, ,

The Democrats’ “New” Platform Proves They Are Not on Our Side

We Must Shift the Narrative

When it became clear that the establishment, right-wing of the Democratic party, epitomized by dubious characters like Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Donna Brazile, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and the like, had conspired, along with the corporate media, to make sure Hillary Clinton the Democratic Nominee for President in 2016, progressive former Democrats staged a somewhat-successful #Demexit campaign to abandon the party in favor of real progressives like Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party, Mimi Soltysik of the Socialist Party or Gloria LaRiva of the Party for Socialism & Liberation. Though these folks ultimately represented barely 2% of the votes cast in the presidential election, there has been a certain amount of backlash, not only from “Vote-Blue-No-Matter-Who” liberal types but even from otherwise left-leaning, sometimes-reluctant supporters of the Democrats, who view the party as the best vehicle for gaining left power in the US.

When it became clear that the same establishment wing of the party, this time in the form of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and mega-donor Haim Saban, planned on (ultimately, successfully) undermining the campaign of Rep. Keith Ellison (the first ever Muslim member of congress, a safe center-left member of the progressive caucus, and high-profile Bernie Sanders supporter) for chair of the DNC, using xenophobic smears to elevate former Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez, whose similar political bent and lack of campaign experience made the move a transparent power grab, the ranks of those calling for a left alternative to the Democrats swelled. Still, though there were those who pointed to the ridiculous, powerless, made-up position, of “Deputy Chair” bestowed on Ellison (when was the last time he did anything in his capacity as “Deputy Chair”? Does anyone remember? Does anyone know what such an act would even look like?) as signs that the establishment was beginning to crack. Liberals continued to call for “unity” (read: capitulation) and a good chunk of progressives continued to (reluctantly) heed that call.

Then came the special elections, the DNC & DCCC failed to support progressive candidates like Rob Quist in Montana, who then went on to win larger percentages of the vote than right-wing democrats had in the past, instead pouring all their money into John Ossoff, who many progressives (rightly) see as the epitome of all that is wrong with the party. Ossoff’s insistence that single-payer is bad while cutting government spending is good makes it hard to see any difference between him and a Republican, except, of course, that Ossoff won’t be tweeting anything.

If the actions of the Democrat establishment worried you during the special elections, then the release of their “new” platform by Chuck Schumer in the New York Times should only confirm those fears. The Democrats did not change. They do not intend to change.

The “new” platform is called “A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages”. You can almost hear the high-paid consultant telling the establishment that the Berniebros wanted “something about economics” in the platform. This platform, apparently, took months to come up with.

The reason that this platform is so confused and pointless is that the Democrats themselves have become confused and pointless. The Democrats have tried, over the last few decades, to basically become a more “compassionate” version of the Republicans. That is to say, they are a capitalist party for the capitalists not for the working class and poor. But their insistence that they are the “left wing” party in the US puts them in the unenviable position of trying to appeal to marginalized communities while pushing actual positions that will only help the exploiters of those communities. They are forced to appeal to these communities because, as Harry Truman infamously said, “If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat”.

Because of the obvious precarity of this position, the Democrats have been courting a particular demographic of voters since the days of Bill Clinton, in order to replace these marginal communities in their constituency: moderate professional-class Republicans. It was Clinton’s hope that appealing to this group would allow the Democrats to go on being a party of capital, without having to promise anything at all to the marginalized in our society. With the nomination of Donald Trump last year, a nomination that Democrats purposefully assisted, they thought they finally had the perfect set-up to win over the moderate, white, professional-class Republicans that would be turned off by Trump’s oafishness and attracted to Clinton’s pro-capitalist agenda. They were wrong, obviously, but they will almost certainly try the same tactic in 2018 and 2020, knowing that this time it will work, after 2–4 years of President Trump. The only hope for us on the left is to change the narrative entirely, and I mean to the point where Clintonistas won’t recognize the party anymore, or to abandon the Democrats entirely. They are not on our side.

For decades, liberal parties have refused to try to change the paradigm, instead, they accepted and capitulated to the right-wing view of history and tried to win as watered down versions of their reactionary counterparts. It has now become clear that this is not a winning strategy, and that those on the left owe no allegiance to anyone who would espouse such a strategy on the grounds of being “pragmatic”. There is nothing pragmatic about losing over 1,000 seats in 8 years, as the Democrats have done. There have been examples of the new paradigm, most notably that of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, whose unapologetic campaign has set the British left on fire with possibility.

