Tag Archives: Pragmatic Liberals

Dumping Sanders: A Provocation

6 Mar

Dumping Sanders: A Provocation


I suppose it was all over after the Biden blowout victory in South Carolina, inducing the leading remaining ‘never Sanders’ moderates, Buttigieg and Klobuchar, to drop out of the race for the Democratic Party nomination. Biden’s dominance on Super Tuesday sealed the deal, and adding one more to his extravagant array of futile gestures, Bloomberg could withdraw with satisfaction as his anti-Sanders dirty work had been completed by others. It now seems like there will be no brokered Democrat Convention in Milwaukee, as Biden is almost certain to earn majority support well before the opening gavel is pounded, avoiding the embarrassment of handing the Sanders’ assassination dagger to the superdelegates. Wall Street emitted a giant sigh of relief registering a gain of more than 800 points on the Dow, and even forgetting about COVID-19, at least, for an interval of 24 hours.


The evasive rationalization by many faux moderates is that the swing toward Biden was based on electability, and as Bloomberg explained, Biden had ‘the best shot’ to beat Trump. Never a word about those polls that gave Sanders the nod in the November faceoff. For those more sophisticated, who realized that the electability issue was cloudy and that Biden seemed at best the winner of a race to the bottom, stress a shift to governability concerns, that is, even if Sanders were to push Trump off his throne, he would be stymied once he arrived at the White House, never able to get anything done for the American people, as he supposedly would remain an alien outsider even for Democrats. Ultra-establishment stalwarts like Tom Friedman, whose unsurprising first choice for the nomination was the stop-and-frisk billionaire, painted a grotesque picture of Sanders being so slaughtered by a Trump landslide that all branches of government, including both houses of Congress, would be under the thumb of a reelected Trump, which while not as bad for such ‘thinkers’ as the prospect of a Sanders’ presidency, is to be avoided if at all possible. If that is not enough, Americans were reminded over and over again that the last time the Democrats nominated as an outsider, George McGovern, he was crushed by a consummate insider, Richard Nixon, who unlike Trump slid off the impeachment block by resigning, not trusting a more conscientious Senate to let him stay in the Oval Office he did so much to discredit.


Sanders is a threat, not only to portfolio (stocks & bonds) Democrats, but also to the super-glue that has manged this three-pillar foreign policy consensus that has held up through many international twists and turns ever since 1945. To the surprise of many insiders it did not lose much ground during four years of Trump’s disruptive and narcissistic style of leadership, and with Sanders all but beaten, its adherents in and out of government can again breathe easily regardless of who wins in November. Trump was barely tolerated at first but became tolerable in the end, including to most denizens of the deep state, because in his own idiosyncratic tweeting style he upheld the three pillars. Indeed, if considered closely, Trump even added to their ideological hegemony and policy realization: he celebrated and strengthened the military without wasting lives and trillions in failed wars; his policies propelled the stock market to record highs, while keeping employment high while lowering taxes on the rich; and he pushed Israel’s maximal agenda to a point that probably exceeded Sheldon Adelson’s wildest dreams, confronting Palestinians with a surrender ultimatum, while giving Netanyahu at least as much as he sought on a series of sensitive issues. What worry about Trump lingers along the corridors of power is no longer about ideology, but about fears that his personality disorders might one day erupt with catastrophic fury. There are genuine secondary concerns about Trump held especially by more traditional Republicans, including his dog whistles to white racists, contempt for NATO, loving embraces of brutal autocrats, Iran warmongering, wall-building, cutting to the bone benefits to the poor, along with the most wretched Supreme Court appointments of all time. This is what makes portfolio Democrats more or less comfortable with Biden as an alternative to Trump. Most such Democrats, along with the Party establishment, sincerely believe it crucial to rid of Trump as his craziness might any day turn apocalyptic. While Trump represents the worst of America, he turns out for a plurality of the citizenry to be not as bad after all as Sanders confirming that class and portfolio issues are the bottom line with electorate, with a bit of demagoguery thrown in to please the alienated underclass.

 And what of Sanders who wants health care and education to be treated as public goods, who favors cuts in the military budget, and might create programs that would produce inflation, deficits, and higher taxes for the rich? Is the progressive populist base strong and disciplined enough to get the job done? It doesn’t seem so, although for most Americans Sanders’ policies would be highly beneficial, and well worth operationalizing, although it would somewhat weaken each of the three pillars. If today’s view holds, as now seems a near certainty, darkness will descend even assuming, what is far from assured, that Biden will win on Election Day. Even Biden’s most reluctant supporters do not feel that way. They are mostly cheered by the fact that Biden is not Trump. Beyond this, many feel confident Biden can steer the American ship of state toward calmer waters while making them comfortable by reenchanting the bipartisan worldview that Trump also affirmed, but without his diversionary and unconstitutional pyrotechnics. And if Biden should fall to Trump next November, there will be regrets and there will be many moans and tears among portfolio Democrats, but no tears will be shed on behalf of Sanders even if the evidence demonstrates that he would likel have been a stronger candidate than Biden. Quite the contrary. Blame for Biden’s defeat will angrily focus on die hard Sanders supporters who stayed home rather than vote or had the banal audacity to exercise their democratic prerogative by voting for a third party candidate.


The media labels for the various candidates accentuate the distorted mainstream dialogue. The Democratic primary struggle was not really between moderates and progressives, at least when it comes to foreign policy. There is no moderation among the ‘moderates,’ and Sanders was the only true moderate. His positions while threatening to the guardians of the three pillars really advocated rather mild reforms—small cuts in the military, modest tax increases on the richest among us, and some small moves toward balancing partisanship on Israel/Palestine with calls for accountability by Israel and empathy for Palestine. This is not the stuff of revolution. It strikes me as a truly moderate reformist agenda, and even Sanders’ domestic agenda, which is indeed progressive, is in the spirit of Scandinavian democratic socialism, light years away from the Soviet model of socialism, much less a communist state.


And as for Trump, he does project as immoderate worldview, but more as a matter of style than substance. His domestic policies seem mean-spirited and divisive, while his foreign policy seems somewhat innovative, casting China in the role that Bidenites would assign mainly to Russia. Both Biden and Trump seem to see the world through a geopolitical lens that stresses hard power rivalries among principal states, putting the 9/11 counterterrorist preoccupation to one side, although this could change quickly with one large incident. Biden might be slightly more internationalist that Trump, but I would be astounded if he would do anything as provocative (and appropriate) as moving the American Embassy now in Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv, an act that would show both policy discontinuity with the Trump presidency and respect for the UN consensus.  


Those critics who bemoan living in a choiceless democracy, best conceived as a plutocracy, will feel vindicated, while pragmatic liberals who are either content with the three pillars or only give attention to the domestic agenda will also feel encouraged if Biden prevails although possibly expressing slight disappointment that Sanders and Warren were so abruptly swept aside. I will be surprised if there is solidarity on the more progressive side, which would have meant an earlier withdrawal by Warren coupled with a strong endorsement of Sanders. Given what has happened in recent days, I expect Warren to play her remaining cards astutely, which would mean withholding any endorsement of Biden while campaigning hard against Trump and treating Sanders as a lost cause by not endorsing his candidacy, and thereby keeping her future options open by signaling a willingness to accommodate the DNC and the Democratic Party Establishment.