Sunday, February 02, 2020

Thoughts on the Eve of the Iowa Caucuses

Ahead of tomorrow’s Iowa caucuses, economist Paul Krugman recently had an op-ed in The New York Times in which he makes the case that in terms of policy, it really doesn't matter who the Democrats choose as their presidential nominee.

Writes Krugman:

It’s still far from clear who will come out on top in the primary, but it’s enough to think about what would happen if either of the two current front-runners, Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden, were to become president – and also have strong enough coattails to produce a Democratic Senate, because otherwise nothing will happen. . . . It matters hugely whether a Democrat wins, it matters much less which Democrat wins.

[M]y main point is that Democrats should unify, enthusiastically, behind whoever gets the nomination. Any moderate tempted to become a Never Bernie type should realize that even if you find Sanders too radical, his actual policies would be far more tempered. Any Sanders enthusiast tempted to become a Bernie or Bust type should realize that these days even centrist Dems are pretty progressive, and that there’s a huge gap between them and Trump’s G.O.P.


By and large I appreciate Krugman’s perspective. Yet I think the key difference between a Biden and a Sanders presidency escapes Krugman’s attention. It’s to do with who each would choose for their cabinet secretaries and other professional advisors. It’s key because their choices would reflect how they see the fundamental problem facing the U.S. today and to what degree they intend to actually address this problem.

From everything I've seen and read of Biden (and other “moderate” Democrats such as Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg), the problem is understood as Trump; for progressives, on the other hand, Trump is the most repugnant symptom of the problem.

And what is this “fundamental problem” for progressives? It’s that for the last 40 years or so the U.S. has devolved from the rule of the people (democracy) into the rule of money (plutocracy). I’ve long concluded that the various individual/personality traits of the candidates are secondary to how a candidate understands and names this fundamental problem before us.

I’ve also come to observe that what distinguishes moderates from progressives at this crucial time is that progressives very clearly understand that the fundamental problem facing the U.S. is indeed the movement away from democratic and humanitarian values to such things as the primacy of stock holders, the power and influence of moneyed interests and lobbies, and various other destructive characteristics of the neoliberal economic doctrine which first emerged in the late 1970s. Moderates, on the other hand, still very much embrace neoliberalism and believe that tweaking the system here and there is all that’s needed. By doing so they may be softening the negative impacts of the system on some but the overall result is that they are simply managing the country’s economic and moral decline. And it is this decline that makes the electorate susceptible to authoritarian populism, as the rise and presidency of Donald Trump has shown. We need a much more radical (i.e., deeper and fundamental) pattern disruption to the political and economic status quo. I also think that the average American understands this, despite what the corporate media and the mainstream political establishment would have us believe. (Examples of this "pattern disruption" would be the overturning of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling and the establishment of publicly-funded federal election campaigns.)

In commenting on Krugman’s article on The New York Times website, Joseph Dibello puts it is way:

Dr. Krugman seems determined to draw a false equivalence between Sanders and Biden regarding their views on Social Security and by extension, the social safety net. . . . The fact is that throughout his career Sanders has been one of the most vociferous opponents of cuts to the social safety net. He has also consistently woven this critique into his opposition to our regime-change military interventions. Joe Biden, on the other hand, has been a consistent player in the co-opting of the Democratic Party by financial and corporate interests, to the detriment of all but the top quintile.


Another thought: I identify as a progressive, but as Erin McCarley points out in her recent open letter to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the meaning and use of this term has been purposeful maligned by the mainstream corporate media to mean “fringe” and “extreme.” Moreover, by McCarley's reckoning, I'm actually a centrist/moderate.

Writes McCarley:

Proposals like maintaining social security, increasing the minimum wage, providing universal healthcare coverage, protecting the environment for future generations, and making college accessible to young people are not radical positions! These are centrist positions because a majority of Americans support them. These positions would have formed a basic policy platform for an FDR administration. What the corporate media calls left-wing is actually moderate, by any recent polling on these basic social issues. Americans have really not moved so far to the left in their support for Bernie Sanders. But the Democratic Party has moved consistently and unrelentingly to the corporate right. In its alliance with the corporate, neoliberal ruling-class, the Democratic Party is now hardly distinguishable from the Republican Party in its level of corporate corruption. It’s no wonder voter turnout rates in this country have been so pathetically low.