Same Deal

The politics of Clintonistas and Blairites has been an unmitigated failure. Not only have they lost on their own terms-neither the US Democrats nor UK Labour hold an electoral majority at any level-but they have failed to represent the new world that ordinary people want. Instead of bold, transformation policies, we have gotten Conservatism-lite, policies that hurt the working class and poor but, like, maybe not as much.

Instead of a radical anti-racist, anti-sexist politics of equality, we were told that the struggles for equality had already been fought and won sometime in the past. Unlike their counterparts, they admitted there were a few aspects of our society that could be tweaked — a few more people of color, women and LGBT folk in positions of power perhaps, but the big battles were already over.

Instead of a radical anti-war politics, we were sold “humanitarian interventions”. Of course, it was sad when our soldiers died, but they died in pursuit of a noble cause, defending a people incapable of defending themselves against ruthless leaders (even when those leaders were voted into office) and, of course, ending terrorism around the world forever.

Instead of a real inspirational politics of solidarity and hope for a better future, we were told that austerity was necessary and practical. We were told the only way things would ever get any better is if we stopped the “free handouts” to “welfare queens” that were dragging down our economy. Just about anything run by the government was considered at best ineffective and at worst a terrible waste of money. The private sector always ahem trumped public sector in quality and efficiency. Welfare specifically, and government spending more generally, became a program of last resort, one necessary now only until the inevitable day when the private economy could take care of everyone. Bill Clinton, when signing the Welfare Reform Act into law in 1996 made it clear his aim was “to transform a broken system that traps too many people in a cycle of dependence to one that emphasizes work and independence, to give people on welfare a chance to draw a paycheck, not a welfare check”.

Ever since our most progressive environmental president, Richard Nixon, signed the US’ landmark environmental protections into law, his party has been trying to dismantle them. Instead of taking up the mantle of environmental activists like John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and Dave Foreman, fighting to expand protections for the Earth and our neighbors on it, against expansionism and extractivism, liberals are trapped forever trying to toe the line between the environment and the economy. When liberals advocate for a sustainable economy, they do it to preserve the economy, not the Earth. They do it so they and their donors won’t have to stop making money because the world ends.

So this has been the world for the past several decades, a vindication of Thatcher when she infamously said: “there is no alternative”.

Every person who considers herself a progressive or leftist can start framing their everyday conversations according to the paradigm we know to be true, and fight back against conventional reactionary framings. You won’t convince every person you talk to, or even most of them, but you will be starting to shift the narrative, a huge but necessary task, and many hands make for light work.

The simplest example that comes to mind is the paradigm that frames those that advocate denying abortion access to women as being “pro-life”. The framing here is that these folks simply don’t want people “killing” fetuses. But this is a distortion of the argument. We don’t advocate access to abortion because we think killing fetuses is just so frickin awesome, we don’t even need to approach the issue of whether a bundle of cells incapable of surviving outside the womb is a “life” or not. The reason we advocate for abortion access is that we believe, no matter what medical procedure or other context we’re discussing, that every person has the right to complete bodily autonomy, full stop.

No one, that I am aware of, advocates for compulsory organ transplants, even in the event that not donating an organ could result in someone’s death, even if it’s the death of a dependent. No, this “we have to sacrifice bodily autonomy to save lives” argument seems to only crop up in defense of abortion. Because “we don’t want women to have autonomy of body or reproduction” doesn’t play well with voters, the “pro-life” framing becomes necessary.

So, from today we can stop capitulating to this framing. Let’s let our values be reflected in the narratives we tell. We are not engaged with a faction that is “pro-life” we are really engaged with a faction that is “anti-choice”. The new framing reflects the reality that it’s not their (supposed)desire not kill we’re discussing, but their desire to deny the choice of an abortion to women.

Corbyn’s unapologetic embrace of a leftist paradigm, and willingness to challenge the narrative of the ruling classes and status quo is directly responsible for his great showing in the UK election, and it’s something we can repeat over and over by not being afraid to declare what we believe to be true — the exact opposite of what’s in the capitalist newspapers.

The End of White-Male-Cis-Het-Christian Supremacy is Non-Negotiable

We should be unafraid of using the word “supremacy”. You don’t need a sociology degree to be qualified to talk about white supremacy or patriarchy. I admit that my own experience in this realm is more ideological than academic. We do live in a “white supremacist” society — the laws and institutions of society are structured such that white people have an inherent advantage, and hold on to that advantage. That’s all that needs to be true, and it is true, to say we live in a white supremacist society.

