Tag Archives: Democratic Party

Are the Democrats in a Race to the Bottom?

11 Jun

Are the Democrats in a Race to the Bottom?

 

I have had several recent conversations with friends about the 2020 election who preface their assessment with this liberal sentiment—‘I am in favor of whoever has the best chance of beating Trump.’ I respond meekly with a question, guessing in advance their likely response. My words: ‘Where does that lead you?’ and my guess is depressingly accurate. His or her words: ‘I think that Joe Biden is the only one who can beat Trump.’  Or in more pessimistic versions of the same response: ‘Biden has the best chance of winning.’

 

I feel depressed with this assessment, or at odds with it, for two reasons: first, I doubt that Biden is a stronger candidate than was Hillary Clinton in 2016, although he might do a bit better with disaffected Midwestern workers and older voters, but likely worse with others. My other reason for being a Biden doubter is more substantive. How can I in good faith and with any enthusiasm support a candidate with such an awful record when it comes to women’s rights, racism, Wall Street, and American militarism (including even support for the Iraq War in 2003). Although Biden has been tacking left and apologizing for some of this past in the last few weeks, one has to wonder what sort of national leader he would be other than not-Trump, to which I would ask, ‘have our expectations fallen this low?’

 

Already, happily, Biden’s frontrunner status is beginning to erode rapid. Name recognition is good to get a veteran politician out of the gate, but as the race itself commences, substance and political magnetism matter more and more. The Trump taunt ‘Sleepy Joe’ may be unkind or even unfair, but it catches something unnerving about the persona Biden projects. I do not envy Biden the challenge of debating Trump should he gain the nomination, and I would be surprised if he were successful. Trump has greater clarity in his delivery, and more punch and style in his swing. If I were a cagey Republican strategist I would do all in my power to exhibit fear of a Biden candidacy precisely because he would likely be a pushover.

 

There is something else about a Biden candidacy that will surely alienate the folks backing Sanders, and likely some of the others among the more progressive candidates. Selecting Biden would represent the DNC and the Democratic Party Establishment as again lining up behind a candidate that is an organization man rather than a political leader with progressive passions and consistent views. Biden, whether reasonably or not, will be perceived by the body politic as Clinton redux. Isn’t it time to let the American people decide, and not the donors with the deepest pockets or the bipartisan congeries of special interests? A Biden presidency would waste no time restoring the Cold War bipartisan consensus, which will probably mean confrontational geopolitics with Russia and China, as well as threatened and actual interventions in the  Middle East.

 

In this sense, should we not be patient, allowing the candidates to achieve a rank ordering on the basis of their performance on the hustings? It is difficult to get a sufficient read on the whole field, but a few stand out in my mind, sufficiently for me to believe they could deal effectively with Trump and yet not be disillusioning to people like myself. I think mostly favorably of Sanders, Warren, O’Rourke, Bennet, Inslee, Gabbard, and maybe even Harris.

 

I do not dissent from the view that Democrats are much more likely to prevail in the elections If they find a unifying candidate. At present, despite the large field none of those seeking the nomination, including Biden, or Sanders or Warren for that matter, seems a credible unifier. For this reason, it may still yet be beneficial for Sherrod Brown to come in from the cold, reconsidering his decision not to run. I feel that Brown by his record and his outlook to have the potential to be that much needed unifier with the added bonus of coming from Ohio, a state that could quite possibly decide who will be the next president of this now troubled country.

 

I personally prefer Warren or Sanders because of their integrity and programs, but I recognize for a variety of reasons neither will be an anti-Trump unifier due to ideological reasons. Many rich and elite Democrats reject candidates who are strident in their attacks on Wall Street, inequality, free trade, and militarism, and seek the bromide of a Biden type candidate. Just because such an approach failed in 2016 is no reason for such folks, so it seems, not to try again. I felt this sentiment as informing the pro-Biden advocacy of some of my friends that I mentioned above, feelings disguised a bit by claiming that Biden had the best chance of dislodging Trump.

