Friday 6 March 2020

Super Tuesday 2020: “No, No, No, America – You’ve Got It Wrong!”

Joe-mentum! 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.

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.

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.”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 6 March 2020.


mikesh said...

America needs someone to bring them into the twentieth century, before bringing them into the twenty-first.

David Stone said...

Super Tuesday does seem to have been a disappointment for Bernie; but I have done a bit of a comparison with last time. The super Tuesday states weren't all the same ones , California wasn't one, but Super Tuesday was worse for Bernie last time; and he still won without the super delegates against Hillary in the minds of many.
One of the things that stand out about the states that Biden has done so well in is that they are nearly all Republican held states .Especially South Carolina. And North. When some states at least allow any citizen, even a Republican member to vote for the Democrat nominee , the fact that Joe Biden is doing so well in these states takes on a different slant. They would rather Trump went up against Biden than Sanders.
I share the disappointment but it isn't over yet.


Jenny said...

"How could the American people have been so stupid?" Chris Trotter.

Hi Chris, the Democratic party are not the American people.

In the 2020 presidential race the American people will decide who will be president. Not the Democratic Party membership

In my opinion we will see a re-run of the Clinton vs Trump election of 2016.


Because just as in 2016 Donald Trump has galvanised a popular movement behind him.

Hilary Clinton didn't galvanise a popular movement behind her, though she imagined she did.

Clinton’s so called ‘Pant Suit Nation’ was a figment of her, (or her campaign committee's imagination).

As one wag once said, ‘The last person to look good in a pants suit, was Mary Tyler-Moore. Which sort of hinted at how out of touch Clinton was.

Biden is as out of touch with the current popular mood as Clinton was.

It showed in the political rallies, whereas Clinton could barely fill a basket ball court to hear her speak Sanders could fill a football stadium to overflowing.

This time it has showed in the massive funding Sanders has received in $5 and $10 dollar donations which have seen Sanders out spend every other Democratic Candidate, except billionaire turned political hopeful Michael Bloomberg.

Biden has no popular movement behind him, which is why Joe Biden will lose to Donald Trump.

Poll after poll shows Bernie Sanders beating Trump.


Because unlike Clinton or Biden Sanders has built and galvanised a popular movement behind him. Outside of the Democratic Party in the real world having a concrete popular movement flows into how the majority of voters, (outside of the Democratic party insiders vote.)

Trump has one.

Sanders has one.

Biden doesn't.

Jenny said...

'Joe-mentum' will go the way of 'Pants suit nation' as a forgotten political slogan.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the US Democratic primary voters are certainly free to make their choice (with rather unsubtle hints from the Party Establishment). It's just that everyone will have to live with Trump vs Biden, almost certainly resulting in Trump. As Michael Moore notes, they are voting for Biden out of fear, which is not a healthy emotion.

That's a far cry from disrespecting democracy. Indeed, if anyone is analogous to the Government that would dissolve the people and elect another, it's the Party Establishment, who spent the first three primaries being absolutely humiliated, and who were forced into brutally effective choreography to put down the revolt. Clearly, the DNC have learned from Trump in 2016 (and Corbyn in the UK), in that they've learned how to keep control of their. own party. That's rather different from winning in November, of course.

adam said...

Begs the question, why are people so scared, what is driving them to fear; Could it be a corporate owned media who spread fear 24 hours a day 7 days a week? Could it be the endless wars and fear of terrorism? Could it be the vested interests not wanting to lose their hold on greed? Maybe the fact when you have very little (employment or possessions), losing even a little feels like your losing it all? Or could it be a weak unorganised left? I'd says it's all of the above and more.

The fact someone stood up to that collection of fears and doubts should be celebrated. Instead it's the usual from the left - despair, name calling, and jocking to prove how devoted to the system they are politically.

It's this why Anarchists despair at the left, and find it so full of shit so much of the time. If people celebrated the victories and changes - then victory and change would be norm - when desperation sets in,their will be a last ditch desperate attempt to throw off the chains of oppression and fear. And then all we will be left with is violence, death, and sorrow.

sumsuch said...

The American Republic is slightly above the Roman one on which it was modelled in terms of democracy.

Reality, eh. All for Bernie going as far as he can against the veto of the well-off. Nothing but what the powerful concur with may be reality, but it's also driving into a telephone pole (which I've …). Climate change and resource-end require the best efforts of unrealistic revolutionaries BEFORE it suits the complacent, when it will be too late. Crise, Chris.

Can you imagine Sanders debating the fool, Trump? It would be worth these decades of suffering the rule of the rich and our imminent end.

Charles E said...

As an aging (63) man of sun shy complexion myself, I celebrate Trump (73) now being the youngest of three pale males vying for the next term of US Presidency.
What a stunning force of nature we must be!

Even the Democrats’ hysterically funny early efforts to push race and gender selections to the front have failed to overcome our obvious magnificence...
I mean, we are so clearly made of special substance, perhaps we are aliens?

If a guy who thinks he’s a stand-up as funny as Groucho Marx; another who actually went to school with Karl Marx; and one who doesn’t know his wife from his sister can top out, then clearly we pale greys are near supernatural.

