Bernie Sanders and The Emerging Progressive “Tea Party”

Since the inauguration of President Obama, we have watched with horror how the Tea Party has taken over the GOP. What started up as a bunch of disgruntled misfits, grew into a larger movement and took over the Republican Party. Arguably, they were aided and abetted by the libertarian oligarchs, David and Charles Koch’s hidden interests, which financed and supported the groups with huge donations to their “cause” and to candidates running on the Tea Party platform. Gradually, we have seen the GOP abandon its conservative core beliefs and shamelessly acquiesced to the irresponsible demands of this fringed group. The result today the unrecognizable and clearly the un-conservative party formerly known as the GOP. Among other things, the Tea Party demanded ideological purity, views compromise as weakness, believes in fundamentalist scriptural literalism, vehemently denies scientific truths and are unmoved by facts or deterred by new information. They have a hostile fear of progress and actively demonize anyone who believes in education. They, like most conservatives have an inordinate desire to control women and their bodies. They are xenophobic, with tribal mentality and cannot tolerate descent among their ranks. More than anything else, they have a pathological hatred of the United States government. It is for this and other reasons that the Emmy award winning show, Newsroom, branded them “The American Taliban”.

In an earlier blog article: How Conservatives Abandoned and Destroyed Their Principles in the Age of Obama, I argued that given this historical development within the Republican Party, what we are witnessing in the current presidential campaign is not surprising. Unfortunately, recent development within the Democratic Party is beginning to mirror the Tea Party phenomenon of 2009. Let me state up front that there is no comparison between the Democratic base and the Tea Party. But there are a few developing similarities that should alarm anyone. The major mistake the Republican Party made was in aligning themselves with the unrealistic (add your own adjective here) expectations of this fringe group. They know that any serious  analysis of the Tea Party's demands and expectations would show they're unrealistic and unworkable. But they not only believe in them, they ran on such ideas, knowing full well that within the current political framework of the country, it will never materialize. Sadly, that same mistake is taking place among the far left progressive members of the democratic base right now.

Unlike the modern Republican Party, the Democratic Party have been relatively united in recent years. Of course, the psychology of group dynamics suggests there would always be some pockets of disaffected sub-groups here and there, but as a whole, they have been pretty united in their core values and governing expectations. Even the far-left disaffected groups, while not wholly satisfied will stipulate to the core value of the party rather than work against it. However, that seems to be changing with the Bernie Sanders presidential challenge to the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton. Sanders, a long time Independent who caucuses with Democrats, is running as a “Democratic Socialist” on the platform that he is going to remake our political system to resemble other socialist democracies in the developed world. He often cite unfavorable statistics of the US in comparison to others, mostly European social democracies, notably Sweden and Denmark to justify his proposals. Objectively, there are pros and cons with socialism and Bernie Sanders push is not all pie in the sky.

What is troubling about his candidacy is how in a very short period of time, it has succeeded in fracturing the once, solid Democratic Party alliance. The goals Sanders is advocating are laudable and under certain conditions, would be universally welcomed by the rank and file of the party. But the US has both a unique social and political system. We are more diverse than most other social democratic countries in the developed world. So what applies in more socially and ethnically homogeneous societies will not work here in America. What appears to be happening is that most supporters of Bernie Sanders have taken the opportunity to start rewriting history. Some are now openly questioning what we as a party and/or movement hitherto have considered a very successful Clinton administration of the 1990s. A Democratic administration with the most sustained job creation and economic growth is now described by even some who were participants and instrumental in its policies as a failure. That is astonishingly unfair and disingenuous.

