Bernie Bird Comes Home to Roost

berniebird_DVWith Bernie Sanders’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton two weeks before the Democratic National Convention, his pledge to “take the fight to the convention floor” is passé.

Berning Man

The Sanders campaign was hatched in talk show host Bill Press’ living room based on two premises: raise issues and do no harm to the Democratic Party. Press, a former chair of the California Democratic Party and author of Buyer’s Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down, recalls (pers. com.) they had no idea how popular the campaign would be and no illusions of winning.

How successful has Sanders been in raising the critical class issue of accelerating inequality in the US now that the former Goldwater Girl made-over to be an ersatz progressive is the Democratic nominee?  During the bait phase of the bait-and-switch primary campaign, Sanders electrified whole stadiums with “the economy is rigged, the system is rigged, the Democratic Party is rigged.” These were fighting words that mobilized new constituencies of mostly young people.

Now we are in the switch phase of the campaign. Despite Sanders’ accomplishment in wooing a new generation into the Democratic Party, ungrateful House Democrats booed him when he returned to Washington for not capitulating quickly enough. As one House Democrat said, Sanders’ goal “…for people to embrace his ideas is disconnected from what we are trying to do here.”

Clinton’s speech writers have given her political pitches a progressive veneer without the more radical content of Sanders. Instead, the media focus is increasingly about political gaffes (Clinton “we are going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business”/Trump “look at my African American”), personalities (abrasive Clinton/bullying Trump), and individual indiscretions (Clinton’s e-mail/Trump’s university).

Even on the substantive issue of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which both Sanders and Clinton (supposedly) oppose, the Democratic platform will not call out this “free trade” deal by name. The Clinton New Democrats are apparently so confident that the Sanders supporters will toe the line that they don’t feel they have to throw them that bone. The New Democrats are socially liberal on issues such as abortion, neoliberal on economics, and neoconservative on the security state and military dominance.

Sanders’ Successes

In addition to making the s-word somewhat respectable in polite company, “socialist” Sanders should be given credit for pushing the envelope as far to the left as practical and still be within the Democratic Party. Advocating nationalization of the banks, banning fracking, or opposing illegal settlements in Palestine may be popular on the left, but are non-starters in the Democratic Party.

The two premises of the Sanders’ campaign – raising progressive issues and supporting the Democratic Party – are ultimately in contradiction. The Democratic Party is dedicated to a corporate agenda, making it the graveyard of progressive initiatives.

Independent past presidential candidate Ralph Nader commented that Sanders was right in running in the Democratic Party because it gave Sanders a pulpit to promulgate his anti-establishment message. Nader added it was appropriate for Sanders to run as a Democrat because Sanders is fundamentally a liberal Democrat.

Sanders’ concept of “social democracy” translates to a somewhat anemic form of a New Deal program based on a $15 minimum wage, free public education through college, and a small wealth tax, plus campaign finance reform. As Sanders quipped, “I’m not much of a socialist compared to Eisenhower.”

Zombie Liberalism

During the original New Deal, capitalism was in crisis and being challenged by a potentially revolutionary insurgency. The capitalists in response made a grand compact with working people countenancing unionization and a share in labor’s productivity.

Today the liberal project that Sanders hoped to resuscitate is dead but not down. We are now in a neo-liberal era, where the Democrats try to outdo the Republicans in their subordination to the corporations, as we have seen in the one-party state of California. The productivity gains made by labor and profits made from financial speculation go to the 1%, while real wages deteriorate for working people.

Ours is a stagnating capitalist economy, where economic growth rates are declining. The owning classes are not simply greedy; they no longer have the means to uphold the grand compact with labor and also reward themselves. Consequently a political party tied to the corporate elite cannot be a party of progressive social change.

Time to Fly the Democratic Party Pigeon Coop

Discontent with austerity and endless war have given rise to the populist candidacies of Sanders and Trump.  Neither represents an alternative acceptable to most of the ruling elites.  The bulk of the political establishment, including the Sanders campaign, are uniting behind Clinton to defeat Trump.

Progressives don’t have to vote Democrat to ensure a Trump defeat, because Trump doesn’t have a chance of winning. His own class is practically united against him with established Republicans such as Romney scurrying into the Democrats’ big tent. The Bush bunch – Jeb, W, HW – have washed their hands of the Trumpster. And even the infamous Koch brothers are leaning in Clinton’s direction.

Given an easy victory for the Democrat, this electoral season is ripe for a third-party insurgency even if you are worried about Melania becoming the first lady. Now is the time, if it ever were the time, for independent politics to carry on the movement that Sanders temporarily vitalized.

Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report accused Sanders of “sheepdogging” progressives into the Democratic Party. To which progressive supporters of Sanders took umbrage. So prove to the Left skeptics that the Sanders’ “revolution” is real by breaking with the two parties of capital.

The long process of building an independent movement outside of the Democratic Party is a necessary condition for progressive change and an extension of the spirit awakened by the Sanders’ campaign. So wouldn’t it be ducky if the first US woman president would be the likes of independents Jill Stein, Gloria La Riva, or Monica Moorehead?

Roger D. Harris is with the human rights group Task Force on the Americas and the anti-war group US Peace Council. Read other articles by Roger D..