Luckily, Jet Lag in my summer vacation return to the US from China prevented me from being awake during the Republican National Convention, so like most of American political events while I am in China, I followed political events last week through the ripples they sent through my Twitter and Facebook feeds.
But the tyranny of the sun slowly but inexorably resetting my internal clock left me weary but not sleeping for much of the Monday "progressive" show at the DNC. Including, of course the lovely "America" ad from the Bernie Sanders campaign.
I've got some thoughts, and most of them simply will not fit into 140 characters. So I'm going to thinking them, out loud, below the fold.
Shockingly, Bernie Sanders did what he said he would do.
I've seen appeals over the past week for Bernie Sanders to take advantage of the DNC leaks to refuse to endorse Hillary at the convention.
It seems like I have been hearing for a year that Bernie Sanders is different because of his constancy. He has been fighting for the ideals of a progressive Social Democracy since the 60's, and he is still fighting.
And Bernie said during the course of the campaign that he decided to enter into the primary fight to try to win the nomination, not just to be an "message" candidate ... and also that if he did not win, he would support the nominee.
There are many politicians that I could imagine using something like the reveal of the rigged DNC fighting to deliver the nomination to the establishment candidate as a pretext for backing away from a previous promise to support the nominee.
But Bernie? I couldn't see it. For one thing, there would be little in the DNC leaks that would be a shocking revelation to Bernie. He has been a Congressman and now a Senator for long enough that he knows perfectly well how seriously rigged the system is.
I expect that Bernie knew perfectly well how much the DNC was in the tank for Hillary at the time that he promised to support the party nominee. So it would only have been a pretext if he used the fact that it had become much more documented fact as opposed to a blatantly obvious inference to weasel out on his earlier commitment.
This Isn't About Bernie
I've seen this before. Being an active supporter of a serious US Presidential Primary campaign is not just a commitment of time and/or money. It is a serious emotional investment. If you are not leading, "you" (plural) build mental models of how "you" (plural) can come from behind.
But this was not a campaign to get Bernie Sanders selected as the Democratic nominee in 2016. This was a campaign to build a political revolution to tear down the corrupt, rotten system which has passed beyond the mere resistance to many beneficial reforms that conflict with the pillars of the current establishment, into being an active force for evil in the world, including deliberately causing massive damage to the ecosystems upon which we depend for life and health, and risking the catastrophic collapse of our industrial economy in order to maintain the wealth of the Oil and Coal and Natural Gas extraction economy.
Pro forma, Bernie Sanders will not be beaten in that primary fight until a majority of convention delegates nominate Hillary as President later today. But de facto, the super-delegates who are not committed until the moment that they cast their vote are Hillary's base, and only a majority among the pledged delegates would have given the Bernie Sanders campaign the leverage to possibly (though not certainly) sway the large majority of superdelegates to vote against the candidate that most of them would prefer.
Once Bernie Sanders could no longer expect to win the nomination, the only thing left to fight for at the level of Presidential politics was the platform. Many have observed, and rightfully so, that the Democratic party platform is a largely ceremonial document, and unlike party political programs in some European parliamentary systems, it has very little weight in determining what elected Democrats actually do when they take office.
However, over the longer term, platform fights are not always entirely useless endeavors.
Platforms on their own may have little weight. However, many establishment Republicans over the years have given way in platform fights to the right wing radicals in their party, only to find votes that contradict the platform being used as the basis for right wing primary challenges. And whether a serious primary challenge succeeds or fails, the fact of having to fight the challenge has been a tremendously useful disciplinary tool to bring the Republican "Tory" wing of the Corporate party on board with policies that they themselves do not necessarily support.
Obviously, on the Democratic side, what is missing is a progressive establishment outside of the control of the DNC which is able to support, with both money and expertise, progressive challengers ... especially in seats occupied by Democratic "Whig" wing of the Corporate party that have been gerrymandered to be have quite progressive electorates.
But, then again, the platform fight is not everything that Bernie has been doing since he fell short in his fight to win a majority of the pledged delegates to the convention.
Building a Political Revolution
As I read a week and a half ago in USA Today Online (of all places):
Bernie Sanders will launch organizations to spread progressive message
WASHINGTON — His presidential aspirations behind him, Bernie Sanders is looking ahead to a busy future in which he continues to focus on nothing less than transforming the Democratic Party and the country.
In an exclusive interview with USA TODAY, the Vermont senator detailed plans to launch educational and political organizations within the next few weeks to keep his progressive movement alive. The Sanders Institute will help raise awareness of "enormous crises” facing Americans. The Our Revolution political organization will help recruit, train and fund progressive candidates' campaigns. And a third political organization may play a more direct role in campaign advertising.
Sanders plans to support at least 100 candidates running for a wide range of public offices — from local school boards to Congress — at least through the 2016 elections. And he’ll continue to raise funds for candidates while campaigning for them all over the country. He said he probably will campaign for Tim Canova, a progressive primary challenger to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who chairs the Democratic National Committee.
There is, of course, no guarantee that this effort at organization building will be effective. But I strongly believe that this is the filter to view Bernie's endorsement of Hillary ... which contingent on Hillary winning was already set in place months ago.