 

For now, I support Sanders and Warren, not as a joint ticket, but as alternatives for the top spot. Despite my deep disillusionment with the behavior of American democracy in this period, as evidenced by the

inexplicable loyalty of the Trump base or the implacable failure to protect our citizenry by the kind of gun control that exists in other comparable societies or the refusal of the Democratic leadership in Congress to begin impeachment proceedings or a hundred other causes of my discontent, I still feel that such principled candidates not only offer a brighter future for the society but that they would be probable winners. This forthcoming electoral struggle is almost certain to dominate the American political imagination in the year ahead, and determine whether as a nation we recover hope or flounder in despair.

 

And should these preferred candidates fall by the wayside, then I would place a long odds desperate bet on a resurrected Sherrod Brown, but this will not even be an option if the man offstage waits much longer before stepping forth.

 

If we do end up with Biden as Trump’s opponent, what then? I think we

should defer such an unpleasant conversation until the reality is upon us, which I am optimistic enough to believe will be never.

 

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.

 

 

 

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?

 

Why Democratic Party Foreign Policy Fails and Will Continue to Fail

5 Mar

 

[Prefatory Note: An earlier version of this essay appeared on March 2, 2016 in The Progressive Magazine. It tries to explain the entrapment of liberal Democrats in an iron cage of militarism when it comes to international security policy. The explanation points in two directions: the militarized bureaucracy at home and the three pillars of credibility constraining elected political leaders—unquestioning support for high Pentagon budgets, opposition to stiff regulation of Wall Street abuses, and any expression of doubts about unconditional support of Israel.]

 

Why Democratic Party Foreign Policy Fails and Will Continue to Fail

For six years (2008-2014) I acted as UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine, and found myself routinely and personally attacked by the top UN diplomats representing the U.S. Government. Of course, I knew that America was in Israel’s corner no matter what the issue happened to be, whether complying with a near unanimous set findings by the World Court in the Hague or a report detailing Israeli crimes committed in the course of its periodic unlawful attacks on Gaza. Actually, the vitriol was greater from such prominent Democratic liberals as Susan Rice or Samantha Power than from the Republican neocon stalwart John Bolton who was the lamentable U.S. ambassador at the UN when I was appointed. I mention this personal background only because it seems so disappointingly emblematic of the failure of the Democratic Party to walk the walk of its rule of law and human rights talk.

 

From the moment Barack Obama stepped into the Oval Office he never tired of telling the country, indeed the world that we as a nation were different because we adhered to the rule of law and acted in accord with our values in foreign policy. But when it came down to concrete cases, ranging from drone warfare to the increasingly damaging special relationships with Israel and Saudi Arabia, the policies pursued seemed almost as congenial to a Kissinger realist as to an Obama visionary liberal. Of course, recently the Republicans from the comfort zone of oppositional irresponsibility chide the government led by a Democrat for its wimpy approach whether in response to Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine, China’s moves in the Pacific, and especially the emergence of ISIS. The Republicans out of office want more bombs and more wars in more places, and seem content to risk a slide into a Second Cold War however menacing such a reality would undoubtedly turn out to be.

 

How are we to explain this inability of Democrats to follow through on a foreign policy that is linked to law and ethics, as well as to show respect for the authority of the UN, World Court, Human Rights Council, and above all, the UN Charter? Such a question can be partly answered by noticing the gap between Obama the national campaigner and Obama the elected president expected to govern in the face of a hostile and reaction Congress and a corporatized media. In effect, it is the government bureaucracy and the special interest groups especially those linked to Wall Street, the Pentagon, guns, and Israel that call the shots in Washington, and it is expected that a politician once elected will forget the wellbeing of the American people as a whole on most issues, and especially with respect to controversial foreign policy positions, if he or she hopes to remain a credible public figure. The boundaries of credibility are monitored and disciplined by the mainstream media, as interpreted to reflect the interests of the militarized and intelligence sectors of the government and the economy.

