Biden Rounds Up the Usual Suspects

Biden: Plenty of flags, but no change

W.J. Astore

Surprise! President-elect Joe Biden isn’t listening to progressive voices in his party. Instead, he’s been rounding up the usual suspects for his cabinet and staff. Turns out, progressives, that if you give your support and vote to a Democratic establishment tool like Biden without making firm demands, you won’t get anything in return. Who knew?

Here are a few good articles on Biden’s staff and cabinet:

At TomDispatch.com, Danny Sjursen gives a sharp-eyed summary of the typical Biden operative in the realm of military and foreign affairs. Here’s what Sjursen has to say:

In fact, the national security bio of the archetypal Biden bro (or sis) would go something like this: she (he) sprang from an Ivy League school, became a congressional staffer, got appointed to a mid-tier role on Barack Obama’s national security council, consulted for WestExec Advisors (an Obama alumni-founded outfit linking tech firms and the Department of Defense), was a fellow at the Center for New American Security (CNAS), had some defense contractor ties, and married someone who’s also in the game.

It helps as well to follow the money. In other words, how did the Biden bunch make it and who pays the outfits that have been paying them in the Trump years? None of this is a secret: their two most common think-tank homes — CNAS and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) — are the second- and sixth-highest recipients, respectively, of U.S. government and defense-contractor funding. The top donors to CNAS are Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and the Department of Defense. Most CSIS largesse comes from Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon. 

With the news that Tony Blinken will be Biden’s Secretary of State, Caitlin Johnstone makes the following salient point:

Blinken is a liberal interventionist who has supported all of the most disgusting acts of US mass military slaughter this millennium, including the Iraq invasion which killed over a million people and ushered in an unprecedented era of military expansionism in the Middle East. So needless to say he will fly through the confirmation process.

Meanwhile, Julia Rock and Andrew Perez note the incestuous nature of this process, or how the national security revolving door keeps spinning:

On Sunday, Bloomberg reported that Biden has chosen his longtime aide, Tony Blinken, to serve as Secretary of State and will name Jake Sullivan, his senior advisor and a former Hillary Clinton aide, national security adviser. Former Obama Defense Department official Michèle Flournoy is considered the favorite to be Secretary of Defense. 

After leaving the Obama administration, Blinken and Flournoy founded WestExec Advisors, a secretive consulting firm whose motto has been: “Bringing the Situation Room to the board room.” Flournoy and Sullivan have both held roles at think tanks raking in money from defense contractors and U.S. government intelligence and defense agencies. 

Biden has been facing calls [Ha! Ha!] from Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocacy groups to end the revolving door between government and the defense industry. One-third of the members of Biden transition’s Depart­ment of Defense agency review team were most recently employed by “orga­ni­za­tions, think tanks or com­pa­nies that either direct­ly receive mon­ey from the weapons indus­try, or are part of this indus­try,” according to reporting from In These Times.

Meanwhile, defense executives have been boasting about their close relationship with Biden and expressing confidence that there will not be much change in Pentagon policy. 

Please forgive the “Ha! Ha!” parenthetical, but all this was predictable based on Biden’s record and his statement that nothing would fundamentally change in his administration.

Progressives have essentially no power in the Democratic Party. Look at who the Speaker of the House is! Nancy Pelosi, once again, the ultimate swamp creature.

Expect no new ideas from this bunch, meaning grim times are ahead. Isn’t it high time that progressives take the plunge and start their own party? They are voiceless and powerless within the Democratic Party. Failing that, they had better discover their spines and model themselves on the Tea Party in outspokenness, else they will remain utterly irrelevant.

Bernie Sanders who? Elizabeth Warren who? Progressive reforms? Not with the usual suspects that Joe Biden is selecting and empowering.

Biden the Republican

Gerontocracy, here we come

W.J. Astore

The predictable headlines are here: “Biden plans to reach across the aisle” to solicit Republican support. Even though he just won the popular vote by more than five million and a clear electoral victory as well, Biden must compromise with Republicans. Just because.

Remember when Donald Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million in 2016? And eked out electoral victories in three states? Did he feel the need “to reach across the aisle” to Democrats? Of course not. Trump and the Republicans took no prisoners. They got the tax cut they wanted. They did their best to overturn Obamacare. They got three supreme court justices. No reaching across the aisle required.

If Biden were a real Democrat, and the Democratic Party a real party, there’d be no premature talk of aisle-reaching and bipartisan handshaking. But Biden and the DNC are essentially moderate Republicans, as Barack Obama himself admitted in an interview. You might say they’re DINOs: Democrats in name only. Dinosaurs.

