Thursday, May 24, 2018

Turning Out the Left – In Answer to Jim Wright

Something was in Debs, seemingly, that did not come out unless you saw him. I'm told that even those speeches of his which seem to any reader indifferent stuff, took on vitality from his presence. A hard-bitten socialist told me once, “Gene Debs is the only one who can get away with the sentimental flummery that's been tied onto Socialism in this country. Pretty nearly always it gives me a swift pain to go around to meetings and have people call me ‘comrade.’ That's a lot of bunk. But the funny part of it is that when Debs says ‘comrade’ it is all right. He means it. That old man with the burning eyes actually believes that there can be such a thing as the brotherhood of man. And that's not the funniest part of it. As long as he's around I believe it myself.”
 Heywood Broun, quoting an unnamed socialist
in It Seems To Me, 1925‑1935 (1935), p. 38

Turnout. Elections in the United States hinge on turnout. With one of the lowest turnout rates of  wealthy countries, elections in the United States hinge on turnout.
On Twitter, Jim Wright (@Stonekettle) asks, “Describe to me that candidate. Folks, give me a list of the attributes a Democratic candidate MUST have in 2020 for you to show up and vote.”
He is complaining that liberals don’t show up and vote and that this is part of why Republicans dominate the government. I don’t think this is quite accurate; liberals do show up. But they are concentrated in cities and therefore under-represented in Congress, Senate, and Electoral College. Having cows or shopping malls in a district, it seems, raises the districts’ political power. But there are liberals everywhere, and if they turned out in the suburbs and the rural districts, it would tip the balance of elections.
So, Jim Wright is asking the leftist Tweeters who object to the Democratic as well as Republican candidates – what it would take to get them to show up? The answers I have seen so far are unenlightening. Most leftists vote Democratic, though without much enthusiasm. The ones who do not vote have specific issues important to them. This is not so surprising. In marketing we know that people often do not know what they want until it is offered to them. The saying, perhaps from Steve Jobs, is “No-one asked for the iPad.”
It is not different in voting. I remember young men and women who were inspired by Bernie Sanders. Who knew? Sanders’ socialist rhetoric and socialist policies turned out to be what young people wanted, and they registered and voted. It was not enough, especially since Sanders did not win the nomination.
So here is my answer to “What would it take to get these people to show up and vote?”
Representation. The first thing, surely, is representation. The candidate has to be one of us. “When Debs says ‘comrade’ it is all right. He means it.” Identification with a Presidential candidate is important; in Converse’s sociological work he found that the largest plurality of voters voted on identification. There has been a great deal of fake representation on both sides of the aisle: pictures of W. Bush showing how folksy he was by cutting brush on the ranch he sold as soon as he left office, Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain.” And all the while we have elected officials using their offices – mostly quite legally – to enrich themselves or protect their own wealth. Trump is surely the ultimate example. Trump’s supporters hear themselves in his anger. The Trump vote is the ultimate spite vote. But we have the Clintons as another example: as much as social class exists in the USA, they have joined the upper class; their daughter has even married a wealthy banker. By comparison, we have Senator Sanders, who is one of the least wealthy Senators.
Integrity. The second thing is integrity. 33 House and 17 Senate Democrats voted with Republicans to weaken the already weak Dodd-Frank banking law. Those 33 included many members of the Congressional Black Caucus, whose constituents were hit especially hard by mortgage fraud and abusive mortgage billing and collection practices during the 2008 crash. Those Democratic votes in the House didn’t matter to the outcome – the House Republicans had the votes to pass the law – but those Democratic votes were a slap in the faces of constituents who have lost their homes.
Courage. The Senate votes did matter. Which brings us to the third thing: courage. A leader inspires no-one if they don’t stand up. “Courage,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” Cowardly leaders, cowardly representatives; these will betray their promises as soon as they are threatened.
Honesty. Politics is notorious for attracting dishonest people, even sociopaths. Donald Trump is the obvious example. But even more garden variety politicians routinely deceive their constituents. A certain amount of, at least, dissembling seems necessary public office. But political betrayal has become routine and we need to be shut of it.
The characteristics of a President acceptable to the left are representation, integrity, courage, and honesty. The policies such a President might pursue:
1.     Life.
a.     Health care for all, at a price all can afford.
b.     An end to stochastic terrorism in schools.
c.     Comprehensive police reform. Public oversight of police conduct in every jurisdiction. No more police shooting down innocents.
d.     Immigration reform. No more undocumented underclass. No more disappearing children. No more turning away desperate refugees.
e.     Environmental policies that will preserve the world for our children.
2.     Economic Fairness
a.     An economic policy made for all.
b.     Honest work for honest pay.
c.     Remove the barriers to the formation of labor unions.
d.     Provide economic support in a dignified manner; no more harassing people who apply for it.
e.     Rely on Keynesian economics; neo-liberal economics has failed.
f.      Regulate the income distribution.
g.     Regulate finance. The bankers had their chance; they stole everything that wasn’t nailed down as well as houses, which were nailed down.
3.     Civil rights
a.     First and foremost, women’s rights.
b.     But also, black lives matter.
c.     And so do Muslim and Mexican and Jewish lives.
d.     And LGBT+ lives.
4.     Make peace a goal of foreign policy. Abandon Kissingerism. Abandon brutal interventions  in foreign countries.
5.     Protect the environment and ecology of the United States and the earth.

Sounds remarkably like Senator Sanders’ Presidential platform, doesn’t it? Perhaps he was popular because he had popular ideas.
If these policies are to be adopted, how might this be done, and what effects would that adoption have?
This platform would, I believe, win over all but the most extreme leftists, but it would do so at the cost of the votes of more conservative Democrats. Because the US system only allows for two major parties, US political parties are necessarily “big tents” – broad coalitions. If the goal is to build a Democratic coalition that defeats the fascists of the Republican Party, it will take strong leadership and careful planning to build a coalition that keeps the more conservative factions in the Party.
At this time, I see no interest in building such a coalition in the current Democratic Party leadership. Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate, voted with the Republicans in support of their bill weakening Dodd-Frank. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York voted to approve the torturer Gina Haspel as Director of the CIA. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been actively opposing leftist candidates in Democratic primaries. And just today House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said that any effort to impeach Trump must be bipartisan.
With the Democratic leadership opposed and no major leftist leader within the party, I do not see how the left is to be brought to enthusiastically support the Democratic Party. From the viewpoint of the left, all the Democratic Presidential hopefuls are compromised in some way, some quite seriously. The endless influence of money and the national security state in US politics makes it near to impossible to rise to a position of leadership in US politics without major impropriety. People who want to be President after all want to wield the power of the office and so make the compromises. I find some hope in feminist activism, the strength and energy of the Resistance, and candidates like Jess Phoenix and Cynthia Nixon, but hope is not a plan.
In any event, I intend to vote for the Democratic candidate, even if it is someone I hate. I do not want the fascists in power for another minute.
Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free. – Eugene V. Debs, “Statement to the Court Upon Being Convicted of Violating the Sedition Act.” Debs was jailed by his political opposition.

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