The liberal-progressive side of the spectrum is screaming bloody murder this week!
Working Families Party came out last week with their endorsement of Elizabeth Warren, notably reversing with their 2016 embrace of Bernie Sanders. The vote was undeniably tainted by backroom machinations that are being equated with the anti-democratic (but certainly Democratic) super delegate system. Despite this, plenty of news outlets, such as the Communist Party USA’s People’s World (their Internet revival of the old Daily Worker) have been carrying water for this minor coup that demonstrates the desire of the Dems to lose with anyone rather than win with Bernie. (The preceding statement should not be construed as my own endorsement of the Vermont senator, it instead merely reads the writing on the wall.)
We can clear up a few things about this story that provide insights about what has taken place.
What is Working Families Party?
Over the past 55 years now (since the Barry Goldwater campaign succeeded in peeling the racist Dixiecrats away from the New Deal coalition), liberals have been trying to redevelop and redeploy a renovated version of that grand coalition which could deliver progressive policies for Americans. (I personally find that proposition to be a wildly naive and foolish crusade to nowhere, the two capitalist parties are ruled by Wall Street and they don’t care what you want, kids.)
Regardless, activists have been trying to “change the party from the inside” by creating auxiliaries and caucuses that pop up fairly regularly. The Congressional Black Caucus, the Progressive Democrats, Democratic Socialists of America, all of these have sought to develop a voter base and elected official superstructure that would stop the rightward slide of the Dems.
Working Families Party, founded in 1998, is unique because it carries on as if it were a third party in states that continue to have fusion voting lines. Their major constituencies are the American unions and they bring a certain labor organizer modus operandi to the table that has novelty.
However, when push comes to shove they endorse machine Democrats regardless of how awful the candidate is. Howie Hawkins, frequent Green Party candidate in New York as well as a member of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, offered useful insight into the endorsement process of Working Families when he ran against the awful incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo:
This third straight Cuomo nomination by the WFP tells us who the WFP really is. It misleads voters into thinking that WFP is an independent progressive party when it is nothing more than a political club firmly entrenched within the corporate-dominated Democratic Party. WFP sells its field services to corporate-funded Democratic candidates and allied PACs willing to pay them. They may want to move the Democrats in a more liberal direction but that is a futile effort since the Party continues to be financed by the corporate interests that also bankroll the Republicans. It’s time to judge WFP’s actions by their results, not their rhetoric. In 2010, before accepting their ballot line, Cuomo made WFP publicly affirm his conservative austerity plan in the wake of the Great Recession, which he carried out. In 2014, WFP was double-crossed by Cuomo when he backed away one day after securing the WFP nomination from the promises he made in his so-called hostage video to the WFP convention. Earlier this year, Cuomo tried to strong arm WFP by pulling the unions out and cutting union and state funding for WFP-affiliated community organizations. Tonight Cuomo’s power plays paid off and once again domesticated the WFP.
Anecdotally, an African American comrade and longtime labor organizer jestingly refers to WFP as “the White Families Party.”
Why do these projects trying to change the Democrats “from the inside” keep on popping up?
In a word, because they keep failing at their efforts. I am not a complete asshole, I realize that there are (some) decent people in these various groups who earnestly believe that they have a real shot at success.
But regardless of this these groups simply don’t have a certain commodity that the old New Deal coalition had.
In a concrete sense, that coalition had a cross-class collaborative identity that included workers, middle class bosses, and major factions of American capitalism. The Solid South was a fascistic apartheid state and a hub for textile, agriculture, paper, mining, and other industries. The tactical genius of the coalition was how its leaders were able to balance the various factions in a way where old enemies instead were able to compromise and collaborate (though it always bears mention that the compromise was implemented at the expense of BIPOC workers, something that would eventually lead to the postwar rebellion known as the Civil Rights movement).
In contemporary contexts, the neoliberal Clinton-Obama project has first and foremost been about permanently ripping that coalition apart in a fashion to prevent it from ever being able to be reincarnated. And in this matter they have been wildly successful. America was deindustrialized and Democrats pivoted towards fundraising from Wall Street in light of declining labor union density. Wall Street in turn embraced an anti-union agenda which was more aggressive than in earlier times, when Keynesian economic policy was able to mediate a middle ground of collaboration between labor and capital.
How can you attempt to reincarnate a trifecta when one of the triplets was aborted decades ago?
