The Democratic Party is in disarray. The party establishment has so far been unable to come up with a presentable “moderate” (code for right wing pro-business neoliberal) presidential candidate that can hold off Bernie Sanders’ leftish campaign and go on to defeat Donald Trump.
Their initial favourite, former vice president Joe Biden, is now in big trouble having done badly in both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. Biden is part of the supposed “sensible centre” of the Democratic Party. In other words, he has a proven track record throughout his long political career of loyal service to the interests of the billionaire class and of US imperialism. During his decades in the Senate Biden opposed bussing to end racial segregation of schools and backed harsh racist “tough on crime” laws. He supported George Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan declaring: “whatever it takes we should do it” and then unsurprisingly went on to back the murderous Iraq war.
The party establishment may now fall in behind Michael Bloomberg, the multi-billionaire former Republican Mayor of New York. Bloomberg is attempting to buy the presidency by spending $US2 billion of his vast personal fortune on the campaign. In January alone he spent more than $US300 million – more than Hillary Clinton spent on advertising during her entire 2016 presidential campaign.
Bloomberg, with net assets of $US61.5 billion, is richer even than Trump and is the 14th richest person in the world. Yes, the Democrats are the party of the common people!
While a social liberal on some issues such as same sex marriage, Bloomberg is a champion of Wall St and big business interests. He describes himself as a “fiscal conservative”, and as mayor of New York he ran a hard law and order and anti-union agenda.
Then there is Pete Buttigieg. The former mayor of South Bend Indiana is a classic Hillary Clinton-style neoliberal whose campaign has been funded by a coterie of billionaires. Buttigieg defended his courting of billionaires on the basis he was for an inclusive approach to the wealthy minority that is exploiting the rest of us. Buttigieg is a former US navy intelligence officer who supported the invasion of Afghanistan. He previously worked as a management consultant for business consulting firm McKinsey, notorious for its role in masterminding “downsizing” plans to slash workers’ jobs, wages and conditions. A self proclaimed “democratic capitalist” Buttigieg champions his “fiscally conservative” record as mayor. He opposes free college tuition and said he was “troubled” by President Obama’s 2017 decision to commute the prison sentence of persecuted whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar was the surprise packet in the New Hampshire primary coming in third behind Sanders and Buttigieg. This former prosecuting attorney is a right winger from central casting. Klobuchar is running on the basis of “electability” and her capacity to woo the votes of “moderate” Republicans, whoever they might be. She positions herself as “progressive but practical”, meaning she opposes anything that might conceivably improve the living standards of working class people, such as funding a decent health system, as utterly impractical and way too expensive.
Another prominent candidate in trouble is Elizabeth Warren. Warren is no favourite of the party establishment or of Wall St because of her harsh criticisms of greedy banks. Unlike Biden and co, Warren does support a number of progressive policies. However, she is no radical. She is a firm believer in the ultimate good of the market and rejects the label of socialist, declaring she is a “capitalist to her bones.” Warren is very much the tame progressive within the established framework of the liberal wing of the Democrats. To moderate her image Warren watered down her support for Medicare for All, arguing it is a long-term goal not an immediately actionable policy. But even this right wing stance has not proved sufficient to placate the party leadership, and it has alienated voters looking for an alternative to right wing, politics as usual Democrats.
Working class anger at the Democratic Party establishment is thoroughly justified. For over four decades the Democrats and the Republicans have run a tag team operation slashing living standards. Wages were forced down and millions of better paid blue collar jobs eliminated. The US’s already limited welfare state was cut to the bone. Health care costs skyrocketed. Forty-four million Americans cannot afford any health insurance and 38 million more have inadequate insurance.
During the course of the global financial crisis in 2008, millions of workers lost their homes or were thrown onto the unemployment scrap heap. But while workers and the poor were suffering Obama bailed out the banks, which were largely to blame for the crisis, to the tune of an incredible $US29 trillion.
These neoliberal austerity policies resulted in a massive transfer of wealth to the super rich. Since 1980, the share of wealth owned by the richest 400 Americans has quadrupled. The richest three Americans now own as much as the entire bottom half of the population.
