Saturday, February 13, 2016

Editorial: Bernie Gets a Boost

Bernie Sanders scored an impressive victory with 60% of the vote in the New Hampshire Democratic primary that solidified the view that the Vermont socialist might be the strongest candidate the Democrats can put up in the general election.

Hillary Clinton might have the better resumé, as a former First Lady, senator from New York and secretary of state during Barack Obama’s first term, but she struggled to eke out a narrow victory in the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1 and then she got blown out in New Hampshire on Feb. 9.

The Clinton campaign hoped that women and working-class voters would boost Hillary’s campaign, as they did in 2008, and at least narrow the gap of an expected defeat in the Granite State. Instead, exit polls showed Sanders won among nearly every demographic, including women, young voters, non-college graduates and those who make less than $50,000 a year, the New York Times reported. The only demographic Clinton held onto from 2008 was voters over the age of 65.

Sanders’ popularity with Latino voters will be tested in the Nevada Democratic caucuses on Feb. 20 and he’ll be tested with black voters in the South Carolina primary on Feb. 27. Then comes “Super Tuesday” on March 1, when Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and American Samoa will hold primaries and Colorado caucuses.

Clinton supporters hope that bloc of primaries will be their firewall against the Sanders insurgency. He has a few weeks to introduce himself to the black electorate in the Southern primaries as well as Texas, whose 252 delegates is the biggest prize of the 1,076 that will be distributed that day. To win the Democratic nomination requires 2,382 delegates and Clinton already has 394, including 362 superdelegates (Democratic elected officials). After New Hampshire, Sanders has 42 delegates, including eight superdelegates.

The close call in Iowa showed Bernie was for real, and capable of putting an organization together in a state that Hillary should have locked up. As brother Art Cullen wrote in the Storm Lake Times, “Clinton should have won Iowa in a walk. She had [former Sen.] Tom Harkin and [former Gov.] Tom Vilsack on her side. President Obama has winked his support for her. But, she never asked for our vote. Sanders was here twice. Clinton never showed up in Storm Lake—home to a university filled with young people, and 1,500 registered Latino voters. Will she ever learn? Iowa voters gave her a loving caution with a tie vote—you had better figure out a way to connect with young people and progressives quickly. Where is James Carville when you need him?”

It does not appear that lecturing progressives that they can’t expect expansion of Medicare to cover everybody—or even opening up Medicare as a public option to compete with private insurance—succeeded in diverting votes from Sanders to the more incremental Clinton. (More than 50% of potential voters supported the public option in January 2015, in a poll conducted for the Progressive Change Institute. Nearly 80% of Dems support the public option, and only 13% opposed it.)

Whichever way the nomination goes, progressives will need to unite with centrist Democrats for the general election. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision Feb .9 blocking federal regulations to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which form the centerpiece of President Obama’s strategy to combat climate change, should raise alarms about the importance of keeping a Democrat in the White House and at least regaining the majority in the Senate to review the next president’s choices for the Supreme Court.

Some older Democrats are concerned that the nomination of Sanders, an avowed democratic socialist, could bring a repeat of the debacle the party suffered in 1972, when it nominated liberal Sen. George McGovern, who had alienated much of the party’s establishment, to run against President Richard Nixon. Democrats lost every state except Massachusetts and D.C. that year.

A better lesson may be the 1968 election, when Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota challenged President Lyndon Johnson’s re-election over the Vietnam war. McCarthy surprised the party establishment when he got 42% of the vote against Johnson, who got 49%, in the New Hampshire primary on March 12, 1968. Four days later, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy of New York, sensing Johnson’s vulnerability, announced his candidacy. On March 25, the Iowa Democratic caucuses were held. McCarthy and Kennedy supporters, who caucused together to maximize their impact, were estimated at 40%. Six days later, Johnson announced he would not campaign for re-election.

My mother, who was a friend of McCarthy’s wife in college, supported McCarthy at the local caucus and she was a leader of the McCarthy group at the county convention in April. There was a fight between the McCarthy and Kennedy delegates that split friendships and resulted in grudges that lasted for years. Despite the broad support that McCarthy had at the precinct caucuses, party regulars used their knowledge of the rules to snooker the inexperienced McCarthyites and control the delegations to the state convention in late May. McCarthy ended up with only five of the state’s 46 delegates to the national convention.

While Humphrey focused on winning delegates controlled by party bosses in non-primary states, McCarthy won six state primaries and Kennedy won four primaries, including California, on June 4, only to be assassinated shortly after midnight on June 5.

After the assassination, many of Kennedy’s delegates, still fuming over the battles with McCarthy supporters, refused to vote for him. Instead, Kennedy delegates rallied around George McGovern. Division of the anti-war votes made it easier for Humphrey to gather the delegates he needed to win the nomination. When the Democratic National Convention opened in Chicago in late August, thousands of activists from around the nation gathered in the city to protest the war. The evening of August 28, TV broadcast Chicago police beating anti-war protesters in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel. The riot divided the party’s base, as some supported the protesters and thought the police were heavy handed and out of control, while others blamed the protesters and supported the police.

After Humphrey won the nomination, he trailed Nixon by double digits in Gallup polls, but he fought back, attacking George Wallace, who was running on the American Independent ticket, as a racist bigot who appealed to the darker impulses of Americans. Humphrey also distanced himself from Johnson on the Vietnam war, called for a halt of bombing and he closed the gap with Nixon.

LBJ announced the bombing halt and a possible cease fire the weekend before the election. However, the Nixon campaign, through Anna Chennault, advised South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu to pull out of the peace talks, promising a better deal under Nixon. When LBJ learned of Nixon’s sabotage of the peace talks, via wiretaps, he called the Senate Minority Leader, Everett Dirksen, R-Ill., to complain that “they oughtn’t be doing this. This is treason.” Dirksen agreed.

The election proved to be extremely close. The key states were California, Illinois and Ohio, all of which Nixon won by less than three percentage points. Nixon won all three states with a plurality of votes. Wallace’s third party bid nearly threw the election into the House of Representatives, where the Dems would have prevailed.

In 1968 the inability of the anti-war left to get over their differences and support Humphrey may have inadvertently helped Nixon win the White House. In the next four years, between Nixon’s sabotage of the peace talks and the eventual peace agreement in January 1973, more than 20,000 US troops died in Vietnam, more than 100,000 Americans were wounded and more than a million Vietnamese were killed.

Don’t let complaints that Hillary is not tough enough on Wall Street, or that Bernie is not tough enough on gun control, or any of a dozen other complaints about either candidate obscure the need to keep any of the right-wingers who are still on the Republican card out of the White House. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2016

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