

I recall that the Nader third party candidacy, which I at the time supported, seems to have cost Gore the presidency in 2000 due to the outcome in Florida, and if Gore rather than George W. Bush had become president there probably would have been no attack on Iraq in 2003. Initiating a regime-changing war against Iraq was a neocon priority, but never on the agenda of moderate Republicans, much less Democrats. Yet counterfactuals can be misleading. Without the failure of Iraq there might have been a far greater disposition to intervene elsewhere, maybe Ukraine or Syria. As Madeline Albright a stalwart Martian supporter of Clinton memorably reminded us some years ago, ‘what’s the use of this great military capability if we never use it.’

Thinking back to the 2000 makes me hesitate before voting for a third party candidate, although there is a case to be made. The election of Jill Stein, the admirable Green Party candidate, would likely lift our spirits, enhance human security, and make us safer by departing from the cliches of national security. It is sad when the person with the most relevant vision and impeccable character, with nary a blemish, should be marginalized because of the folk wisdom embodied in the saying ‘the best is the enemy of the good,’ or more accurately in this case, ‘the worst is the enemy of the mediocre.’

Despite these doubts, prudence suggests swallowing hard, and voting for Hillary Clinton with eyes wide open. I have not yet decided, although leaning, yet still pondering some questions. Isn’t it time to hold politicians accountable for past wrongdoing? Doesn’t Clinton seem like an unprincipled opportunist, tacking to the left in the primary campaign to take some votes away from Sanders, but probably ready to move right once he is safely out of the way so as to lure independent voters and disaffected Republicans, and later, to govern effectively?

 

Isn’t Sanders right to contend that the problems of America require ‘a social revolution,’ and shouldn’t citizens of conscience stop acting as if incrementalism will address the fundamental challenges facing the country? From such an outlook, it is tempting to withhold support and forego political participation until a national candidate arrives on the scene who gives real promise of seeking the changes we need, or at least enough of them to make it worthwhile. At this point, I am unable to resolve the dilemma posed by this clash of prudence and principle.

 

Maybe in the end Tom Hayden’s approach is the only humane way to cut the Gordian Knot of this presidential dilemma: vote for Hillary Clinton in solidarity with African Americans and Latinos as someone who has stood more in their corner than almost any active politician, and surely more than any present candidate, including Bernie Sanders. Solidarity with the racially and ethnically abused, reinforced by lesser of evils reasoning, may be the best we can do at this point, while hoping that Sanders surge is more than a flash in the pan and becomes the sort of transformative movement from below that alone can restore national confidence in a sustainable and humane future. Should feelings of solidarity and revolutionary patience outweigh a principled refusal to go along with militarist opportunism?

 

On Progressive Democrats: Sanders v. Clinton

4 Feb

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In past years, I tried to distance myself from ‘liberals’ by describing myself as ‘progressive.’ It was admittedly a middle ground between being a liberal, which I associated with being a comforter of the established order while opting for humane policies at the margins, and being a ‘radical’ or ‘leftist,’ which struck me as terms of self-exile outside domains of relevant discourse. My basic objection to liberals and their agenda was that they swallowed ‘the system’ whole while excusing themselves by claiming the mantle of realism and moral concern. In my view, American structures of militarism and capitalism needed to be transformed in socialist directions if humanity was to have a positive future, and this is what the liberals I knew didn’t want to hear about, believing that such structural criticisms would hand the government over to Republicans by alienating the mainstream and thus be a prescription for the self-destruction of the Democratic Party, and political darkness.

 

In my lifetime there never was a progressive presidential candidate in my sense, although George McGovern came close, as did Gene McCarthy, and their political failures, were often cited as proof that the practical wisdom of the liberal position should be heeded. Whenever I acknowledged having voted for the third party candidate, Ralph Nader, in the 2000 elections, the best that I could hope for from my liberal friends was scorn, followed by the allegation of irresponsibility, pointing out that the Florida outcome would likely have gone Al Gore’s way if Nader’s name had not been on the ballot, and attracted the vote of some 90,000 wayward citizens. And so the misery of the George W. Bush years would have been avoided, and in its place the lesser misery of Gore would have been experienced.

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With these considerations in mind, I am startled by the amusing controversy between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as to whether Clinton is entitled to claim the mantle of ‘progressive.’ What seems odd and unexpected is that both candidates competing for support among Democrats, avoid any reference to being a ‘liberal’ and both proudly claim to be a ‘progressive.’ Actually, when challenged, Clinton does behave like a liberal, claiming realism is on her side, and dismissing Sanders transformative proposals (on health care, college tuition, wages, tax reform) as not achievable. In contrast, she bases her appeal on a commitment to finish what Obama started and a record of getting things done. In other words, she shares the abstract language of Sanders, but when it comes down to it, her promised contributions will be limited to the margins, identifying her in ways characteristic of her long political career—as a liberal. In fairness I suppose both candidates and their minders have made linguistic calculations. In Sanders’ case it is to run away as far as possible from being called ‘a socialist’ and for Clinton it seems to be wanting to avoid the deadend boredom of being classified as ‘a liberal.’