 

Obama’s disappointing record is instructive because he initially made some gestures toward an innovative and independent approach. In early 2009 he went to Prague to announce a commitment to work toward a world without nuclear weapons, but there was no tangible steps taken toward implementation, and he kept quiet to the extent that his hopes were shattered. He will finish his presidency no nearer that goal than when he was elected, and in a backward move he has even committed the country to modernizing the existing arsenal of nuclear weapons at the hefty cost of $30 billion. The only reasonable conclusion is that the nuclear weapons establishment won out, and security policy of not only this country, but the world and future generations, remains subject to nuclearism, and what this implies about our unnecessarily precarious fate as a species.

 

Obama gave a second visionary speech in Cairo a few months later in which he promised a new openness to the Islamic world, and seemed to acknowledge that the Palestinians had suffered long enough and deserved an independent state and further, that it was reasonable to expect Israel to suspend unlawful settlement expansion to generate a positive negotiating atmosphere. When the Israel lobby responded by flexing its muscles and the Netanyahu leadership in Israel made it clear that they were in charge of the American approach to ‘the peace process,’ Obama sheepishly backed off, and what followed is a dismal story of collapsed diplomacy, accelerated Israeli settlement expansion, and renewed Palestinian despair and violent resistance. The result is to leave the prospect of a sustainable peace more distant than ever. It was clear that Zionist forces are able to mount such strong pressure in Congress, the media, and Beltway think tanks that no elected official can follow a balanced approach on core issues. Perhaps, the Democrats are even more vulnerable to such pressures as their funding and political base is more dependent on support of the Jewish communities in the big cities of America.

 

Occasionally, an issue comes along that is so clearly in the national interest that Israel’s opposition can be circumvented, at least temporarily and partially. This seems to have been the case with regard to the Iran Nuclear Agreement of a year ago that enjoyed the rare support of all five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. Yet even such a positive and sensible step toward restoring peace and stability in the tormented Middle East met with intense resistance at home, even being opposed by several prominent Democratic senators who acted as if they knew on which side their toast was buttered.

 

It seems pathetic that the White House in the aftermath of going against Israel’s rigid views on Iran found it necessary to patch things up by dispatching high level emissaries to reassure Israel that the U.S. remains as committed as ever to ‘the special relationship.’ To prove this point the Obama administration is even ready to increase military assistance to Israel from an already excessive $3 billion annual amount to a scandalous $5 billion, which is properly seen as compensation for going ahead with the Iran deal in the face of Israel opposition. Even the habitual $3 billion subsidy is in many ways outrageous given Israel’s regional military dominance, economic wellbeing, without even mentioning their refusal to take reasonable steps toward achieving a sustainable peace, which would greatly facilitate wider the pursuit of wider American goals in the Middle East. It is past time for American taxpayers to protest such misuses of government revenues, especially given the austerity budget at home, the decaying domestic infrastructure, and the anti-Americanism among the peoples of the Middle East that is partly a consequence of our long one-sided support for Israel and related insensitivity to the Palestinian ordeal.

 

True, the Democrats do push slightly harder to find diplomatic alternatives to war than Republicans, although Obama appointed hard liners to the key foreign policy positions. Hilary Clinton was made Secretary of State despite her pro-intervention views, or maybe because of them. Democrats seem to feel a habitual need to firm up their militarist credentials, and reassure the powerful ‘deep state’ in Washington of their readiness to use force in pursuit of American interests around the world. In contrast, Republicans are sitting pretty, being certified hawks on foreign policy without any need to prove repeatedly their toughness. Until George W. Bush came along it did seem that Democrats started the most serious war since 1945, and it took a Republican warmonger to end it, and even more daringly, finally to normalize relations with Communist China, a self-interested move long overdue and delayed for decades by anti-Communist ideological fervor and the once powerful ‘China Lobby.’