Both the Democrats and Republicans are owned lock stock and barrel by corporate America and they work in tandem to impose these policies. For example, the top marginal income tax rate for the richest 1.2 percent of the population was 91 percent in 1963. It has been progressively slashed by both Democrat and Republican administrations to a mere 37 percent today. In 1968 the US tax rate on the profits of large companies was 52.8 percent. It has declined consistently under both Republican and Democrat administrations. Obama passed $55 billion in industry specific tax cuts while he was in office and proposed cutting the overall corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent.
On the international stage both Democrats and Republicans have willingly waged war for the US’s imperialist interests, from Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq. The Obama administration perfected drone attacks to take out anyone who offended the US. Both parties united to wage virulent Islamophobic campaigns against Muslims and to back Israel’s persecution of the Palestinian people. Both parties back harsh racist border controls. Indeed, the Obama administration deported more people than has Trump.
Since Trump has been in office the Democrats have done nothing to build mass resistance. Quite the reverse. The Democratic establishment and the plethora of liberal organisations, NGOs and union bureaucrats that circle around them have done everything in their power to stifle mass protests and strike action.
On most policy questions the Democrats have tailed along behind Trump. On some issues, such as China bashing, they are even more hard line right wing than Trump. They have attacked Trump as an unreliable defender of US interests because of his erratic behaviour, and accused him of being a Russian agent. This led to the impeachment fiasco that only helped prop up support for Trump.
What workers and the oppressed in the US desperately need is a left wing working class party independent of both the Republican and Democrats. A party that will consistently stand up to the bosses. A party that puts its prime emphasis on mobilising to fight back against every injustice in the workplaces and on the streets rather than being trapped inside the dead end of the Democratic Party.
Bernie Sanders has much better policies than the rest of the Democrats on offer in the primaries. He backs positive reforms such as Medicare for All, a higher minimum wage, free university tuition and he stridently attacks the billionaire class. On this basis he has drawn many left wing young people around his campaign.
But Sanders’ campaign has a decisive weakness. He refuses to break with the Democratic Party establishment even though it used every dirty trick in the book to undermine his challenge to Clinton. Sanders, as he did last time round when he endorsed Clinton, has pledged to support whoever is the Democratic Party nominee, even a reactionary like Biden or Bloomberg.
Sanders has spent his time since the 2016 elections attempting to build a liberal reform faction inside the Democrats. But the party is totally unreformable in any radical or socialist sense. It is tightly controlled by big business interests and throughout its long history has been just as loyal to US imperialism and the rule of the rich as the Republicans.
After the New Hampshire primary Sanders declared: “Tonight I want to take my opportunity to express my appreciation and respect for all of the candidates we ran against: Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and what I can tell you, with absolute certainty and I know I speak for every one of the Democratic candidates is that no matter who wins, and we certainly hope it’s going to be us, we are going to unite together and we are going to defeat the most dangerous president in modern history.”
This approach only helps reinforce the argument coming from the Democratic Party establishment that the focus of the election must be “anyone but Trump”. As the liberal Democrat Robert Reich, the former US Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, put in the Guardian: “If the choice comes down to tyrant (Trump) or oligarch (Bloomberg), we must choose the latter.”
Unfortunately, a lot of people are accepting this argument. According to a CNN exit poll at the New Hampshire primary, 60 percent of Democrat voters above all want a candidate that can beat Trump. On this logic why vote for a left winger like Sanders if it seems a right winger like Bloomberg with all his money has a better chance of stopping Trump?
The Democrats have been running this right wing line for decades. In 1964 it was argued that you had to vote for the Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson, who went on to escalate the Vietnam War, as a lesser evil to the dangerous “fascist” Goldwater. Then in turn “the most dangerous president in modern history” became Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Bush again that had to be stopped by voting for increasingly right wing Democrats such as Bill Clinton.
This approach has been utterly disastrous for workers. It has done nothing to reverse the avalanche of attacks on their rights over the last four decades. It has lulled them into accepting that the way to defend themselves was not to mobilise to actually fight back collectively, but to campaign for some vile anti-working class Democrat who was maybe just a little bit less vile than their Republican opponent.
To go forward workers and the US left need to break with the idea that they can in any sense rely on the Democrats. They need to organise to fight back where they have the real power to do so in their workplaces and on the streets and build a party that dedicates itself to leading that fight.