Note: this post originally appeared on the blog of the Carnegie Democratic Committee, by Rick D’Loss, Chair of that committee
Yesterday we finished the first official contest of this presidential election season. And it ended with a very exciting tie. And so we move on to New Hampshire.
From the beginning the pundits have been saying that it really doesn’t matter whether Bernie gets more primary votes than Hillary— she still wins the nomination. Really? What are they talking about? What they’re talking about are super-delegates.
The short story is this. In 1972, George McGovern won the Democratic nomination. In the general election however, he was soundly trashed by Richard Nixon. And so the DNC (Democratic National Committee) devised a system that would ensure that “the Party’s interests” would prevail over a very popular, grass roots candidate like McGovern. They established that a certain number of convention delegates would be reserved for elected officials (governors, senators, etc) and party leaders (DNC members) who could vote however they pleased. This number would be substantial. It is estimated that in 2016 there will be 713 superdelegates at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. This represents about 30% of the delegates! Think about that. All the campaigning and voting that will proceed around the country in upcoming months will determine about 70% of the delegates, and the other 30% will be determined by party leaders.
What impact does this have on Clinton-Sanders? Many super-delegates announced support for Hillary even before the race began. This includes Howard Dean, former Chair of the DNC. Even at this early date in the campaign, 347 super-delegates have already announced for Hillary. That’s almost half of the super-delegates. Before anyone has even voted, Hillary has 15% of the Convention delegates. That is why the pundits have been saying Hillary has it wrapped up even before the primary voting starts.
There is good and bad to this, of course. Admittedly, it’s kind of embarrassing that the Democratic Party has put shackles on democracy (the Republicans don’t have super-delegates). But the good part is that the party leaders are supposed to take some responsibility for vetting of candidates. We make an assumption that our elected officials (here in PA— Gov. Wolf, Sen. Casey, former Gov. Rendell, etc) will look out for our best interests and not create a repeat of 1972. But it’s also saying that the super-delegates who committed to Hillary early didn’t even take the time to consider who the other candidates are. It reeks of party machine politics, and that could turn off the next generation of voters.
Bernie Sanders is carrying the overwhelming majority of young democrats. What will be the message to them if they are ignored? Would they come to the conclusion that they would be better served by moving to the Green Party or the Working Families Party? I hope the super-delegates have enough sense to not piss off the future of the party. The Sanders movement is huge and it’s impact should not be ignored.
Whenever I hear the news media refer to armed insurgents as militias, I keep thinking of this famous line from the Princess Bride.
The 2nd Amendment is all of one sentence long, and for many decades the right to own and bear arms has been debated because of the comma in the middle of the sentence. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”. Citizens need to have arms because they need to be available to serve in militias. OK, I get that. And gun owners argue that even if they aren’t part of a militia, the Constitution nonetheless gives them the right to own arms. That’s a legitimate debate. However, I don’t recall much debate about the definition of “a well regulated militia”. My guess is that a group of guys in the woods with guns does not constitute a well regulated militia. The men at the Oregon Wildlife Refuge are not a militia, in any sense of the word. Stop using that word! Carrying a U.S. flag does not give them credibility. I commented to a friend earlier this week that here in the city, a group of men with guns that has staked out a territory is called a street gang.
The well regulated militia identified in the Constitution is officially called the National Guard. The National Guard is the formal military organization of the individual states. Refer to 32 U.S. Code § 101 – Definitions
(4) “Army National Guard” means that part of the organized militia of the several States and Territories, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia, active and inactive, that—
(A) is a land force;
(B) is trained, and has its officers appointed, under the sixteenth clause of section 8, article I, of the Constitution;
(C) is organized, armed, and equipped wholly or partly at Federal expense; and
(D) is federally recognized.
Admittedly, the federalizing of the National Guard is contentious. I discussed that last year.
Why is it then that the press does not refer to the Oregon militia the same way that they refer to a street gang? The answer is institutionalized racism that survives in all areas of our culture. You may recall back in the ’80s when a group of black anarchists calling themselves MOVE occupied some buildings in Philadelphia. They were armed and refused to surrender. The police bombed the building killing 11 people, including children. The resulting fire burned down most of the neighborhood. But today in Oregon, the government wants to “avoid a confrontation”. And the reason is the militants are white.
POTUS hasn’t spoken much about militia in Oregon. He says it’s a police matter. The local law enforcement in Oregon says that the occupiers will face charges when they surrender. Presidential candidate Kasich’s spokesperson tweeted, “I know a good federal compound for Bundy and his gang: a U.S. penitentiary.” My feelings are a bit stronger than that. I think they should be treated as if they were black or Hispanic. I will agree to let my tax dollars contribute to the rebuilding of the structure after the fire.