I might have to stand for office myself.
When I’m a bit older!

Charles E said...

Good bit Chris. Except bit about Bernie modernising? What? He's from the 19C. From the absolutely clearly failed past.. and horrors. Gulags...

Btw I'm impressed with your recent work against the patronising arrogance of RNZ, who clearly think we rough masses need re-education. I now think the RNZ should face abolition. It may bring them to their senses. Bridges, our next PM, sigh.. .. yes I know... sorry.. should somehow sack two thirds of the people at RNZ, to save it.

Of course, back to your bit above.. You are right, but that is not to deny the Dem 'establishment' have got their vast cash support base and dominance of the MSM to, at the last minute after their prior fav, the appalling fake, Ms E Warren tanked, to back their last resort: Biden. A clearly senile suit.. Nothing there.. literally.

It's now entirely Trump's to lose. Just needs stop Tweeting and he's in. He's in tip top form I reckon. The funniest Pres ever, and humour is what we need.. plus it's very popular. A case of the king pin thriving and growing better on being king pin.. It's biological!

Charles E said...

Me too sumsuch. I'd love to see Trump v Sanders.
It'd be like WRC. The huge bloated Orange Man would throw the rabid old Red Man across the ring, bounce him off the rails and stiff arm him as he came flying back .. braking him into a dozen little dead Soviet clichés, as he would still be mumbling about how great Castro was for literacy..
What a joke candidate Bernie was. What on earth has gone rotten in that party?
The Dems are finished as one party I reckon.

Wayne Mapp said...


How out of touch is Joe Biden and why? In fact Biden's candidacy was rescued not by the billionaire class, but by the people who are among the poorest on the US, black voters of South Carolina. They voted for him by a huge majority, and so did millions of others in the south.

I reckon they see something quite authentic in Biden, and they trust him to do the right thing by them. Whereas Bernie was probably seen as a threat, especially to their jobs. Revolution is a big risk to the poorest. They want things better, not turned up topsy turvey. Alternatively they think Bernie is all talk, no do.

Perhaps the result was not due to a mass movement in the sense of turning up to rallies, but it is a mass movement in turning up to the ballot box. The Democrats silent majority.

David Stone said...

A little more homework and google's help; Twelve of the fourteen super Tuesday states ran open primaries this time. Furthermore I've just been listening to the BBC interviewing specialists on the primaries, some obviously in one camp , some in the other. The Biden supporter highlighted the fact that many of Biden's votes did indeed come from republican supporters, hailing that fact as a factor that would in his view make Biden a more competitive opponent for Trump. So the ability of the opposition party to select the candidate they would rather oppose is very real and in operation. There's no way of knowing if those cross-over voters prefer Biden because he will be a weaker opponent for Trump or because he won't change anything that matters to them, so they would just as soon he was president as Trump. Probably preferable.
Apart from this situation basically canceling democracy as far as I can see, seeing the opposition if organised can effectively select their opponent's candidate, it also basically cancels out any inferences that can be taken from super Tuesday's result as to what will happen in the majority of states yet to hold their primaries, and which do not have open voting, and the democrat held states. There are 24 states that have open primaries; half of them voted last Tuesday .
It ain't over yet.

thesorrow&thepity said...

McGovern Disease: The delusional delirium of the liberal left, that a far left candidate is the remedy for a far right president.... inevitably causing middle America to swallow hard & vote the far right president back into office. Official outbreaks of this illness 1972 & 1984... if Sanders gets elected then add 2020 to that list.
30 years as a United States senator, the liberal left's great white hope has, in terms of most notable achievements, had 2 post offices in Vermont renamed (the Thaddeus Stevens & Matthew Lyon post offices).
America's middle class in the key rust belt States will vote Trump simply to keep Sanders out, the mathematics of the electoral college would make a Sanders 2020 ticket the worst outbreak of McGovern Disease in the history of the liberal left

Mike Grimshaw said...

When Trump was front-running for the Republican nomination and it was clear that Clinton was the democrat front-runner I told my sociology of religion class that Trump would win the nomination and win the Presidency. All we had to do was go back to Durkheim and the role of the totem and the totemic leader and back to Weber on charismatic leadership.
They didn't want to believe me- yet Trump has charisma and Trump is a totemic leader. you don't have to agree with them or their polcies to be able able to recognise what they possess and what they can represent.

Therefore, we can also think about the rise of Jacinda Ardern in the same way, Boris Johnson too and, in a perverse way, Scott Morrison in the Australian election.

Winston Peters does the role in a small way for his party but now can't extend it past the party base.

Biden lacks totemic leader status and charisma; Sanders has a particular version of both, but not enough to make him president. So the American problem is a Democrat problem.

When you consider the continuing strong support for National despite having a leader who,as my 10 year old says, is only a totem for muppets, then all National needs to do is find a totemic leader with charisma... just like John Key was the totem of both the aspirational and successful suburbs and had an everyday 'have a beer with him' charisma.
What is truly fascinating is how Labour has failed to really build in/cash on Ardern as totemic and charismatic leader within NZ.

