A new opinion poll seems to strengthen Bernie Sanders’ claim that he’s the Democratic Party candidate most able to defeat Trump: Taken by Sanders campaign, it shows Sanders beating Trump in three key states that swung for Trump in 2016 – Michigan (by 11%), Pennsylvania (by 8%) and Wisconsin (by 10%). It also shows him beating Trump in key qualities such as “honest and trustworthy” by an average of over 20%, “brings people together” by an average of nearly 25%, “understands the struggles of ordinary Americans” by a similar average, and “independent of special interests” by by an average of about 12% in those three key states.
While this poll isn’t conclusive, it does seem to strengthen Sanders’ argument. In fact, even “Bush’s Brain” – Karl Rove – has drawn this conclusion. After Sanders appeared on a Town Hall meeting on Fox, Rove wrote “When only 37% of Americans in the RealClearPolitics average think the country is going in the right direction while 56.4% think it’s on the wrong track, Mr. Sanders could be perceived as an agent of change. If he is the Democratic nominee, Mr. Trump’s task will be to convince Americans that a socialist turn would be a ruinous change. Based on Monday’s town hall, that won’t be as easy as Republicans may think. Mr. Sanders is a real contender.”
Even top Democrats are now taking seriously the idea of Sanders winning the nomination. If he does, will he be able to unite his party around him?
The George McGovern experience
In 1972, an upsurge in anti-war sentiment forced through the nomination of George McGovern as the Democratic Party candidate for president. Top layers of the party refused to back him. The AFL-CIO in effect supported Nixon by also refusing to endorse McGovern. The Alameda County Central Labor Council was threatened with having its charter yanked by its parent body if it did not withdraw its endorsement of McGovern. The result was that McGovern was crushed in the general election.
However, things have changed. For one thing, the advent of the internet and social media has loosened the control of the central powers. For another, the decades-long attack on US workers’ living standards has transformed the mood here. As far as the labor movement, it’s a near certainty that at least sectors of it, if not the entire movement itself, would support a Sanders Democratic Party candidacy for president.
In a previous article, Oaklandsocialist pointed out that the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party was in a minority as things stand right now. Any opinion poll simply shows a snapshot in time and doesn’t show what’s going on under the surface, but this poll of Sanders does seem to contradict the ones on which the previous article was based. We will have to see how that plays out in time.
Perspectives for Sanders
When Sanders first announced he was running in 2016, he himself saw his candidacy as the typical protest candidate, in the mold of Dennis Kucinich of 2012. It was only as the campaign progressed, and as his support mounted, that he actually saw himself as having a chance to win the nomination. This time, he is playing for real from the start. Towards not only winning the nomination, but also winning the general election, he is healing his breech with both the tops of the Democratic Party and with wings of the capitalist class.
Campaign Manager, Faiz Shakir
For the former goal, he has appointed Faiz Shakir. According to Wikipedia, ‘Shakir worked as a communications aide in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and as a legislative aide to Senator Bob Graham. He also worked on the John Kerry 2004 presidential campaign as a junior staffer. In 2005, Shakir began working for the Center for American Progress (CAP) as a policy adviser. There he launched their ThinkProgress blog, of which he was the editor-in-chief.
‘In 2012, Shakir became House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi‘s director of new media…. After that he served as a senior adviser to Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Reid’s former deputy chief of staff commented, “Reid did not make a big decision without consulting Faiz. There’s no one he trusted more on how the progressive community would react on something and no one whose advice he took more seriously on pushing him to the left.”’
In other words, the top person in Sanders’ campaign will be a direct conduit to the inner circles of the Democratic Party.
Sanders has also appointed four co-chairs. One of them is Nina Turner, leader of Sanders’ “Our Revolution”. Turner had turned down an offer to run with Jill Stein in 2016 saying “I believe the Democratic Party is worth fighting for.” As a black woman and former Cleveland city council member, she will help link Sanders campaign to various black-oriented political groups. Two other co-chairs are really key:
One is Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. With this appointment, Sanders proves he’s not opposed to all capitalists or to the capitalist class in general. He’s just opposed to the most predatory of them, the ones who give capitalism a bad name.
