Saturday, March 21, 2020

Only Fealty Need Apply

On february 5, 2020 Bernard Sanders supporter and author Keeaga-Tamahtta Taylor wrote

It is undeniable that the Republican Party blocked or curtailed most of Mr. Obama’s legislative efforts, but his commitment to bipartisanship also undermined and diluted his professed agenda. His efforts to “reach across the aisle” resulted in compromises that came at the expense of the Democratic base. In 2014, he cut nearly $9 billion from food stamps, for example, because Republicans had argued for cutting up to $40 billion. For those who relied on food stamps, this was a devil’s bargain.

And it was the inability or unwillingness of the Obama administration to seize the political mantle for change it had won in the election in 2008 that created the conditions for the emergence of Occupy Wall Street and the Black Lives Matter movement. Both of them focused on the systemic problems facing American society. The young people at the center of these movements demanded transformation, not just piecemeal reforms.

By the end of Mr. Obama’s first term, 95 percent of the financial gains of his economic recovery plan had gone to the richest 1 percent of the county. In the last decade, median income has stood virtually still. The inattention to Mr. Obama’s record, though, has meant that the conventional wisdom’s explanation for white voters’ defection from the Obama coalition is racist backlash, not economic hardship.

Many of Sanders' admirers, unlike most Democratic voters, are skeptical of Barack Obama. However, it appears that- in significant part- one of those was not the candidate himself.

In late January, progressive lawyer and Sanders ally Zephyr Teachout wrote a piece for The Guardian accusing Joe Biden of having "a big corruption problem."  Campaign manager Faiz Shakir disavowed the commentary. However, The New York Times today reports

A small group of advisers — including Mr. (Ben) Tulchin, Ms. (Nina) Turner and Mr. (David) Sirota — regularly pleaded with Mr. Sanders to attack the former vice president.

But Mr. Sanders resisted, giving speech after speech scorching unnamed establishment Democrats but declining to pursue Mr. Biden directly. He ruled out several lines of attack against the former vice president because they touched on Mr. Biden’s role in the Obama administration, which Democratic primary voters revere.

Mr. Shakir and a second senior aide, Ari Rabin-Havt, took Mr. Sanders’s side and repeatedly reminded other campaign officials that Mr. Sanders was the ultimate decision maker on the campaign. In conversations with associates, both men agreed that it might make sense to criticize Mr. Biden in a sharper way. But they said Mr. Sanders could not be persuaded to do so: He and Jane liked the Bidens personally, and their word was final.

And so the individual who now is almost the presumptive party nominee avoided criticism from his chief rival. In Sanders' defense, however, each of the candidates adopted this tactic. Amy Klobuchar slammed Elizabeth Warren;  Warren attacked Pete Buttigieg, then Mike Bloomberg; and Klobuchar and Buttigieg blasted each other. Joe Biden remained largely untouched.

But if the Vermont senator scrupulously avoided criticizing one of his chief competitors because of personal fondness toward Mr. and Mrs. Biden- a curious approach for someone actually wanting to win- his failure even to question the greatness of a former President carries greater significance.

Sanders gave "speech after speech scorching unnamed establishment Democrats."  He issued "anti-establishment distribes" including "persistent lashing of the 'political establishment.'"  Presumably included was

Yet, it was the same crusader against the "Democratic establishment" who "ruled out several lines of attack against the former vice president because they touched on Mr. Biden’s role in the Obama administration, which Democratic primary voters revere."

Exactly whom does Bernard Sanders believe represent the "Democratic establishment?" Is it Pete Buttigieg, who "endorsed (Biden)  after reportedly talking to Obama?" Is it National Committee chairperson Tom Perez, who was elected to his post partly on a push from Obama? Or is it Joe Biden, who faithfully served Obama for eight years?

Critical to all three factors is one individual: Barack Obama.  If there is a Democratic establishment, it is headed by none other than Barack H. Obama. Nonetheless, Senator Sanders wouldn't touch him, even as the Vermonter railed against the "Democratic establishment" and saw his bid demolished by Joe Biden, whose main qualification is that he played second fiddle to Barack Obama.

The issue here isn't that Bernie Sanders flinched. He failed to win a nomination which 21 other candidates failed to obtain, and who has been a consistent voice for progressivism over a few decades.

The issue is why he flinched; why a fellow with the opportunity to grab the brass ring in large part because of anti-establishment credentials backed down in the face of the most influential member of the Democratic establishment.  Significantly, the other progressive, Warren, also looked away.

It's hard to understand the failure of Republicans in either the party's establishment or base to criticize one of their own- not for extreme policies, hateful tweets, obstruction of justice or anything else. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party's establishment (and its base) refuse to question its most recent ex-President, to the point even of condemning the thought of anyone doing so.

As Keeaga-Tamahtta Taylor described (and she didn't even mention timidity toward financial reform), President Obama's presidency was not faultless. Failure to understand that already helped cost the party one presidential election, in 2016, and has evidently led its voters to nominate yet another candidate of the status quo.

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