 

If I had to associate the word liberal with a particular set of views, I would probably select Nicholas Kristof, a regular opinion page columnist for the New York Times, as exemplifying the liberal worldview. And sure enough, in a true liberal mode Kristof jumped to Clinton’s defense with a condescending pat on Barry Sander’s back along the way. Under the headline “2 Questions For Bernie Sanders” [NYT, February 4, 2016] Kristof puts forward the usual liberal ‘higher wisdom’: first, Sanders’ sweeping proposals would never get enacted in the real world of Washington politics, and secondly, nominating a self-proclaimed ‘socialist’ would alienate American voters to such an extent as virtually to assure the election of a dangerous Republican reactionary such as Ted Cruz. There is no doubt that the current makeup of Congress would block the policymaking ambitions of any Democrat who lands in the White House, whether Clinton or Sanders, but if this is the case then the election is almost as irrelevant as many young people have believed in the past, at least until Obama and now Sanders came along. This cynicism is itself dangerously simplistic as a Democrat as president at least can be counted on to do less harm.

 

No sensible person would doubt that these practical considerations are serious concerns, but they must be balanced against the deep structural deformation long associated with neoliberal capitalism and geopolitical militarism. For too long these deeper maladies of American politics have been swept under the rug in deference to the imperatives of practical politics, and Kristof never dares even entertains an assessment of why it might finally make sense to give up on the liberal option.

 

In my view, Bernie Sanders is a true progressive because he has the courage to confront structurally Wall Street America, although he can claim only the weak form of progressivism as he has yet to confront Pentagon America. Sanders contends that his movement is a call for ‘revolution’ but if that is the claim then to be fully credible it must also call into question the American Global Domination Project, involving the network of foreign bases, naval supremacy throughout the world’s oceans, nuclear modernization program, and the ambitious militarizing plans for the management of space. In the meantime, while impatient for the revolution needed in America, I greatly prefer a true progressive to a disguised liberal, and so did 84% of the young voters who backed Sanders over Clinton in Iowa.

 

A Postscript: Campaign for Bernie Sanders

15 Jul

Opposing Hilary Clinton: Supporting Bernie Sanders

 

As a result of several astute comments, I became aware that my prior post on why Hilary Clinton had crossed a red line that could not be erased by invoking the amoral rationale of the lesser of evils, was seriously incomplete. It overlooked the presence of Bernie Sanders as a rival candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Sanders was present in my mind while I was writing the post, but I wrongly jumped to the conclusion that he was sure to lose out to the Hilary juggernaut that has already captured huge campaign contributions (reportedly over $70 million) and has the backing of the Democratic Party bureaucracy and leadership, and hence not worth the effort.

 

What I did not take into account is the importance of Bernie’s campaign, win or lose, in raising for Americans in ways that are substantive and progressive issues involving the 40 year decline of America’s middle classes and poor, and the massive transfers of wealth to the top 1%. Clinton is addressing these issues rhetorically but her policy minders and political instincts are Wall Street crafted (without policy bite) and in the end quite compatible with the rapacious practices of hedge fund operators. The United States desperately needs a genuine attack on predatory capitalism and its increasing success in replacing republican democracy with proto-fascist plutocracy. Perhaps, Bernie Sanders will not go this far by way of critique and prescription, but his campaign deserves the full support of progressives, and hopefully his presence in the political arena will contribute to the belated awakening of more American citizens to the variety of internal dangers (racism, gun culture, collapsing infrastructure) confronting the country, developments that cannot be separated from the geopolitical militarism and geoeconomic neoliberalism that Clinton espouses.

 

My encouragement, then, is for hard campaigning on behalf of Bernie Sanders, and if he should after all lose the nomination to Clinton after putting up a good fight, a message of gratitude as well as a principled shift to the second most worthy candidate on the presidential stage, Jill Stein of the Green Party. If the Democratic Party faithful goes ahead and chooses Clinton over Sanders it should expect the defection of all those of us who insist upon a precautionary approach to climate change and a repudiation of neoliberal capitalism, as well as a genuine embrace of racial justice, immigration equity, and the sexual/gender liberation agenda. Being less distasteful on these litmus issues than the Republicans is not sufficient to warrant support.