DNC: This Is The Part That I Hate

DNC speakers can be inspiring. Reassuring. Maybe we're going to be okay after all. I didn't see a bunch of liars up there, though they have probably all been less than truthful at times in their public lives. I saw people mostly deluding themselves at least as much as they delude us.
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Democrats can talk such a good game around election time. And as I texted my friend, even I, who have been writing about the teeter-totter of the two-party system for years, so want to believe them.

This isn't a post about whether more harm will be done by organizing in a manner that helps legitimate the Democratic Party or by pulling back in ways that might make a Trump win more likely. (I still can't take a stand on that, other than to hope that those who do can understand the thinking of the other side.) It's about trying to shake off the trance that listening to the stirring rhetoric of Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren induces. It is one thing to expose the deeply self-serving character of Donald Trump and the danger of his politics of scapegoating. It is another altogether to claim that the Democrats are the party of peace, prosperity for all, health-care reform, good education, and social justice. Well, come to think of it, they didn't claim peace — no one talked about foreign policy.

Waking Up to Reality

But you know what I mean. It's too late Monday night to write one more post cataloguing the Democratic Party's record, or those of the two Democratic administrations Hillary Clinton's been associated with. (I did some of that here and here.) Maybe for now it's enough to remember how opposition to the Iraq war swept in a Democratic Congressional majority in 2006, which then kept funding "Bush's war" even while denouncing it.

As for Bernie Sanders' unqualified endorsement of Hillary, we know what he until recently would always remind us, that it is a corrupt and rigged system, where far and away the higher-level candidates of both parties can "succeed" only if they are funded by corporate wealth and deliver what their major donors are paying for. And, as he never quite got around to telling us, it was that way long before Citizens United. Before the Supreme Court decision, Congress would wrestle with periodic bouts of "campaign finance reform" that rearranged the boulders around which the rivers of money flowed; now there are no boulders.

The institutions that represent "the billionaire class" do not limit themselves to legalized bribery: for decades their government, under administrations led by presidents of both parties, has consistently used deception, subversion, assassination, support for brutal dictatorships and for coups against democratically elected regimes, drone warfare, and warfare on the ground, whenever the interests of that class appear somewhat threatened. The Establishment-challenging Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements endured COINTELPRO operations for years, often under Democratic Administrations. More recently, the Obama Justice Department coordinated nationwide clearing out of the Occupy encampments, despite that movement's limited capacity to disrupt the established order.

2016-07-26-1469522306-242929-Hillaryslogan.pngSo Bernie may have been right when he said Monday night that Hillary will appoint Supreme Court Justices who will overturn Citizens United, but we still have to choose between what Black intellectual Cornel West calls the right-wing and centrist corporate parties. And the centrist one is now headed by a candidate who is in the awkward position of trying to convince us that she hoodwinked the people who thought they could influence her by handing her tens of millions of dollars. (Just as her predecessor — while touting his small-donor record — was so uninfluenced by his Wall Street donors that he appointed one of their defense lawyers to be attorney general and prosecuted none of them for their crimes.) The fact that she has also done some good things, especially when younger, changes none of this.

As Dr. West put it in a June interview:

We must choose between a neofascism in the making (Trump), neoliberalism in the decaying (Clinton), and a neopopulism in the ascending (Sanders). The establishments in both the Democratic and Republican parties are disintegrating. Obama is the last gasp of the neoliberalism that emerged under Carter: a massive response to the structural crises of the global economy in the mid-70s. This attempt to financialize, privatize, and militarize our way through deep problems — from the economy, education, incarceration, security and communication — has produced vast wealth inequality, cultures of superficial spectacle, and pervasive corruption in every sphere. Both political parties have been complicitous.

As for Hillary Clinton, the same observer wrote more recently:

I don't think she would be an "outstanding president." Her militarism makes the world a less safe place. Clinton policies of the 1990s generated inequality, mass incarceration, privatization of schools and Wall Street domination. There is also a sense that the Clinton policies helped produce the right-wing populism that we're seeing now in the country. And we think she's going to come to the rescue? That's not going to happen.

Oh, Did the Revolution Happen?

Nothing has changed in the dynamics that made all this true or that Bernie spent the last 15 months describing. We're just getting treated to inspiring rhetoric, mostly penned by a very talented phalanx of speechwriters. It's delivered for the most part by people who seem to know how to land in whatever remains of the idealistic parts of themselves, in the kinds of situations that come up every four years. This produces a delivery that is compelling because it is in some strange way largely authentic. But then November gives way to December and January, and they revert to making what they see as the "compromises" that realism requires, as they go on to do their jobs.

Does the adoption of "the most progressive platform in history" mean something is different? It reflects only the differences in the political climate and in the composition of the delegate body, not what is to be expected from officeholders. As Joshua Green has written:

The platform is a purely symbolic document with no hold over the policies pursued by the nominee. It's usually ignored. (As Trump put it to Bloomberg Businessweek in May: "I don't care who writes the platform. I have the loudspeaker.") Although Sanders succeeded in pushing the Democratic platform to the left . . . this is mostly a feel-good achievement with few real-world implications. "The platform is the 'Miss Congeniality' of the beauty pageant," [Barney] Frank says.

So DNC speakers can be inspiring. Reassuring. Maybe we're going to be okay after all. I didn't see a bunch of liars up there, though they have probably all been less than truthful at times in their public lives. I saw people mostly deluding themselves at least as much as they delude us. But God, I wish I could believe them.

We're better off, however, shaking off the trance. For those ex-Sandernistas now convinced that we must support Hillary, I hope your slogan will be, "We must simultaneously expose her, elect her, and build a movement to contain her."

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