Speaking of dinosaurs, remember when Americans made fun of the aging leaders of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s? “Gerontocracy” is the word I remember back then. Joe Biden will be 78 when he takes office; Mitch McConnell, likely to remain the Senate majority leader will also be 78, and Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, is 80. I have nothing against senior citizens, but it’s not a coincidence that the three most powerful people in U.S. government are 80 or pushing 80. They are all creatures of a system that is all about sustaining a status quo. A status quo in which two parties, one that’s center-right and the other far-right, work to ensure that money keeps flowing into the usual pockets, irrespective of world-changing events like climate change.

With respect to Biden’s cabinet, early reports are that we’ll see a lot of Obama and Clinton retreads espousing the usual neoliberal or neoconservative positions. They’ll be more “diverse” voices,” i.e. more women, more people of color, even an openly gay guy (Mayor Pete!), but the song will remain the same. I’m guessing not a single prominent progressive voice will be added to Biden’s cabinet. None.

With respect to action, I don’t see Biden even trying to expand the Supreme Court. I see a lot of half measures: a weak attempt at a “green” economy, a weak attempt at reforming Obamacare, perhaps an expansion of Medicare to cover people 60 and older, and so on. These and similar half measures will be consistent with what the donors and owners want. And if Biden fails even with this tepid plan, he can always blame Mitch McConnell and those obstinate Republicans who just can’t seem to reach across that same aisle that Biden is so eager to cross.

Of course, there is no “aisle” to reach across. There’s plenty of bipartisan consensus already in Washington. One clear example is at the Pentagon and the Defense budget, which continues to soar no matter which party is in power.

The only “aisle” Biden truly needs to reach across is the progressive one within his own party — and I can almost guarantee you it’s the one he’s least likely to cross.

Democratic Candidates for President in 2020

ticket
Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders: Change We Can Believe In

W.J. Astore

Yes, it’s much too early, but I count at least fourteen Democratic candidates for president in the 2020 election.  Here are a few impressionistic words on each of the candidates.

The True Progressives

1.  Bernie Sanders: Bernie is principled, sincere, honest, and dedicated to helping working people.  Yes, he’s a “Democratic socialist,” which is scary to the mainstream media.  The establishment of the Democratic Party is against him.  Advantage, Bernie.

2.  Elizabeth Warren: She identifies as a “capitalist,” but she’s proven she’s willing to take on Wall Street, the big banks, and other special interests.  She’s intelligent, sharp, and committed.  Her weakness: a lack of charisma and the whole “Pocahontas” angle, i.e. her identifying as Native American on past occasions.

3.  Tulsi Gabbard: A military veteran who’s strongly against regime-change wars, a vocal critic of the military-industrial complex, Tulsi has demonstrated poise, thoughtfulness, and coolness under pressure.  The DNC and media are against her because she’s independent-minded and refuses to bow down before special interests.  A dark horse candidate who may catch fire.  (I’m so excited I’m mixing metaphors.)

The Usual Suspects (Milquetoast Centrists)

1. Cory Booker: A water-bearer for Big Pharma, Booker has a pleasant demeanor but takes few chances.

2.  Kamala Harris: A former prosecutor, Harris seems to love prisons more than schools.

3.  Kirsten Gillibrand: Rumor has it she asked her friends on Wall Street whether it was OK for her to run.  They apparently said “yes,” so she announced her formal candidacy today.

4.  Amy Klobuchar: Already with a sad reputation for abusing her staff and making ill-judged jokes about it, Klobuchar is an uninspiring centrist.

5.  Beto O’Rourke: A millionaire who married a woman who will apparently inherit billions, Beto showed up in Iowa speaking in platitudes about the wonders of democracy in the USA.  His only firm principle is that he believes he deserves to be in the race, perhaps because he looks a little like a Kennedy if you squint really hard.

The Governors

1.  John Hickenlooper: A governor from Colorado, Hickenlooper made his money by opening a micro-brewery.  At a campaign appearance in Iowa, somebody broke a glass, and he helped to clean it up.  Though he was afraid to say he was a “capitalist” on TV, Hickenlooper may have some potential.

2.  Jay Inslee: Governor of Washington State, he’s made fighting climate change the central issue of his campaign.  He’s got one of the big issues right, so advantage to Inslee.

