Sanders' Michigan Win Affirms Fair Trade Movement

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses his supporters during a presidential campaign rally at the Akron Civic Theatre in Akron
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses his supporters during a presidential campaign rally at the Akron Civic Theatre in Akron, Ohio, on Monday, March 14, 2016. (Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal/TNS via Getty Images)

Bernie's win in Michigan was no "surprise". His surge was testimony to his campaign spirit. It also was based on a Michigan rejection of the false promises of Clinton-era corporate and financial globalization policies like NAFTA and the TPP. Five million US manufacturing jobs were lost between 1997 and 2014. The US lost 850,000 jobs to Mexico alone during 1993-2013 according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Hillary's weaknesses on trade will be highlighted in Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri. Losses of white working class voters due to corporate-designed trade policies will benefit Donald Trump's campaign through November. The Rust Belt already has seen tremendous Democratic decline at the hands of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, with no sign of reviving the Progressive La Follette tradition there. Wisconsin has become the 25th state to enact right-to-work laws, and its Civil Service system is replaced by one in which a worker can be fired at any time for any reason, a state model of the corporate globalization trend.

Hillary still retains a strong margin of convention delegates votes based on her string of wins in the old Confederacy and her two-point margin in liberal Massachusetts and three-point victory in Nevada. But the Bernie surge may continue in the Midwest, Northwest and Pacific Rim States. Further momentum will help him in New York and Pennsylvania. Hillary's edge with super-delegates could be shaken if Bernie continues to notch up close victories.

Hillary still retains a strong margin based on her sweep of the Old South and super-delegates already pledged to her. The tighter the race, the more difficult it may become to build a united front of Democrats without lasting bruises and divisions lead to lower turnout and voter defections.

The Michigan results prove the continuing resonance of the Seattle '99 message that NAFTA, or today's TPP, ruins the lives and expectations of hundreds of thousands of industrial workers while importing huge numbers of Third World workers to low-paid, unprotected service sector jobs here. Trump's working class base is very attracted to his ultra-protectionist appeal because it speaks to their everyday facts of life: family incomes have remained stagnant for nearly three decades while the cost of living never ceases to rise. Scapegoating of immigrants is already out of control.

Until Bernie came along, a majority of elected Democrats and their corporate-financed think tanks fell under the spell of the neo-liberal doctrine that goes back to W.W. Rostow's model of "the stages of growth" in which workshop wages eventually evolve into working class or middle class opportunities. For most Americans this is a myth sharply disconnected from the facts of life. Our own family, for example, is ravaged by rising medical and other costs, which our income cannot possibly cover. That's the specter facing too many most of us.

The neo-liberal model is cloaked as somehow automatic, moving ladder ascending from one generation to the next. In fact the engine is not a self-perpetuating invisible hand, but driven by unfettered greed, venality, and corruption of morals. As Bernie points out, that's what causes the universal perception that the system is rigged. Thus it is no surprise that exit polls reported by the New York Times Wednesday showed that, "Almost three-fifths of voters said that trade with other countries was more likely to take away jobs, ...and those voters favored Mr. Sanders by a margin of more than 10 points."

As an example of the glee of the wealthy in these circumstances, can you believe that Michael Milken, the philanthropist turned felon, once called me u to accuse me of no longer being the "revolutionary author of the Port Huron Statement"? At the time he was becoming a junk bond king, which he promoted as a breath-taking alternative to old-school stuffy investment portfolios. What provoked his accusation was my legislation cracking down on these junk bonds!

The cheerleaders for deregulation and the global NAFTA model range from ideological libertarians to straight-up vulture capitalists, equipped with lots of charities and liberal projects to assuage their guilt. However, at bottom it is an old-fashioned class struggle with employers intent on lowering wages, pensions, and benefits hidden behind mass advertising of sunny beaches, mermaids, and cash registers.

After the 1999 Seattle uprising there came a wave of token reforms to insure more "input", "transparency", and public relations exercises such as "greenwashing", amounted to little but scamming. Pliable politicians were targeted as easy marks for the new and hipper breed of corporate conmen on cocaine in their suave GQ costumes designed with sexy Rolexes to attract nubile starlets.

It's going to be impossible for this new privileged class to give up that level of overconsumption and entitlement without prosecutors and FBI agents dragging them away.

Globalization and the new information economy are not going away, of course, but there is an alternative which some, including even Newsweek, call a Global New Deal. Hillary has used the phrase, so she may be restructuring her position on trade and the economy.

For now, Hillary's best opportunity to come together with Bernie on platform is in great opposition to these corporate finance-dominated trade pacts, specifically the TPP and its predecessors NAFTA and CAFTA. The pressure that led to her opposition to TPP came from our friends at the AFL-CIO. The trade issues adversely impact the very working class and union voters who are turning to Trump and defecting from the Democrats. This is no longer a matter for rival rhetoric or media optics.
These are real issues that have driven the debate since the Great Recession in 2008. Assuming that President Obama will stay committed to TPP, where is the basis for Democratic unity during the campaign? Trade representative Mickey Cantor's proposal for a "freshening" of trade agreements is token and embarrassing. A pivot on trade, a growing unity against Citizens United, and an infrastructure stimulus are only beginning steps. The stimulus must be based on the urgent need for a transition to a clean energy economy.

It's too early to suggest, but one way to close the breach in a hard-fought and bitter primary can be the choice of Vice President on the ticket. Assuming for the moment that Hillary retains a delegate advantage while Bernie maintains his fire and message; how to reconcile these two wings of the party? Many progressives will say fight it out to the last vote, but winning a tight primary season will leave the exhaustion and hard feelings that lower turnout and expose divisions that Trump, Rove, and others can exploit. Other progressives, sensing the obstacles before Bernie, are turning their attention to Vice Presidential choices like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, HUD Secretary Julian Castro, or Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.

But what is the goal? It surely is to empower Bernie's legions to the maximum for the general election and beyond. The Democrats should treat them as an autonomous vital and central interest group in the party's current coalition.

Who is best able to mobilize the Bernie base? Isn't it obvious that Bernie fits the ticket in a new version of Lincoln's 'Team of Rivals'? Can Hillary and a nominee from the party's current hierarchy have the power of Bernie to drive turnout, pick up Trump supporters, and mobilize around a message of economic justice? Any decision in this race carries great risks. But the risk of Hillary running without Bernie on the ticket may be the greatest risk of all.

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