August 1, 2016

Dealing with our mess

Sam Smith

According to the NY Times only about nine percent of all voters cast a ballot for either major candidate in the primaries. An AP poll found that only 22% of respondents said they would be proud to have Trump as president, while 27% said they would be happy to have the former first lady as president. 23% of the respondents said they would be afraid if either Trump or Hillary is elected to the presidency.

But that’s what we we’re stuck with – two of the worst choices in our history. Yet expressing our personal virtue, treating our stance theologically, or bailing out entirely won’t change anything. Reality will still leave us with either Trump or Clinton.

In recent weeks, I’ve come to realize how differently I came to politics than many do today. When I was a 13, I stuffed envelopes in a Philadelphia election that ended 69 years of corrupt Republican rule. While I certainly liked the leading Democratic candidates, I didn’t expect them to be saviors or do no wrong. In those days, you went to church for salvation and to the polls for survival and the best you could do this time round.

Learning more about politics in places like Boston and Rhode Island reinforced my belief in politics as a pragmatic rather than a spiritual adventure. You learned to live with real trouble rather than fantasies.  Besides, politics in those days was more of a feudal arrangement. The politicians got power but were expected to do things in return. And they did.

With a few exceptions traditional politics was not of much interest to the left in the 1960s.  There was of course the Gene McCarthy effort and for those of us living in DC, the prospect of home rule coming to the colonial capital at long last.

Still, even for those of us forming the DC Statehood Party, we saw elections and traditional politics as an important tool of a movement. But our goal remained statehood and other issues, and not merely to get our members on the city council.

As for Gene McCarthy, Reilly Atkinson wrote recently on Facebook:

Let's go back to 1968, when the Vietnam war was raging—hundreds  of US soldiers were dying every day. The country was passionately divided, 50-50 for and against the war. For those of us very opposed to the war, Sen. Eugene McCarthy was initially the only national politician actively against the war. He was our eloquent hero. He gave us encouragement to pursue the electoral process, and throughout the country we elected many delegates to the 1968 Democratic Convention.

I know something about primary elections. – I ran one in Medford Massachusetts with the help of “Clean for Gene McCarthy” Tufts students. Day after day we canvassed Democrats door-to-door, for several months. And we beat the local conservative Democratic machine, by electing three out of four delegates.

But then Chicago's Mayor Daily called out his thugs and goons to beat up delegates and friends, and they did just that to a peaceful rally. The result: McCarthy lost with his support greatly diminished—with some delegates in the hospital. Hubert Humphrey, once a beloved Democratic leader, became the tainted Democratic nominee. The anti-war folks considered him a traitor. So, many of us did not vote, including me. We made a huge mistake: we helped elect Nixon—the rest is horrific history. Lesson over.

Today, a combination of factors – led by television and modern advertising – has turned politics into an personality contest, with elections being not just another tool of a movement, but the official gauge.  

Neither the recent conventions nor discussions about them gave any significant time to major issues. The media did not help its audience understand the difference between a GOP and Democratic platform, preferring to spend its time on things like whom Trump had insulted today.

Still, you are electing a party as well as a president.  Whatever the faults of the candidates, the positions of their party can be far more important. Electing a Republican would have a truly bad effect on many programs such as Medicare,  Social Security and food stamps. And even Hillary Clinton would not  destroy many positive of the Democratic policies.

We tend to treat elections these days as though we were joining a fan club.  Regarding politicians as stars really started with TV, and the huge advertising culture that accompanied it. Jack Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were early, easy examples but today even a Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton gets the Hollywood treatment, including  from a media that once regarded politicians with far more skepticism.

And today politicians don’t have to return the favor. Thanks to rule by dollars, politicians can get away with doing little or nothing in return for their progress. For example, DC Mayor Marion Barry was of the older tradition and provided a great summer youth program. After he had gone to prison and our politics had turned its back on service in favor of financial contributions, another prominent Washington politician was caught stealing a couple of hundred thousand dollars from, yes, a youth program. Another example was Arkansas where its governor was making his way to the White House doing hardly anything for his constituents. It just no longer mattered.

But this is the way it is. Our challenge is not to pout, retreat or find a self-serving but politically ineffective niche. It is to treat the election as part of a movement and keep it going no matter who the next president is.

