On Berniebots and Hilary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears

 

While arguably less brain dead than the Obamabots of a few years back, Bernie Sanders has his share of uncritical supporters willing to ignore his disgraceful stands on Israel, his failure to use his campaign to call for reductions in the U.S. military and the war crimes perpetrated by it, his recent capitulation to the Ed Reform agenda, as well as the reality that his economic program is essentially that of the moderate center a generation ago, far from the socialist transformation which the left correctly sees as necessary for the survival of the species.

 

But while they can be annoying in their self-righteous flogging of the Bernie brand, Berniebots shouldn’t obscure the group that is surely playing a far more consequential role in the 2016, the army of Hillary Hacks. Holding high political office or executive positions at major non profits and agenda setting media outlets, they are working hand in glove with the hired staff of the billion dollar Clinton campaign to make inevitable the coronation of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

 

Unlike the Berniebots, there’s nothing brain dead about the Hilary Hacks. They know they’re selling a toxic product now more than ever with the increasing recognition that the Clintons’ Wall Street friendly neoliberalism has been a nightmare for the party’s traditional base in working class and minority communities. The campaign response has been to circulate talking points combining feel your pain economic populism, mild criticisms of “Wall Street greed” and a vague commitment to fairness. These, of course, won’t pass the laugh test among those knowing anything about Clinton’s record.

 

The Clinton camp is banking on nearly four decades of history. And that history suggests that with enough force feedings, Clinton is likely to take her place in line as the next shit sandwich served up as the Democratic Party nominee.

 

***

The reason won’t have anything to do with Clinton’s positive message or the popularity of her platform. It is Sanders, after all, who is attracting huge crowds, even in red states such as Texas and Arizona and who, as a recent poll documented, has just as much chance of winning over moderate swing voters as Clinton’s triangulatory centrism.

 

Rather Clinton will emerge victorious through an unrelentingly negative campaign, centered around well placed and endlessly repeated smears. These are intended to raise questions about Sanders’s “character” and “electability”. And while the public will probably see them as somewhat exaggerated, most will assume that they are based on fact.

 

But they will be wrong. For many of the most effective smears aren’t even a little bit true: they are baldfaced lies.

 

To see that that is often the case, it is worth recalling the 2004 campaign and the two main smears deriving from it. One of these was the so called Dean scream, a one second snippet of a campaign speech subjected to various forms of audio manipulation. Endlessly recycled by a compliant media, the result was the moderate centrist Vermont governor being viewed as a raving lunatic, lacking the gravitas required for viable candidates. Faced with universal ridicule, the campaign folded in a few short weeks. The second involved questions raised about Kerry’s military service along with dark suggestions of disloyalty and even treason. The irony of these being promoted in service of the draft dodger who would eventually take office was, as is usual, ignored by a media willingly reporting the smear as fact.

 

The main smear of the 2016 campaign so far, Sanders’s alleged “inability to connect with African American votes” shares a family resemblance to both of these although it more recalls swift boating in that the suggestions of racial insensitivity derive from the camp of a candidate who conducted one the most transparently racist campaigns since the Jim Crow era and who cheered mass African American incarceration via the notorious crime bills and inner city immiseration through her support of welfare “reform”.

 

No matter. The smear will compliment Sanders’s already conspicuous exclusion from mainstream media appearances. In the few occasions where he is provided access Sanders will be badgered, as he was recently by Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, with the charge of being “dismissive” of the concerns of the African American base, preventing his positive program from being heard.

 

A few poor showings in states will be seen as confirming the perception of Sanders message as lacking mainstream appeal and he will be forced to withdraw.

 

***

When the inevitable happens, Clintonites will privately congratulate themselves on having taken down their prey.

 

But so will some of Sanders’s detractors on the left who have, in some cases, circulated the same smear knowing it to be as baseless as the Clinton loyalists who gave rise to it.

 

In doing so, they’re making a mistake. The only reason why left candidates such as the Green Party’s Jill Stein haven’t been targeted is because of their failure to pose even a minimal threat to the hegemony of the ownership class.

 

Were they to do so, one can be certain that a barrage of smears would follow.

 

Whether or not these stick depends on whether the public takes them seriously or laughs them off as the dishonest absurdities the cynics perpetuating them know them to be.

 

We either disavow the tactic now when it is directed at Sanders, helping to expose the lies on which it is based, or prepare to be defeated by it when it is turned against us–as it has been in the past and surely will be in the future.

