2020 Primary Politics: 03. Lefty Dems’ Theory of Victory


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  • 01. Introduction (& how NPPs can vote in primaries)
  • 02. Theories of Victory — the Moderates
  • 03. Theories of Victory — the Democratic Left
  • The Democratic Rift
  • Accepting Complexity
  • Politics Isn’t Local, It’s Personal
  • Guide to the Nomination Process
  • How Will Trump Fight?
  • What Can Be Achieved?
  • Who’s Telling It Straight?
  • Harris
  • Castro
  • Booker
  • Patrick
  • Gabbard
  • Klobuchar
  • Buttigieg
  • Yang
  • Biden
  • Bloomberg
  • Steyer
  • Warren
  • Sanders
  • Black Voters — It’s the Timing More Than the Base
  • Black Voters — Age, Religiosity, or Practicality?
  • Black Voters — Church-Centered
  • Black Voters — Secular
  • Latino Voters
  • Asian Voters
  • Women Voters
  • LGBTQ+ Voters
  • Labor Voters
  • Military Voters

Those who don’t follow the Bernie Sanders campaign closely may not realize which of the things he says is his actual slogan.  It’s “not me, us.”  That might sound a little silly — he’s the only one on the ballot, so of course it’s “him” to some extent.  But this phrase isn’t about being elected; it’s about creating political change.

Sanders’s position is this: he can’t make really significant change all by himself.  This is something that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama learned before him, to the extent that any of them were really set on making serious structural change.  (No Democratic President since LBJ has been; every Republican since LBJ except maybe Ford and Bush Sr. has been.)

Obama was handcuffed from the start of his first term by the Great Recession (and the perception that he could be rolled), but Clinton was the one whose trajectory is most informative.  He started out taking baby steps on gay (not yet LGBTQ+) rights and having Hillary lead his attempt to reform health care before House Democrats wouldn’t go along with anything serious in 1993, the fizzling of which contributed greatly to the slaughter of Democrats in 1994 at the hands of Newt Gingrich and his “Contract With America.”  That’s a potential future for a Senator Sanders, and to his credit he has thought a lot about it and how to circumvent it.

Here’s it in a nutshell: Electing a Democratic President (especially after Trump) isn’t going to scare Members of Congress into agreeing to policy changes.  It’s creating a Democratic movement capable of electing a Democratic President — by giving unprecedented amounts of small donations, walking and calling and writing and protesting like never before, that will scare Congress into considering his plans, for their own political good.  When he talks about transforming America, he means it: to hell with apathy, damn the torpedoes. full speed ahead!

We’re so used to complacency and cynicism that it’s hard to imagine a society that is as politically activated as those of most other industrial democracies.  But it’s not an impossible goal; just a difficult and unusual one.  The payoff, if people get really activated, and committed to weeding out corruption and retaking the tilted gains of the past forty years, could be huge.

The big impediment to such an achievement has been the political establishment — including the parties, the media, the businesses, the military, and the churches.  It might be hard for Bernie to win, the first time, under most normal circumstances.  But these are not normal circumstances.  The Democratic party, much of the media, and the sane members of the military and churches and business community, all understand the need to get rid of Trump.  They may not fight for Trump against Sanders they way that they’d fight for Romney or Jeb Bush.  Sanders, moreover, stacks up well against Trump because he can pull the Old Testament righteous prophet persona on Trump when he needs to — enough that Trump may well refuse to debate him.  (Think of Mike Tyson getting out of his fight with Evander Holyfield by securing a disqualification.)

So far I’ve spoken only about Sanders.  The Left also includes Warren, (until recently) Castro, and arguably Yang and Steyer.  Warren is the only one of the others with a decent shot, partly because many of us would like to see a woman President (or at least Veep) and she’s sharp and personable.  The question for her is whether she can bring out the passion in the public that Sanders has.  So far, the answer is no — but if Sanders runs out of steam I expect that he will lend her his band of followers, although not all of them will transfer their affection. Yang actually has a shot at a hyper-mobilized movement, which so far he’s only been able to create in miniature.  Steyer probably doesn’t; it takes more years of practice to get good at populism than he has to devote.

The idea of an energized, reasonably radicalized, public pushing Sanders or Warren to the nomination, and the White House, and to significant policy victories is not absurd. But the comparison at hand on March 3 is whether it’s more likely to succeed against Trump than the uninspiring Biden trying to slice off just enough of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania to gain an Electoral College majority.  Biden as President, with an unenegerized Democratic base behind him, isn’t going to get a lot of real reform past Congress — seriously, which Republican Senators would be scared enough of him to cave in? — which means that Democrats will have a hard time winning in 2024 after disappointing their followers. Let’s put it this way: Trump would not duck a debate against Biden.

A Sanders or Warren presidency, dreaming big and putting their shoulders behind a push for great things — which Obama promised but rarely delivered — is more likely to be successful getting elected and keeping the party in power for a while, by changing what the electorate looks like and how actively it will be involved in demanding accountability.

At least, that’s the Left’s theory of victory.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 (in violation of Roberts Rules) when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Expelled from DPOC in October 2018 (in violation of Roberts Rules) for having endorsed Spitzer over Rackauckas -- which needed to be done. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. One of his daughters co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)