by Michael Brenner on 18 Mar 2020 2 Comments

I haven’t written about American electoral politics in a long time – and here we are in the 15th month of the quadrennial slog to the White House. Well, obviously it is not because the health of the Republic is so robust that attention turns toward those matters that reside in the lower orders of significance. You all know them well: did the Astro’s ‘cheating’ deny the Yankees a fair shot at another World Series championship (i.e. would Jose Altuve still have hit that home run off of Aroldis Chapman in the 9th inning of the deciding game if he didn’t know that he’d be up against a 102 mph fastball rather than Chapman’s non-existent knuckleball?).


Will Barack Obama’s long-awaited memoir appear before or after his upcoming movie is nominated for an Oscar? Should we celebrate the fact that five women were on stage for the Democratic ‘debates’ or, instead, rue the fact that the primaries weren’t responsive enough to the rightful demands of the abused gender majority?  Do we feel Bill Clinton’s pain now that we know he succumbed to the Cleopatra-like charms of Monica Lewinsky because of gnawing anxieties over how badly he was screwing up his Presidency?


Or is abstinence from political commentary an expression of deep satisfaction with the high caliber of candidates whose qualities of statesmanship swell us with a pride that leaves little room or reason for critical analysis? I’m afraid that the answer lies elsewhere. In part, in the sordidness of a process that looks to be a mongrel mix of a bruising fight for the leadership of the Jersey City machine and an Iowa fairgrounds hog-calling contest – as played on late-night ‘talk’ shows.


This at a time when the Republic’s health is anything but robust; when the suffering of Americans – suffering of all kinds – is growing rather than abating; when ‘justice for all’ has as much credibility as the old advertising jingle for Lucky Strikes; when home-grown Fascism makes a debut appearance on the public scene; when the word ‘obscenity’ evokes images of the rich and famous rather than porn films in seedy movie houses.


‘Sordid’ is the right word. For much of what shames us (or should be shaming us) lies at that borderland between ethics and aesthetics. Our public life has become indecent. Revulsion competes with condemnation as the most apt description of what is felt by those whose system rebels at the spectacle.


A second reason for abstinence is that any foray seems doomed to oblivion. The odds are stacked against any reasoned intervention, even at the very outer margins of collective discourse, due to the pervasive degeneration of that discourse. The line between truths and untruths has become so confused that not only have most of us lost the ability to differentiate between them, but many have come to deny that objective reality exists. The perps who have produced this deformation are readily identified: the media, politicos, pseudo-intellectuals, social media, their financial overlords, and the self-absorption that marks the anomic society.


This perversion applies even to matters where numbers are under discussion – e.g. - voting patterns and the electoral strategies that they animate. After the 2016 election, pundits of all stripes agreed on a story that, on closer scrutiny, is in fact 90% myth. Yet, it has had a major impact on such phenomena as the Democratic Party’s further swing to the Right, a trend already so pronounced that the Obama administrations were to the Right of Richard Nixon’s on domestic issues, including civil liberties. (Shocked? Look it up). That myth, powerfully reinforced by the corporate interests and foreign policy-hardliners entrenched within the Party, has justified the unrelenting campaign of vilification of Bernie Sanders.


It is not a question of agreeing with every feature of his proposed program (albeit he is just a New Deal Democrat attached to the principles that were foundation of a National consensus for 40 years). It is the lies and smears that are a disgraceful commentary on the smug self-satisfaction of the elites who rule us. (For the distortions in reporting and explaining the 2016 vote, please see: Trump's Real Base Is the Ruling Class, Paul Street, March 3, 2020.



A few days ago, our friends at The New York Times featured an unusual two full-page story on how Bernie Sanders when in Vermont initiated links to a Soviet sister city which, the West 43rd Street mind-readers proclaimed, had the ulterior motive of whitewashing the criminal Bolshevik regime and, according to the same seers, were exploited by Soviet propaganda. It turns out that the entire story was an artful fabrication composed of lies, insinuations, and willful misrepresentations. A letter from Ambassador Jack Matlock – Ambassador in Moscow at the time and our most distinguished Russia expert – explained that the sister city initiative was promoted by Ronald Reagan, and then George Bush the Elder, with the full backing of the Embassy. PRAVDA indeed!  Apology? The publisher and editors of the NYT don’t do apology.


Sanders has been a “pebble in the shoe’’ of the Democratic Party establishment and their financial backers. So, they’ve done everything possible to eliminate him short of fitting him out with a pair of cement water wings for a dunk in the Hudson River. Their weapon was fear – fear easy to sow among a party electorate that shares an unfocused anxiety whose sources are intentionally kept obscure.


A third reason is the astounding political incompetence of the Democratic Party – and nearly all of its candidates. Quite apart from their leadership’s abdication of its principles and purpose, they are simply very bad at what they do. Compared to the Republicans, they are clumsy, unfocused amateurs, themeless, unable to learn from experience and engaged only sporadically. Most strikingly, they lack fighting spirit – much less a killer instinct which they associate with Geronimo or mass murderers. It frankly is astonishing that people who have never done anything in their lives other than politics are still functioning at that remedial level.


The one effective operation undertaken by the Democratic leadership in living memory is the concerted sabotage of Bernie Sanders campaign. It was impressively orchestrated – especially in the coordinated barrage of Biden endorsements in the wake of the South Carolina primary. Timing among the establishment stalking horses was so exact that it strongly suggests a concertmaster. Reportedly, Barack Obama – the party’s spiritual counselor – performed the task. Understandable as an imperative to protect his legacy as rescuer of the powers-that-be when the ‘pitchforks’ were threatening to string them up in 2008-2009.


It is no fun to feel obliged to make these points repeatedly – to underscore the squalid and debased behaviour of persons and institutions we used to respect. Let’s face it: the rot is so deep that even so admirable a person as Elizabeth Warren (who was my personal preference for the Presidency) has, in recent days, yielded to the celebrity narcissism of the times (mixed with unbecoming envy?) in refusing to endorse Sanders despite a 90% overlap in their views.


Instead, she seeks ‘space’ – oddly, by appearing on Saturday Night Live and the TV interview circuit, in which to make up her mind between Sanders and Biden; in other words, between the national welfare and (possible) personal advantage. For chrissake – we are in a war for the soul of the nation, not an election for president of the high school sophomore class. One is puzzled at being repeatedly surprised by the exposure of character flaws that should have been noted by the reporters who follow around national candidates for months on end. Is the failure due to their unusual density – or, does all the Danish pastry and bagels consumed on charted planes inspire loyalty to the host and caterer?


As the Orangutan might say: Sad. Pathetic.


*Addendum: Hillary Clinton received almost as many votes as did Obama in 2012: 65.8 million vs. 66 million. She beat Trump by 2.8 million votes – or 2.1% of the electorate.


(The views expressed are personal)

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