Super Tuesday 2020: “No, no, no, America – you’ve got it wrong!”

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OH, THE WAILING! Oh, the gnashing of teeth! How could the American people have been so stupid? Why couldn’t they see the clear path to paradise laid down for them by Bernie Sanders? And how? Oh, Dear God! How could they vote in such self-defeating numbers for Joe Biden?

More than half a century ago, in the aftermath of the 1953 workers’ uprising in East Berlin,  the German Marxist playwright and poet, Bertolt Brecht, penned the following, justly famous, poem. He called it:

The Solution

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Reading the outpourings of rage and grief at the unsatisfactory outcome (at least for America’s young progressives) of the Super Tuesday primaries on social media, I couldn’t help recalling Brecht’s sardonic proposition.

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In spite of the Sanders campaign’s self-proclaimed and much-vaunted ability to mobilise the sort of disillusioned and marginalised American voter who usually sits out elections, especially the young, just about all the energy on display on Super Tuesday came from those who turned out to support Joe Biden. In Virginia, for example, Democratic Party voters turned out in numbers well up on 2016: not for Bernie, but for the former Vice-President. In Massachusetts, where he had done no campaigning, Biden carried the state. Its “favourite daughter”, incumbent Senator Elizabeth Warren, came in a poor third. Even in Texas, with its large Bernie-backing Latino population, Sanders was bested by Biden. And again, against all predictions, Biden remains competitive in California – the state Bernie was supposed to run away with.

What happened?

The short and very painful answer is: Bernie and his progressive supporters were viciously mugged by reality.

Retailing “revolution” in the United States of America has always been a hard sell. Before Bernie, there was the radical trade unionist and Indiana State Senator Eugene Victor Debs. In the Presidential Election of 1912, representing the Socialist Party of America, Debs racked-up 6 percent of the popular vote.

It’s worth noting that support for socialism in America peaked in the years between 1900-1916. There were socialist mayors and councillors, socialist legislators and at least one socialist state senator.

When compared to the support for the Republican and Democratic parties, however, the SPA’s vote remained stubbornly in the low single digits. Things got much worse after the USA entered World War I in 1917. Debs himself was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for speaking out against military conscription in 1918. The draconian legislation he fell afoul of was inspired by the high-minded Democratic President, Woodrow Wilson. He was eventually pardoned by President Warren G. Harding, a Republican, in 1921.

Bernie’s electoral success has been in spite of, not because of, his socialist principles. He has always been careful to call himself the “Independent” Senator from Vermont, and his outstanding success as a presidential candidate was made possible not by the sudden conversion of the US electorate to the principles of democratic socialism, but by the rule allowing non-members to contest Democratic Party caucuses and primaries. Without this rule, Sanders wouldn’t have been able to make more than the slightest impact on the American political scene. Be honest, could you identify the Socialist Equality Party’s candidate for the US Presidency in 2016? Of course not. Do you know how many votes the SEP ticket received? 382.

Faced with the prospect of a self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” carrying the Democratic Party’s colours into the 2020 Presidential Election, most registered Democrats were dismayed. In their eyes, Candidate Bernie Sanders would be an absolute gift to Donald Trump. That’s why the Democratic Party leadership seized upon Biden’s big win in South Carolina to break the log-jam of moderate contenders and give the voters the chance to restore “Uncle Joe” to his former position as the man most likely to beat the ogre in the White House.

Yes, you can argue that Americans should want more: that they should take the opportunity to bring their country into the twenty-first century that Sanders is offering. But, if you take that position, then you are ranging yourself alongside the Secretary of the Writers Union in Brecht’s poem. Castigating the people for failing to live up to your expectations of them is not the best way to win their confidence. For better or worse, democracy affords ordinary people the occasional opportunity to apply their collective weight to History’s rudder. If they fail to follow the “revolutionary” course you have suggested, then whose fault is that? Theirs, for not taking it? Or yours, for not giving them good enough reasons for risking everything on a politician’s promise?

I never really saw eye-to-eye with the late Mike Moore, but there was one saying of his that I’ve never had the slightest difficulty in endorsing:

“The people are always right – even when they’re wrong.”

18 COMMENTS

  1. You Tube
    VikingPreparedness
    “Why this boomer’s burning for Bernie”
    And read the comments… Bernie is never going to be President.

  2. Biden would have done even better – and Bernie worse – if there was no postal voting; i.e. people who posted votes two weeks ahead didn’t see the post-South Carolina/No Buttigieg Biden.

    And I don’t think the youthquake has happened in the last Australian and UK elections.
    Twitter is not the real world.

  3. Towards the end of the year Americans will be faced with a choice between:

    A) a corrupt, war-mongering, self-serving liar who promotes the interests of the ‘elites’, the corporations and banks, Wall Street speculators, and the military-industrial complex whilst reducing the opportunity of the masses

    B) a corrupt, war-mongering, self-serving liar who promotes the interests of the ‘elites’, the corporations and banks, Wall Street speculators, and the military-industrial complex whilst reducing opportunity of the masses

    It has been that way for decades and will continue unless the coronavirus brings down the system.

    If coronavirus does bring down the system expect the ‘elites’ to profit from the misery of the masses.

