Memorial Day

Memorial Day

I take great pride
In having opposed
Every war my country 
Has fought
During my lifetime,

All of them,
Without exception,
Acts of aggression.

Those responsible for them
Should be in The Hague
Facing prosecution

For crimes against humanity.

Notes on Spoiling

For a decade and half, the spoiler factor has been a third rail of progressive politics.

Some of those who have raised the issue are genuinely concerned with the prospect of a third party candidate enabling a far right victory.

But others are Democratic Party operatives who, in Matt Taibbi’s phrase, “would triangulate their own mothers” to maintain their lock on power. Spoiling for them is a bad faith exercise in maintaining electoral politics as a bipartisan gated community from which left, populist candidates are excluded.

Fortunately, there are signs that its effects are beginning to wear off.

One factor has to do with Obama’s valedictory lurches to the right, drilling in the ANWR, attacking Elizabeth Warren for her opposition to the TPP as well as Seymour Hersh’s revelations of some of the most shamefully transparent lies in the history of the presidency. These have shown that there’s very little left to spoil.

And so Democratic loyalists have to make ever more extravagant and ridiculous gestures to apply the spoiler label to those challenging the party’s three decades long neoliberal drift.

A good indication is a recent posting on the blandly illiterate Forward Progressives website which urges us to focus on “Sanders’ entrance into the presidential race (which) is already making it more likely that Republicans could win the White House in 2016.”

Worth noting here is the slippage in the definition of the concept “spoiler”. A decade ago, it applied to a candidate endangering the front runner by competing in swing states. Very quickly it would apply to competing even in safe states.

Now we have reached the point that those daring to compete in the primaries are “spoilers”.  Soon it will apply to those guilty of suggesting a possible alternative candidate to whoever the DP leadership anoints and eventually to any criticism of the “dear leader” at all-those doing so reflexively denounced as “Naderites.”

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All this would be comical if it didn’t serve the underlying purpose of obscuring precisely what the Dems don’t want us to see.

And that is that the real spoilers are not those running third party campaigns, but the Democrats themselves. Again and again, they have shown that they care relatively little about winning elections when doing so would upset the business as usual in which they are comfortable operating.

This became apparent in the weeks before the 2000 election which found Jesse Jackson to our great surprise campaigning for local candidates in New Haven, as well as in New York, Boston and Chicago. He was everywhere but in Florida which was known to be a toss up and where his presence could have and, as it turned out, would have mattered. But the Democrats chose instead to deploy him to drive down the Nader vote in states which Gore had already locked up rather than work to achieve a victory for their own candidate.

Another example relevant to the 2000 election was the Democratic legislature in Florida having some years before passed mandatory disenfranchisement of ex-felons, almost all poor, working class, and/or minority, hence disproportionately likely to vote Democratic. The result was the loss of 1.5 million potential voters, a factor never mentioned in the Florida debacle as doing so would shine a light on Democrats’ direct complicity in their own defeat.

A third example also involves New Haven and other cities where local Democratic machines make little effort to register voters. That is particularly the case in African American neighborhoods, where often less than 30 percent of potential voters are on the rolls, the overwhelming majority of whom would reliably vote Democratic. The absence of serious voter registration drives is due to the Democrats’ preference for low turn out as this makes their control of a few voting blocks (most notably the African American churches) disproportionately significant. So they are willing to sacrifice large numbers of voters and ultimately lose to the Republicans in state and national races rather than have to deal with a possible threat to their control which might emerge from greater participation.

Of course, the best known indication of Democrats’ blasé attitude to their own defeat was their having failed to contest the Republican theft of the election in Florida. But that could be attributed to fecklessness and incompetence, not cynicism and bad faith. It is the latter that defines the Democratic Party more so than the former.

The Democrats are more aware than anyone that the goods they have been selling for generations have passed their “sell by” date. They will continue in business only for as long as they are able enforce their monopoly. The spoiler charge is their main weapon in maintaining it. It is high time that the left recognize the spoiler charge for the exercise in empty sloganeering which it has long since become.

Greenwald on Working within the Democratic Party

Greenwald at Socialism 2011, July 1, 2011

(Scroll to approximately 1:01:50 in video)

“The idea of working to reform the Democratic Party by electing better Democrats or more progressive Democrats is something that I thought was a viable course of action even as recently as a few years ago is something that I have completely rejected.”

“And I think the only means of true political change will come from people working outside that system to undermine and subvert it and weaken it and destroy it and not try to work within it to change it.”

“There have been lots of people who have made radical critiques of the government like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn and others who have said that as horrible as the Democrats the fact that they’re even a little better than the Republicans means that it is important that they win because with an entity as powerful as the U.S. government even small differences can make meaningful differences in the lives of millions of people.

“And that to me was an argument that was persuasive for a while. (But) what I have actually concluded is that even if there are short term benefits to electing Democrats instead of Republican-you get Sonia Sottomayor instead of Antonin Scalia that’s a benefit that will sway cases in better directions-there’s also extreme costs to pledging your fealty to a political party.

“Knowing as party leaders do that many people on the left are convinced by this reasoning they can continue to ignore people on the left, because they know that at the end of the day they’ll scare enough of them with scary images of Michelle Bachman or Newt Gingrich so that they’ll continue (their) support even though they’re ignored and get nothing and they’ll get nothing and be ignored forever, and that’s a huge cost.

