by Michael Hudson edited by O Society September 16, 2019
Thursday’s debate on Walt Disney’s ABC channel shaped up as yet another shameless charade. The pretense is we are to select who the Democratic presidential candidate will be. But most Americans, as the Irish say, vote with their backsides, belonging to the informal but dominant party of non-voters who choose not to be sucked into legitimizing the bad choices put before them.
The pseudo-debate ispresented as a reality entertainment show. The audience is invited to rate the candidates who seem most likely to implement the policy they want – but not including the economy. Most Americans are now living from paycheck to paycheck and cannot come up with even $400 in an emergency. They are afraid to go on strike or even to complain about their job, because they are afraid of getting fired – and of losing their corporate health care, knowing that getting sick may wipe them out. These problems will not appear on Walt Disney.
Voters basically want what Bernie Sanders is promising: a basic right to Single Payer health care and a retirement income. That means protection against the Republican-Democratic threats to cut back Social Security to balance the budget in the face of tax cuts for the richest One Percent and rising Cold War military spending. This means a government strong enough to take on the vested financial and corporate interests and prosecute Wall Street’s financial crime and corporate monopoly power. When neoliberals shout, “But that’s socialism,” Americans finally are beginning to say, “Then give us socialism.” It beats being ground down into debt peonage.
But here’s trick the TV debates sweep under the rug: It is not the voters who are empowered to choose the Democratic Party’s candidate. That privilege belongs legally to the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Since stacking the political deck in 2016 to serve up Hillary Clinton as nominee, it has put in place rules that will enable its Donor Class members, superdelegates and other lobbyists for the One Percent to repeat the trickery once again in 2020.
I hope that the candidate who is clearly the voters’ choice, Bernie Sanders, may end up as the party’s nominee. If he is, I’m sure he’ll beat Donald Trump handily, as he would have done four years ago. But I fear that the DNC’s Donor Class will push Joe Biden, Kamala Harris or even Pete Buttigieg down the throats of voters. Just as when they backed Hillary the last time around, they hope that their anointed neoliberal will be viewed as the lesser evil for a program little different from that of the Republicans.
So Thursday’s reality TV run-off is about “who’s the least evil?” An honest reality show’s questions would focus on “What are you against?” That would attract a real audience, because people are much clearer about what they’re against: the vested interests, Wall Street, the drug companies and other monopolies, the banks, landlords, corporate raiders and private-equity asset strippers. But none of this is to be permitted on the magic island of authorized candidates (not including Tulsi Gabbard, who was purged from further debates for having dared to mention the unmentionable).
The problem facing the Democratic National Committee today remains the same as in 2016: How to block even a moderately left-wing social democrat by picking a candidate guaranteed to lose to Trump, so as to continue the policies that serve banks, the financial markets and military spending for Cold War 2.0.
DNC donors favor Joe Biden, long-time senator from the credit-card and corporate-shell state of Delaware, and opportunistic California prosecutor Kamala Harris, with a hopey-changey grab bag alternative in smooth-talking small-town Rorschach blot candidate Pete Buttigieg. These easy victims are presented as “electable” in full knowledge that they will fail against Trump.
Trump meanwhile has done most everything the Democratic Donor Class wants: He has cut taxes on the wealthy, cut social spending for the population at large, backed Quantitative Easing to inflate the stock and bond markets, and pursued Cold War 2.0. Best of all, his abrasive style has enabled Democrats to blame the Republicans for the giveaway to the rich, as if they would have followed a different policy.
The Democratic Party’s role is to protect Republicans from attack from the left, steadily following the Republican march rightward. Claiming that this is at least in the direction of being “centrist,” the Democrats present themselves as the lesser evil (which is still evil, of course), simply as pragmatic in not letting hopes for “the perfect” (meaning moderate social democracy) block the spirit of compromise with what is attainable, “getting things done” by cooperating across the aisle and winning Republican support. That is what Joe Biden promises.
The effect has been to make America into a one-party state. Republicans act as the most blatant lobbyists for the Donor Class. But people can vote for a representative of the One Percent and the military-industrial complex in either the Republican or Democratic column. That is why most Americans owe allegiance to no party.
The Democratic National Committee worries that voters may disturb this alliance by nominating a left-wing reform candidate. The DNC easily solved this problem in 2016: When Bernie Sanders intruded into its apace, it the threw the election. It scheduled the party’s early defining primaries in Republican states whose voters leaned right, and packed the nominating convention with Donor Class super-delegates.
After the dust settled, having given many party members political asthma, the DNC pretended that it was all an unfortunate political error. But of course it was not a mistake at all. The DNC preferred to lose with Hillary than win with Bernie, whom springtime polls showed would be the easy winner over Trump. Potential voters who didn’t buy into the program either stayed home or voted green.
Now is the time to start thinking about what to do if and when the DNC presents voters with neoliberal Hillary 2.0, preferring to lose with Biden or his clones than to win with Bernie.
I think the only effective response will be to boycott the Democratic Party – not only its presidential candidates, but its Blue Dog candidates and incumbents.