Geoff Fischer said...

"The people are always right"?
But what are you really saying here?
Only that a particular kind of political process by definition always gives the "right" result.
That "right" result can have devastating consequences, as it did for Germany in the nineteen thirties.
It is just as wrong to definitively endorse the outcome of a particular political process as it is to blame "the people" for that outcome.
I don't have a particular view on Sanders vs Biden. In the end, it will be as it will be, Sanders, Biden, Trump or someone else.
What really matters is what the people (both those who participate in the political system and those who do not) carry in their hearts. Their sense of what is "right" feeds our hope for a better world to arise out of the ashes of a decadent political system.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"It's now entirely Trump's to lose. Just needs stop Tweeting and he's in. He's in tip top form I reckon. The funniest Pres ever, and humour is what we need.. plus it's very popular. A case of the king pin thriving and growing better on being king pin.. It's biological!"

I just dropped in for a quick scan, didn't really intend to comment but then I saw this. Charles your predictive ability is not exactly brilliant around here. I remember you saying a little while ago that women didn't have any more problems – just before the me to movement started. In fact conservative predictive ability is not great as a whole – given Wayne's predictions that Afghanistan and Iraq are now stable. But I guess we'll see about Trump. A Fox news poll has any of the Democratic candidates beating him – I find myself in a bit of a quandary considering my opinion of Fox news – and of course most conservatives probably do as well considering they seem to approve of it.
Humour? By Christ we see little of that around here, we're a dour lot, but anyone who sees Trump as humorous really needs their bumps reading. Trump's humour consists almost entirely of punching down. Taking the piss out of people beneath him, including the halt and the lame. That's not funny Charles. And that's why there are so few conservative comedians, and even fewer funny ones.

David George said...

Here is a very interesting insiders take on Sanders, the candidates and parties from ex Democrat Rod Blagojevic. Section of an interview transcript, sorry it's a bit long.

This is the new Democratic Party, the Chuck Schumer-Nancy Pelosi Democratic Party,” Blagojevich said. “It’s the party—ready for this—of Wall Street. They’ve become the party of Wall Street. That’s why they sold out the American worker with NAFTA. They went to Wall Street because it’s loaded with campaign contributions. Now, the Democratic Party today because of the growth of the internet and online communications, now the Democratic Party is also the party of Silicon Valley—again, at the expense of the working person and family and the African American community because of some of the other things that they do. They cynically have abandoned the African American community and made a determination to keep that part of our nation dependent upon government in a way so that they have no other place to go but to vote for Democrats and the simple way for Democrats to keep them voting for them is call anybody who offers some kind of solution like school choice or other reforms like criminal justice reform, to call them racists. It’s a real cynical ugly kind of politics that the modern Democratic Party is engaged in. Of course they’re going to do anything they can to keep Bernie Sanders from winning and they’re going to be successful in doing it with the establishment ganging up on him. Bernie, again, is wrong on the solutions but at least he has the courage to raise the issues. I remember here’s where he was so right and I was so wrong. I remember when I was a brand new congressman back after 9/11, me and everybody else we all voted for the Patriot Act. Then there was Bernie Sanders, that crazy guy from Vermont—Bernie voted against the Patriot Act. I remember thinking how crazy he was. He was right, and we were wrong. That Patriot Act has led to the undermining of civil liberties, giving unchecked power of prosecutors who have weaponized their power and now criminalized routine practices motivated not by the desire to serve the interests of justice but instead to go after political enemies or people they want to bring down who are ruffling the feathers of the establishment. Frankly, what they did at the AAA level to a Democratic governor, to me—a lot of the same people, Comey, Fitzgerald, and Mueller, the same ones have been trying to do it at the major league level to a Republican president in President Trump. We have a lot of challenges ahead of us and the Democratic establishment abandoned these traditional voting groups and Bernie Sanders is going to pay a price because he’s got the chutzpah enough to challenge and raise questions that frankly question the establishment.”

AB said...

I have not seen a single comment from anyone in the Sanders camp berating the electorate in the manner that forms the entire presumption of your piece Chris.
You've built your rhetorical castle on a dodgy presumption.
I can only think that this is an exercise in trying to make yourself feel better - because you too are disappointed at the outcome.
I actually think this is an election that must be treated with complete seriousness - not as a topic on which distant commentators can rehearse and repeat their favourite themes and obssesions.

sumsuch said...

Chris, you're about truth not triennial politics. Give the latter up. I realise from personal experience truth doesn't feed. But, unlike me, you can feed the people.

Bernie is peculiar, alongside MJS, in personal starvation and public enrichment. To be against him is a 'sin'.

sumsuch said...

Cripes Geoff, I prefer Bernie. To your sense of things.

But anyway he's going to lose Chicago to the basilisk Biden. Makes you spew with laughter. Entertainment to the end -- accelerated by the entertainment.

sumsuch said...

Isn't Bernie magnificent.

While our Labour Party is a head office with no body. And the head is glad of that.