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Here is what Bernie actually said in Jackson, MS.

The business model, if you like, of the Democratic Party for the last 15 years or so has been a failure. People sometimes don’t see that because there was a charismatic individual named Barack Obama. He was obviously an extraordinary candidate, brilliant guy. But behind that reality, over the last ten years, Democrats have lost about 1,000 seats in state legislatures all across this country.

— Bernie Sanders in Jackson, Mississippi.

This is fundamentally a critique of the Democratic party establishment. Especially, of the right-leaning, third-way wing which grasped the party’s reins with Bill Clinton’s candidacy in 1992. Bernie said the Democratic party’s rightward-tilt undermined it’s appeal to most Americans, who know they are getting a raw deal from a party that is meant to represent working families. He also said that too many did not realize the dissatisfaction among Democratic voters, largely because Barack Obama was an exceptional politician and widely admired as a person.

The willingness of some among us to mold mental turds into the shape of molehills and proclaim them mountains, seems to have no limit. In their pursuit of ensuring their right-leaning faction can hold on to control of the Democratic party, they are willing to twist innocuous words if it serves to undermine the left wing of the party.

It takes a special kind of disingenuousness to claim this was a knock on Obama. If one did want to knock Obama, there are several good policy and tactical disagreements the left has with him. But that is not what Bernie did. So the people who jumped on him were almost to a man, disgruntled hacks who knowingly or unknowingly, punch left to prop up the right-leaning wing of the Democratic party.

And yes, this wing of the party has been always been willing to attack left-leaning politicians and policies, both metaphorically and literally. On criminal justice (Ricky Ray Rector), on racial equality (Stone Mountain or “hard-working white americans” or the assault on the rainbow coalition that compared a black activist with David Duke), on gay rights (DOMA) and most certainly on economic issues (Welfare “Reform” and the capital gains cuts). We are not talking about a single speech, or an ill-formed phrase, we are talking about deliberate, considered words and real policy that has had negative real-world impacts. You could argue the Republicans would have been worse, and move the country to the right faster, but you cannot argue that the third-wayers moved the country to the left. They too, moved the country rightward, in both rhetoric and policy.

But perhaps the most dangerous and damaging thing they did is to undermine the vision of a just, fair, equitable society by telling us it was unattainable, at least in America. As a communications revolution was remaking the world by enabling one to one and one to many communication, they failed, utterly, to grasp the moment. They shouted no to equality for same-sex couples. No to criminal justice reform. Yes to special privileges for corporations and the wealthy. Yes to the militarism that sends young boys and girls to be maimed and die as we bomb black/brown boy and girls from the air.

In their pursuit of the material rewards that come with control of one of the US’s two major parties, the right wing of the Democratic party has done everything it can to undermine the left. With their steady refrain of “Not Yet”. With conservatism-lite masquerading as pragmatism, they have brought the Democratic party to the point where a 74 year old New Dealer struck so many as a fresher breath of air.

Yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, there’s a cottage industry of hangers-ons who want to sell you one of these stories:

  • The right wing of the Democratic party is the most liberal, progressive group of politician-activists since Kwame Ture.
  • The right wing of the Democratic party is the most liberal, progressive group of politicians you could ever hope to have in the US because this country is “center-right”.

These claims are contradictory, and neither of them is true. The second is an attempt to justify slow-walking any and all progressive moves. The first is laughable bullshit.

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And what has this rightward movement within the Democratic party meant for the country? It has meant slower progress on social issues, and regression on economic issues. It has meant the top 1% has done very well for decades, while the rest of Americans have not.

To his credit Obama did, during his presidency, talk regularly about income inequality and income regression. As he should have, because it is a major issue impacting the well-being of Americans. As a black person, Obama knew very well that any deterioration in the material conditions of poorer people disproportionately impacts black people.

This is also something Bernie Sanders knows, quite well.

So I asked Sanders what he thought about critics who say he seems to care more about white voters than people of color. “It’s just not true,” he said. Sanders explained that he believes his agenda, which includes Medicare for All and free public education, will have an especially “profound and positive” effect on communities of color. And he’s right: Blacks and Latinos are, respectively, two and three times more likely to be uninsured than whites. And although black Americans are about as likely to enroll in college at a higher rate than any other racial group, we are less likely to matriculate — in part due to difficulty paying for college.

“Having said that,” he continued, “is racism a very significant and powerful force in American society that has got to be addressed? The answer is absolutely. Will a Medicare for All or single-payer system end racism in America? No, it won’t. So above and beyond moving forward on strong national programs, we’ve got to pay a special attention to communities of color, which are especially hurting right now.”

Sanders went on to cite the racial wealth gap, the disproportionate incarceration of black Americans, and the unequal public education system which plagues many low-income communities. “So it’s not either/or,” he explained, rejecting the race versus class framing that has become popular since the 2016 presidential election. “It’s never either/or. It’s both.” He continued: “It is making sure every American has high quality health care as a right — the right to excellent education. But it is also addressing the special problem of racism, of sexism, of homophobia, etc.” — nymag.com/…

Most people have been through enough in life to know a decent person in politics when they see them. To most Americans, the relentless attempts by the center-right to paint Bernie Sanders as a racist are about as credible as the relentless attempts by the far-right to paint Obama as un-American.

The right-wing of the Democratic party is in decline, and they know it. Which is why their attacks on the left have become increasingly unhinged. They should be answered, swiftly, and we should move on to the actual work of remaking this country and this party.

Mayor Lumumba’s closing remarks at the panel reinforced the theme that identity alone is not enough: “There was a time,” he explained, “where our fight was to get leadership that looked like us. Now our mission must be to have leadership that thinks like us.” — nymag.com/…

 

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