Why Warren over Sanders despite having endorsed him in 2016?
Warren is far less radical than Sanders, despite claims to the contrary, and used to be a registered Republican. There’s very little suggesting that she would go further than a progressive strengthening of tort law and consumer protections. Working Families probably is playing it safe by endorsing the less radical candidate.
But the impact might be as substantial as the early Clinton endorsement by labor in 2015-16, the move that undeniably sealed the nomination for the former Secretary of State long before Super Tuesday…
What chances does Sanders have?
Marx famously quipped that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, next as farce.
For some reason it seems that maxim has been inverted for Sanders.
The 2015-16 campaign was a ham-handed and buffoonish affair, closer to a project authored by Groucho rather than Karl. It was quite evident that the Vermont senator was genuinely surprised that he was breaking the boundaries that had hindered earlier runs by Dennis Kucinich or Howard Dean. The political base that built itself around him included people looking to see their Great Helmsman synthesize a serious post-2016 project, something that never actually happened despite the creation of the Our Revolution organization.
Now Sanders has been able to become a national figure with the credibility attendant such a profile. Conventional wisdom and honest polling indicates that Sanders would throttle Trump in all-important purple states that went for the GOP in 2016.
This is a truly vital issue to consider for the following reason: In the past decade, the Democrats have done jack shit to stop the most substantial disenfranchisement effort seen in a century.
First the Roberts Court strip-mined the protections of the Voting Rights Act prior to the 2012 election.
Then the Republicans took full advantage of these developments to redistrict, gerrymander, and voter roll purge the Democratic voter bastions so to deliver House and Senate majorities to the Tea Party, compounding the disappointment of the Obama administration (whether the first African American president was such a cynic that he favored these developments is a serious discussion for future historians).
During the Trump administration this project has been fully consolidated.
As such, the outcome of the election will not be determined by a normal plebiscite, instead it will more than likely be about whether Sanders can flip enough 2016 Trump voters. (Incidentally, should Sanders win because of taking enough votes from Trump, that would mean his election was dependent upon votes from people who had no problem with Trump in 2016, ergo it would not demonstrate some mythical proletarian revolutionary upsurge was nigh. Let that one sink in.)
Warren has some potential but has the sexism factor weighing against her as well as Trump’s previous successful racist trolling of her, an episode the Senator from Massachusetts failed miserably at. When you bomb at something like how you handle Trump Twitter trolling, prospects for scoring votes from the Donald’s base become much more concerning.
Except for the hardcore white nationalists who see Trump as the augury of a larger national socialist political surge over the next generation and demented Cold Warrior anti-socialists who continue to conflate Sanders-brand New Deal liberalism with Bolshevism, Bernie plays to a certain nostalgia for postwar Pentagon Keynesian welfare state politics. Despite claims of being new and revolutionary, he is really more Eisenhower than anything else. This makes him have a bipartisan appeal that is becoming readily evident as the GOP rolls out paranoid advertising for 2020 that would be hilarious were they not so bizarre and (more concerning) catered to the largest group of gun owners in America.
Working Families Party is really just a symptom of a wider failure, a labor movement that has been successfully compromised by its refusal to oppose neoliberals in the Democratic Party at the moment it had the opportunity to wage a serious war. The AFL-CIO endorsement of the people who passed NAFTA and sought to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership into law in 2016 did more help for Trump than any Russians ever could.
Whether their endorsement shall seriously impact the primary has yet to be seen.
Ultimately Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report pointed out something worth contemplating:
The people need to see that contradiction played out in the Democratic Party, the duopoly party whose constituencies are actually eager to make substantive demands on the state. (Republican rank and file whites desire only that their government affirm white supremacy.) It would have been a great political lesson if Sanders’ momentum was such that corporate Democrats have to steal the nomination from him in broad daylight, hopefully prompting a mass exit from the party and creation of a new social democratic formation (or a much bigger Green Party). Or, if somehow Sanders won the nomination, we could all watch the corporate players pick up their marbles to form a new “centrist” party, leaving leftish Democrats encamped in the hollow shell. As things stand at this early stage in the process, Sanders may simply wind up an also-ran – allowing the corporate spinners to write the obituary on his “far left” escapades. Or maybe Bernie will catch fire again, and propel us to the next contradiction.
That certainly could be interesting television viewing…