Examples abound.

The most visible aspect of our society’s white supremacy, especially in recent years, is the way the criminal justice system and the war on drugs, started by Nixon but thrown into overdrive by Bill Clinton, trying to look tougher than Republicans on crime, creates a permanent black under-caste in American Society. As Michelle Alexander explains in her excellent book, The New Jim Crow, despite claims from liberal elites that systemic racism is over, taken down in the 60s by LBJ & MLK, mass incarceration works as a form of social control just as pernicious as slavery and Jim Crow before it.

Liberals are happy to decry racism and sexism as individual failings (typically personified by members of the conservative electorate), and talk about how we need to have female presidents and black CEOs, but we need to take the fight further. We need to push back, not just against the outright bigotry of the right, but the soft bigotry of the center that insists that “we’ve already made it”.

Everything that can be said for the liberals take on race issues can be said for other issues of identity as well. Feminism, for the liberal elite, is voting for Hillary Clinton, not smashing patriarchy. Pride is marching with cops, not rioting against the authoritarians harassing and oppressing your community.

2ch.hk

When we allow identity politics to be presented as a series of minor tweaks to the existing system, or try to fight for equality within that system, we leave the original structures of oppression intact, and they simply take new, usually more pernicious, forms. Our framing needs to make clear that we do live in an ocean of intersecting oppressive systems, to this day, even as this admission allows us to begin to work on the real, underlying issues.

War: Good for Nothing

One of the most extraordinary ways that Jeremy Corbyn successfully bucked the status quo consensus was in his reaction to the two terrorist attacks that occurred in Britain over the course of the campaign, first in Manchester then in London. For the first time a prominent western politician made the direct connection between terrorist attacks in western countries, and the brutal wars those countries wage overseas.

The reaction was predictable. For decades terrorist attacks have always been viewed in mainstream political circles as being “good” for the right, electorally. In the aftermath of such a traumatic event, the conventional wisdom goes, people gravitate to the parties who have the toughest rhetoric on crime and immigrants. Liberal parties’ only recourse was to call for war and rollbacks of civil liberties but just, like, less so. And so we got headlines like these:

As it turns out, the British people disagreed with this framing. 75% of Britons polled agreed with Corbyn’s assessment that the UK foreign policy was to blame for terrorist attacks.

We need to stand up for an explicitly anti-war, anti-colonial foreign policy. This will be hardest when we witness leaders in other countries commit atrocious acts, to which the ruling class insists we “must respond”. Our framing must make clear that it is never OK for our country to invade other countries. We can be secure in our knowledge that, regardless of the circumstances prior to the invasion, we have never improved a country by bombing it, or supplying arms to sectarian groups within it. Libya is the shining example of this, a country which in 2010 boasted a uniquely democratic society, with the highest Human Development Index and lowest infant mortality rates in Africa, with jihadi terror almost nonexistent, and which now, post invasion, is a failed state, host to open-air slave markets. The garbage, liberal, concept of “humanitarian interventions” has fallen flat on its face, and the world is better for it.

A good analogy to use, when confronted by the old paradigm that we “must do something” or else “allow another Rwanda” is one laid out by Tom Ritchford in his piece on this issue:

Imagine you have a friend who makes a habit of announcing that people are sick, and then performing surgery on them.

While your friend does have the world’s largest collection of surgical tools, it uniformly works out badly for his patients. Always the surgery turns out worse than the disease, and much of the time it turns out that the patient wasn’t even sick to start with — because your friend has no interest in doing diagnoses or really any form of medicine except surgery.

Now your friend has announced that someone else is sick, and a few minutes later has them strapped to the operating table and is preparing the knives. But when you justifiably express dismay, you are accused of wanting to “sit back and do nothing”.

We have the record before us: decades of bungled US military interventions on precisely this sort of flimsy evidence.

Welfare Is Incredibly Good And Cool

(Most of this section, including its title, has been inspired by the amazing work of Matt Bruenig. If you want to learn more I couldn’t recommend a better source than Matt’s blog. Matt has also started a Patreon for an unabashedly left-wing think-tank to get some of these ideas out there in policy form, if you can please donate.)

