The Establishment vs. Bernie Sanders

Say what you will about this strange election season, but at least it's been a lesson in clarity. The citizenry are at last getting an unobstructed view of the ugly, powerful forces destroying their republic. And if the view isn't pretty, at least we now know where we stand.

Which, though, is more instructively shocking--the fact that the Republican front-runner is Donald Trump, or the fact that the liberal political establishment--and yes, Virginia, there is an establishment, big time--is doing everything it can to throw the Democratic Party's most exciting reform candidate in years under Hillary Clinton's campaign bus?

No one who has been paying attention to the rise of the far-right over the past four decades can be wholly surprised by Trump's success, nor that a portion of the American electorate, indeed a large portion of it, has been roused by his crude, violent demagoguery. But few people could have anticipated the viciousness with which the liberal establishment has now set upon Bernie Sanders.

For years, the pundits, journalists, academics, and newspaper editors who collectively constitute the liberal brain trust of the Democratic Party have railed against the corruption of our political order by big money. They have voiced outrage over the growing gap between haves and have-nots, chastised the government for inaction on climate change, lamented the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, beat their chests over Citizens United.

Now, though, faced with the choice of supporting a genuine reform candidate, one who is advocating real, structural social change, the same liberals are rallying in fierce defense of the status quo. It turns out that they weren't really serious about change, after all. And that's genuinely shocking.

First came the liberal economists, led by Democratic éminence grise Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist. Krugman dismissed Sanders' proposals as "unrealistic" and warmly embraced Hillary--despite the fact that Clinton has spent the last decade shilling for Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and other giants in the financial industry and corporate America, pocketing over $20 million in speaking fees and campaign contributions in recent years.

Next came the centrist hawks at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, and other institutional spear-carriers for American empire and its vision of perpetual war--the crowd that bows its head in reverence whenever Henry Kissinger, war criminal and Hillary's avowed BFF, shuffles into a lecture hall to deliver another one of his Strangelovian sermons. Sanders, they warned, was a dangerous isolationist without a convincing plan for stopping ISIS (as if anyone else has a convincing plan, either).

Next up were the women--liberal feminists like Gloria Steinem and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who were trundled out to insult and "Sanders-shame" millions of young women for spurning Hillary's authorized candidacy. (That didn't go too well.)

Finally, last week, it was the turn of the Congressional Black Caucus and the African-American elite to bring Sanders to heel. "'To be frank, I never saw him, I never met him,'" Georgia Representative John Lewis told a reporter when asked about Sanders' involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Later, Lewis backpedaled, saying that he hadn't meant to "disparage" Sanders' activism, or to imply that Sanders hadn't participated in the movement. But by then the damage had been done--just as Democratic Party strategists had intended.

Thus it came to pass that Sanders, whose voting record in the Senate on behalf of civil rights, gay rights, and women's rights has been flawless--for years he has received an approval rating of 95-100 percent from the National Organization of Women, the NAACP, and the Human Rights Campaign--was "exposed" as a sexist and maybe even crypto-racist.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, former supporter of her husband Bill's racist demolition of the social welfare safety net for millions of working class and poor families in the 1990s, was being lionized as a leader in civil rights. Not for nothing has the Democratic Party spent decades cultivating a national patronage system, treating black and Latino Americans chiefly as a demographic bulwark against Republican encroachment. Now the chits are being dialed in.

The very ferocity and coordinated nature of the attacks on Sanders makes clear that the Democratic establishment views Sanders not merely as an annoyance, but as an existential threat. And he may be, at that.

As conservative critic Peggy Noonan, of all people, observed in the Wall Street Journal, the surprising level of public good will toward the Sanders campaign represents a broad repudiation not only of the excesses of big wheel capitalism, but, more pointedly, of the Democratic Party's capitulation to the same. "The Clinton administration didn't hate Wall Street," Noonan wrote, "it hired Wall Street." Wall Street is now returning that favor--by backing Hillary.

As recently as late 2014, Politico journalist William Cohan could write that "the big bankers love Clinton, and by and large they badly want her to be president," without Clinton or anyone else at Democratic Party headquarters so much as blushing, let alone scrambling to put together a populist economic program.

That's because, for decades, the Democratic Party has been accustomed to having its populist cake and eating it too, relying on organized labor, middle class white women, racial minorities, and the left-wing of the Party to best the Republicans in tight contests, even as its elected politicians adopted a raft of Clinton-era neoliberal economic policies that disproportionately hurt millions of poor and working class blacks, Latinos, and women.

It is this "Great Accommodation," as Noonan called it, that is at last, spectacularly, coming apart. Like the house in Edgar Allen Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher," in which a small crack in the façade eventually splits the massive house in two, destroying it utterly, the Democratic Party has become not merely a house divided, but one in free fall. The Sanders insurgency is a fissure that extends right down into the Party's cellars.

While Hillary's handlers have positioned her as the heir apparent to Barak Obama, that ultimately may not help her win. Despite President Obama's courageous leadership on racial issues, he has otherwise failed to grapple substantively with the underlying problems of our society.

Under Obama, the rich have grown even richer, and at a faster pace, than they did even under George W. Bush. The number of Americans living in poverty, particularly African-Americans and Latinos, leaped more than a full percentage point--to more than 47 million people. Housing and rental prices have skyrocketed. The earth's climate, meanwhile, has further spiralled out of control, with 2016 already shaping up to be the hottest year on record.

These are the facts, and the liberal wing of the Democratic Party ignores them at its peril. What comes next, however, is anyone's guess. But even if Sanders eventually fails to win the Democratic Party's nomination, his campaign has already done the nation a great service, by pulling back the curtain to show us who really runs the machinery of our supposed democracy. And, dear reader, it isn't you and me.