And oh by the way, one of the insurgents stated that they just want the federal government to give the land back to its rightful owners. The local native tribe is pretty excited about that.
I hope that everyone was able to watch the debate Tuesday night. You saw grown-ups actually debating issues as opposed to candidates calling each other names, disparaging people of various ethnicities and races, and making sarcastic comments about women. There were a number of interesting things said during the debate that we can comment on, but I want to focus on two things at this time. One, why did the major newspapers all award a debate victory to Hillary, while all the polls and focus groups called Bernie the winner? Second, why did Anderson Cooper ask Bernie if he is electable, given that he and his wife honeymooned in the Soviet Union? No doubt, these two questions are actually part of the same question.
Many of you saw this Facebook segment during the debate. The real-time Facebook poll showed Sanders winning with 75%. But notice how many times in this short segment that the announcers say that Facebook is for “kids”. I will have to tell my 77 year old mother that FB is just for kids, and tell myself while I’m at it! At first I thought it was just a joke, but as I watched it a couple times I noticed Don Lemon saying that this is who the “kids” think is winning the debate. This is clearly an attempt to dismiss the results as insignificant. CNN had posted the results on their website, but later took it down. Additionally, CNN had organized a focus group and after the debate polled them. Most thought Bernie won. Fox also organized a focus group of democrats in Florida. Their focus group said that Bernie won. Unfortunately, all of this conflicted with CNN’s plan to announce Hillary as the winner. No matter, they announced Hillary won anyway. Other mainstream news outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post likewise proclaimed Hillary the winner.
Chris Cillizza was gushing over Hillary at WaPo, “There’s no debate about who won… Hillary Clinton was knowledgeable, relaxed, funny, totally relatable and, most importantly, presidential”. Meanwhile his colleagues at WaPo, James Hohmann and Elise Viebeck were frankly reminding us that Hillary’s job wasn’t to convince the American people of her viability, it was to “quiet doubts among party elites”.
CNN’s organizing of the debate was suspect from beginning to end. They placed Hillary in the center of the group. That provides a powerful subliminal message about her leadership position. And at the end they allowed her to make final remarks last. All of us have been in debates or even informal discussions; getting the “last word” is prime placement for victory. Note however that these gimmicks did not sway the focus groups or online polling. I think the thing that bothered me most about CNN and Cooper was when he asked Bernie about honeymooning in the Soviet Union. This is an old gimmick of propagandists called “red baiting”. The idea is to discredit the candidate by associating him with Communists. So, here’s the backstory. In 1988, Sanders was mayor of Burlington, VT. His city has just become a “sister city” with Yaroslavl, a city 160 miles north of Moscow. The sister city program had been started by Eisenhower in 1956 to reduce tensions during the Cold War. Sanders led a 10 member diplomatic delegation from his city to Yaroslavl, and since he and his wife Jane had just married the day before, she came along. She has since joked that she spent her honeymoon in the Soviet Union. So, that was the story that Anderson Cooper used to imply that Sanders is really a Communist. If I were naïve, I would say that CNN doesn’t do their homework. We all know better. CNN is owned by Warner, a major contributor to Hillary’s campaign. Bernie is right about the influence of money in campaigns. The question is whether or not he can overcome it.
As we prepare to watch the first Democratic candidates debate this evening, we consider who the SD will endorse. Many organizations will announce endorsements without asking for their members’ input. We don’t believe this is appropriate for a democratic organization. So, we conducted a poll of our members regarding the 2016 presidential election. We asked:
1. Should SDUSA endorse a candidate?
2. Regardless of party, who is your preferred candidate?
3. What are your top three most important issues in the election?
You might say that it would be a foregone conclusion that our members would be supporting Bernie Sanders. That is, for the most part, true. But there is some diversity in the responses. Below are the outcomes from our members poll conducted during September.
For the 1st question, the answer was 100%, “Yes, SDUSA should endorse a candidate”.