Ever since Ronald Reagan invented the concept of the “welfare queen”, welfare has become sort of a dirty word in the United States. It became shameful to be on welfare, other people on welfare were probably undeserving in some way, or scamming the system, and both parties couldn’t wait to reduce it as much and as quickly as possible. Government programs, in general, went from being something that we all deserved as a part of living in a developed nation, to being schemes to take from the “deserving” and give to the “undeserving”.

genderpressing
I feel the need to say this is from the Onion

While right-wingers have been happy to openly decry government spending as wasteful, as a way to get the money of hard-working individuals and provide to the lazy, as increasing dependency, liberals have once again found themselves trying to toe a ridiculous line. Liberals goal is to get people excited about government programs, because they will eventually lead to fewer government programs. As Matt Bruenig writes “Liberals don’t really believe welfare is a good thing, but instead view it as a necessary thing in order to save people from total destitution. This is why you get the metaphor of the welfare system being a “safety net” that exists only to catch people with weak and targeted benefits when they cannot meet their basic needs through market institutions.” Bill Clinton confirmed this milquetoast view as he signed into law the gutting of welfare in 1996, saying:

A long time ago I concluded that the current welfare system undermines the basic values of work, responsibility and family, trapping generation after generation in dependency and hurting the very people it was designed to help.

Today we have an historic opportunity to make welfare what it was meant to be: a second chance, not a way of life

Again, this failure comes from trying to defend welfare benefits within the paradigm that government spending is wasteful and promotes laziness and destitution. Bill Clinton wanted to end the era of “big government”, to prove he could be just as “serious” as the Republicans, while still pretending he was standing up for the poor. “The best anti-poverty program” he stated, “is still a job”.

But, of course, we know that isn’t true. The US has one of the most abysmal welfare states in the world, and largely for that reason, we have soaring rates of childhood poverty. Jobs came back after the 2008 crash, but they were part-time and contract jobs that we couldn’t use to support our families. So we’re poor but, hey, at least we’re not dependent.

Our framing again needs to turn this on its head. We need to start from the assumption that every human being has an inherent right to live a healthy, fulfilling life. Organized as we are in the west, in nation-states of immense wealth, there is no reason we can’t provide that for everyone. We need to insist that the way to have the freest possible society is to have one where no one’s life choices are unnecessarily restricted because of something as ridiculous as “market forces”. We need to fight against paternalistic sentiments that the collective resources of human societies are best used to punish perceived moral failings like “laziness”, instead of for providing each of us living under it to live the fullest lives possible.

Hand-in-hand with welfare demonization is the lionization of anything done by the private sector, simply by merit of having not been done by the public sector. In keeping with our theme, right-wingers are happy to say that this is literally what they believe. They believe that the government running any industry, no matter how vital, is restricting the freedom of private entrepreneurs to do it better (and, of course, to profit). Liberals, meanwhile must insist that while it’s true some things, unfortunately, need to be done by the government, this, like welfare, is a last resort- only if the potential for abuse in the private sector is so obvious as to make denying it ridiculous, or only until some private company comes up with a way to do it better.

However, as prominent economist Richard Wolff points out, there is no real evidence that the private sector is any better at doing things than the public sector.

So there is no difference in the cost or efficiency of programs run in the private vs. public sectors. The only difference then, is the degree of control and access the average person has to those services. When we privatize a service, we take away any input the ones utilizing that service might have. A publicly run service, at least ostensibly, allows for a degree of input from constituencies. Private services don’t answer to anything but “the market” and most of the type of services that people like Jeremy Corbyn are talking about nationalizing — railways, post, utilities etc. — or that people like Justin Trudeau are talking about privatizing — roads, airports etc — are natural monopolies. It’s hard to use your consumer power to boycott companies that provide you water or electricity, you can’t always just choose a different road.

So our framing shouldn’t be about private vs. public per se. It should be about who has access and control to resources and services. There are ways to do this that don’t necessarily mean centralizing control in a government body. Corbyn ran on creating cooperatives for local energy and other industries as a way to bring control back to the people, where it belongs. There has been a good deal of buzz of alternative models, such as The Commons, where a resource is managed by the community that uses it. Ultimately the questions we should ask of any form of service are who controls the service, who has access to it and who profits from it.

Living in the Real World

I have written extensively about liberals’ failings on environmental issues, so I’ll keep this section short. We need to remember that there is more to the environmental crisis than just global warming. It has been the liberal position since at least Al Gore that global capitalism could continue to expand and extract, as long as it did so sustainably. That is, carbon neutrally.