We are not the society that we were 20 years ago. We are changing both demographically and politically. Policies enacted then, like “Don’t ask don’t tell” etc., have not only been repealed but  are no longer acceptable and are beginning to change as evidenced by the fact that gay marriage is now the law of the land. What is not acceptable is for us a group to engage in this destructive revisionist history, turning our criticisms inward and attacking each other. Bernie Sanders is promising a revolution and strange as it is, most liberals and progressives are naively and incredulously buying into that fantasy. Like incredulous adherents of the Tea Party, these progressives are not asking hard questions. How is Bernie, who has been in Congress for twenty years with little or no major legislative accomplishment, suddenly going to turn around an intransigent congress with solid majorities in both houses? Is he going to wave a magic wand and suddenly the Republicans will listen and obey him? What is he going to do about poor progressive turnout in none presidential election years to help gain legislative majorities that will allow him to govern? He has not promised any changes to the day-to-day principles of governance that will change the status quo. It is  easy to promise free college education and free health care, but how do you accomplish that in the current political climate, that is the critical question.

With apology to the word “Revolution”, nothing of the sort is happening or will happen in the foreseeable future in the American polity. We are a country, almost evenly divided between two major political groups – liberals and conservatives, with subsets of groups within each continuum. Revolution can only happen when a large majority of one group decides to fold its principles and subscribe to that of the other. But we can all agree that any objective reading of our current politics is that, that is not about to happen any time soon. Therefore, those who are attracted by Bernie’s promise of a revolution; that will permit him to impose taxes on high earners to allow every child to go to college for free or to start universal health coverage, are only deluding themselves. For almost eight years now, we have watched president Obama tried to change our fractious politics and move the country forward. But time and time again, he has been stopped by the obstructionist Republicans and their libertarian fossil oil-loving accomplices. Add to that the five conservative Supreme Court justices (now four with Antonin Scalia’s death), who are intent on watering down or eviscerating the gains of the civil rights era, then it becomes quite clear that incremental change is not even guaranteed talk less of a revolution.

It is indeed alarming to see the ease and speed with which these liberals and progressives are abandoning a tried and true democrat in favor of Sanders who is not particularly sure of his allegiances. We are proud of President Obama and how much his presidency has done with the difficulty it inherited from the previous administration. However, what separates him from Hillary Clinton for the presidency in 2008 was Clinton’s vote for the Iraq war. Without that vote, it probably will be Barack Obama trying to succeed the outgoing Hillary Clinton administration, not the way it is now. What is extraordinary is how, despite the hard fought 2008 campaign between the two rivals, Obama invited her to lead the State department. That’s a signal not only of his confidence in her abilities, but a chance for her to burnish her credentials at getting the job when he is done. We are now at that juncture. She has paid her due and put in the hard work. But instead of vetting her objectively, the so-called Bernie-bots or Bernie bros (who are mostly inexperienced young people, much like those behind the unsuccessful “Occupy Wall Street” movement) have joined and/or are fueled by clandestine conservative groups (who would rather face Sanders than Clinton) to mount attacks on the credibility of the former Secretary. It is indeed sickening to hear arguments against Hillary Clinton as being a hawk and other disingenuous criticism of policies she worked on while at the State Dept. People seem to forget that even as head of the State Dept., whatever policy she advocated was subject to the president’s approval. How can we justify separating her policies from the president she worked for? When people criticize her stewardship at the State Dept., they should be honest enough to say the same thing about President Obama. But that is not what we’ve been hearing is it?

But what bothers me the most as a progressive is how most of the criticism about Hillary Clinton is not so much what she has done, but what was done in her husband’s administration. Most supporters of Bernie Sanders accuse her of such legislation like NAFTA, 1990’s criminal justice reforms, Welfare reforms, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, etc. When did we as progressives, join conservatives on their war against women? When is it ever alright to blame a wife for the “sins” of her husband? (Not that the policies in question constitute a sin by any stretch of the imagination). It is not as if she has no record of achievements of her own. Her record as a New York senator was solidly progressive and no matter what the revisionist critics are now saying, her four years at the State Dept. was very productive. In fact, much of her work laid the foundation that Secretary John Kerry has continued to build on. It is not my contention that anyone owes Hillary Clinton a vote or support. But equally, they do not have to use right wing generated talking points to attacker her and justify their lack of supporting her.

Therefore, it is for all the above; the easy and quickness of latching onto unworkable and un-achievable policies that Bernie Sanders has proposed and the incredulity it takes to believe in them, it is for these, that I consider  them the progressive equivalent of the Tea Party.

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