Silicon Valley capitalists
Especially important is the appointment of Ro Khanna, Democratic congressman from California. Khanna is not just from anywhere in California; his district (the 17th congressional district) includes Silicon Valley, and Khanna is the direct representative of the mainstream of Silicon Valley capitalists. A recent article in the Washington Post described Khanna’s making the rounds among these capitalists, trying to convince them that something must change, that we simply cannot continue indefinitely with the 1% increasing their share of the wealth while everybody else is driven into poverty. Khanna met with Chris Larsen, for example. The Post describes Larsen as being “worth” about $59 billion and“well on his way to being one of the wealthiest people in the valley, if not the world.” Larsen’s takeaway from the meet-up with Khanna? “Realizing that people hate your guts has some value,” he said.
Khanna has a two part solution: Part one is being a co-chair of Sanders’ campaign. As the Post explains, “The other part of Khanna’s solution was to do what he was doing now, talking to billionaire tech executives like Larsen who worried that the current path for both capitalism and Silicon Valley was unsustainable…. Without an intervention, he worried that wealth would continue to pile up in Silicon Valley and anger in the country would continue to grow…. it was Donald Trump’s election and the pent-up anger it exposed that left America’s billionaire class fearful for capitalism’s future.”
Nor is Khanna a lone capitalist voice in the wilderness. “Conversations of the sort that Khanna was having with Larsen were now taking place in some of capitalism’s most rarefied circles including Harvard Business School, where last fall Seth Klarman, a highly influential billionaire investor, delivered what he described as a “plaintive wail” to the business community to fix capitalism before it was too late.”
If Khanna succeeds in at least making this layer of capitalists reluctantly accept a Sanders candidacy, this won’t be a one-way street. It will also open up Sanders to listen more to the voices and concerns of these capitalists. Already, for example, Sanders has failed to support Elizabeth Warren’s call to break up the major high tech companies.
There are a lot of major obstacles against a “Bernie Sanders, 46th President of the United States”. But at this point it can’t be ruled out. What would he be able to accomplish?
Assuming that the economy doesn’t tank, a significant increase in the minimum wage is likely. But that’s already happening in the real world, where low unemployment is forcing most employers to pay well over the legal minimum.
“Green New Deal”
The single most important issue is the environment, including but not limited to global climate disruption. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been trumpeting her version of the “Green New Deal.” While a positive reform, it is nowhere near adequate, as this article explains. Some may dispute this, but we will probably never know, because even if the Democrats sweep both houses of congress plus the presidency in 2020, they are highly, highly unlikely to pass anything like this. Just as they did (in reverse) with NAFTA under Bill Clinton, they will ensure that just enough Democrats join with their Republican colleagues to kill any such bill.
Some might argue that Sanders, along with Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and others, can take over the
Democratic Party similarly to how Trump has taken over the Republicans. However, Trump accomplished his takeover with the support of major capitalists such as the Mercer family, Sheldon Addelson, Peter Thiel. He also won over the editors of the Wall St. Journal, who are the capitalist class militants. There is no such organized independent power base in the working class since the unions are dominated by a conservative bureaucracy who have proven themselves time and again to be unwilling to really confront the capitalist class on the working class’s terms – by mobilizing in the streets, working class communities and work places.
No matter who is president in 2020, it is such a mobilization that is needed to save the planet. This means a mass mobilization to shut down the workings of capitalism.
Mobilize the working class and the youth
Some will argue that any Democrat, especially Sanders, is far better than another four years of Trump. It’s hard to argue against this, but the danger is that as we campaign against Trump and for Sanders (or anybody else), we forget entirely about building such a movement. That is certainly what has happened with the labor leadership, as well as Democratic Socialists of America. No matter what develops around the upcoming elections, it is that movement in the streets that we have to focus on today.
Update: A previous version of this article referred to a poll taken state by state. It showed that Sanders had a 72% approval rating in Vermont, whereas the senators from Alabama had about a 50% approval rating in their state. What wasn’t clear from the article was that the 72% approval rating for Sanders was in Vermont, not Alabama, something we were unclear on. We apologize for this error.