Stuck in the Middle
February 2, 2020
Posted in Meta
I recently read a piece by Robert Reich the former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration which you can look at it (here) In it while not discounting racism as one of the driving forces behind Trump’s supporter, also lists anti-establishmentism as an additional factor. I have long been interested in those voters who voted for Obama and then Trump, two people who would seem to have little in common, except they were perceived by the electorate as outside the establishment. While both have proven that they were not outsiders, both promised the electorate that they would be. As the first African American presidential candidate from a major political party, he promised to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and to get big money out of politics. Trump’s appeal was that he was so rich he didn’t need to rely on big money and would do things for the “little man.” Neither followed through on his promises, both allowed big money to make further inroads into politics, and both presided over a concentration of wealth unseen on the planet before them.
Reich argues “Democrats cannot defeat authoritarian populism without an agenda of radical democratic reform, an anti-establishment movement.” I agree with that. Unfortunately the Democrat National Committee does not. They still think that turning their back on those suffering economically to pander to an imaginary “soccer mom” swing voter will defeat Trump. The DNC centrists are part of the system against whom the electorate is rebelling. To quote Reich “They also drank from the same campaign funding trough as the Republicans – big corporations, Wall Street and the very wealthy.” The DNC are refusing to support progressive candidates who challenge Democratic incumbents, they both publicly and privately disparage Sanders or Warren and other threats to “their” candidate Joe Biden, and Hilary even refuses to say if she will support the progressive candidates if they somehow win the primaries. Their accepted wisdom is that voters will not support candidates who are in their view “too radical” and only non-threatening, marshmallow candidates like Uncle Joe can prevail, when most polls indicate that either Sanders or Warren could defeat Trump, some predict even more handily than Biden. As Reich argues however, “There is no longer a left or right. There’s no longer a moderate “center”. There’s either Trump’s authoritarian populism or democratic – small “d” – populism.” I write this before the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries which will be the first, though not the last, test whether “democratic populism,” can appeal to voters more than the centrism which Biden represents.
I also want to comment on the support that Biden draws form the African American community which will play a huge role in the southern state primaries that happen after lily-white Iowa and New Hampshire. Biden leads handily among this group in the early polls, probably because of his proximity to Obama. Black folks perceive him as a known quantity on civil rights rather than Sanders or Warren. The truth is that before Obama, Biden opposed busing to mitigate segregation, played footsie with the most rabid southern racists like Strom Thurmond, and just went with the flow on most civil rights legislation. He was not an advocate for minorities and at times an opponent of actions on their behalf. Yet black folks see him as the devil they know rather than the unknowns that the other candidates are. Given America’s history of racism African Americans are hesitant to try out something new in political candidates because they know they have so much to lose. Both Sanders and Warren have much to do to make inroads among this group, but they are making some slow progress. What they have to avoid is pandering while showing that their plans to help the “little guy” with things like single payer medical insurance, will help the black community much more than the establish status quo that Biden represents. They have to become the modern day equivalents of FDR in order for African Americans to muster the levels of enthusiasm, support, and turnout that the Democrats need. African Americans understand that they need to vote in this election as if their lives depended on it, but it is up to the primary system to give them something to vote for.
Being stuck in the middle will not win this election. Both Sanders’ and Warren’s big plans are flawed (and will be refined in the process of actually executing them,) but they represent a change in business as usual and a threat to the “Establishment.” As such I hope they will appeal to an electorate fed up with things as they are and bring about a different future.