Remarks to National Board, Jan. 20, 2016
(Updated to reflect new developments)
The 2016 elections are exciting, fast changing, complex and volatile. We need constant updating and a sober estimate of developments and trends. This includes an accurate assessment of the class and social balance of forces, the motion of the electorate overall and the dynamics within both the Democratic and Republican Parties.
I want to raise a few cautions and challenges.
First, we can’t ever lose sight of the strategic policy guiding our work: defeat the extreme right and GOP, its oligarchic backers, defend the presidency and break the GOP grip on Congress, statehouses and governorships.
In addition we must work at ensuring attempts to appointment extremist, pro-segregationist justices to the U.S. Supreme Court are blocked.
Whatever the outcome in the Democratic primaries we will contribute to building unity of a broad left-center, multi-class, multi-racial, male-female, multi-generational alliance of forces for the general election.
Building such a multi-class alliance that includes the Democratic Party establishment or corporate wing will be a greater challenge if Sanders is nominated, but not impossible.
We have to continue to convey our anti-extreme right strategy to the broader movement, especially the first time and young voters, so that no matter the nominee, all will join in the general election mobilization.
Without question there are serious problems and weaknesses with the Clinton campaign. Clinton carries a lot of historic baggage including her ties to Wall Street, hawkishness on foreign policy, etc. It is so obviously unseemly and tone deaf to accept such large “speaking” fees from Wall Street. But we know this already.
In addition, there are the new low-level red-baiting attacks coming from Democratic National Committee and Clinton surrogates.
But this doesn’t reflect everything. On all the major democratic issues and demands, i.e. collective bargaining rights, racial and gender equity, climate change, immigration reform, etc., Clinton is on the right side.
On the other hand, among some of Sanders’s supporters there is a “Bernie or Bust” mentality. They have declared they will sit out the elections if Clinton is the nominee. This is not the dominant trend but it’s a problem among those who see the Sanders campaign as a way to bash the Democratic Party.
Sanders doesn’t share this view and has handled the efforts to turn him against Hillary very well. Sanders also appreciates the right danger and will be part of the anti-right coalition even if he loses, as will President Obama. This is important because there are pressures on us to abandon our balanced strategic approach.
Strengthening the progressive forces
In addition, we should be part of ensuring the broad people’s coalition led by labor and its allies, has a decisive impact on the depth of understanding of what’s at stake, shaping the key issues and organizing the grassroots mobilization.
This will have a decisive impact on the election outcome, one that puts this movement in a strengthened position to fight in the post election period under more favorable circumstances.
This includes building the size and influence of the left and progressive forces within the coalition. The Sanders campaign can play a key role in strengthening the influence of the left.
Emphasizing the issues
We have to continue to emphasize the issues, promoting the best of both Sanders and Clinton, especially the most advanced positions. For example, there is growing discussion among the candidates about a financial transaction tax on Wall Street.
We will continue to raise differences with and criticisms of both candidates.
Anyone who viewed the debates sees radically different directions for the country. There are big differences between the Clinton and Sanders campaigns: Clinton’s program is within the traditional bounds of the Democratic Party. Sanders’s program is transformational and radical.
Yet, to the extent the election is fought out on the economic and social issues advanced by Sanders, Clinton, O’Malley and President Obama, the outcome will be more favorable.
We should avoid getting carried away with momentary developments. We shouldn’t see trends based solely on what’s happening in Iowa and New Hampshire and extrapolate.
Once the race moves on to South Carolina, Nevada and beyond the dynamics could change because the demographics are different. On the other hand, if Clinton loses both IA and NH and Sanders gains new momentum, the race could take a new turn.
Many unforeseen events can intrude fundamentally altering the dynamics, i.e. a terrorist attack, economic downturn or the entrance of a new candidate into the race (e.g. Michael Bloomberg).
We should beware of polls. They are being cherry picked by each campaign and their supporters.
Certainly Bernie Sanders is surging. There is a growing and energetic movement backing this 74-year-old rumpled self-described democratic socialist. This is an extraordinary moment.
The Clinton campaign foresees a national campaign lasting into April.
Can Sanders beat Trump by larger margin? Maybe, but he hasn’t been subject to same vilification as Clinton for last 30 years and the subject of an all out assault by the GOP and right-wing media.
There are some indications the GOP would prefer to face Sanders in the general election. In Iowa, Karl Rove’s PAC American Crossroads has played up Clinton’s Wall Street ties with the hope of weakening her. Another right-wing PAC is highlighting Sanders’s tax the rich proposals.
