Bernie's And Busted: When idealistic young people, most of them utterly unprepared, are pushed into the thrusting, beating and grinding behemoth that is the Democratic Party machine, and told to disrupt it, how shocked the party's critics claim to be, how dismayed, when the machine chews them up and spits them out. As if the Old Left had no idea that, to paraphrase Boromir in Lord of the Rings: “One does not simply walk into the Democratic National Convention.”
JEFFREY ST. CLAIR writes for the American on-line magazine Counterpunch. To read his excoriating critique of the Democratic National Convention is to feel the intense frustration and rage of the progressive American Left.
A sample: “Hillary has already out-Thatchered the Iron Lady and she hasn’t been elected yet. She’s made the complete metamorphosis from a Goldwater girl to a McGovern woman to a Reagan granny.”
That same frustration and rage was evident in the “Bernie-or-Bust” dead-enders’ attempts to disrupt the Convention. Their petulant bewilderment at being stiff-armed by the event’s organisers and security staff proof of just what a children’s crusade the Bernie Sanders candidacy had become in some US states – California in particular.
The Democratic Party is a machine: huge and unforgiving. St. Clair and his fellow critics on the Left know this. It is why they seem to enjoy nothing more than taking their readers into the heart of the mechanism. They point to its massive pistons pumping, its huge gears grinding, the controlled explosions in its vast cylinders, and they profess to be shocked.
And when idealistic young people, most of them utterly unprepared, are pushed into this thrusting, beating and grinding behemoth and told to disrupt it, how shocked the critics claim to be, how dismayed, when the machine chews them up and spits them out. As if the Old Left had no idea that, to paraphrase Boromir in Lord of the Rings: “One does not simply walk into the Democratic National Convention.”
Unacknowledged amid all this shock and dismay is the simple fact that without the brute force of the Democratic Party’s political machine: without the Wall Street donors, the SuperPACs, the media manipulation and the cheap parliamentary tricks designed to keep nay-sayers off the platform and away from the cameras; progressive politics in the United States would make no headway whatsoever.
Sanders grasped this simple fact. That’s why, to the boos of his supporters, he urged them to get in behind Hillary Clinton. Even if his followers failed to grasp it, the most important truth about the Democratic Party machine isn’t how it works, but in which direction it is steered.
Listening to Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech all Jeffrey St. Clair heard was compromise, betrayal and “proto-fascism”. A less jaundiced observer would have heard something much more encouraging. Amid all the patriotic flourishes and the merciless deconstruction of the hollow, clay-footed god that is Donald Trump, a sensitive ear would have detected the crunch and groan of the Democratic Party changing course.
Not enough to silence the Bernie-or-Bust dead-enders; and nowhere near enough to mute the criticism of Jeffrey St. Clair; but more than enough to send a shiver down the spine of New Zealand’s Ambassador to the United States, the former Trade Minister, Tim Groser. Barack Obama would like to end his presidency with the congressional ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but Hillary Clinton is pledged to take the Oath of Office over TPP’s unratified corpse.
It was another female US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who described the United States of America as “the indispensable nation”. When all other nations are stepping back, it is the United States that must step forward. In doing so, the United States reveals itself as not only the world’s indispensable nation, but also as its essential leader and guide.
This is the geopolitical reality that makes the presidential election of 2016 so critical. If Donald Trump wins, and puts “America First”, then the United States will have signalled its intention to step back and away from its leadership role. But if Hillary wins, as I believe she will, then the United States will begin the long, slow process of leading the world away from the self-destructive shibboleths of neoliberalism.
Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Convention did not swing the wheel of American politics as hard to port as Jeffrey St. Clair and the Bernie-or-Bust dead-enders so obviously desired. But, on a long journey, even a small course correction can alter a vessel’s ultimate destination to a surprising degree.
In his glorious anthem, Democracy, Leonard Cohen urges on the USA, that indispensable vessel of the world’s hope:
Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate.
Sail on, sail on, sail on.
Such is the political course dictated to Hillary Clinton, not only by what Bernie Sanders calls “the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party”, but by the necessity of repairing an economic system that serves only obscene wealth. Redistributing that wealth isn’t just an ethical imperative, it is a sociological necessity. Inequality is the supreme solvent of human solidarity and social justice.
The choice before the American electorate has become existentially clear: sail on, or sink.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 2 August 2016.