Leo Panitch Critiques Performative Politics

It’s a bit surprising that there has been relatively little attention given to this absolutely riveting discussion with Leo Panitch and a very confrontational (as she should be) Sharmini Peries.

Why riveting? Here’s why. As the recent Sanders/Black Lives Matter imbroglio has demonstrated, not only does politics function here as theatre, albeit of the lamest, most trivial and most incompetent variety, most have become so inured to the charade that, as Matt Breuning observes, they have no awareness of, or even interest in, what it’s really about-namely power, and who materially benefits from it. Normally, of course, political power is exercised to benefit those at the controlling heights of the economy. Syriza demonstrates that it is possible for us to cut the strings through which elites choreograph the political system and to begin to challenge the normal arrangements.

At that point, the fourth wall is broken down, which is to say that we are dealing no longer with theater, what Breuning calls “performative” politics, but with reality. That reality can be terrifying. To take one example, it means, in the case of Greece, the government is required to enforce its mandates through security services largely staffed by Golden Dawn supporters (i.e. neo-Nazis), as Leo mentions.

Of course, those of us who deal with politics on an abstract, academic level, as Leo notes, have never given one second of thought as to how to combat this, or numerous other problems which are inherent in actual radical governance, not just governance in theory.

I have made some criticisms of Syriza and what I understand to be their orientation. And I have also favorably cited some of the equally riveting remarks of Lapavistas.

Leo’s interview here provides a crucial rejoinder to these.

(Tim) Wise Watch-continued

It’s no surprise that the left’s go-to “anti-racist activist” Tim Wise’s  reaction (see below) to the Netroots Nation Sanders incident completely ignores the context in which the disruption occurred. Namely, the Clinton campaign having laid the foundation for the Sanders-as-racist smear, it has now been given new life, with the result that the one presidential candidate  committed to policies which will help rather than destroy black lives, will be endlessly hounded by a media looking for any opportunity to take Sanders down.  Based on his record of cluelessness or cynicism, it would be absurd to expect to Wise recognize this or the indications that this was not a spontaneous, grassroots protest of Sanders’s positions, but quite possible a planned hit, protestors having been provided “talking” points, by “handlers”, in the words of journalist Dave Weigel’s on the scene report.

In particular, it makes sense that Wise would have little interest in discussing these since he himself has willingly circulated DLC talking points. One instance, worth reviewing, is documented here, where Wise circulated smears of Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, something he has never apologized for-needless to say.

Also worth noting is Wise’s flogging in his Facebook bio of the endorsement of his work by Michael Eric Dyson, now the official spokesman for a White House and Democratic Party whose contempt for black lives has one of the major, albeit ignored, themes of the Obama years. Dyson is doing yeoman service to make sure this reality will be suppressed, as is Wise himself-two peas in a pod.

Whether Wise is a fool or a cynic is a longstanding question. I tend toward the latter though will grant the explanatory adequacy of the former as well.

Wise is seen by many as merely a clown and not worth discussing, The problem is that the attitudes he expresses here are in widespread circulation among certain supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement.  In particular, there is the assumption that any attempt to ask questions or even to criticize the wisdom of Black Lives Matter is out of bounds.  We should, according to them, “respect black leadership”-even when it makes decisions which are actively destructive of black lives.  As two previous postings have addressed, the capitulation of the left when confronted with reactionary black leadership defines the history of the Obama administration and was what made it a profoundly effective servant of neoliberal capital.  We should have learned by now.  The zombie like attitudes of Wise and his followers should by now be received with the ridicule they deserve.

***

Tim Wise (from Facebook)
15 hrs ·
Regardless of how one feels about the “disruption” of Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders’ sessions at Netroots Nation by Black Lives Matter activists (i.e., whether you agree with the strategy of it, or whether you think the timing was bad, or whether you like either or both of these guys’ policy stances on various issues), please understand why it was important, and why their handling of it was problematic. First, it is important that white liberals, progressives and leftists are kept honest when it comes to their commitment to racial justice. Many white folks on the left who have very strong stances on economics or the environment or militarism, for instance, don’t come out of a racial justice frame and oftentimes take those issues for granted, or think racial equity will follow from economic populism or reigning in the 1% (even though this is entirely wrong). So making sure they keep these issues front and center is important, in that it signals their understanding of the foundational element of racial justice to any truly progressive future for the country. As such, Sanders’ history from the 60s, or O’Malley’s comments about Baltimore police (who, it should be remembered, he once empowered to do exactly what they are now being rightly critiqued for) is inadequate.