Wild Cards and Also-Rans

1.  Andrew Yang: A former venture capitalist and unconventional thinker, Yang has caught people’s attention by talking about a guaranteed income for all.  A possible anti-Trump in the sense he’s a successful financier with brains and heart.

2.  Pete Buttigieg: A gay mayor who’s also a veteran, Buttigieg got some air time recently by referring to Trump as a “porn president.”  Comes across like a young Mr. Rogers.

3.  Julian Castro: Formerly Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama.  And that’s all I know.

4.  John Delaney: I just saw his name today.  The end.

The Ultimate Centrist and Establishment Man

1. Joe Biden: Hasn’t yet announced, but it looks like he will.  The presumed front-runner based on name recognition and his loyal service as Obama’s VP for eight years.  Will have the full support of the mainstream media, the DNC, and the Washington establishment.  A decent-enough man, Biden is effectively a moderate Republican.

Bracing Views, in all its power, fully supports Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard, real progressives who want to effect real change.

Which candidates do you like, readers?  And which ones don’t you like?  Look forward to your comments!

Update (3/19/19): Apparently two more candidates are waiting in the wings: Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum.  Both are candidates of color who recently ran close but unsuccessful races in Georgia and Florida.  Perhaps not presidential material (due to lack of experience on the national stage), they may emerge as strong candidates for a VP slot.

abramsgillum

A Silver Lining?

Bernie
Bernie Sanders pointed the way forward for Democrats

M. Davout

Editor’s Intro: My good friend M. Davout is a Democrat.  Like me, he favored Bernie Sanders in the primaries.  After donating to Sanders, holding a Sanders fundraising dinner with like-minded Democrats, making calls on his behalf and voting for him on Super Tuesday, Davout gave his vote to Clinton in the general election. In this article, he suggests that, in this dark political moment, the Sanders primary campaign continues to have a positive impact. For those dedicated to a form of democratic self-rule based on mutual respect and fraternal solidarity, a silver lining exists in the example set by the Sanders campaign of an opposition movement built on a democratic socialist vision that is centered on America’s working families. W.J. Astore

Hillary Clinton was the best-known Democratic establishment politician in the country.  She led a state-of-the-art campaign organization, which enjoyed the unstinting support of a popular incumbent president and first lady, the incumbent vice president, her former primary opponent, and her husband/former president. Her shocking defeat at the hands of an authoritarian-minded political amateur who ran as an unapologetic nativist and bigot should give little satisfaction to progressives.

For the next two years and possibly for the next eight, the federal government will be entirely controlled by a Republican Party, whose decades-long promotion of an “every man for himself” ethos may finally result in the gutting of most, if not all, of the remaining institutional legacies of the Great Society, New Deal and Progressive eras. Or, if Trump’s most objectionable instincts and his impulsive nature are not adequately controlled by the Republican establishment, we may be in for worse—a destabilizing foreign policy that may land us in conflicts that will make George W. Bush’s Iraq adventure seem harmless by comparison.

The silver lining for progressives in this grim picture? It isn’t the expectation that Trump’s election will lead to such catastrophic outcomes that U.S. voters will finally come to their senses and swing in overwhelming numbers to the political left. Stories (whether apocryphal or not) about German leftists of the Thirties, who saw Adolf Hitler’s elevation to the chancellorship in just such terms, should disenthrall us of this idea.

The silver lining, rather, is that Bernie Sanders gave Clinton a real run for her money in the primaries. Had he not run and had she been coronated as the party nominee (an outcome fervently wished by the then-DNC chair and other DC establishmentarians), the electoral defeat of Democrats would likely have been worse and the current feeling of despair would be far deeper. That Sanders, articulating a compelling social democratic vision of sensible self-government for the common good, was able to motivate and mobilize so many young people offers Democrats and left-leaning independents a path forward.

Sanders demonstrated that there is a significant opening for a social democratic party that can appeal across racial and ethnic lines and forge alliances with unions and new economy business people (e.g., producers of green tech and energy, internet entrepreneurs, and urban-based economic interests supportive of mass transit). The importance of that demonstration, which came in the form of millions of votes and volunteer hours, a campaign funding juggernaut powered by small donations, and over 20 state primary or caucus victories, should not be underestimated.

Whether one believes that a party led by Sanders would not have lost Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, the reality is that future candidates of the left cannot afford to cede those states to the party of Reagan-Bush-Trump. If the Democratic Party cannot be reshaped into the social democratic party evoked by Sanders (and soon), his and our goal should be to persuade progressive Democratic politicians to join a new party of the left.