 

Looking ahead there is little reason to expect much departure if a Democrat is elected the next American president in 2016. Clinton has already tipped her hand in a recent speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, the self-anointed voice of the East Coast American establishment. She promised more air strikes and a no fly zone in Syria and a more aggressive approach toward ISIS. Such slippery slopes usually morph into major warfare, with devastating results for the country where the violence is situated and no greater likelihood of a positive political outcome as understood in Washington. If we consider the main theaters of American interventionary engagement in the 21st century, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya we find the perplexing combination of battlefield dominance and political defeat. It is dismaying that neither Clinton nor lead foreign policy advisors are willing to examine critically this past record of frustration and defeat, and seem ready for more of the same, or as it now expressed, ‘doubling down.’ We should not forget that Clinton was the most ardent advocate of the disastrous intervention in Libya, and mainly unrepentant about her support of the Iraq War, which should shock even her most committed backers, considering that it was the most costly mistake and international crime since Vietnam.

 

Ever since the Vietnam War political leaders and military commanders have tried to overcome this record of failed interventionism, forever seeking new doctrines and weapons that will deliver victory to the United States when it fights wars against peoples living in distant lands of the Global South. Democrats along with Republicans have tried to overcome the dismal experience of intervention by opting for a professional army and total reliance on air tactics and special forces operations so as to reduce conditions giving rise to the sort of robust anti-war movement that dogged the diehard advocates of the Vietnam War in its latter stages. The government has also taken a number of steps to achieve a more supportive media through ‘embedding’ journalists with American forces in the fields of battle. These kinds of adjustment were supposed to address the extreme militarist complaint that the Vietnam War was not lost on the battlefields of combat, but on the TV screens in American living rooms who watched the coffins being unloaded when returned home.

 

Despite these adjustments it has not helped the U.S. reached its goals overseas. America still ends up frustrated and thwarted. This inability to learn from past mistakes really disguises an unwillingness that expresses a reluctance or inability to challenge the powers that be, especially in the area of war and peace. As a result not only is foreign policy stuck adhering to deficient policies with a near certainty of future failure, but democracy takes a big hit because the critical debate so essential in a truly free society is suppressed or so muted as to politically irrelevant. Since 9/11 this suppression has been reinforced by enhanced intrusions on the rights of the citizenry, a process supported as uncritically by Democrats as by the other party. Again it is evident that the unaccountable deep state wields a big stick!

 

This is the Rubicon that no Democrat, including even Bernie Sanders, has dared yet to cross: The acknowledgement that military intervention no longer works and should not be the first line of response to challenges emerging overseas, especially in the Middle East. The forces of national resistance in country after country in the South outlast their Northern interveners despite being militarily inferior. This is the major unlearned lesson of the wars waged against European colonialism, and then against the United States in Vietnam, and still later in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. The balance of forces in the Global South has decisively shifted against a military reading of history that prior to the middle of the last century was the persuasive basis of defending the country against foreign enemies, as well as providing imperial ambitions with a cost efficient means to gain access to resources and market in underdeveloped parts of the world. National resistance movements have learned since 1945 that they are able to prevail, although sometimes at a great cost, because they have more patience and more at stake. As the Afghan saying goes, “You have the watches, we have the time.”

 

The intervening side shapes its foreign policy by a crude cost/benefit calculus, and at some point, the effort does not seem worth the cost in lives and resources, and is brought to an end. For the national resistance side the difference between winning and losing for a mobilized population is nearly absolute, and so the costs however high seem never too high. The most coherent intervention initiated by the Obama presidency in 2011 did succeed in driving a hostile dictatorship from power, but what resulted was the opposite of what was intended and expected by Washington: chaos and a country run by warring and murderous tribal militias. In other words, military intervention has become more destructive than ever, and yet its political goals of stability and a friendly atmosphere remain even more elusive than previously.

