Lessons for Liberals and Progressives from the Iowa Caucus

The Iowa democratic primary caucus results went to the wire last night. The final results are just now being posted on major news websites. Sports fans love it when a game comes down to the final seconds, but not when they have a stake in the game. If it’s 4th quarter; and the current play is 4th down and goal, with 2 seconds on the clock and the driving team is down by 5 point. We know field goal is not an option. I submit to you that no one is comfortable. Not the team with the 5 points lead and their fans or the driving team and their fans with the game going down to the wire like that. Such were the odds last night among democrats. Supporters of Bernie Sanders may have been overjoyed because Bernie put up a hell of a fight to make the race as competitive as it got, but let’s face it, losing, in whatever form is never fun. A one point loss is the same as a blowout. It is a loss nonetheless. Now that the first race is behind us, what are the lessons that we can learn for the unexpected fracturing that yesterday’s race appears to have thrusted on the Democratic Party?

First, let’s give praise where one is due. The very fact that the results were as close as it got is a testament to Bernie Sanders’ tenacious campaign and the simplicity of his message. We should be congratulate him for his tireless efforts and for making the race interesting. Having said that, it is worrying to me that news reports showed his supporters loudly booing Secretary Clinton when she rose to give her, shall we call it “acceptance speech” (since it wasn’t clear at that time if she was the winner) last night. In fact, reports have it that the crowd started chanting “She’s a liar” until the campaign was forced to change the TV channel from MSNBC. This ought to be a very disturbing sign not only for Hillary Clinton, but for liberals of all persuasions and the Democratic Party in particular. As Progressives, we pride ourselves as being different from the other side. We debate issues and vehemently disagree like any other group does. But we do so with facts. And although not always, majority of us do factor in reality as we make our point. No doubt, Secretary Clinton’s email saga has continued to dampen her appeal to most Americans during this campaign season, democrats included. But we democrats/progressive know better. We live in the real world where facts determine what we say and do; not like the other side who wish they live in a fact-free world. We are not credulous nor ignorant. Above all, we appreciate the hard work of our public and political leaders who have spent their entire lives advocating for progressive values.

Therefore, it was surprising to see Sander’s supporters, who pride themselves as die-hard progressives abandon the values for which we stand for. This is particularly troubling for a number of reasons and for what it portends. What happens if Sanders doesn’t get the party’s nomination? Will these supporters booing the Secretary and calling her a liar vote for her or will they sit out the election? Since this is the first contest of the season, what type of example is it setting for the rest of the contests to come? If this becomes the norm for his supporters, how might that affect the chances of Democrats nationwide and in down ballot contests? It is important to ponder these questions as the election season gets underway because the stakes are very high. As progressives, we have a bad history of protecting the gains made under Democratic presidents. The great American thinker and philosopher, George Santayana, once said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Without going back to “ancient” history, we remember clearly the transition at the end of Clinton’s presidency. After eight prosperous years, victory appeared certain. Of course, not everyone was satisfied. There are always those who have legitimate concerns and would rather sit out an election to make their point. And then there are those who see perfection as the enemy of the good. The name Ralph Nader, comes to mind here. Nader, who lives in his own utopia mounted a feverish campaign in the 2000 election, championing progressive issues while accusing democrats the Clinton administration of moving too far to the right. Here is what the Wikipedia says about his campaign:

“Nader campaigned against the pervasiveness of corporate power and spoke on the need for campaign finance reform. His campaign also addressed problems with the two party system, voter fraud, environmental justice, universal health care, affordable housing, free education including college, workers' rights and increasing the minimum wage to a living wage. He also focused on the three-strikes rule, exoneration for prisoners for drug related non-violent crimes, legalization of commercial hemp and a shift in tax policies to place the burden more heavily on corporations than on the middle and lower classes. He opposed pollution credits and giveaways of publicly owned assets. Nader and many of his supporters believed that the Democratic Party had drifted too far to the right. Throughout the campaign, Nader noted he had no worries about taking votes from Al Gore. He stated, "Isn't that what candidates try to do to one another--take votes?"[12] Nader insisted that any failure to defeat Bush would be Gore's responsibility: "Al Gore thinks we're supposed to be helping him get elected. I've got news for Al Gore: If he can't beat the bumbling Texas governor with that terrible record, he ought to go back to Tennessee.”

Does that sound familiar? I do not mean to demean all the good work and lifetime advocacy that Nader did on behalf of progressive causes. He did indeed accomplish a lot. But it is his self-righteous “perfection or nothing” attitude that gave us eight years of George W. Bush and the catastrophic policies and decisions that his administration wrought on this nation. 16 years later, we are still suffering the effects of that decision. I know Bernie Sanders’ supporters will protest and claim that Bernie is no Ralph Nader. Really? For that, I call bull****. Look at Nader’s positions as stated above. They are exactly the same things that Sanders has been talking about. The distance between Sanders’ and Secretary Clinton’s positions are very little and sometimes none at all. But Bernie has argued, ridiculously at times, that the Secretary did not adopt the same position as fast as he did. Seriously? Personally, I have no earth shattering objections with his policy positions. I wish they were achievable in our current dysfunctional political environment. The truth is they are not. In order to get to where we are now, President Obama has, essentially governed by use of executive actions because of the intransigence of the Republican legislature. Setting aside the issue of electability, (and that is a gargantuan issue, let’s not kid ourselves. But that’s a topic for another day) Bernie Sanders has not explained to his supporters how he plans to get around that thorny issue. 31 Republicans and 1 independent control about 65% of state governorships in the country and by virtue of that, they exact enormous control over how congressional districts are drawn. When the majority of the country’s districts are gerrymandered to make electing Republicans to congress all but certain, it’s game over for us no matter how much we complain or fantasize about what is ideal. Also, since these same democratic “activists” supporting Sanders don’t show up for elections in none presidential election years and only do if they are “energized”, republicans have controlled the majority of State legislatures for the past six years with four more to control redistricting. And their chances of extending it in 2020 for another decade are pretty good.

Therefore, in the face of such entrenched opposition, how does Bernie Sanders expects to get his social democratic agenda through Republican/Tea Party controlled House and Senate? For all you lazy journalists out there, who have been conditioned by Donald Trump to watch and not ask questions, this might be a good one to ask Bernie. The truth is, it is very easy to espouse ideas that appeal to us liberals and progressives. We are suckers for good governance and order; and for egalitarian principles. But for the most part, we live in the real world. In the current world of the United States of America, implementing the policies that are drawing crowds for Bernie Sanders can only happen in people’s dream not in reality. Think about it, Obama had both houses of Congress when he took office and despite his good intentions, he was only able to get little done in the first two years including the watered down Affordable Care Act. You may not like the way our politics works, I don’t like it either but that’s all we have. That’s democracy in action my fellow progressives. In a speech to the British House of Commons in 1947, Winston Churchill, after losing an election earlier that year, said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” So, as we get yet another opportunity to cement the extraordinary gains made under President Obama, liberals and progressives need to wake up and stop dreaming about utopia that’s not going to come no matter how much we wish for it. If Democrats lose this election, think of the far reaching consequences this will bring. Time will fail me if I begin to list everything that could go wrong. But one that everyone can wrap their minds around is Supreme Court nominations. The projection is that the next president will have as many as 3 appointments in the next 8 years. Now imagine 7 ultra conservatives judges deciding cases over the next 20-30 years. If that horrible scenario were to happen, “Citizens United” and the evisceration of the “Voting Rights Act” will all seem like child’s play. We need to learn the lessons of history. For if we forget or fail to remember, then we are condemned to repeat the horrible history of 16 years ago.

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