Finally, Barbara Smith, one of the preeminent black feminist activists in American history, recently endorsed Bernie Sanders as president. In doing so, she said the following.

Of all of the people who are running, Bernie Sanders is the person whose political commitment most closely reflects and align with political commitments that I’ve had throughout my life. He has a much deeper understanding of what the situation is, why we have injustice and inequality and oppression and discrimination or whatever words you use to describe a society that isn’t functioning the way that it should be functioning. He [has] the most incisive, sharpest understanding of where all that comes from.


Related Off-site Links:
On the Big Issues, Bernie Sanders Is the Only One Who Can Save America – Juan Cole (Informed Comment, February 3, 2020).
The Candidate Who Best Represents Me Is the Only One Saying It's About Us – Cari Hernandez (Common Dreams, February 3, 2020).

UPDATES: Technical Difficulties in Iowa Caucuses Lead to Widespread Confusion and Delayed Results – Sara Morrison (Vox, February 4, 2020).
Dude, Where’s My Vote? – Alice Herman (Common Dreams, February 4, 2020).
Why the Iowa Mess Is So Incredibly Damaging to Democracy – Chris Cillizza (CNN, February 4, 2020).
Iowa’s Lesson: Political Parties Are Not as Good as Government Officials at Counting Votes – Jessica Huseman, Jack Gillum and Derek Willis (Pro Publica, February 4, 2020).
Iowa Should Be a Warning – It’s Time to Switch to Paper Ballots – Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman (TruthOut, February 4, 2020).
The Catastrophic 2020 Iowa Caucuses Could Be the Final Nail in the Coffin of the Storied Political Tradition – Grace Panetta (Business Insider, February 4, 2020).
Pete Buttigieg Declares Victory in the Iowa Caucuses With Zero Percent of the Vote In – Sonam Sheth (Business Insider, February 4, 2020).
Sanders Campaign's Internal Caucus Numbers Show Them Leading Iowa, With Biden a Distant Fourth – Ryan Grim, Aída Chávez, Lee Fang, and Akela Lacy (The Intercept, February 4, 2020).
2020 Iowa Caucus: President Trump Recaptures Overwhelming Iowa Republican Support – William Petroski (Des Moines Register via USA Today, February 4, 2020).
Iowa Caucus: “I'm the Winner” says Trump Amid Democrat ChaosBBC World News (February 4, 2020).
Iowa Caucuses: Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders Take LeadBBC World News (February 5, 2020).
Majority of Democratic Voters “More Likely” to Vote for Bernie Sanders After Iowa Caucuses: New Poll – Jason Lemon (Newsweek, February 6, 2020).
Popular Vote Proponent Pete Buttigieg Claims Victory in State Where Another Guy Got More Votes – Tim Dickinson (Rolling Stone, February 7, 2020).
Bernie Got the Most Votes in Iowa, Which Means He Won Iowa – Ben Burgis (Jacobin, February 7, 2020).
Democrats Seek to Suppress Sanders Victory in Iowa – Patrick Martin (World Socialist Web Site, February 7, 2020).
Iowa Autopsy Report: DNC Meddling Led to Caucus Debacle – Tyler Pager (Politico, December 12, 2020).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Case for Bernie Sanders
A Thank You Letter to Marianne Williamson
Progressive Perspectives on Joe Biden's Presidential Run
Beto, Biden and Buttigieg: “Empty Suits and Poll-Tested Brands”
Pete Buttigieg, White Privilege, and Identity Politics
Quote of the Day – October 19, 2019
Quote(s) of the Day – February 26, 2019
Hope, History, and Bernie Sanders (2016)


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