The most important thing about last night’s Democratic Party debate was that Tulsi Gabbard emerged as a truly dangerous figure. More about that below. Here are some comments on some of the different issues discussed:
Almost all the candidates except Gabbard strongly condemned Trump, and supported impeachment, I think effectively. (Gabbard supported impeachment, but she was relatively restrained.) In general, they attacked him for his links with Putin and for his corruption. However, predictably, none of them even hinted at the underlying cause of his attachment to Putin – his money laundering past.
Also significant was that, in talking about the upcoming elections, none of the candidates mentioned the voter suppression that happened in 2018 and is being prepared for 2020. In 2000, the Democrats didn’t want to challenge the Florida vote miscount through public protests because they didn’t want to make people distrust the system. It seems the same is happening again.
There was some discussion on the issue of jobs, in part initiated by the arrogant Andrew Yang. Warren claimed that automation is not a cause of job loss, but she is mistaken. Statistics show that industrial production has not decreased significantly but the number of jobs in that sector has. In other words, fewer workers are producing the same amount. The only explanation is automation.
Yang calls for a “universal basic income” (UBI) of $1,000 per month as the solution. Nobody pointed out that this pitiful amount won’t even keep people from being homeless. In addition, in other cases the call for UBI has been a substitute for other social payments like food stamps, etc. Nobody asked Yang if that is what he means.
The main thing is that nobody raised the obvious answer: A shorter work week at the same rate of pay. And why shouldn’t workers have that? If they are producing more in fewer hours, then the working class should reap the benefits. In the past, the call was thirty for forty. Now, it should be a maximum of 25… or less… for 40.
Warren advocated having boards of directors composed of 40% representatives of the employees. She said that in that case, the boards would be less eager to move production to low wage countries. The problem with that is that in that case the companies cannot compete with those producing in low wage countries.
She added to her mistake later when the discussion turned to the GM strike. In that instance, she called for auto production to be shifted from Mexico to the US. That is the same call as the leadership of the UAW, and it’s sure to get an echo among US workers. The problem is that this demand is sure to undercut any tendency of solidarity from Mexican GM workers. Instead, the union should be reaching out to GM workers around the world, building for a global strike and for common demands around wages, a work week, etc.
On healthcare, Warren repeatedly evaded the question, “will you raise taxes to pay for medicare for all?” That will not have gone unnoticed by the viewers. Sanders, at least, openly says “yes”.
But one issue they both get a “fail” on is why not make Medicare for all an option, rather than eliminate private insurance altogether. The reason is that if you have the private insurance plans competing with Medicare, the former will cherry pick the “best” customers, meaning the younger and healthier ones. They will then be able to charge lower rates and leave Medicare with the older and sicker patients, making Medicare uncompetitive. The reason that Warren and Sanders don’t point this out is that it starkly shows the problem with a mixed (public and private) economy, which is what they base themselves on at best.
GM strike and union rights
Several of the candidates talked quite a bit about supporting the GM strikers and about union rights. It all sounded very good, until one realizes that when both Carter and Clinton were presidents, and when they had a Democratic congress, not a single piece of legislation was passed that the unions had labeled as a priority.
Buttigieg reflected this when he attacked Warren and others, saying that everyone calls for “elegant” proposals but nothing ever changes. His solution, of course, is not to propose anything significant.
Prior to the debate, some of the commentators had said that Buttigieg would have to break out of the nice guy mold if he wanted to advance. Sure enough, he strongly attacked O’Rourke for his call to take assault weapons away from people. But what did he call for? “We cannot wait for background checks,” he said. “We have to get something done. We have to actually do things.” A meaningless statement if there ever was one.
(On the issue of gun violence, the most important comment came from Castro, who talked about the police murder of Atatiana Jefferson in Ft. Worth. “Police violence is also gun violence,” he said. Nobody else responded.)
Yang the reactionary libertarian
Yang revealed his true reactionary, libertarian side when he called for a value added tax. This tax, which is similar to a sales tax, is extremely regressive, but nobody pointed this out.
There was also a lot of talk about the opioid crisis, and Sanders was alone in calling for the jailing of the pharmaceutical executives. That was good, but there is another thing: Why didn’t this “socialist” call for the taking of the pharmaceutical companies under public ownership and under the control and management of the workers? That, after all, is an ABC of real socialism!
Syria, Tulsi Gabbard and red-brown alliance
One of the most spirited subjects to be discussed was foreign policy, specifically Syria, and here is where the truly dangerous nature of Tulsi Gabbard emerged. All the candidates but her strongly condemned Trump’s actions. While Gabbard mildly criticized it, her main point was to call for an end to “the regime change war that we are waging in Syria”. She repeated this phrase – “regime change wars” – time and again. This is the term the overt and covert Assad supporters use. They claim that the revolt in Syria is just a US effort at regime change. Along the way, they dismiss or ignore Assad’s absolutely criminal repression. So Gabbard was making a dog whistle to them. (At least Biden attacked her for this lie of hers.)
The issue of Syria is the key nexus where the “left” and the far right, including outright fascists, meet, and Tulsi Gabbard is playing the role of the magnet for this tendency within the Democratic Party. She seems to be very conscious of that, as she was the only one to be fairly restrained also when the issue of a woman’s right to choose, a woman’s control over her own body, came up. In the few minutes allotted to her, Gabbard chose to talk against third trimester abortions. Regardless of whether she is right or not, this again is a dog whistle for the anti-abortion crowd.
It is no accident that Gabbard is endorsed by fascists like David Duke and far right conspiracy theorists like Mike Cernovich. No matter what happens with Trump, Gabbard will likely continue as a dangerous meeting point for the far right and the “left”. She will continue to sow confusion, despite the fact that she will almost certainly not come near the nomination.
The best line of all came not from the debate but from one of the commercials. Ron Reagan, gay son of President Reagan, appeared in a commercial on behalf of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He talked about separation of church and state and concluded, “I’m Ronald Reagan. Lifelong atheist. Not afraid of burning in hell.”