As Bernie Sanders himself said:

Together, my friends, we have begun a political revolution to transform America and that revolution – our revolution – continues. Election days come and go. But the struggle of the people to create a government which represents all of us and not just the one percent – a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice – that struggle continues. And I look forward to being part of that struggle with you…

Our job now is to see [our] platform implemented by a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House and a Hillary Clinton presidency – and I am going to do everything I can to make that happen.

…. Let me be as clear as I can be. This election is not about, and has never been about, Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump, or Bernie Sanders or any of the other candidates who sought the presidency. This election is not about political gossip. It’s not about polls. It’s not about campaign strategy. It’s not about fundraising. It’s not about all the things the media spends so much time discussing.

This election is about – and must be about – the needs of the American people and the kind of future we create for our children and grandchildren.

Consider politics like you would consider a tool. You don’t use a hammer to find salvation, but to solve a practical problem. It may not work but you don’t then give up trying to solve the problem.  You find another tool.

And movements are so much bigger than elections. Remember that almost every great positive change from abolition to gay rights to the environment – has come from a movement and not a politician.

The movement that started with Bernie Sanders has miles to go. Don’t dump it just because you don’t like some election results. Help bring it back the day after the election.


Anonymous said...

That's what we're stuck with? Sam, you colossal fraud of a 'progressive', you're nothing more than a rusting relic of some quasi-New Dearler afraid to actually address the realities of this era of illusion that fosters beliefs there exists an iota of ultimate difference in the two aspects of our duopoly. If you want to suggest that there are only two choices, then you have identified the choices incorrectly. The choices we face are continuing to sanction this status quo of on-going warfare, neoliberal economic assault, mass privatization of public assets, facilitation towards increased oligarchic control, or, to vote to register our collection rejection of same. We have the means at hand to do so. Viable means, so long as real progressives adhere to the fight and maintain some courage of their convictions. Dr Jill Stein represents such a choice. In the past two weeks following Sanders' disappointing, though not surprising, capitulation, awareness of Dr Stein has increased markedly with thousands signing successful petitions for ballot access, sending in cash donations, etc.
The Greens do have a very opportunity in this election cycle. For all practical purposes it is not going to matter which of the duopoly's candidates win, although an excellent case can be made that of the two Clinton will prove, just as Obama has, to be the most effective evil.
Read your news today, Sam. We're bombing the fuck out of Libya once more. We're bombing the fuck out of Syria and threatening even more to come. Secretary of Defense Ass Carter is busy rattling sabers in the South China Sea, in the Balkans, and the Ukraine. This isn't some hypothetical shit about what Trump might do, this is going on now, this is an extension of foreign policy that Clinton urged during her tenure at State---what makes you believe for a second she's going to renege on any of it once she enters office. And, what of the economic calamity to face our once working classes when she does sign off on TPP/TTIP/TISA?
So, Sam, are you truly a progressive or merely some tired old Democratic party hack. Your positions in this election cycle have been particularly disappointing.
Life must be good for you in Maine, away from the realities now crushing the other 99% of your fellow citizens.

Tom Puckett said...

Since the Dem/Repub party has fixed ballot line items voters can choose either on election day.

Is the only downside of voting for Stein that she won't get elected and Trump would?

Then let’s present more info on 2 other parties to add the inspired parts of their platforms to the pool of ideas that the new revolution will hold the elected to.

Cover the other two candidates as though they were viable and maybe they will become viable! We bring into our experience what we hold in thought!

A Green Party victory would likely carry a Democrat if a Green or independent were not available at any given level on the ballot. Jill Stein would work with Democrats but would certainly temper them.

Fossil fuels need to no longer be used as our main fuel; we do still have uses for plastic which needs petroleum for manufacture, and some aircraft don't have electrical alternatives, yet. We need to "buy off" those industries, encouraging them to join the clean energy revolution.

