Primary the Democrats
In the first concrete measure of the political realignment currently shifting the two major American political parties, Democrats stopped a chance to lower the price of drugs for people.
Ted Cruz (R-TX) and John Thune (R-SD) voted for an amendment introduced by Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) intended to lower prescription drug prices while establishment Democrats Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Patty Murray (D-WA), among others, voted against it, effectively killing the bill.
Designed to lower prescription drug prices by allowing cheaper drugs from Canada to compete with the astronomical prices of US pharmaceutical companies, who until now have enjoyed price protection bordering on a multipolar trust courtesy of the Food and Drug Administration, the bill was a Hail Mary by Senator Sanders to test the incoming regime’s mettle. The PEOTUS said pharma companies ‘get away with murder,’ Sanders plans to make him and his party back that up. Democrats took the opportunity to placate their donors in the drug industry on a vote no one thought would succeed. They ended up scuttling it and showing their true colors.
Sanders has been working hard to show, in real, policy-centered ways, that Trump’s administration has made promises it never intends to keep. After the election, he began to hold town halls with folks who voted for the opposition, to demonstrate the reasons this election was lost, and also why it was winnable. There is no doubt that racism, sexism, xenophobia and fear played a huge role in the outcome of this election. The empowering of not only neo-Confederate racists like Jeff Sessions but a new generation of internet anime Nazis is terrifying, but it’s widespread power is built on a horrible alchemy of economic degradation and political malfunction. No amount of mockery or indignation will reverse that now.
By highlighting specific policies that would improve the lives of the working class, Bernie is setting trap after trap for the Republicans and their newly found populist panache, and is leading the way for a progressive opposition that no other Democrat has bothered to organize. While big name Democrats are lost in the woods, or positioning themselves for 2020 runs with boistrous ‘HOW DARE YOU, SIR‘ speechifying at Trump’s nominees, Bernie Sanders and his allies in Congress are focused on areas where Republicans are vulnerable, and where Democrats have always been strong – saving Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, mitigating the effects of the upcoming ACA repeal, and reminding everyone that the bankers are still in charge, and they’re the ones who caused all of this.
Booker and the dozen other Democrats who took upwards of a quarter million in campaign donations from pharmaceutical companies, however,
are quietly bolstering their pro-business, neoliberal bonafides in advance of a fundraising season where the next Democratic nominee will be chosen. Make no mistake, unless a major shift in voting habits occurs, that nominee will be chosen by the real constituents of the Democratic Party: Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Credit Card Companies, Insurance Companies, Pharmaceutical Companies, Defense Contractors, and the CIA. Of course, all of those powers couldn’t stop Trump from being elected, even with the most recognizable and ostensibly qualified presidential nominee after Theodore Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower. The party that cynically coopts every popular movement, every civil rights struggle, every economic woe of the American people and then slavishly bends to corporate interest and DC popular ‘wisdom’, leading Americans into endless debt, endless wars, and endless political gridlock is not fit to lead the left and never was.
The Democratic Party has a wide base, but it is geographically concentrated. There are thousands of small organizing committees and clubs that make up its grassroots, especially in California and other progressive states. Other places, (like all the places Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump) have less organization and the pre-1968 way of doing things still prevails – party bosses, with a handful of organized labor holdovers, trial lawyers, and recalcitrant local politicians dictate the activities of the party. (There’s a good episode of the podcast Schmolitics where they cover this.) The union movement has sputtered and choked and its base has fractured under the weight of Reaganite and Reagan-lite rhetoric, and the precipitous fall in living standards for the working class.
Starve a man, dangle food, and he’ll believe whatever you say, unless you tell him things are already great.