One thing is certain: Another establishment candidate in the mold of a Hillary Clinton, a candidate who is so comfortably ensconced in elite circles that he or she would not recognize the problem in accepting quarter-of-a-million dollar speaking fees from a Wall Street investment firm that helped tank the economy or in declaring Henry Kissinger to be a foreign policy making role model, will only ensure the triumph of reactionary candidates such as Trump.

It’s time for Democratic politicians to recognize the economic realities of ordinary Americans and fight unashamedly for progressive policies that answer the challenge of fostering lives of decency and mutual respect.  It’s time not only to embrace progressive candidates willing to reject a rigged system in the cause of economic and social justice but also to create (or re-create) a political party deserving of such candidates.

Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s Choice for VP, Speaks Volumes About Hillary

00kaineMIN-master768
Tim Kaine, the non-progressive choice for VP

W.J. Astore

Hillary Clinton has selected her vice president and it’s Tim Kaine from Virginia.  Kaine is known as steady, Catholic, in favor of “free” (corporate) trade agreements like the TPP, a man with foreign policy experience, and also a man with the right pedigree (Harvard-educated lawyer).  Being from Virginia, naturally he’s considered to bring “balance” to the ticket.

But what about all those progressive passions that Bernie Sanders mobilized?  What about tapping that movement?  What about a candidate like Elizabeth Warren?  By choosing Kaine, Hillary is saying, Forget all that, Democrats.  I’m in charge here, and they’ll be no tomfoolery about progressive issues like health care or education or bank reform.  They’ll be no reform of a “rigged system” because we are the rigged system and we like it that way, thank you very much.

Hillary is banking that progressives have nowhere else to go, so to speak.  They’re not going to vote for Trump.  Sure, a few might go Green or Libertarian.  But most will stay with her, Hillary believes, as the best and only chance to keep Trump at bay.  And perhaps she’s right.

An interesting statement from a puff piece at the New York Times: “He’s a company man,” said Dan Allen, who was an adviser to George Allen (no relation), the Republican Mr. Kaine beat in 2012 to win his Senate seat. “He was in Mark Warner’s footsteps as lieutenant governor, then he was in the footsteps of Obama. From a Clinton standpoint, this is a guy who’s shown a pattern of, he’s more than willing to be a follower in the footsteps of whomever is the leader.”

That makes perfect sense.  Hillary wouldn’t want a VP who would eclipse her.  Elizabeth Warren would have.  Plus Warren is tough-minded, a fighter, an independent thinker.  Hillary’s number one priority has always been herself and keeping those beneath her loyal and subservient.  Seems like Kaine fits the bill.

In the aftermath of the Tim Kaine choice, if anyone out there still believes in a “progressive” Hillary, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn, some great vacation land in the swamps of Florida …

What It Will Take to Gain My Support in 2020

hillary henry
What kind of Progressive hugs Henry Kissinger?

M. Davout

I am a lifelong Democrat living in one of the former Confederate states that will not turn purple in the 2016 presidential election cycle no matter what Trump says or does. I therefore feel free to withhold my vote from Secretary Clinton this election cycle because of serious doubts about her neoliberal domestic policy instincts and her hawkish foreign policy leanings. To the extent that she is responsive to the demands of electoral politics, I think her first term administration can be influenced in a progressive direction (especially in matters of political economy and foreign affairs). The following thoughts are intended to suggest one way of exercising progressive pressure.

These thoughts are aimed at people like me–progressives living in NON-battleground states who feel free to vote for a third party progressive at the presidential level in this election but who also hope for progressive leadership if (as currently seems likely) Secretary Clinton wins. As a result of the Bernie Sanders campaign, progressives have come to understand that they have real leverage and it doesn’t only consist of their votes.

During this past primary season, I engaged in a level of political activity that was unprecedented for me. In addition to donating to the Sanders campaign what turned out to be about one percent of my annual income, I held a fundraising dinner with friends that raised another (albeit smaller) chunk of money for the campaign. I made phone calls to voters in Colorado, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma before Super Tuesday and lobbied friends and family members across several states to vote for Sanders. To the extent that tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of others had similar unprecedented experiences, we constitute a political force whose collective fundraising capacity and campaign labor are robust enough to make it worthwhile to a first term Clinton administration to try to earn our support for the 2020 campaign.

What concrete actions would earn my support? I could list several but I’ll limit myself in this post to the issue of presidential appointments in two areas. (I welcome contributions to this list from progressives out there from non-battleground states with similar experiences who see some promise in this approach.)