Hillary engages in transactional politics. So Bernie goes to her and says, "you got to give me some policies in the platform that gives me a basis for supporting you, rather than just 'Trump is worse.'" And since the platform is, after all, "just the platform", Hillary goes along.
But Bernie's strongest supporters cannot be "delivered" by an endorsement from Bernie. Indeed, the reason that many of them have been strong Bernie supporters is because they are the kind of voters that cannot be "delivered" by being pointed in whichever direction by a chosen leader.
The Seeds of Development Strategy
I don't give it short odds of working. However, if we don't do something, we are screwed. And while the odds are long ... they are not so long as all that.
So, an establishment, transactional, Democratic President, or other establishment Democratic politician, disregards plank "Q" in the party platform. What happens next? I will follow the Ozzie practice and refer to the politician here as a "Pollie".
Organization: "You are breaking a plank in the platform we agreed to."
Pollie: "Yeah. So what are you going to do about it."
Organization: "We are going to raise a stink about it."
Pollie: "Yeah. So what?"
And for the organizations currently in the Democratic establishment veal pen, that is it. On the other hand, if the organization has sufficient independent candidate recruitment, training and support capabilities, the conversation continues ...
Organization: "So we are going to make a primary challenge to supporters of this action."
Pollie: "Yeah, go ahead and try."
After all, threats from activist groups are often empty threats. But if the primary challenges are launched, and especially if some of them are successful ...
Well, we already know how that flips the script. We've seen it at work for decades now in the Republican party:
Organization: "So we are going to make a primary challenge to supporters of this action."
Pollie: "Why would you do that? Don't you understand that the other guys are much worse than I am on this issue."
Organization: "A smaller step in the wrong direction is still a step in the wrong direction."
... and if the Pollie pursues it, they have a fight on their hands ... and given the reluctance of Congressmen to fight serious primary challenges, it is quite possibly a fight they will lose.
Now, can Bernie build this kind of organization? I have no idea. But if he can, it would appear to be the kind of thing that could start moving things in the right direction.
Who you should vote for in the Presidential race?
Look, I have not been a strong Bernie supporter over the past year. And the reason is not any disagreement with Bernie, but because I have not had high hopes for a progressive political strategy that focused on Presidential politics. I view the White House as inclined to be enemy territory for the most urgently needed progressive political reforms of our corrupt and rotting political system.
I can see the Lesser of Two Evils argument. What I don't understand is how the people who drum the drumbeat of the LOTE argument cannot see the other side, given that it is just as straightforward and just as obvious. If the Lesser Evil can always count on the votes of all progressives ... what incentive do they ever have to ever do anything good? All they have to ever do is to find the most slender distance that is clearly on the side of less evil, and they sweep up all the progressive support.
This turns "progressive" into an oxymoron, since it means that the further that the party of Big Oil is dragged into outright fascism by the scapegoating and divide & conquer strategies that they have relied upon, the worse the party of Big Banksters is allowed to be, and still get "all of the progressive votes."
I do argue that if the act of not supported progressive political change, the Kock Brothers would not be fighting so hard to keep so many potential progressive voters from voting.
And I think it is self-evident that if a purported Bernie supporter is willing to contemplate voting for Trump, they were never really a supporter of Bernie's political revolution.
But I take it as given that it is up to each of Bernie's supporters how much evil they are willing to stomach voting for in order to attempt to defeat a greater evil, and at what point they say that the Lesser Evil simply has not done enough to set themselves apart from the Greater Evil, and their vote will instead be cast to reward those fighting against the entrenched Corporate two party system.
Clearly, from Hillary's choice of Vice President, she is largely taking the support of progressives for granted. Her VP pick clearly flags that she is chasing for votes on the center-right that the bombast and vitriole of the Republican candidate may shake loose in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The fact that he is fluent in Spanish is a bonus. And, of course, for a transactional politician, the fact that he is a Senator in a state with an establishment Democratic governor could well have clinched the selection,
Those were her priorities. Courting the Democratic wing of the Democratic party or the Democratic leaning independents to the left of the Democratic party that Bernie tapped into was not (as evidenced by deed, rather than word), not a high enough priority to factor in.
Living here in a swing city, in a swing county, in a swing state, I've received the call from the on-the-ground Hillary campaign, and I've demurred. I'll likely vote for her, but I'm not going to spend my limited vacation time or my limited income in actively supporting her. My focus is going to be down-ballot.
And this time last year, I would have said my focus will be down-ballot and in my home state. But if I like some of the candidates supported by the organizations that Bernie is trying to build, I might engage in some active support of them as well.
Conclusions and Conversations
So that's what I'm thinking.
It's not particularly fun living in a country with an entrenched political establishment that is not merely inherently conservative ... which typically goes with the territory of being an entrenched political establishment ... but is also thoroughly corrupt and rotting, all the while the pollies make pronouncements about this being the Greatest Nation That Ever Was.
But despite its manifold flaws, this is a country that was once capable of doing Great Things. If progressive organizations that can be built to appeal to the Democratic primary base electorate while remaining independent of the Democratic Party Establishment, there is at least an outside chance that we could do Great Things once again.
And so I am willing to give Bernie's organization building a shot, and see how it goes.
What do you think?