This election is different
This election is different than 2012 and earlier in some key ways. One factor is the degree of fervor against party establishment candidates. So far, at least 50 percent of GOP support has been going to non-establishment candidates (Trump, Cruz and Carson). By this time in previous elections, one of the establishment candidates had emerged as a poll leader.
According to the NY Times, the mindset of Republican electorate is angrier and more disenchanted than previous elections. There are more deeply held anti-government sentiments.
Among GOP leaning voters, the anger (mainly among whites) is caused by loss of jobs, steep decline in wages and standard of living, fueled by racism and cultural changes: shifting demographics, same sex marriage, changing religious practices, etc.
Voters are being misled by right-wing demagogy; 40 years of unrelenting hate ideology, particularly racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia.
Another factor is the extreme wealth concentration and the re-emergence of oligarchy. This factor, which is now accelerating, was not as pronounced prior to 2008. It is a huge factor fueling Sanders campaign and shaping the debate overall.
There are deep divisions along all the political fault lines in the GOP. Not only are there divisions between the so-called establishment and the Tea Party and insurgent grassroots. There are also divisions among establishment forces.
Some are predicting a Trump victory already in the GOP primaries. Once past Iowa and NH the primary terrain is more favorable to establishment candidates, not the insurgents according to Nate Silver. It will likely boil down to a 3-person race: Trump, Cruz and Rubio.
But again it’s unpredictable.
There is a growing concern regarding the fascist-like stench emanating from elements around the Trump campaign. These fascist like groups are attracted to the Trump campaign in response to his tough talk, anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim tirades.
However, the Trump campaign is not a fascist movement nor is the country near fascism. But if significant sections of the oligarchy decide to back Trump, combined with an array of extremist and fascist like forces, the danger will grow.
And the danger has already grown with a right-wing lock on half the state legislatures, democratic government being eliminated (as in Michigan with the imposition of emergency managers), voter suppression laws being passed, public sector unions being dissolved and right to work laws passed.
A GOP establishment candidate may yet win. If an insurgent wins it would spell the biggest defeat for the GOP establishment since Goldwater. They are getting very nervous but are not yet united around one candidate. Some are preparing for a brokered convention or the possibility Trump or Cruz will win.
I think the announcement by House Speaker Paul Ryan that congressional Republicans would write the GOP convention platform and thereby prevent it from falling in the hands of Trump and the Tea Party is one indication. Ryan is even being rumored as a compromise candidate in the event of a brokered convention.
Trump is highly unpopular among Democrats and independents. This could create possibility for a Goldwater type defeat at the polls and political realignment in the GOP.
The possibility of a general election race between Trump and Sanders is what motivated the presidential trial balloon by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The possible entrance of Bloomberg would greatly complicate the race and could disadvantage the Democrats. The billionaire Bloomberg, who was elected three times in a majority Democratic city, is a pro-choice moderate Republican, who advocates bi-partisan action against global warming, for gun control and immigration reform. He would draw moderate Republican voters and could potentially draw moderate Democratic leaning voters, splitting the party and isolating Sanders.
I think it would fundamentally alter the dynamics of the race.
Sanders has surprised many with his strong showing and surge, not least the Clinton campaign. Sanders raised $33 million to Clinton’s $37 in final quarter of 2015. He broke Obama’s record for most individual contributions at this point in the campaign: 2.5 million.
The Sanders campaign has expanded the political imagination of the country. He is proposing radical solutions to big problems. He is channeling the anger against wealth inequality into a positive direction against Wall Street (an important counterweight to Trump). He has opened the door for a discussion of socialism.
His campaign is a grassroots movement being powered by young voters. He is inspiring first time voters, energizing the base and enlarging the electorate
In this sense, the bigger the vote for Sanders the better. It will help in the general election and post election struggles. A bigger campaign can have a positive impact on the alignment of forces within the anti-ultra right coalition.
Sanders is also having an important impact on Clinton, moving her to adopt more progressive positions.
Problems of unity
At this moment the constituencies that make up the so-called the “Obama Coalition” are fractured between Clinton and Sanders. Clinton has support of more unions (the upcoming AFL-CIO executive council meeting will be decisive), African American and Latino voters (which is holding up), and older voters. 60% support among women, including a majority of older women.
There is a sharp divide along age lines. Those 45 years old and young are supporting Sanders by a wide margin, 2 to 1, including among young women. Something new is happening among the millennial and young voters.
