Saturday, September 5, 2015

Endorsing Bernie Sanders—Time to Ante Up

Bernie Sanders from unlikely outsider long shot to serious contender.

Back in March of 2007 when this blog was a toddler and read by dozens over at LiveJounal it—and that means me—officially endorsed Barack Obama for the Democratic Presidential nomination as soon as he made his official announcement in Springfield.  Not that it meant a good God damn but it would give me bragging rights for hopping on the bandwagon when it was still a pony cart and Obama was still an upstart with a funny sounding name not well known to most Democrats.
Of course coming from Illinois made it easier.  I had met and chatted with Obama in the dust of Illinois State Fair when he was still an obscure State Senator and just beginning to consider a run for the U.S. Senate.  I remember being tremendously impressed but walking away telling myself that a guy with a name like that could never be elected state wide.  Two years later I was shown never to underestimate him as he swept aside primary rivals and mopped the floor with the GOP’s laughing stock last minute imported candidate Alan Keyes.  I saw him several times at modest sized campaign events and later as Senator at a town hall meeting at the Woodstock Opera House.  I concluded never again to underestimate the man.

In 2007 I jumped in with both feet for Barack Obama as soon as he made his formal announcement of his candidacy at the Old State Capitol in Springfield.

I recognized Obama as opponent of the War in Iraq—one of the few to vote against a free hand for George W. Bush—and a solid progressive who also had a knack for working practically with political opponents.  He was also the most spectacularly gifted orator to seek the Presidency since Lincoln.  Despite a long and often bitter primary slug fest against Hillary Clinton, the media’s presumed inevitability, and a general election campaign against an allegedly straight shooting maverick Obama swept to a stunning triumph in 2008.
I have to admit that election was one of the most emotional and personally satisfying moments of my life.
Obama would sometimes disappoint me.  I am at odds with him issues like the use of drones, continued support for the national security and surveillance state, coziness to Wall Street, and recently approval of Arctic drilling permits.  On the other hand, he inherited an unprecedented national economic emergency and dealt through most of his presidency with a rabidly obstructionist Republican Congress.  He often ran rings around his Congressional enemies most often blocking their most disastrous, reactionary, and racist plans.  They could do little but sputter and bluster.  He even managed to push through a far-from perfect Health Care plan which none-the-less made insurance and affordable health care available to millions and laugh off constant attempts to repeal or defund it.  He stood up to government shutdown blackmail and in his second term, oddly liberated by being a lame duck, accomplished a laundry list of impressive progressive achievement.  The most vilified president since Lincoln, Obama is on track to being recognized as greatest President since Lyndon Johnson—a man who also had a mixed legacy.
It is much later in the interminably long Presidential campaign season this year than when I endorsed Obama in 2007.  Yet I have sat on my hands.  Perhaps because I retired last year from my long run as McHenry County Democratic Precinct Representative, I have not tried my hand at political punditry.  I’ve been out of the game. 
Although she played coy, Hillary Clinton long considered to have a lock on the nomination if she wanted it and was widely believed to be unbeatable against any of the possible midget clowns the Republicans could throw against her.  I said so myself repeatedly in both electronic print and in innumerable private conversations.  Yet left Democratic activists and many progressive independents were dissatisfied with the former Secretary of State as relative hawk and a corporate Democrat with deep to Wall Street.
I watch the almost ecstatic boom for Senator Elizabeth Warren, the blunt spoken foe of the Big Banks and for sweeping economic reforms.  But Warren was having none of it, even as the internet and social media was ablaze with a Draft Warren movement.  I lost track of how many times she had to flatly declare that she wouldn’t run before here disappointed supporters finally believed her.
Only then did they turn, somewhat reluctantly, to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who was best known as the eccentric white haired coot who was elected as an independent and only caucused with Congressional Democrats.  He was said to be, openly and unapologetically, a socialist and was secular Jew and a former radical activist.  Has anyone so patently un-electable made a serious run at the Democratic nomination since, well, Barack Obama?
Sanders quickly won over the skeptical Warrenites by echoing her stand on the Banks and on growing income inequality.  He impressed them with a series of YouTube videos in which he sat down and directly addressed the camera to forthrightly present his views and concrete proposals on a wide range of issues dear to the Progressive hearts.  Then with little money or campaign organization Sanders hit the hustings.  Soon he was drawing record breaking crowds in places like Madison, Wisconsin; Portland, Oregon; Des Moines, Iowa; and even in the heart of red state Dixie from Texas and Alabama to North Carolina.  Small donors began to flood the campaign coffers of the man who eschewed contributions from big money PACs,
Through the spring and summer the media ignored the rising tide for Sanders.  When he surged to a lead in New Hampshire, traditional make or break first Primary state and began closing the gap on Clinton in Iowa, the first caucus state and Clinton seemed vulnerable to the constant Republican smear campaign yodeling the old Benghazi aria and mixing in the tempest-in-a-tea-pot non-scandal about here use of a private e-mail account, the TV talking heads and op-ed denizens finally began to take notice.  Of course they only did so to knock him down as an un-electable extremist.
One quickly picked up meme in the media echo chamber yoked Sanders to Donald Trump, of all people, as two sides of inarticulate populist rage.  That allowed them to ignore Sanders’s detailed policy proposals and equating them with Trump’s pandering sloganeering.