So there is no difference in the cost or efficiency of programs run in the private vs. public sectors. The only difference then, is the degree of control and access the average person has to those services. When we privatize a service, we take away any input the ones utilizing that service might have. A publicly run service, at least ostensibly, allows for a degree of input from constituencies. Private services don’t answer to anything but “the market” and most of the type of services that people like Jeremy Corbyn are talking about nationalizing — railways, post, utilities etc. — or that people like Justin Trudeau are talking about privatizing — roads, airports etc — are natural monopolies. It’s hard to use your consumer power to boycott companies that provide you water or electricity, you can’t always just choose a different road.

So our framing shouldn’t be about private vs. public per se. It should be about who has access and control to resources and services. There are ways to do this that don’t necessarily mean centralizing control in a government body. Corbyn ran on creating cooperatives for local energy and other industries as a way to bring control back to the people, where it belongs. There has been a good deal of buzz of alternative models, such as The Commons, where a resource is managed by the community that uses it. Ultimately the questions we should ask of any form of service are who controls the service, who has access to it and who profits from it.

Living in the Real World

I have written extensively about liberals’ failings on environmental issues, so I’ll keep this section short. We need to remember that there is more to the environmental crisis than just global warming. It has been the liberal position since at least Al Gore that global capitalism could continue to expand and extract, as long as it did so sustainably. That is, carbon neutrally.

This is not the case.

We need to be clear that we want to end the system that treats all other life on Earth as expendable in the name of capitalist growth.

We need to change what is seen as “realistic”, and hammer on the fact that physics doesn’t believe in or care about things like the economy. We need to make clear that there is no medal for “almost saving the world from catastrophic global warming”, we either make it or we don’t.

Chappatte in International Herald Tribune

It sometimes seems like liberals are living in a world of make-believe when it comes to the material reality of ecological crises. Take, for instance, the fact that under Obama US coal emissions went down. Liberals will point to this as a win, claiming that Obama has done his part to reduce global GHG emissions. Only thing is, that’s not true. In fact, while US coal emissions went down under Obama, coal exports have never been higher! So the coal is still being burned, the carbon is still entering the atmosphere, but the liberals act as though they have somehow “technically won”, citing the figures: emissions went down. When confronted with this delusion, or with the fact that even if every single party to the Paris Accord followed through on 100% of their promised reductions, we’d still surpass 2 degrees, the liberals will start to mumble something about “not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good”.

Platitudes like that will offer little comfort as the biosphere deteriorates and the planet heats up beyond what our civilization can survive. The Earth won’t care how historic the Paris Accord was if it doesn’t lead to us reducing emissions enough to save ourselves, nor will it matter what the official emissions figures were under Obama’s presidency. The only way to measure success in this arena is actual material changes in our global society, none of which are yet evident.

Better Narrative, Better Party, Better World

The problem is capitalism. The problem is the liberal party’s desire to bend over backwards to defend this economic system and whose who profit from its exploitation.

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of this clip of Chris Hayes trying to get Tom Perez to say the ruling class is the problem, while Perez dances and dodges and says basically nothing.

It perfectly encapsulates the conundrum the liberals have gotten themselves it. They want to play the right-wing game while still pretending to be the left wing. They want to be considered the left but will never take up the defining mantle of the left: anti-capitalism.

Tom Perez says he wants to have a big tent where the capitalist and working classes both win, but this isn’t possible. The interests of those of us who work for a living are diametrically opposed to those of the capitalists. The obsession that liberals, especially the Democrats, have with “compromise” is their biggest betrayal. Many if not all of the problems of framing and narrative we’ve discussed have become the norm because the liberals have slowly, over decades, deferred again and again to right-wing ideology.

Our framing needs an explicit class-consciousness, and an emphasis on the power of solidarity. This is what makes UKIP voters vote for Corbyn and Trumpers vote for berniecrats. Regardless of what differences we have among ourselves, they pale in comparison to the differences we have with the ruling capitalist class. It’s the capitalist class, after all, that profits from the wars, austerity and environmental degradation that cause us so much suffering, why should we be interested in compromise?

We need to come to the bargaining table, as Corbyn did, steadfast in our beliefs and unwilling to compromise on our real values. The future belongs to us, we can really create a better world, not just tinker with the old one, it won’t happen on its own, but together we can do it.

We have nothing to lose but our chains.

 

This piece was originally published on Medium.

Written by Nathaniel Owen

Nathaniel Owen

Follow Nathaniel on Twitter @thugznkisses. He also writes on Medium.

Leave a Reply

Notify of
avatar
5000
wpDiscuz

Is Thermonuclear War Inevitable?

The Democrats’ “New” Platform Proves They Are Not on Our Side