Here's Captain Kirk to the alternate universe Mr. Spok:

Kirk: ... I have something to say. How long before the Halkan prediction of galactic revolt is realized?
Mirror Spock: Approximately 240 years.
Kirk: The inevitable outcome?
Mirror Spock: The Empire shall be overthrown, of course.
Kirk: The illogic of waste, Mr. Spock. A waste of lives, potential, resources, time. I submit to you that your Empire is illogical because it cannot endure. I submit you are illogical to be a willing part of it.
If change is inevitable, predictable, beneficial, doesn't logic demand that you be a part of it?
Mirror Spok: One man cannot summon the future.
Kirk: But one man can change the present… push until it gives.
What will it be? Past or future? Tyranny or Freedom? Its up to you.
In every revolution there's one man with a vision.
Mirror Spock: Captain Kirk, I shall consider it.

If the planet has to switch off of our fossil fuel "battery," it will just take a little ingenuity - & money - to encourage those most heavily invested in the fossil fuel infrastructure to retool but retain their profit margins in the new green power economy. That's OK!

Rice bowls are OK. The owners of companies extracting oil can carry on as solar & wind producing companies, and if they need to in the switch, charge us, and generate millions of jobs. A cash settlement is infinitely preferable to endless war and pollution.

We need to stop arming the planet and put people to work on real problems. Retool arms factories to help produce solar & wind generation & fix our infrastructure. Just moving some of our 45 billion in arms manufacturing & many billions in military spending will free up enough to do all the "fantasy" proposals of the Green Party!

Being part of slow change may mean voting a certain way on election day. But untill then and after, let's not curtail alternative ideas and candidates. We don't have to fear that if people don't make up their minds today that they will do the wrong thing on election day.

And, forcing everyone to make up their minds now might preclude the possibility of a better choice. What if everyone demanded that all four major parties be included in the debates, and that Jill Stein shined so well in those debates that she started eclipsing the two worst choices in modern election history?

What if she was poling so well that everyone voted her in as the only sane, rational choice and the country turned on a dime and started going a different direction? Again, with an understanding that entrenched interestes should not be cast out but nurtured into the new green economy that we want? How would that be?

So help us work for that, even if by election day that isn't as obvious a choice, according to the polls, as we would like. Then we can vote the pragmatic way that you suggest, at least in swing states, if there still are swing states.

Again: change is inevitable, predictable, beneficial and logic demands that we are part of it.

Cheers, Tom

greg gerritt said...

I have not vorted for a Democrat or Republican for President since 1972. There is no way I am going to start doing something that numb this year. Jill Stein for President

Louis Massano said...

I saw that Times article. It actually states:

"Just 14 percent of eligible adults — 9 percent of the whole nation — voted for either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton."

So the 9% figure applies to the entire U.S. population, not 9% of all voters.

The Old Grey Ent said...

Agree, this is one of Sam's more disappointing columns.

Like that of many of the liberal pundits submitting to the lesser evil and embracing the devil we know, his simple praxis ignores the fact that it is precisely that pattern of persistent electoral behavior that has brought us to political, economic, and ecological crisis; that hallucinates the continuing vigor of major parties clearly collapsing under the onus of their essential corruption; ignores the costly horrors of imperial foreign policy that inevitably paralyzes the state; and cannot imagine or risk an alternative to the rule of corporate capitalism.

Anonymous said...

If the election isn't about campaign strategy then Bernie never knew what hit him. Here the standard bearer for campaign reform wss confronted by one of the most corrupt campaigns in history thanks to the McCutcheon case. The campaign was either all about strategy or was entirely useless. The latter was the case. Sanders kept amassing more donations and fans without ever paying attention to the rigged contest. It took Trump to point that out. Sanders endorsed someone as impeachable as Nixon was for campaign crimes. It is really the end of the republic when those who were charged with saving it say it's not about strategy. JQA, Lincoln and FDR are gone and forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Sanders' speech is the perfect example of the difference between a socialist and a progressive. A socialist is for good things and is incapable of getting them. A progressive is for getting the system to work, from which good things result. Neither Clinton nor Sanders are Progressive in the 20th century usage. Typical of our radical right wing system after McCutcheon, the unworkability of the system is not addressed with any reference to constitutional values. The magic incantantion that CU must be overturned is a shell game that keeps on taking money from the suckers. Clinton's next appointment will not overturn Buckley. End of story. Progress is stopped in its tracks by the prevailing larger systemic paradigm of Jim Crow feudalism and George III monarchy.