  4. Jeez, some pundits sure don’t want to “feel the Bern”! Don’t worry, if the Sanders Campaign cannot take Michigan it will be over soon enough, and business as usual can continue.

    “The People” can actually be very wrong when they vote against their own material interests as they so often do around the world. But the kernel in Mike Moore’s saying is that the People’s Decision, their Vote, must always be respected. Which is why so many National supporters underwear is still in a twist over the 2017 NZ Election, despite a generation having only known the MMP proportional system.

  5. You can’t talk about people rejecting socialism in the US without talking about the powerful Labour movement that forced Roosevelt into bringing in the New Deal.

    Of course, things had been very bad for a very long time before that movement evolved into the powerful force it became and I suspect modern USA hasn’t been bad enough for long enough just yet.

  6. With the loss of manufacturing, parties that were historically the vehicles for worker representation have effectively been colonised by people who have sought to refit them as vehicles for promoting the interests of the professional classes. As has been shown in various ways since 2008, they put more fight into defending their colonised territory than they do into challenging their purported opposition. Their battle against Trump has been technocratic, against Bernie, visceral. As insiders, they have much more control than Bernie does over the information upon which people ordinary people base their decisions, and on how that information is presented. Moreover, they can pull strings in other ways, like for example, giving the impression that Biden’s surge is much more decisive than it is, in the hope that this will make it decisive.

    You can’t blame people for seeking representation in a so-called democracy that is covertly committed to depriving them of it, or for being disappointed when they fear their chance is slipping away. To quote Simone Weil, “Human beings are so made that the ones doing the crushing feel nothing, it is the person crushed who feels what is happening…”

  7. “…that they should take the opportunity to bring their country into the twenty-first century that Sanders is offering”

    Actually Socialism was from the mid 19th century, when it was sort of relevant.

    Today the average person in the west has a lifestyle that is in many ways better than the richest person in the world when Marx was developing his theory: Queen Victoria. Today we have better healthcare, diet, education and access to information and travel than she had. So things have worked out quite well under capitalism, and continue to uplift the masses everywhere it is employed.

    • Things have worked out quite well under capitalism, eh Andrew?
      For you perhaps, and a lot of your mates.
      A lot of people have yet to see the gain, and will never see it because it is in the nature of capitalism to reward the top with bread, the rest have to do with the crumbs that are dropped below.
      But as long as you are on the top echelon, why would you care?

    • Capitalism in it’s purest form does not exist in today’s modern advanced economies in the form it did in the 19th century when there were few labor laws, little regulation on business and minimal redistribution through the tax system. Today capitalism exists by being subjugated to socialist impulses – the majority of government tax revenue comes from a small percentage of the wealthiest individuals and business in a population. Public schools, infrastructure and the vast majority of R & D is funded by the government, entire sectors are under pinned by government funding such as the finance sector every 10 years or so. Public and private health is funded almost entirely by the government – yes even in the US somewhere around 70% of private health sector revenue comes from Medicare and Medicaid – socialist health care programs. Try and picture what a modern “capitalist” economy would look like without the levels of re-distribution and regulation that were introduced globally after the great recession. How many of today’s businesses would exist without the large pools of working and middle class consumers that were brought into existence by Keynesian and socialist economic policies?
      Pure capitalism is brutal and exists in only a few places such as the drug cartel economies of South America or stateless countries in Africa.

  8. “The people are always right – even when they’re wrong.’
    In 1932 the National Socialist German Workers’ Party – won a majority of seats in the German parliament. Much like Trump, Brexit and Boris Johnson this was achieved by convincing miserable, white working class people that the cause of their problems was the dirty foreigner.
    Sometimes the people are plain fucking wrong even when they’re wrong – no matter how old, white, embittered and easily manipulated they are by their own intellectual laziness and prejudice.
    As a well off middle-class lefty liberal I’m getting kind of tired of trying to convince this cohort of morons that I should pay more tax so that they (and more importantly their children and grand children) can have access to better public services and a greater share of the countries economic success.
    Not selecting a candidate for the US presidential election who wants to introduce universal health care is like putting a single bullet in six shooter, pointing it at your loved ones and pulling the trigger.
    The analogy is a mixed one here given that sending your child to school each day in the US bares a similar risk.

  9. I dunno. I ‘ve seen a few closely argued pieces about how the Democrats, labouring under a structural handicap and with the election likely to be decided by the grumpy vote in a handful of key redneck states (forget the rest), have always done better when mobilising the youth and insurgent vote and going for broke rather than worrying about how best to trim their sails to capture the older floating voter, and how conventional-wisdom centrist candidates always lose for the Democrats. Even Obama got in on “Yes We Can” before it became clear that “No We Can’t.” Likewise Clinton “It’s the economy, stupid,” before he capitulated to the bond-holders. I read several such articles after reading a Guardian column praising Biden as 2020’s John Kerry and, amazingly, failing to make the point that Kerry lost!!!! https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/03/joe-biden-resurrection-super-tuesday-2020. Basically for the Democrats every election seems to be a high risk va banque gamble and if they play it safe, they lose (narrowly) every single time. That seems to be the guts of it.

  10. Yep, you drink that neoliberal cool aide..and even the mere prospect of actual change knocks you to the ground in a spasm of fear and loathing..

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