Hillary Clinton, long the presumptive nominee, enjoys solid support among self identified Democrats and devoted followings among Feminists and in the Black community.
Sanders’s rise and Clinton perceived vulnerability—more perception than fact as she maintains a commanding lead with hard core Democratic primary voters—encourage long shot candidacies by former Republican and Connecticut Governor Lincoln Chafee, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and conservative Democrat and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb.  None of them stands a chance unless Clinton drops dead or is found sleeping with Donald Trump.  More seriously Vice President Joe Biden is making serious noises about running and could drain some of Hillary’s establishment support and be available as a compromise candidate in the event of a deadlocked convention, a scenario that is often talked/dreamed about but which has not happened since John W. Davis won the worthless Democratic nomination in 1924 after 103 ballots.
Clinton’s campaign problems are obvious, but likely not insurmountable.  Sanders, as her main competition faces his own problems beyond pointed media bias against him.  Despite a strong Civil Rights background, including dangerous stints with SNCC in the South, leading Chicago housing discrimination sit-ins, and a 100% NAACP voting record rating in Congress, Sanders has not connected strongly to Black voters who by in large are extremely loyal to Clinton.  Part of that seems to be due to living so long in Vermont, one of the Whitest states in the nations.  When a large Portland rally was disrupted by two protestors somewhat tenuously connected to the Black Lives Movement did image among Black voters, not even subsequent supportive statements by others in the movement could quickly undo the damage.
That hurts, but may not be insurmountable as he gets his message more clearly out and spends more time in Black communities.  Overcoming his own gender gap may be harder.  It seems like Sanders is the overwhelming favorite of white male progressives, a demographic that while sometimes energetic and often loud has never carried an election anywhere.  A lot of women like and support him, of course, but a whole lot of feminists are devoted to Clinton who has shown over and over in her long career that she is one of them.  They are the ones that fueled her long hold-out in the 2008 run-up to the Democratic National Convention when it was clear to almost everybody that Obama had sewn up the nomination.  A handful never forgave Obama and sat out the election, other never worked up full enthusiasm for him.  No matter that Sanders’s record on women’s issues, like Obama’s is nearly spotless.  Elizabeth Warren might have been able to peel away significant support from these women.  Sanders will have a much tougher time.
A very smart and sophisticated woman who is a facebook friend likes Sanders and his positions, but in her mind, continuing to break the grip of White privilege and patriarchy on the presidency that began with Obama, trumps all other considerations.  In some ways it is a compelling argument and one that resonates with many Black and other minority voters as well.

Things like this reflect the deep passion of Sanders's core constituency.
But Sanders’s biggest problem might be in the hard core of his deepest supporters.  They tend to be ideological purists and have little stomach for compromise or for any variation from a virtual progressive party line.  This may be related to the testosterone problem noted above.  Some of these folk quickly abandoned Obama in his first term for seeking compromise with the Republicans in Congress, not recognizing how sophisticated his game plan war.  Or they dumped him because he would not hold out for a universal single payer health plan, over pipelines and drilling, domestic surveillance, you-pick-your-pet issue, and in droves over drones.  If Sanders veers off course on any issue or show insufficient rigor the partisans of that issue will turn on him as well.
Worse are those who are already declaring that they can never support Clinton or anyone else who might win the nomination.  They already jump righteously on those who circulate social media memes promising to support whoever gets the Democratic nomination.  Some counter with their own meme vowing to write in Sanders if he doesn’t get the nomination or who will simply sit out the election if that is the case.  This attitude rightly offends actual Democrats as opposed to movement activists especially since Sanders’s ties to the party whose nomination he is seeking.  It also alarms a lot of sensible folk who worry that such navel gazing purity could be enough to hand the Presidency to some extremist Republican clown in a close election.  And those folks are not reassured by hearing the purest of the pure dismiss that concern because a GOP victory in such circumstances would clarify the contradictions and somehow speed more revolutionary change.  You actually hear this kind of bullshit tossed around by some on progressive sites like the Daily Koz.
Then there is the lingering question of Sanders’s electability.  I think there is a path for Sanders to win the nomination and the General Election, but it is narrow and tricky.  Virtually everything has to fall in place just so to make it happen—a rare event in politics.  So no matter how much momentum he has right now, he still has to be considered a long shot.
Yet his candidacy has invigorated the campaign which would otherwise simply be a prolonged coronation.  He has brought America’s most critical issues into sharp focus and is the only candidate in either major party with detailed proposals to fix what is ailing in this country.  He has already forced Clinton to the left, perhaps not as unwillingly as some suspect—you may recall that in 2008 many regarded her as more progressive and liberal than Obama on all but the anti-war issue.  He has reshaped the debate in Congressional races and certainly will impact the party platform.
And then there is the nagging thought that maybe, just maybe, if we hold our tongues just right in our mouths and balance on one foot on one foot he really can win.
In the end it comes down to whether now is the time to vote for what I really want or cast my practical lot with what I can settle for.  

Woodstock Square, the Old Court House, and Jail, site of a Labor Day Celebration sponsored by Sanders Volunteers/
Since I have been invited to address the Labor Day Celebration in Woodstock Square this Monday from 11 am to 2 pm which is sponsored by local Sanders volunteers, I suppose this is as good a time as any to shit or get off the pot.
Guess I will poop out a full throated endorsement of the candidate who more closely mirrors my own beliefs and positions than any other in my life time.  Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout and I both declare for Bernie Sanders for whatever it is worth and pledge to work for his nomination and election.
But I also pledge to support the ultimate Democratic nominee, whoever that is.

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