For the 2nd question,
all others, <6% each (included some Republicans such as Kasich and Cruz)
For the 3rd question, the responses are listed by the most frequently cited,
1. Campaign finance (includes other election reforms)
2. Income inequality (includes corporate welfare, Wall Street oligarchy)
3. Global warming (includes jobs programs that create green infrastructure)
4. National healthcare (includes single payer initiatives such as Medicare for All)
5. Protect civil rights (includes voting rights and eliminating police abuse)
6. Maintain vigorous foreign policy (fight terrorism, support weak nations, aid refugees)
7. Maintain strong national defense
8. Protect women’s rights (includes reproductive freedoms and pay equity)
9. Grow the movement (includes creating left dialogue, left unity, and organizing voters)
10. Affordable higher education
11. Protect gun ownership rights
12. Control global population growth
13. Restrict abortion
14. Reduce unemployment
15. Support Israel, while also pushing for greater human rights
Based on the results shown above, SDUSA continues to follow its tradition of being leftist regarding economic issues, but having a mix of positions on other issues. If you know the history of the SDUSA, you know that when the Socialist Party changed its name to Social Democrats USA in 1972, many of the more liberal members left the organization. Those who remained with SDUSA were a mix of liberals and conservatives. Many were associated with trade unions, and many of those were conservative in their social outlook. This included not only being conservative on social issues, but also hawkish on foreign policy.
Our members today continue to have diverse perspectives. We have members who are liberal on social issues, but hawkish on foreign policy. We have members who are conservative on abortion and marriage, leftist on economics, and vigorous in their support of refugees. We have Labor Zionists. We have members who are leftist on economics and are also pacifists. We really can’t tell you what a “typical” SD member looks like, other than that common thread of strong conviction in social democracy and the fundamental rights of every human being.
It’s important to mention that we have members who are anti-abortion, or pro-gun, or anti-gay marriage, or all of the above. Often the positions of our conservative members are based on their religious convictions, and the SDUSA is the only political organization where they feel they are welcome as Christian socialists. That is not to say that all Christian socialists are conservatives, because we also have members of the Christian Left in our ranks. Conservative members represent a minority of our members, but their opinions are respected and they are part of the fabric of SDUSA.
In summary: Given the diversity of our membership, the results of the SD members’ poll were not surprising to us. We continue to uphold the ideals of social democracy in a heterogenous organization comprised of liberals and conservatives, labor unionists and religious socialists. Despite our disagreements, we hold fast to a respect for workers, our obligation to protect our weaker brothers and sisters, and the right of peoples to democratically choose their destiny.
Editor’s Note: This post by Harvey J. Kaye, University of Wisconsin, first appeared on Moyers & company. It is reposted here with his permission.
Appearing late last week on MSNBC’s Morning Joe,Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri insisted that Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont “is too liberal to gather enough votes in this country to become president.” Indeed, responding to the fact that candidate Sanders is not only drawing big, enthusiastic crowds to campaign events in Iowa and New Hampshire, but also pulling within 10 points of frontrunner and party favorite Hillary Clinton in certain state polls, McCaskill said: “It’s not unusual for someone who has an extreme message to have a following.”
Extreme? McCaskill’s remarks indicate that we may be in more trouble than we thought. For some time we have feared that Republican politicians were losing their minds. Now it seems we must worry, as well, that Democratic politicians are losing their memories.
Clearly, McCaskill’s attack — which, to me, smacked of red baiting — was intended as a dismissal of Bernie Sanders’s candidacy based on the fact that Sanders, who has repeatedly won elections in Vermont as an independent and then caucused with the Senate Democrats, is a self-described “democratic socialist” or “social democrat.” And of course, we all know that social democracy is not just unpopular in the United States, it is un-American.
Well, think again. Social democracy is 100 percent American. We may be latecomers to recognizing a universal right to health care (indeed, we are not quite there yet). But we were first in creating a universal right to public education, in endowing ourselves with ownership of national parks, and, for that matter, in conferring voting rights on males without property and abolishing religious tests for holding national office.
But there’s even more to the story. It was the American Revolution’s patriot and pamphleteer, Thomas Paine — a hero today to folks left and right, including tea partiers — who launched the social-democratic tradition in the 1790s. In his pamphlets,Rights of Man and Agrarian Justice, Paine outlined plans for combating poverty that would become what we today call Social Security.
As Paine put it in the latter work, since God has provided the earth and the land upon it as a collective endowment for humanity, those who have come to possess the land as private property owe the dispossessed an annual rent for it. Specifically, Paine delineated a limited redistribution of income by way of a tax on landed wealth and property. The funds collected were to provide both grants for young people to get started in life and pensions for the elderly.