The first thing a first term Clinton Administration could do to earn my vote in 2020 is to demonstrate independence from the special interests who have financially rewarded Secretary Clinton, members of her family, and the Clinton Foundation with extremely generous speaking fees, lucrative positions, and/or donations. In the appointments process in the domestic policy area this would mean refusing to nominate people to departmental, agency, or judicial positions who are products or beneficiaries of, or otherwise beholden to, those special interests, which include investment banks, private health insurers, fossil fuel industry. For example, don’t choose a Wall Street insider for the position of Secretary of the Treasury. Better a Wall Street whistle blower or an academic Jeremiah who warned of the coming mortgage securities implosion.

In national security deliberations, ensure that the people at the table include those who have proven to be prescient about the limited efficacy of military force as well as those who have expressed concern about imperial overreach. Whether or not the rumor is true that Secretary Clinton was consistently one of the most hawkish people in the room during Obama Administration foreign policy deliberations, she needs to have at the critical meetings foreign policy and national security figures of weight and influence who can provide alternative perspectives to the drumbeat of hawkish advice which so often passes for serious thinking in DC foreign policy circles. In this respect, it would go a long way merely as a symbolic gesture for Secretary Clinton to make clear that she isn’t going to take advice from Henry Kissinger, that he won’t be visiting the White House, that his calls will not be taken, and that any efforts to give advice through back channels will be rebuffed.

Secretary Clinton’s impending choice of a running mate may be the best indication we have of the direction in which she will go in the appointments process. Will she pick a proven progressive and independent voice such as Elizabeth Warren or Tom Perez? Or will she opt for someone firmly in the Clinton mold (e.g., a cultivator of Wall Street and other special interest contacts and money)?

In a future post, the sort of policy proposals that could earn progressive votes will be taken up.

M. Davout is a pseudonym for a professor of political science and critic of US politics, culture, and empire.

The “Liberal” Media Narrative on Bernie Sanders

Bernie
Keep fighting, Bernie

W.J. Astore

Bernie Sanders has won yet another primary against Hillary Clinton, this time in West Virginia.  He’s likely to win more, perhaps even California in June.  Yet what is the headline at the “liberal” New York Times?

Top News
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont campaigning Tuesday in Salem, Ore. His victory in West Virginia's Democratic primary on Tuesday was less about policy differences with Hillary Clinton than about the state's demographics.

Bernie Sanders Wins West Virginia, Prolonging Race With Hillary Clinton

By TRIP GABRIEL

The primary victory by the senator from Vermont will force his Democratic rival to continue a distracting nominating fight.

Can you believe the nerve of that man?  Bernie Sanders is “forcing” his rival, Hillary Clinton, “to continue a distracting nominating fight.”

I suppose Democrats should just hand the nomination to Hillary, uncontested. Now that’s true democracy in action.

Without the “superdelegates,” i.e. without the support of the establishment within the Democratic Party, Hillary and Bernie would be running neck-and-neck.  You’d think the media would love a close horse race like this.  But no: the media is slavering for a Trump versus Hillary race.  Bernie is already an afterthought, even as he keeps winning.

Bernie’s victories highlight Hillary’s weaknesses.  Progressives don’t trust her. Independents are not impressed.  Young people are turned off (her politics as usual is uninspiring, to say the least).  Working-class whites find little of appeal in her message and record.

Yet the media, even the so-called liberal media, has already declared victory for Hillary, looking ahead to the joys of months of mud-slinging between Hillary and Trump.

Please stay in the race, Bernie. You have nothing to lose — and the country has much to gain.

A Bumper Sticker Collage

A collage of bumper stickers in Great Barrington, Mass.
A collage of bumper stickers in Great Barrington, Mass.  Photo by the author.

A sequel to our recent article, Dueling Bumper Stickers

I remember making collages in grade school; they were always good fun.  I came across this collage of bumper stickers yesterday at the Gypsy Joint Cafe in Great Barrington, Mass.  (They make scrumptious sandwiches and salads, by the way.)

It’s a representative sample of sentiments that are common to progressive places.  (But note the “Don’t mess with Texas,” which is representative of, well, Texans.)

It’s hard to argue with “Teach Peace” or “Peace Is Patriotic.”  “Folk the War” is pretty straightforward.  And I do like the idea of living the life that I love.  And I hope that the more I know, the less I need.

Now I need to find a similar collage of conservative stickers.  Will those stickers be as idealistic, as upbeat, as focused on sustainable food and education and music and peace?

I’m betting not.

W.J. Astore