So while Democrats and Hillary-voters can soothe themselves with shouts of how they won the popular vote by millions,
that will not erase the fact that Republicans control the entire federal government, will have a generational lock on the Supreme Court, they control a majority of governorships and nearly enough state legislatures to rewrite the Constitution at will. By any and every measure, the Democratic Party is an abject failure everywhere but Sacramento. You can blame the media and the deep seated racist tendencies of Republicans and white Americans for a lot, but no one deserves more blame for the current electoral reality than the people who run the opposing party. They had a job and they have failed so utterly that their mistakes aren’t likely to be corrected in our lifetimes. If not for an economic catastrophe that crashed to shore in the final month of the 2008 election, combined with the once-in-a-lifetime charisma or Barack Obama, we’d still be talking about the Democrats as the party of Gore, and Kerry, and Clinton. And for all the damage Republicans have done to this nation, you can’t blame the opposition for fielding a team. You have to fire your coach and draft better, practice better, and ultimately, play to win.
Vote Them Out
Following the handy (but ever so temporary) drubbing Obama and the up-swell against the Bush administration handed Republicans in 2008, the base of that party – motivated by the threat of a unified Democratically controlled government, a popular President, and a shifting cultural landscape – organized around a simple idea that changed the tack of history: They insisted on ideological purity, no compromise with the opposition, and the end of insiderism and the removal of career politicians who had let them down.
They sacrificed veteran “moderates” to the cause. They were called foolish. They nominated people who had to insist that they were ‘not a witch.‘ They made Sarah Palin a national figure. (Well, John McCain did that, but she took it and RAN.) They gave us the Randian budget wonks like Paul Ryan and the neo-Helmsians like Ted Cruz. They made Trump a political figure instead of a tacky clown with an inheritance. Their party’s establishment sneered at their lack of subtlety, and their reckless disregard for so called electoral math. They even gave up some winnable legislature seats. But the Tea Party also captured a huge mass of governorships and redistricting power that cemented a permanent Republican Congressional majority. And now, Paul Ryan is Speaker of the House, Ted Cruz came in 2nd for his party’s nomination, and Donald Trump is President of the United States.
It’s not a new idea that Democrats need their own Tea Party.
But it doesn’t seem like a natural fit. As the nation’s demographics change, Democrats include more and more points of view under their tent, while Republicans focus on an ever more narrow constituency of white men and suburban moms. Ideological purity makes sense for a white nationalist party with simple messages like “cut taxes”, “fuck black people and immigrants”, and “political correctness is bad.”
What Democrats, and the entire left wing of the population who cares about electoral politics, probably need is not a purity of policy and ideology, but a solidarity that can cut across race, sex, geography and other tribal identifications. Not a solidarity of class-before-race, as is so often unfairly attributed to the left by hand-wringing center-right operatives and pundits, but a solidarity of purpose.
We need to demand that any public servant who claims to speak for us not only mouth the platitudes of progressive action, but vote unerringly for a set of core principles:
- economic justice
- equal rights
- criminal justice reform
- a clean environment
- consumer protections
- civil liberties
- rights for organized labor
And we need more than promises to vote this way or that. We need to vote out every Democrat who ever voted against these things. And we need to do it starting today.
Does that mean voting out the nice mayor who did a few good things for the poor but also voted to allow a new toxic waste dump on the outskirts of the city?
Does it mean voting against senior Senators who might occupy an important chairmanship but constantly vote to relax rules on credit card companies and payday lenders?
Does that mean voting against governors who have good records on the environment but have signed off on right-to-work legislation and have given teacher unions a hard time?
If there is a more progressive candidate seeking an office than the one that currently holds it, we need to vote for them, regardless of their ‘chances’ in the general election.
That is how you build a party with a purpose. That’s how you force incumbents to change their tune and support popular policies despite their own (egregiously incorrect) calculations that the middle road is best.
We can do this with parallel parties, like the Democratic Socialists of America, who will run candidates in Democratic primaries all over the country. We can do it with Berniecrat revolutions in internal party races, where old-guard local Democrats will have to face first-time activists who are sick of business as usual.
It will be a long time before the Democratic Party can do anything worthwhile. But as long as it is out of power, it must be reformed. The people in the party, from elected officials, to bureaucrats and regulators, to staffers, and even low-level volunteers who do the subtle work of rigging local caucuses and silencing dissent – all of them have failed us. We have to stand up and take the party away from them. It doesn’t belong to them, they don’t know how to win, and they don’t deserve our deference. If we ever want to win again, we have to start over, with purpose.