Think again. The social-democratic tradition was nurtured by Americans both immigrant and native-born – by the so-called “sewer socialist” German Americanswho helped to build the Midwest and, inspired by the likes of Eugene Debs and Victor Berger, radically improved urban life by winning battles for municipal ownership of public utilities. By the Jewish and Italian workers who toiled and suffered in the sweatshops of New York and Chicago but then, led by David Dubinsky and Sidney Hillman, created great labor unions such as the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. By the farmers and laborers who rallied to the grand encampments on the prairies organized by populists and socialists across the southwest to hear how, working together in alliances, they could break the grip of Wall Street and create a Cooperative Commonwealth. By African-Americans who came north in the Great Migration to build new lives for themselves and, led by figures such as the socialist, labor leader and civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph, energized the civil rights movement in the 1930s.
And think again. Think about the greatest president of the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt, whose grand, social-democratic New Deal initiatives – from the CCC, WPA and Rural Electrification Administration, to Social Security and the National Labor Relations Act — not only rescued the nation from the Great Depression, but also reduced inequality and poverty and helped ready the United States to win the second World War and become the strongest and most prosperous nation on earth.
Moreover, those we celebrate as the Greatest Generation, the men and women who confronted the Great Depression and went on to defeat fascism, fought for the decidedly social-democratic Four Freedoms – freedom of speech and religion, freedom from want and fear – and the chance of realizing them at war’s end.
Polls conducted in 1943 showed that 94 percent of Americans endorsed old-age pensions; 84 percent, job insurance; 83 percent, universal national health insurance; and 79 percent, aid for students — leading FDR in his 1944 State of the Union message to propose a Second Bill of Rights that would guarantee those very things to all Americans. All of which would be blocked by a conservative coalition of pro-corporate Republicans and white supremacist southern Democrats. And yet, with the aid of the otherwise conservative American Legion, FDR did secure one of the greatest social-democratic programs in American history: the G.I. Bill that enabled 12,000,000 returning veterans to progressively transform themselves and the nation for the better.
Nor did that generation of veterans give up their social-democratic aspirations. On reaching middle age in the 1960s, they enacted civil rights, voting rights, Medicare and Medicaid; established protections for the environment, workers and consumers; and dramatically expanded educational opportunities, especially in public higher education.
We ourselves honor America’s social-democratic history with two great monuments on the National Mall – not just the FDR Memorial, but also the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Yes, King was a democratic socialist. Drawing on the New Deal experience, embracing the American tradition of Christian socialism and peaceful activism, and believing, like so many of his generation, that Americans could harness the powers of democratic government to enhance freedom and equality, he campaigned for both racial justice and the rights of working people and the poor.
Senator McCaskill’s attack on Senator Sanders appears to have been launched on behalf of the Clinton campaign. Its rationale rests on the belief that, in the light of the past 40 years of conservative ascendancy and liberal retreat, her words were simple common sense: Aren’t we, as the talking heads tell us, a center-right nation?
Well, no, we are emphatically not. And it is regrettable that by swallowing this myth, the present leadership of the Democratic Party, embodied in the Democratic National Committee has, in election after election, shrunk from some of the party’s best traditions in order to keep up in the race for campaign cash, even to the extent of marginalizing and openly scorning what is described as its “left wing.”
Indeed, when America’s purpose and promise have been in jeopardy we acted radically, progressively, and, yes, as social democrats. Hillary Clinton herself seemed to recognize the power of that history and its legacy by launching her new presidential campaign at New York City’s Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island. Though she never did actually pronounce the words of FDR’s Four Freedoms, her speech revealed some awareness of a reviving — dare we say it? — social-democratic spirit? Whether simply tactical or genuine on her part is an important question that remains to be answered.
Bernie Sanders may never appear at Four Freedoms Park. But he sounds like FDR, not simply because you can practically hear him saying of the one percent what FDR did — “I welcome their hatred” — but all the more because of what he wants to do: tax the rich, create a single-payer national health care system, make public higher education free to all qualified students, create jobs by refurbishing the nation’s public infrastructure, and address the environment and climate change.
But even more critically, like FDR he doesn’t say he wants to fight for us. He seeks to encourage the fight in us: “It is up to us to launch the most heroic of all struggles: a political revolution.” If that is “extreme,” then Democrats like McCaskill are not just forgetting their history, but trying to suppress it.
That Sanders, given his background, is garnering huge crowds who shout his name with an enthusiasm reminiscent of the heyday of the People’s Party in the 1890s, radiates a special glow. Americans may once again be remembering who they are and what they need to do to recapture a government now in thrall to the Money Power. And that ain’t extreme. It’s fundamentally American.
**Harvey J. Kaye is the Ben & Joyce Rosenberg Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of the new book The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great (Simon & Schuster). Follow him on Twitter: @harveyjkaye.