And it isn’t enough to say the right things about the one issue that even Rand Paul and Newt Gingrich and the Koch Brothers are willing to speak on (mass incarceration and its dispro impact on POC) in order to be considered “down.” Racial justice is about doing something to close the unemployment gaps between POC and white folks; to end racialized tracking in schools, to end educational policies that promote the firing of veteran teachers of color and the use of standardized tests on students facing profoundly unstandardized conditions and challenges. It’s about community CONTROL of police forces, not just body cams and diversity training. It’s about stopping the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, cracking down on housing discrimination, illegalizing predatory lending, banning all racial profiling, closing the wealth gaps between whites and POC with substantive and systemic reparations (along the lines of the Marshall Plan, Homestead Act or GI Bill ). Candidates don’t have to be perfect on all these things. But to not have any real focus on them at all is not leadership in these times. It is cowardice. And it’s disrespectful. And to get pissy and defensive at the protesters rather than acknowledge their frustration, applaud it and commend them for their passion and determination and bravery is saddening beyond belief. If the white left cannot do better than this, the prospects for truly multiracial left coalitions will be nil. We cannot keep asking POC to wait, or to trust us, or to make their issues secondary to the ones we are more comfortable with. That day is done.

Syriza’s Two Mistakes and Two Lessons

Syriza’s Two Mistakes

That Syriza has made mistakes isn’t in dispute: they themselves have admitted to two main ones.

 

1) They failed to recognize, despite early warnings from party members such as Costas Lapavistas, that the EU was negotiating in bad faith.  The EU’s intention was never to reach an agreement but to destroy Syriza and with it the hope that the victims of the endless bleeding of austerity had any democratic recourse.  Furthermore, the negotiations were themselves a tactic in that, as former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis now admits, they prevented him from focussing on the one thing which Syriza could have used in its negotiations: a viable plan to exit the Eurozone in a way which minimized disruption to the economy and maximize the chances that it would return to health in the shortest possible time.

2)  We now know from Varoufakis that Syriza  had “a small group . . .   within the ministry, of about five people” that were planning in secret for a Grexit. This was, as he concedes, not even close to what was required to effect a viable transition to a new currency.  Of course, no serious person should have any illusions that a Grexit would be “easy”, even with a massive investment in staff and infrastructure, any more than recovering from a major earthquake, hurricane or bombing of a nation’s major cities by a foreign power. Rather, just as a government is expected to prepare for disasters whether these are acts of god or attacks from hostile foreign powers, Syriza was derelict in failing to plan for what Varoufakis now accepts was “a coup” albeit executed not by “tanks” but by “banks”.

 

Two Lessons from Syriza’s Mistakes

 

1) The Bankruptcy of “Speaking Truth to Power” Liberalism
Despite Syriza’s self-definition as “the party of the radical left”, much of its leadership and many of its advisers would reject the designation, more accurately being categorized within our political lexicon as liberals. Among these is Varoufakis’s close friend and UT Austin colleague Jamie Galbraith who described himself as  “a reasonable and hopeful observer” of  Syriza’s initial negotiations with the E.U.  Rather than dismiss as a right wing ideologue German Chancellor Angela Merkel Galbraith praised her for “having made some of the mildest comments of any German politician,” and for having “chosen with care” her words on the subject of debt relief which, according to him, she had not rejected. Galbraith’s report of the negotiations gave further grounds for hope that  “the German government, having taken a very tough line through the process, took a step back from that tough line in order to secure a basic framework agreement for going forward.”

As we now know, the softening on the Germans’ hard line was a liberal chimera. Galbraith now recognizes that “the negotiations were a bit of a farce all along” and has admitted that he should have recognized that Chancellor Merkel was always “completely unreceptive.”

 

Varoufakis, while famously defining his political orientation as “Marxist” (albeit “erratic”) evidently shared Galbraith’s liberal confidence in the good will of the Eurocrat negotiators. This is apparent in his surprise when his attempts to reason with them were unsatisfactory-to put it mildly.  According to his recent interview in the New Statesmen,

 

“It’s not that (they) didn’t go down well – it’s that there was point blank refusal to engage in economic arguments. Point blank. … You put forward an argument that you’ve really worked on – to make sure it’s logically coherent – and you’re just faced with blank stares. It is as if you haven’t spoken. What you say is independent of what they say. You might as well have sung the Swedish national anthem – you’d have got the same reply. And that’s startling, for somebody who’s used to academic debate. … The other side always engages. Well there was no engagement at all. It was not even annoyance, it was as if one had not spoken.”