“Another huge cost is the opportunity cost of doing activism for a political party which doesn’t care at all about you instead of using your money and time on more meaningful changes. And so that is the ultimate formula which needs to be evaluated, the ultimate weighing of costs and benefits which needs to be assessed, not just that there are some benefits to Democrats therefore let’s vote for them. But what are the costs from continuing to support and prop up this party and having them know that they can take the support for granted and putting our time and energy into that rather than into something more significant that can achieve something more enduring and more fundamental and longer lasting benefits.

“That’s the calculus which has swayed me away from that view.”

Left Voting Guide for 2016

Any discussion of this subject needs to be based on the understanding that, at present, voting is carefully designed to, in Chomsky’s words “reduce the population to apathy and obedience”, putting us in a position where we are forced to demonstrate our fealty to the corporate state by actively endorsing one of its two anointed representatives.

It doesn’t have to be that way: Greek voters had an alternative to vote against neoliberal austerity and they exercised it putting Syriza in office. Same with the upcoming elections in Spain where Podemos will offer a similar alternative. And, of course, over the past two decades, voters in Latin America had real choices and made the right decision in electing Morales, Correa, Chavez, Kirchner and other populist left candidates, to the great displeasure of the U.S. State Department.

We are not at that point and so we need to be doing the on-the-ground work which is necessary to get us there. That work involves

1) strongly supporting mass protest movements such as Black Lives Matter, Fight for 15, System Change Not Climate Change and the remnants of OWS the consolidation of which could eventually evolve into an electoral alternative at some point in the future.

and

2) strongly supporting viable local third party campaigns such as those of Kshama Sawant and the candidates from the Richmond Progressive Alliance helping these scale up to statewide and eventually national organizations.

In the meantime, it does no good to pretend that running marginal national candidates is a substitute for 1) and 2). Only once we have satisfied ourselves that we have done the work can we begin to play the rigged game which is the party primary system and the national “electoral extravaganza” in November 2016. We should do so, in my opinion, via one of the following four paths.

Path 1) Support Sanders in the Democratic primaries.

Caveat: Those exercising this option need to be fully aware of Sanders’s likely “sheepdog” role. They should make clear to others involved in the campaign that they plan to return to the fold of independent activists once Sanders is obliterated by Clinton, rejecting DP operatives and Sanders’s own efforts to herd left voters into the toxic Clinton campaign and the graveyard which is Democratic Party Politics.

Path 2) Support Jill Stein, the likely Green Party nominee.

Caveat: The Green Party lacks a sufficient level of organization where it can mount a credible campaign and even achieving ballot access will require a substantial investment of activist energy which (arguably) might be better channeled into option 1 or 2 above. A possible poor showing (Stein received less than 500,000 votes in 2012-down from Nader’s 2,882,995 in 2000) will marginalize rather than legitimate the politics we are trying to advance.

Path 3) Not voting.

Caveat: Lack of participation will be perceived as indicating that the public is satisfied with both corporate options. We know otherwise, of course, but we will be unable to get that message out.  Staying uninvolved and uncommitted also prevents the development of organized networks of supporters which can become the nucleus of local campaigns and activist organizations, as happened in the wake of the Nader Green Party 2000 run.

Path 4) One of the above and then voting for the lesser evil in November.

Caveat: This option should only be exercised in a swing state and even then some leftists will regard voting for what may turn out to be not the lesser, but the more effective evil, as indefensible. What’s important is that we should not allow the Sanders issue become yet another left circular firing squad of mutual recriminations and personal animosity-as the Democrats are strategizing that it will. We might not agree with lesser-evlism, but we shouldn’t demonize those who do. Nor should lesser evilists condescend to those who refuse to be constrained by the worm’s eye, world weary pragmatism of those who have resigned themselves to the Democratic Party as our only hope for change-a dangerous delusion as we should have learned in 2008 and 2012.

We need keep all that in mind to get the best possible results from the fatally compromised, corrupt and cynical electoral system in 2016.

Response to Bernie Sanders

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The above is Bernie Sanders writing to the participants of last weekend’s  Future of Left/Independent Politics conference claiming that his campaign is “very much complementary” to “(our) efforts in Chicago”.

Mark A. Lause, Louis N. Proyect, Fred Murphy, Matt Hoke and myself (among others at the conference) think he’s wrong.

Here’s why.

If you’d like to sign on, please leave a comment.

Senator Sanders:

As participants in the Future of Left and Independent Politics conference held in Chicago May 2-3, we sincerely appreciate your declaration of support for our efforts. Nonetheless, we must express our regret that you have chosen to forgo independent political action and instead enter the primaries of the Democratic Party, which is entirely beholden to Wall Street and the corporate interests you have fought throughout your career. And while we do appreciate the support you have offered to a few independent campaigns in Richmond, Madison and Chicago, we cannot condone your indirect funding of corporate Democrats such as Sens. Mary Landrieu, Mark Begich and Kay Hagan, or your failure to criticize Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin’s recent betrayal of the campaign for single-payer health care in your home state of Vermont.

Nevertheless, we look forward to welcoming you and your supporters back into the movement for independent political action after the Democratic primaries are over and Hillary Clinton or another corporate Democrat is nominated. Such a return to your green, socialist and anti-war roots will be the most principled resolution of the false and contradictory situation into which you have placed yourself and your supporters by joining the Democratic Party and – as one of our conference speakers noted – serving as the “sheepdog” to herd progressives and activists back into the two-party system.

Sincerely,

Mark Lause, Fred Murphy, John Halle, Louis Proyect, Matt Hoke, Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese, Howie Hawkins, Paul Street, Linda Thompson, Joanne Landy, Dan La Botz, Thomas Harrison, Bruce Dixon, Robert Caldwell, Rick Kissell, Chelsey Sprengeler