Peter Frase’s contribution to the debate on how the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) should relate to the Sanders campaign gets a lot of things right. That includes the most important thing which is that “local base-building and cultivating successful local candidates is still the key task” for the DSA.
Peter’s also right that if we do our job, it will eventually lead to “one, two, many AOCs and Julia Salazars.” And he might have added others DSA members who have won elections, among them Lee Carter of the Virginia General Assembly as well as Sara Innamorato, Summer Lee, Elizabeth Fiedler and Kristin Seale, now serving in the Pennsylvania state legislature,
And finally, he’s right that we need to maintain our independence from the Sanders campaign and the Democratic Party generally.
Where I part company with him is on his characterization of “a personality cult around Daddy Bernie” which regards criticism of Sanders as “a betrayal of the political revolution.”
I think I’m typical of DSA Bernie supporters in that I’m ready and willing to criticize Sanders and to do as Peter suggests in “hold(ing) him accountable” by protest for his policies should he take office.
But granting that that might be necessary is a separate question from whether it’s likely that’s what we will be doing, and here I think it’s fairly apparent that it’s not.
That is, we will be protesting during a Sanders administration but we won’t be protesting Sanders. Rather we will be protesting those opposed to key Sanders policies, such as Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, expanding Social Security and free college.
Furthermore, we in the Hudson Valley should know that that’s what we’ll be doing since we are already protesting our own newly elected congressman Anthony Delgado who in less than three months in Congress has managed to position himself on the wrong side of every issue which Sanders forces have advanced. This includes, but is not limited to his failure to sign on to congressional resolutions supporting Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, or to increase Social Security benefits. Delgado also voted for amendments watering down Ro Khanna’s war powers resolution and to firearm background check legislation.
Given this record, it seems likely if not certain that Delgado will ally with other Blue Dog Democrats to block major parts of the first hundred days initiatives of a Sanders administration. At that point, it will be clear that the success of Sanders legislative agenda requires a congress which reflects rather than rejects his views and that will mean recruitment of a primary challenger to Delgado in 2022.
That brings us back to Peter’s bottom line which bears repeating: “local base-building and cultivating successful local candidates is still the key task” for it is this local foundation which will provide crucial support to Delgado’s challenger. At best, the challenger will be a candidate we helped to advance through activism and through local and state office.
We must begin building this foundation now. But not with the expectation that we will be using it to it protest Sanders. Rather, it will be the opposite-it will be to support the Sanders agenda.
Furthermore, rather than opposing the DSA, Sanders will welcome our working to develop a base of power independent of his campaign and of the Democratic Party hierarchy. We shouldn’t be viewing the Sanders campaign through the lens of our inevitable opposition to Sanders administration compromises but with an eye to the crucial role we can play in defending it from attacks by the Democratic Party establishment.
Finally, I’ll mention that all that assumes Sanders winning the presidency. Peter quite reasonably devotes several sentences to considering the two other possibly outcomes of the 2020 election, namely, a Sanders loss in the primary or in the general election.
I won’t discuss these other than noting that either will be catastrophic: a Trump or Pence presidency means four more years of climate denial amounting to a death sentence for our species. Not much better than climate denial, as AOC recently observed, will be the next neoliberal Democrat delaying action on climate,.
Should either of these futures materialize, the DSA will be the least of our problems.
Thinking and arguing about them while confronting the increasingly imminent specter of environmental ruin will very soon become luxuries we will not be able to afford.
Sanders’s socialism-whatever our reservations about it-is the only viable option to the barbarism which will confront us if we don’t make it a reality.