Democratic Party Primaries: “Progressives” as Political Contraceptives

By: James Petras

Over the past few decades mass movements reflecting political discontent with US economic and foreign policy have emerged to challenge the leadership and policies of the Democratic Party.  There are good reasons for this: The Democratic Party has presided over deepening inequality, the decline of wages, a trillion dollar bailout of the banks, mortgage foreclosure of millions of homeowners and the off-shoring of manufacturing jobs and service employment.

The Democratic Party has, at the same time, supported wars and invasions against ten nations and scores of ‘clandestine’ military operations. Popular movements have emerged and mass public opinion has expressed hostility toward both major parties, but nothing has ever come of it.

This article asks why mass movements and genuinely disaffected progressive voters and activists have been unable to break with the Democratic Party, despite its abominable record on foreign and domestic policy.

From Protest to Political Hostages 

American mass movements have been successful in mobilizing hundreds of thousands in opposition to Washington’s wars. Progressives have educated and organized millions to oppose Wall Street and the Democratic Party’s more recent bailout of banks.

Without fail, every time that mass movements and the electorate opted for independent social action outside of the Democratic Party, a ‘dissident’ politician has emerged from within the Party mouthing many of the criticisms and demands of the social movements.

These Democrat “dissidents” round up millions of votes and hundreds of delegates to the Democratic Convention and then they inevitably lose to the Party machine and meekly submit, reasserting their loyalty to the Party. The essential political consequence is that the “dissidents” channel mass social disaffection back into the Democratic Party thereby undermining any independent political initiative.

By reorienting the peace and justice movements and the neighborhood and anti-racism community organizations into Democratic Party electoral politics, they empty the streets, neighborhoods and workplaces of effective activists.

A brief survey of presidential campaigns over the past thirty-five years confirms this analysis. We find examples of these “dissidents” in the Jesse Jackson campaigns of the 1980s, Dennis Kucinich in 2004, and current president, Barack Obama, The Ultimate Progressive Rabble Rouser in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Now we watch Bernie Sanders incarnate the Fourth Coming of the progressive Democratic primary campaigner.

 Jesse Jackson

Jesse Jackson was an important leader-activist in the civil rights movement. He helped organize tens of thousands of African-Americans and develop ties with other minorities, white progressives and trade unions. Jackson opposed President Reagan’s assault on the trade unions, and his opposition to the escalation of military spending gained him credibility in the peace movement.

Jackson mobilized hundreds of thousands of activists, and won 18% of the primary vote in 1984 and 29% in 1988. After each defeat, he endorsed the winning candidates, Mondale and Dukakis, and told his supporters to work for their campaigns.  When the Democratic nominees were defeated, the disaffected masses fractured. They were left unprepared to confront either the consequential Bush policies or the later actions of Democratic Party Wall Street flunky “Bill” Clinton.  Once in office in 1993, President ‘Slick Willy’ proceeded to decimate welfare programs, roll back the Glass-Stiegel Laws and deregulate the banks, launch a merciless ninety day war to break up Yugoslavia and maintain ten years of bombs and starvation sanctions against Iraq – causing the deaths of 500,000 children and many more adults.

Bernie Sanders

US society is now deeply polarized.  After seven years of Wall Street pillage, under Democratic President Obama, working people and activists were looking for an alternative, but they were not flocking to the Democratic Party’s plutocrat-of-choice, Hilary Clinton, the war monger, Wall Street favorite and pro-Israel candidate.

Behold!  A raspy rabble rouser, a ‘democratic socialist’, floated in on a cloud of self-righteousness, conjuring up the illusion of a movement with promises of profound changes.

Like Jackson and Kucinich before him, Sanders launched into The Rant:  Against Wall Street, for a National Health Plan and a reduction in military spending.  He added a few new planks about canceling student debt, lowering tuition, ending the cap on the social security tax and greater regulation of Wall Street.   But Bernie assured his worried Democratic Party handlers that should Madame Clinton win the nomination, Bernie (and his followers) would unconditionally support the Party’s war mongering, Wall Street candidate of choice.

Like the “Progressives” before him, Sanders is doing everything possible to prevent disaffected ex-Democratic voters, mostly workers and minorities, from rejecting the Democrats and joining or forming alternative political movements.

The key to understanding why millions of Americans, fed up with 30 years of declining living and health standards, deepening inequalities and perpetual wars, do not form an ‘alternative party’ is that they have been repeatedly conned and corralled in the Democratic Party by the “house radicals”.

Jackson, Kucinich, Obama and Sanders promised radical changes in the primaries and then went on to hand their supporters over to the Party oligarchs, abandoning them without their past social movements or future hope.  Is there any wonder why so many abstain!

This is an excerpt of an article by James Petras




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