 

For Democrats to have an approach that learns from this experience in the period since the end of World War II would require leveling with American people on two main points: (1) military intervention generally does not reach its proclaimed goals unless mandated by the UN Security Council and carried out in a manner consistent with international law; and (2) the human concerns and national interests of the country are better protected in this century by deferring to the dynamics of self-determination even if the result are not always in keeping with American strategic goals and national values. Such a foreign policy reset would not always yield results that the leaders and public like, but it is preferable to the tried and tested alternatives that have failed so often with resulting heavy burdens. Adopting such a self-determination approach is likely to diminish violence, enhance the role of diplomacy, and reduce the massive displacement of persons that is responsible for the wrenching current humanitarian crises of migration and the ugly extremist violence that hits back at the Middle East interveners in a merciless and horrifying manner as was the case in the November 13th attacks in Paris.

 

Despite these assessments when, hopefully, a Democrat is elected in 2016, which on balance remains the preferable lesser of evils outcome, she has already announced her readiness to continue with the same failed policy, but even worse, to increase its intensity. Despite such a militarist resolve there is every reason to expect the same dismal results, both strategically and humanly. The unfortunate political reality is that even Democratic politicians find it easier to go along with such a discredited approach than risk the backlash that world occur if less military policies were advocated and embraced. We must not avoid an awareness that our governmental security dynamics is confined to an iron cage of militarism that is utterly incapable of adjusting to failure and its own wrongdoing.

 

We must ask ourselves why do liberal minded Democratic politicians, especially once in office follow blindly militarist policies that have failed in the past and give every indication of doing even worse in the future because the international resistance side is more extremist and becoming better organized. Dwight Eisenhower, incidentally a Republican, gave the most direct answer more than 50 years ago—what he called ‘the military-industrial complex,’ that lethal synergy between government and capital. Such a reality has become a toxic parasite that preys upon our democratic polity, and has been augmented over the years by intelligence services, the corporatization of the media and universities, public policy institutes, and lobbies that have turned Congress into a complicit issuer of rubber stamps as requested.

Under these conditions we have to ask ourselves ‘What would have to happen to enable a presidential candidate of the Democratic Party to depart from the foreign policy failures of the past? That is, to escape from the cage within which foreign policy is now imprisoned: Nothing less than a transforming of the governing process from below that would sweep away this parasitical burden that is ever

more deforming the republic and spreading suffering and resentment to all corners of the planet. American foreign policy is having these harmful effects at a time when decent people of all parties should be exerting their political imagination to the utmost to meet the unprecedented challenges mounted by the accumulating dangers of climate change and the moral disgrace of mounting extreme economic inequalities despite as many as 3 billion people living on less than $2.50 per day.

 

Not only is the Democratic Party failing the nation by its refusal to meet the modest first principle of Florence Nightingale—‘do no harm’—but it is not rising to the deeper and more dangerous threats to future wellbeing and sustainability directed at the nation and the ecological health of the planet, and also of menace to peoples everywhere. What the United States does and does not do reverberates across the globe. Political responsibility in the 21st century does not stop at the border, and certainly is not fulfilled by walls and drones. If political parties cannot protect us, then it is up to the people to mount the barricades, but this too looks farfetched when the most vital form of populism now seems to be of a proto-fascist variety activated so viciously by the candidacy of Donald Trump, and reinforced more politely by his main Republican rivals.

 

 

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.

Monetizing Political Discourse in America

14 May

For some time I have been disturbed by the constant flow of emails from notables in the Democratic Party that tie substance and politics to money, specifically in the form of soliciting donations. The style of such messages is offensive to me. Complete strangers address me in the first person, and assume I share their political outlook, which paints a dark picture of liberal values at risk while never mentioning the illiberal policies of the Democratic presidency. Such messages are signed in a disingenuous manner of faux familiarity, and this includes messages from either President or Ms. Obama, writing to me as if there existed a personal connection between us. The bottom line is a plea ‘to chip in’ by donating $3, $10, or more. See below for a typical such personal message sent to me by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of the Democratic National Committee. I wonder if I am alone in being put off by this way of passing the hat in the digital age.

