The New Rules of the Game

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The quadrennial political game of least worst, or how to scare the public to vote for presidential candidates who serve corporate power, comes this season with a new twist. Donald Trump, if he faces Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar or Michael Bloomberg, will continue to be an amalgamation of Adolf Hitler, Al Capone and the Antichrist. But should Bernie Sanders manage to evade the snares, traps and minefields laid for him by the Democratic Party elites, should he miraculously become the party’s nominee, the game of least worst will radically change. All the terrifying demons that inhabit Trump will be instantly exorcised. But unlike in the biblical story of Jesus driving the demons into a herd of swine, they will be driven into the senator from Vermont. Trump will become the establishment’s reluctant least worse option. Sanders will become a leper. The Democratic and Republican party elites, joining forces as they did in the 1972 presidential election, will do to Sanders what they did to George McGovern, who lost in 49 of the 50 states.

“If Dems go on to nominate Sanders, the Russians will have to reconsider who to work for to best screw up the US. Sanders is just as polarizing as Trump AND he’ll ruin our economy and doesn’t care about our military,” former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein (net worth $1.1 billion) tweeted. “If I’m Russian, I go with Sanders this time around.”

Blankfein, who calls for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and who headed Goldman Sachs when it paid Hillary Clinton $675,000 for three speaking engagements in 2013, laid out the stance of the billionaire class that controls the Democratic Party. The New York Times reported that Mike Novogratz, “a Goldman Sachs alumnus who runs the merchant bank Galaxy Digital, said Mr. Sanders’s oppositional nature had prompted ‘too many friends’ to say they would vote against him in November. ‘And they hate Trump,’ he said.”

“Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney, and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it,” Hillary Clinton says of Sanders in a forthcoming television documentary.

The courtiers in the press, pathetically attempting to spin Sanders’ New Hampshire win into a victory for the corporate-endorsed alternatives, are part of the firing squad. “Running Sanders Against Trump Would Be an Act of Insanity” read the headline in a piece by Jonathan Chait in New York magazine. “No party nomination, with the possible exception of Barry Goldwater in 1964, has put forth a presidential nominee with the level of downside risk exposure as a Sanders-led ticket would bring. To nominate Sanders would be insane,” he wrote. David Frum — now a darling of the Democratic elites, like many other Republicans who morphed from George W. Bush supporters into critics of Trump — announced in The Atlantic that Bernie can’t win. “Sanders is a Marxist of the old school of dialectical materialism, from the land that time forgot,” Frum wrote. “Class relations are foundational; everything else is epiphenomenal.”

Jennifer Rubin declared in The Washington Post that a Sanders nomination would be a “disaster for the Democrats.” “Sanders’s campaign, like all primary campaigns, is a preview of the general-election race and, if elected, the administration he would lead,” Rubin wrote. “A nominee who insists on personally attacking all doubters and the media might be a model for the Republican Party, but Democrats are not going to win with their own Donald Trump, especially one who has burned bridges and stirred resentment in his own party.”

Thomas Friedman, in a column supporting Bloomberg, the newest savior in the protean Democratic firmament, wrote of Sanders: “On which planet in the Milky Way galaxy is an avowed ‘socialist’ — who wants to take away the private health care coverage of some 150 million Americans and replace it with a gigantic, untested Medicare-for-All program, which he’d also extend to illegal immigrants — going to defeat the Trump machine this year? It will cast Sanders as Che Guevara — and it won’t even be that hard.”

MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews, descending to the Red baiting employed by Blankfein, said that “if Castro and the Reds had won the Cold War there would have been executions in Central Park and I might have been one of the ones getting executed. And certain other people would be there cheering, okay?”

Despite the hyperventilating by corporate shills such as Matthews and Friedman, Sanders’ democratic socialism is essentially that of a New Deal Democrat. His political views would be part of the mainstream in France or Germany, where democratic socialism is an accepted part of the political landscape and is routinely challenged as too accommodationist by communists and radical socialists. Sanders calls for an end to our foreign wars, a reduction of the military budget, for “Medicare for All,” abolishing the death penalty, eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and private prisons, a return of Glass-Steagall, raising taxes on the wealthy, increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, canceling student debt, eliminating the Electoral College, banning fracking and breaking up agribusinesses. This does not qualify as a revolutionary agenda.