So while appealing to the moderate and pro-corporate wing of the Democratic Party is a huge challenge for Sanders, appealing to younger voters is a huge challenge for Clinton.
Sexism directed at Clinton not only coming from Trump and GOP candidates. We have to expose the influences of sexism, double standards, including in some attacks from the left.
There’s a gender gap in the campaign. Clinton gets 60% of the women’s vote, but loses among young women 2 to 1.
Men support Sanders by a margin of 58 percent to 35 percent, with young men supporting him 5 to 1. A majority of men 45 years and older support Hillary.
But the intensity of the unfavorability, and the influences of sexism, toward Clinton are much higher among men.
There are some, including on the left, who are dismissive of the importance of electing the first woman president. This prospect should be embraced, as was the prospect of electing the first African American president. Clinton’s candidacy is an inspiration for millions of women, but also men. It is a widely held dream and would be an advance for women’s equality, democracy, and blow to sexism.
Clinton’s been in the public spotlight, under attack for 30 years by the right, particularly vicious sexist attacks and has been subject to double standards.
Sexism is an ideological poison that must be combated wherever it appears.
Sanders has been evolving in his approach to issues of racial justice. But the overwhelming support for Clinton among African American voters is not just a matter of Sanders not being widely known in the African American community.
We have often pointed out African American voters are the most sophisticated bloc of the electorate. There are a myriad of reasons and considerations behind the support for Clinton.
Sanders still often appears tone deaf on issues of racial justice, including around the recent debate on support for reparations. One could debate whether passage of reparations legislation is possible, but to be dismissive made him sound insensitive and blind to the interrelationship between issues of class and race.
Clinton has more deftly handled the relationship of class and racial justice issues, for example on the Flint water crisis and in her meeting with #BlackLivesMatters activists.
Both candidates embrace President Obama and vow to continue his policies for the most part.
We shouldn’t dismiss concerns over Sanders’s electability and just attribute them to the Clinton campaign. These concerns are coming from people who love Bernie and what he stands for but don’t think he can assemble the coalition needed to win.
Would the so-called establishment and center forces in the Democratic Party sit on their hands if Sanders were nominated, thereby isolating him?
There are also questions of electability surrounding Clinton. There is concern she has too many negatives and ties to Wall Street to be an effective candidate.
What will it take to emerge from the primaries with a united coalition and a candidate capable of winning? It means re-assembling the constituent parts of the “Obama coalition” which includes the entire labor movement, communities of color, women, youth and other democratic movements, i.e. environmental, immigrant, LGTBQ, etc.
But it also includes section of business at odds with the extreme right and the reactionary sections of monopoly capital. A multi-class, multi-racial, male-female, young-old alliance, broad center-left alliance in sync with a wide range of democratic movements is needed.
Nor should we dismiss concerns about the ability of Sanders to pass his program as articulated. This is not all Clinton propaganda. It will take ousting the GOP majority and electing far more progressive elected officials.
Again, we need a sober assessment of the actual balance of class, social and political forces. Winning the election is one thing, but governing is still another.
At this moment, Sanders or Clinton will need the cooperation of a section of Wall Street to govern effectively. It is important to identify the most reactionary section to attack and isolate it: Koch brothers, et al billionaires, fossil fuel industry and military industrial complex.
After the election, the overall class struggle will sharpen, given the accelerating concentration of wealth and this will also come to bear on a new administration.
If the movement is bigger, if there is indeed a political revolution, then the balance will change and it will be possible for more radical reforms to pass.
There have been some dramatic shifts in public opinion and the emergence of majority sentiments around higher minimum wage, unions, same-sex marriage, action against the climate crisis, immigration reform, etc. But majority sentiments and organized action in support of those sentiments is another.
The GOP will most likely retain House because of redistricting. It’s possible for Democrats to win the Senate. If Clinton or Sanders is elected, it will mean more obstruction from the GOP House.
But the obstruction will come from other centers of power too: from oligarchy, reactionary sections of Wall Street, right wing social movements, think tanks and mass media, talk radio, etc.
Last week NPR carried an interview with Jane Mayer, author of “Dark Money”, the story of the Koch brothers. While we were at the 2008 Obama inauguration, Mitch McConnell was organizing a meeting of the GOP to obstruct. What we didn’t know was that the Koch brothers were also organizing a meeting of billionaires in CA to plan obstruction.
A resounding victory in 2016 will create a more favorable terrain of struggle going forward and potentially open the doors to a new era of more advanced struggles. This is a part of the huge challenge for both Sanders and Clinton and all democratic forces going forward.