 

It is not just a matter of personal annoyance about being badgered several times a week. It is much more about making politics and policies seem to depend exclusively on who contributes the most money. The Democrats purport in most of these appeals to be fending off reactionary billionaires, such as the infamous Koch Brothers, who are portrayed satanically as using their fortunes to buy elections and tilt the country even further to the right. Underneath this crude reduction of the political process to which party can purchase more TV prime time is the apparent realization that American democracy is no longer a marketplace of ideas, perhaps, never was. The impression I receive from these email messages is that American democracy has become an auction in which elective office and public policy automatically goes to the candidate able to pony up the most lucre, however filthy. Underneath such attitudes is the dangerous belief that the ordinary citizen has no mind of his/her own, and will most likely vote for whomever Is most often seen on TV. This kind of thinking is especially demeaning to the so-called independent voter trying to make up his/her mind in the final days of a campaign.

 

Of course, there is some truth, and even a principled rationale, for this incessant barrage of funding appeals. If the Republican side is spending in great amounts as a result of support from the ultra-rich, then symbolically it is important to suggest that a government responsive to the people means that the Democratic opposition needs to mobilize ordinary citizens who are struggling daily to make ends meet, and yet still greatly prefer political leadership in the White House and Congress that is broadly in accord with their liberal ideas about fairness and decency. Up to a point this way of interpreting political conflict in the United States is convincing.

 

My concerns are mainly of a different order. There is an implicit disempowerment of the citizen whose identity is associated with her or his bank account rather than with the substantive agenda of politics and a more public engagement with political reform. There is embedded in these messages a loopy good/evil imagery of American political realities, whereas the appeal in recent decades of the Democratic Party has been for me and many others reduced to being the lesser of evils on most, yet not all, issues. Consider the treatment by the Democratic leadership of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, drone warfare, silence about the Egyptian coup and Palestinian ordeal, a slide toward Cold War II in response to the complexities of the Ukraine, and on and on. In other words, it may be pragmatically important to avoid Republican political leadership, but there are many reasons to be disappointed by and even oppose the policies and practices embraced by the current Democratic leadership.

 

Of course, underlying this objection to the sort of either/or choices is a feeling that what is being suppressed is the word and consciousness associated with ‘neither,’ that is neither Republican nor Democrat. But then what? There was that brief rush of fresh air that was brought into the political arena by the Occupy Movement, but without staying power. Subsequently, there has been regression on the public stage. America is not yet a choiceless democracy, but the choices offered do not give much ground for hope in relation to the main challenges facing

either this country or the world, for example, in relation to challenging the excesses of world capitalism, and its byproduct of unsustainable and growing inequality.

 

Getting back to the particulars of this screed, I paste below the latest specimen of this type of political solicitation. Is my reaction naïve, unfair, out of touch? Comments are particularly welcome. And more to the point what might be done to improve the quality of political democracy in this country? How can we as citizens become more effective, not just locally, but nationally and internationally, in this era of the dumbing down and crude monetizing of representative government?

 

 

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The Text of Debbie Wasserman Schultz’ letter:

 

 

Richard —

 

The most thrilling, rewarding, and (sometimes) challenging job I’ve ever had is being a mom — between the twins and my youngest there is never a dull moment.

 

But lately, when I think of my kids, I consider all of the things Democrats are working for that would support my fellow moms and their families the most. We’re the party fighting for equal pay legislation, for raising the minimum wage, protecting Obamacare, and fixing our broken immigration system to keep more moms with their kids. These policies aren’t just good for moms, they’re good for the economy, too.

 

Chip in $10 or more to support Democrats fighting for policies that support moms and families.

 

 

 

We’re celebrating Mother’s Day soon, and I hope we’re all thinking of the millions of moms out there who are doing all they can to raise their kids, support their families, and contribute to their communities. What Democrats are fighting for is personal to me, and probably for you, too.

 

Donate to elect more Democrats who are fighting for policies to support moms:

 

https://my.democrats.org/Stand-with-Moms

 

Thanks,

 

Debbie

 

Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Chair

Democratic National Committee

 

P.S. — To all my fellow moms, Happy Mother’s Day this weekend!