The legal kerfuffle raised by Sanders supporters in the aftermath made the switcheroo official. The courts affirmed that the Democratic Party’s candidate for president is legally chosen by the DNC alone, and may or may not be the candidate elected by voters in the primaries. To cap matters, the superdelegates serve as a safety valve against any candidate unwilling to go whole-hog neoliberal. A legal tangle of state and national U.S. election laws effectively blocks third parties from meaningful representation in Congress. Registered Independents such as Sanders are constrained to caucus with and serve on committees of one of the two parties.
That makes it difficult for any third party to play more than the role of a spoiler in elections. When the Democratic Party runs its right-wing Blue Dog candidates, a third-party protest will throw the Senate or Congressional election to the Republican – until the DNC finally just walks away.
It would not help much to take over the Democratic Party as long as its rules cede control to Wall Street donors. For the party to be reconstituted, the coterie that has imposed Rubinomics, Hillary’s neocon military empire, and is threatening to balance the budget by cutting Social Security needs to be isolated.
The most obvious start is to run real progressive candidates against incumbents, like AOC in Queens. If the DNC bans consultants from working with them, they should be attacked in the primary and then either stay home or vote for a third party in the fall election to defeat the incumbent rather than participate in the fake choices of just which neoliberal may be the least worst.
Democrat leaders will denounce the Third Party, claiming that voters would have supported Democratic otherwise, much as they blamed Ralph Nader in 2000. The reality is that voters refused to support the right-wing neocon Joe Lieberman (how appropriate that he became Obama’s Senate mentor) and his neoliberal Democratic Leadership Council front-man Gore, who would have given George W. Bush a run for awfulness.
The only way to make the Democrat Party democratic is to clean house, to boycott its Blue Dog candidates even though this throws elections to the Republicans until the DNC is emptied out. Only at that point can its rules be replaced with ones committing the party to follow the choice of voters and the majority non-Democratic (even non-voting) bloc instead of big donors and super-delegates.
This tactic may lead to Republican sweeps in the next few elections. That is the price that the Democrats have forced to be paid for their neoliberal intransigence that has made Donald Trump their president as much as that of Republican voters.
There is no such thing as centrist stability in a polarizing economy
There is no “middle class” policy in an indebted economy polarizing at an accelerating pace as financial rentiers lord it over an indebted majority. That is why wage earners have lost their identity with the Democratic Party’s loyalty to Wall Street. Although Democratic politicians presents themselves as the only alternative to Republican corporate lobbyists, the DNC is a smoke-filled room of donors, packaged in identity politics – every identity except that of indebted wage earners. It is merely a diversion to focus on personalities and to claim that economic reform is “divisive” because it may offend centrist voters such as the Democrats’ dream of attracting suburban Republican women.
Joe Biden’s promise of a moderate centrist policy is like Warren Harding’s slogan of a “return to normalcy” a century ago, in 1920. But a “return” would mean rolling back the enormous post-1980 increase in debt, the privatizations, deregulation and other neoliberal nightmares. Today’s U.S. economy – like that of Europe – has no middle ground. Attempts at a “moderate” party are merely a euphemism for backing the financial and real estate sector, the oil industry and the military-industrial complex.
If America had a parliamentary system reflecting voters’ preferences for parties, the Democratic Party would share the fate of German and other European Social Democrats that have embraced neoliberal economics and would poll about 5 percent of the vote, just barely being represented in a truly democratic congress. Voters are rejecting neoliberalism everywhere, but the DNC and foreign formerly left-wing party bureaucracies are holding onto it. They have become zombie party hacks.
Sanders rightly blames Wall Street and the One Percent for the economy’s financial mess. Warren strikes a resonant chord in seeing the need to alleviate the debt burden saying in effect, “It’s the debt, stupid.” But she also seems prepared to go along opportunistically with the rest of the Democratic Party’s platform. Even so, the DNC seems quite willing to throw the election to Trump as its major funders and super-delegates back Biden, Harris, and Buttigieg.
When Bernie says he will take on Wall Street, people believe him. When Elizabeth Warren says that, voters worry about just how far she may compromise. When Biden or Harris say that, most voters realize that they are simply grabbing slogans that play well in focus groups, selling their personalities without policy content.
Most potential voters have no party in the United States, but are forced into a choice between Republican and Democratic neoliberals. The polls euphemize most voters as “undecideds,” as if they have not decided to avoid both parties and try to scrape by as best they can with the bad choices put before them: Republican corporate lobbyists, or Democratic Wall Street lobbyists, both parties supporting military spending and representing the One Percent who form their donor base.
Most Democratic voters have decided not to back Biden or Harris. They realize their interests were betrayed first by Clintonomics and its deregulation of Wall Street and stripping away of social spending, and then by Obama protecting his Wall Street donors from “the mob with pitchforks,” namely, those who voted for his empty promise of hope and change. That is how the DNC views its constituency – to be manipulated and its attention diverted onto the Fantasy Island episode that aired on Thursday on ABC.
1) She also seems to welcome support from the Clintonites and is seeking their super-delegates. See Jonathan Allen, “Warren and Clinton talk behind the scenes as 2020 race intensifies,” NBC, September 7, 2019. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/warren-clinton-talk-behind-scenes-2020-race-intensifies-n1049701 ↑