Those of us who grew up in activist households a half century ago will remember those who were referred to as “movement candidates.” These materialized when activists, those involved in leafletting, sit ins, phonebanking, and the other retail aspects of anti-war and civil rights protest were either chosen or decided on their own to run for office. While they were not necessarily reliable once elected, it was reasonable for the protest movement to assume that they would be more accountable and likely to advance their agenda than those who were nowhere to be found on the streets but were asking for their support.
It is with them in mind that the various candidates now being promoted by Democratic Party leadership should be assessed: Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Kirsten Gillibrand and Deval Patrick are in no way movement candidates. Rather they are longtime party insiders being sold to the left with the expectation they will be able to mollify and demobilize what has become an increasingly effective insurgency centered around the successor organizations to the Sanders campaign.
Their main strategy, then as now, is to do what all politicians do which is to tell potential supporters what they want to hear: Already, most of them signed on to one or another plank of the Sanders platform: Booker has come out in favor of marijuana legalization. Harris appears to support some version of single payer health insurance. Biden repeatedly praised Sanders’ focus on wealth inequality and served on a presidential commission supposedly devoted to addressing it. Former Blue Dog Gillibrand has arguably gone the farthest of all having voted against all of Trumps appointees, becoming one of the first senators to endorse single payer along with strong stands on immigrants rights. The exception is Patrick who appears to believe that bland evocations of hope and change will be sufficient to overcome a longstanding relationship with Mitt Romney’s firm Bain Capital, whose paychecks he now cashes.
Sanders supporters will not be impressed nor should they be, recognizing these as pro forma concessions to the left by candidates who will likely govern according to neoliberal orthodoxy demanded by the party’s financial backers, albeit with certain moves to the left insofar as the movement is able to pressure them.
Will one of the approved candidates be successful? That is history yet to be written. The Sanders insurgency already has its 2020 candidate, namely Sanders himself. And if, for some reason, he is unable to, there are others who could mount a credible national run. The most likely of these is Congressman Ro Khanna who has become an admittedly somewhat unlikely though increasingly powerful and reliable voice of Sanders wing of the Democrats. The powerhouse Ohio State Senator Nina Turner is another possibility though having not held a national office may make her a less credible presidential candidate.
We should, needless to say, make every effort to insure that they succeed. If we do, 2020 and 2018 will provide us what we didn’t have previously, namely, candidates to vote for rather than to vote against. And we should be discussing and strategizing about what is necessary to bring that about.
The final point which needs to be discussed is what happens if we fail and the eventual nominee is yet another pressed out of the Obama/Clinton neoliberal mold. What should our response be?
Here the answer should be easy based on four years experience with “the most dangerous organization in human history” not to mention the recent atrocity in Charlottesville.
Those on the left who don’t understand by now why they need to be defeated, probably never will.
The must continue and they will continue.