Sanders, unlike many more radical socialists, does not propose nationalizing the banks and the fossil fuel and arms industries. He does not call for the criminal prosecution of the financial elites who trashed the global economy or the politicians and generals who lied to launch preemptive wars, defined under international law as criminal wars of aggression, which have devastated much of the Middle East, resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees and displaced people, and cost the nation between $5 trillion and $7 trillion. He does not call for worker ownership of factories and businesses. He does not promise to halt the government’s wholesale surveillance of the public. He does not intend to punish corporations that have moved manufacturing overseas. Most importantly, he believes, as I do not, that the political system, including the Democratic Party, can be reformed from within. He does not support sustained mass civil disobedience to bring the system down, the only hope we have of halting the climate emergency that threatens to doom the human race. On the political spectrum, he is, at best, an enlightened moderate. The vicious attacks against him by the elites are an indication of how anemic and withered our politics have become.

The Democrats have, once again, offered us their preselected corporate candidates. We can vote for a candidate who serves oligarchic power, albeit with more decorum than Trump, or we can see Trump shoved down our throats. That is the choice. It exposes the least worst option as a con, a mechanism used repeatedly to buttress corporate power. The elites know they would be safe in the hands of a Hillary Clinton, a Barack Obama or a John Kerry, but not a Bernie Sanders — which is a credit to Sanders.

The surrender to the “least worst” mantra in presidential election after presidential election has neutered the demands of labor, along with those organizations and groups fighting poverty, mass incarceration and police violence. The civil rights, women’s rights, environment justice and consumer rights movements, forced to back Democrats whose rhetoric is palatable but whose actions are inimical to their causes, get tossed overboard. Political leverage, in election after election, is surrendered without a fight. We are all made to kneel before the altar of the least worst. We get nothing in return. The least worst option has proved to be a recipe for steady decay.

The Democrats, especially after Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential run, have erected numerous obstacles to block progressives inside and outside the party. They make ballot access difficult or impossible for people of color. They lock third-party candidates and often progressives in the Democratic Party, such as Dennis Kucinich, out of the presidential campaign debates. They turn campaigns into two-year-long spectacles that cost billions of dollars. They use superdelegates to fix the nominating process. They employ scare tactics to co-op those who should be the natural allies of third parties and progressive political movements.

The repeated cowardice of the liberal class, which backs a Democratic Party that in Europe would be considered a far-right party, saw it squander its credibility. Its rhetoric proved empty. Its moral posturing was a farce. It fought for nothing. In assault after assault on the working class it was complicit. If liberals — supposedly backers of parties and institutions that defend the interests of the working class — had abandoned the Democratic Party after President Bill Clinton pushed through the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, Trump would not be in the White House. Why didn’t liberals walk out of the Democratic Party when Clinton and the Democratic Party leadership, including Biden, passed NAFTA? Why didn’t they walk out when the Clinton administration gutted welfare? Why didn’t they walk out when Clinton pushed through the 1999 Financial Services Modernization Act, which abolished the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, designed to prevent the kind of banking crisis that trashed the global economy in 2008? Why didn’t they walk out when year after year the Democratic Party funded and expanded our endless wars? Why didn’t they walk out when the Democrats agreed to undercut due process and habeas corpus? Why didn’t they walk out when the Democrats helped approve the warrantless wiretapping and monitoring of American citizens? Why didn’t the liberals walk out when the party leadership refused to impose sanctions on Israel for its war crimes, enact serious environmental and health care reform or regulate Wall Street? At what point will liberals say “Enough”? At what point will they fight back?

By surrendering every election cycle to the least worst, liberals proved they have no breaking point. There never has been a line in the sand. They have stood for nothing.

