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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On today's episode of Bernie Woulda Won

Here is a must-read article by Thea Riofrancos and Daniel Denvir for In These Times. It is a comprehensive examination of so-called "identity politics" and the current problems of de-fragmenting what remains of the political left.  It's the best synthesis I've seen in a long while and should be widely distributed and discussed.

The following highlights I've picked don't really do it justice. But I do want to share with you what I see as the essential point. Anti-racism and economic equality must be conjoined movements in order to realize any true measure of  success. Political elites are continually trying to separate them in their cynical efforts to maintain power.  And their damaging efforts are a "bi-partisan" enterprise exacerbated to great effect by the Clintons. And where elites succeed, everyone else suffers.
Welfare reform and the war on crime, though justified by appeals to racist stereotypes, ultimately harmed many lower income and working class whites. As Ian Haney-L√≥pez and Heather McGhee write at The Nation, racism has been the key tool that Republicans and neoliberal Democrats have used not only to advance racist policies but to attack labor and shred social welfare protections across the board: “The reactionary economic agenda made possible by dog-whistle politics is responsible not just for the devaluing of black lives but for the declining fortunes of the majority of white families.” Welfare reform’s politics—presenting economic success and failure as a reflection of individual morality—would smooth the way for a broader assault on the collective underpinnings of human well-being, from George Bush's “ownership society” through Gov. Scott Walker's decimation of organized labor in Wisconsin. These well-funded and tightly organized right-wing attacks on unions and the poor have been facilitated by the collapse of left-of-center working class institutions and the erasure of class as a point of common interest.
The potential corrective to this in 2016 lay in the Sanders campaign. But the Democratic establishment class, determined to submarine that effort at every turn, resorted to its standard divide and conquer playbook.
During the Clinton era, it was the Left, battered and divided in the wake of Reagan, that unsuccessfully protested police brutality, mass incarceration, welfare decimation and corporate rule. During this year's primary campaign, however, Hillary Clinton turned this historical debate on its head, suggesting that it was the Left that opposed the establishment’s embrace of racial justice: Sanders' program for class struggle, she warned, not only failed to attend to racial, gender and queer justice but was also inherently hostile to them.

“If we broke up the big banks tomorrow, and I will if they deserve it…would that end racism?” Clinton asked at a Nevada rally. “No!” the crowd chorused. “Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community? Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”As Matt Karp writes at Jacobin, Clinton staked her campaign on an “alliance between the Upper East Side and East Flatbush,” appealing not to working class people of any race but to a narrow sliver of moderate suburban Republicans who she incorrectly believed would be the swing vote turned off by Trump's vulgarity. As former Pennsylvania governor and DNC Chair Ed Rendell put it, “For every one of those blue-collar Democrats he picks up, he will lose to Hillary two socially moderate Republicans and independents in suburban Cleveland, suburban Columbus, suburban Cincinnati, suburban Philadelphia, suburban Pittsburgh, places like that.”

That didn't work out so well.
And, yet, despite the miserable failure of their cynical, racist political strategy to defeat even the thoroughly despicable Donald Trump, establishment Democrats continue to insist on presenting us with a false choice between class and identity.  Just this week, Hillary Clinton's former Communications Director told MSNBC that the groundswell of protest against the Trump Administration isn't really about labor. It's about "Nordstrom."
“You are wrong to look at these crowds and think everyone wants $15 an hour,” Palmieri said in regards to the Trump protests. “Don’t assume the answer to big crowds is moving policy to the left. I think the answer to big crowds is engaging as much as you can and being as supportive as you can. What these people want—it’s all about identity on our side now. They want to show he does not support me. I support refugees, I support immigrants in my neighborhood. I want to defend you. Women who are rejecting Nordstrom’s and Neiman Marcus—this is power to them.”
If anything positive is ever to be built from the ashes of 2016, this poisonous rhetoric from elite Democrats cannot be allowed to continue.  As Riofrancos and Denvir show, it is deliberately damaging to the party's ostensible core constituency of poor and working class Americans of all races and genders. Moreover, it is ultimately a recipe for failure.  To see that, one need only check the scoreboard.  The Clinton wing just boned a national election.  The leftists, on the other hand, are putting some skins on the wall.


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