 

What is on display is the disenchantment of liberals who operated on a presumption of good intentions and underlying rationality of elite technocrats.  Radicals such as Lapavistas do not. For them, providing “arguments” to the institutional representatives of capital makes no more sense than addressing a hyena with its fangs clamped on one’s jugular.  The hyena is acting not according to reason but according to its fundamental nature and so are the capitalist hyenas who were the Syriza’s negotiating partners.

 

It was foolish to negotiate with any other expectation, as both Varoufakis and Galbraith now have effectively conceded.

 

2) Goldman Sachs DOES care (if you raise chickens)

 

A second explanation for one of Syriza’s crucial mistakes involves assumptions made by segments of their left, as opposed to (neo-) liberal wing, which includes Varoufakis and others who he refers to as “committed Europeanists.” By that he means that they are committed to the longstanding left principle of cosmopolitan internationalism .  As such, they  tend to view favorably the comparative advantage accruing to globalized trading networks which provide the economies of scale making possible large efficiencies in production of basic goods and also in making available raw materials at low cost.  While their position is reasonable, it also has a negative side in that internationalists tend to denigrate the potential of local, small scale experiments in alternative economic systems of the sort which have been championed by Richard Wolff and Gar Alperowitz among others under the heading of worker self directed enterprises and workplace democracy.

 

Why this matters is that it is apparent that some form of what Wolff and Alperowitz are proposing will be crucial in the event of a Grexit.  Prior to a national currency being re-established, local networks of production and exchange of the sort which globalization has long since eradicated will need to be revived and again made viable. That includes, incidentally, various forms of local food production of the sort denigrated by the verticalist left under the widely circulated meme “Goldman Sachs doesn’t care if you raise chickens.”

 

In fact,  whether Greece will collapse into chaos and starvation will have to do with whether they are able to reduce their reliance on imported goods ramping up local production in all spheres including most crucially in food production-not as a neo-Calvinist moral imperative but to maintain a minimal caloric intake.  It is likely that many small scale initiatives will need to be launched and developed to accomplish that, some along the lines the WW II Victory Gardens whose production equalled that all commercial sources of vegetables during the war years.  Of course, Goldman Sachs would like nothing better than for Greek efforts at self-reliance to fail which is to say they hope the Greeks don’t raise chickens-and starve for not having done so: the exact opposite of facile, leftish conventional wisdom.

 

 

While small, the Victory Gardens were not an insignificant contribution to a nation in a state of war.  And, to reiterate the point, the comparison of a state of war to what will be required of under a Grexit is entirely appropriate.
For while some of us want to avert our eyes, the left always recognized that the war by the rich against the poor is a war just as much as any other.  An economic war does not involve missiles, antipersonnel weapons and M-16s. Its weapons are state enforced privatization schemes, debt swaps and interest rate manipulation.  Rather than puncture wounds, severed limbs and crushed skulls the casualities take the form of thousands of unnecessary deaths due to inadequately staffed and supplied hospitals, bacterial infections due to inadequately maintained sewage treatment facilities, collapsing buildings and food poisoning epidemics due to the mass layoffs of inspectors in regulatory agencies. An almost endless list can be compiled of the social collapse resulting from economic warfare carried about by fountain pens rather than guns. Varoufakis has now woken up to the reality that his country has been attacked by an axis of foreign powers, that they are bent on its destruction and have one goal in mind: claiming the spoils of victory, disbursing to their owners in the investor class.It is time the rest of the left joined him there and here-on our feet and ready to fight them, in whatever way we can.

Four Thoughts on the Sanders Campaign

1) It is not a question of whether the Democratic Party establishment will attempt to smear and destroy the Sanders insurgency if it manages to get more of a footing but how they do so.
(This has, of course, already begun, see, e.g. here and here.)

2) If past history is any indication (c.f. the Dean scream, Hymietown, etc.) the smear campaign in 1) is almost certain to be successful. Though they might not have to use it. (See 3).

3) Related to 2), according to two reputable press accounts, the NY State Democratic Party will not allow Sanders to compete in their primary. If that is so, Sanders won’t be able to acquire enough delegates for a win, and the campaign is effectively already over. (Does anyone have any information on this point? If so, please post it in comments.)

4) Once the campaign is over-either sooner or later-the question becomes what it always has been: In which direction will Sanders supporters (i.e. the principled left in the DP and outside) channel their activism? Will they be able to form a Syriza style insurgency. Again, history does not make one optimistic, but this time could be different.

Who knows? Of course, it’s the only question which matters.