Bernie Sanders arose in 2016 as a political force because he, like Trump, acknowledged the bleak reality imposed on working men and women by the billionaire class. This reality, a reality ignored by the ruling elites, was spoken out loud. The elites were held accountable. The Democratic elites scrambled, successfully, to deny Sanders the 2016 nomination. The Republican elites squabbled among themselves and failed to prevent Trump from becoming the party nominee.

The 2016 chessboard has reappeared, but this time in the Democratic Party primary. The Democratic hierarchy, as horrified by Sanders as the established Republican elites were by Trump, is flailing about trying to find a political savior to defeat the Red menace. Their ineptitude, Sanders’ primary asset, was displayed when they mangled the Iowa primary. They, like the Republican elites in 2016, are woefully disconnected from their constituency, attempting to persuade a public they betrayed and no longer understand.

Joe Biden, long a stooge of corporate America, for example, is frantically attempting to paint himself as a champion of poor people of color after his defeats in the largely white states of Iowa and New Hampshire. The onetime vice president, however, was one of the driving forces behind the strategy to take back the “law and order” issue from the Republicans. He and Bill Clinton orchestrated the doubling of the prison population, the militarization of the police, and mandatory minimum sentences along with juvenile boot camps, drug courts, policing in schools and the acceleration of the deportation of “criminal aliens.” During Biden’s leadership in the Senate — where he served from 1973 until 2009, when he became Obama’s vice president — the Congress approved 92 death-eligible crimes in an almost identical period. These Democratic “law and order” policies landed like hammer blows on poor communities of color, inflicting untold misery and egregious acts of injustice. And now Biden, who pounded the nails into those he crucified, is desperately trying to present himself to his victims as their savior. It is a sad metaphor for the bankruptcy of the Democratic Party.

Biden, however, is no longer the Democratic ruling elite’s flavor of the month. This mantle has been passed to Bloomberg, once the Republican mayor of New York and a Rudy Giuliani ally whose indiscriminate stop-and-frisk harassment of, mainly, African Americans and Latinos was ruled unconstitutional. Bloomberg, whose net worth is estimated at $61.8 billion, said he is ready to spend $1 billion of his own money on his campaign, what The New York Times has called “a waterfall of cash.” He has bought the loyalty of much of the ruling Democratic establishment. He spent, for example, $110 million in 2018 alone to support 24 candidates now in Congress. He is saturating the airwaves with commercials. He is lavishing high salaries and perks on his huge campaign staff. Sanders, or anyone else defying the billionaire class, cannot compete financially. The last desperate gasp of the Democratic Party establishment is to buy the election. Bloomberg is ready to oblige. After all, Bloomberg’s money worked miracles in amassing allies to overturn New York City term limits so he could serve a third term as mayor.

But will it work? Will the Democratic elites and Bloomberg be able to smother the Democratic primaries with so much money that Sanders is shut out?

“As with Republicans in 2016, the defining characteristic of the 2020 Democratic race has been the unwieldy size of the field,” Matt Taibbi writes. “The same identity crisis lurking under the Republican clown car afflicted this year’s Democratic contest: Because neither donors nor party leaders nor pundits could figure out what they should be pretending to stand for, they couldn’t coalesce around any one candidate. These constant mercurial shifts in ‘momentum’ — it’s Pete! It’s Amy! Paging Mike Bloomberg! — have eroded the kingmaking power of the Democratic leadership. They are eating the party from within, and seem poised to continue doing so.”

If Sanders gets the nomination it will be due to the Keystone Cops ineptitude of the Democratic leadership, one that as Taibbi points out replicates the ineptitude of the Republican elites in 2016. But this time there will be a crucial difference. The ruling elites, once divided between Trump and Hillary Clinton, with most of the elites preferring Clinton, will be united against Sanders. They will back Trump as the least worst. The corporate media will turn its venom, now directed at Trump, toward Sanders. The Democratic Party’s mask will come off. It will be open warfare between them and us.

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Author: Chris Hedges