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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Post-Clinton But Not Post-Obama?

New York Post:
[F]ormer President Barack Obama... isn’t just staying behind in Washington. He’s working behind the scenes to set up what will effectively be a shadow government to not only protect his threatened legacy, but to sabotage the incoming administration... He’s doing it through a network of leftist nonprofits led by Organizing for Action... with a growing war chest and more than 250 offices across the country. Since Donald Trump’s election, this little-known but well-funded protesting arm has beefed up staff and ramped up recruitment of young liberal activists, declaring on its website, “We’re not backing down.” Determined to salvage Obama’s legacy, it’s drawing battle lines on immigration, ObamaCare, race relations and climate change. Obama is intimately involved in OFA operations and even tweets from the group’s account... Far from sulking, OFA activists helped organize anti-Trump marches across US cities... After Trump issued a temporary ban on immigration from seven terror-prone Muslim nations, the demonstrators jammed airports, chanting: “No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all!” Run by old Obama aides and campaign workers, federal tax records show “nonpartisan” OFA marshals 32,525 volunteers nationwide. Registered as a 501(c)(4), it doesn’t have to disclose its donors, but they’ve been generous. OFA has raised more than $40 million in contributions and grants since evolving from Obama’s campaign organization Obama for America in 2013. OFA, in IRS filings, says it trains young activists to develop “organizing skills.” Armed with Obama’s 2012 campaign database, OFA plans to get out the vote for Democratic candidates it’s grooming to win back Congress and erect a wall of resistance to Trump at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. It will be aided in that effort by the Obama Foundation, run by Obama’s former political director, and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, launched last month by Obama pal Eric Holder to end what he and Obama call GOP “gerrymandering” of congressional districts. Obama will be overseeing it all from a shadow White House located within two miles of Trump. It features a mansion, which he’s fortifying with construction of a tall brick perimeter, and a nearby taxpayer-funded office with his own chief of staff and press secretary. Michelle Obama will also open an office there, along with the Obama Foundation. Critical to the fight is rebuilding the ravaged Democrat Party. Obama hopes to install his former civil-rights chief Tom Perez at the helm of the Democratic National Committee. Perez is running for the vacant DNC chairmanship, vowing “It’s time to organize and fight... We must stand up to protect President Obama’s accomplishments;” while also promising, “We’re going to build the strongest grass-roots organizing force this country has ever seen.” The 55-year-old Obama is not content to go quietly into the night like other ex-presidents. “You’re going to see me early next year,” he said after the election, “and we’re going to be in a position where we can start cooking up all kinds of great stuff.” Added the ex-president: “Point is, I’m still fired up and ready to go.”
The insinuation that Obama is behind the scenes with a hand in organizing the hearteningly massive street protests after Election Day and the powerfully effective airport protests after the unconstitutional and racist first attempted Trump-Republican Muslim Ban is enormously interesting. I suspect this claim is a bit overblown, but I also suspect that it is getting at something otherwise overlooked.

There are all sorts of interesting crosscurrents blowing in the background of this reporting. The reference to the Obama preference for Perez for DNC Chair is one of them for sure, since it seems to side Obama with Clinton loyalists against Ellison as standard bearer of a Sanders-affiliated wing of the party. Since the Sanders-fandom is also prominent in post-election organizing, OFA's credit-claiming here feels like skirmishing along the same lines. (I think Ellison is a fine Senator, and I regarded him and Perez both as good solid progressive candidates for chair -- but now that this contest is re-litigating the primary yet again I incline to Perez knowing full well any result, including my preference, will be divisive and demoralizing at a time when we should be united and righteous.)

Nevertheless, one also gets a distinct impression from these initiatives that Obamaworld is more than a little disappointed, perhaps even a bit disgusted, by the missteps of the Clinton campaign and the pretty pass to which we have now come, and in taking up the Resistance to Trump Obama is rebuking Clinton politics. Given the embrace by HRC of the diverse Obama coalition and the most progressive platform in generation, I am personally inclined to say this rebuke was already the substance of HRC's Democratic campaign itself.

Denial of this very insight was necessary in order for Sanders to demonize HRC -- which he disastrously chose to do once he delusively shifted from a protest campaign to what he thought was a winnable campaign -- the original sin of the primary campaign that yoked her high negatives to unanswerable (because insinuated rather than asserted and impressionistic rather than factual) character and corruption attacks that would be re-iterated by Trump to balance his own unfavorables and reach otherwise unreliable white resentment voters in suburbs in the context of Republican disenfranchisement of Democratic base voters in just enough states Democrats have counted on as a firewall to pull an electoral college upset.

Given the "shellacking" Democrats received at all levels of government in both of the mid-term elections of the Obama era, it is reasonable to ask if any OFA distancing from Clintonworld doesn't involve some small shirking of critical self-assessment and responsibility on the part of Obama's adherents. Before taking too much heart from the suggestion that President Obama is still the head of the Democratic Party and OFA is busy behind the scenes planning a stunning come-back and recapturing of progressive momentum in the face of climate catastrophe, weapons proliferation, and social injustice... do remember that OFA had that 2012 database and activists and the full power of the White House and yet the losses piled up in 2014 on top of the losses preceding it. What push against jerrymandering and disenfranchisement will work better now for 2018 than it would have done in 2012 for 2014 or 2008 for 2010?

Of course, those who "Feel the Bern" will have easy answers to all of this: Obama era Democrats lost seats because Obama is a corporatist/warcriminal, Obama and Clinton skirmishing is irrelevant because Obama and Clinton are both corporatists/warcriminals. Of course, the President is commander-in-chief of the American military and executive of the wealthiest capitalist country in history -- something describable as "corporatist" and "warcriminal" is going to characterize any American Presidency. Grasping this is indispensable to exposing, resisting, ameliorating the atrocities these facts imply. Sanders' fandom in offering up their loose abstractions -- everything is rigged by the 1% -- lose the capacity to distinguish Republican from Democrat (Gore vs. W., Obama vs. Romney -- Sanders wanted Obama primaries, recall -- HRC vs. Trump), Democrat from Democrat (Bill vs. FDR, Bill vs Hillary, Hillary vs Obama), or Sanders as... another exactly equally inevitably disappointing politician (his war funding, gun, ethanol votes all reveal a compromising politician distinguished from others mostly by getting much less done than most of his colleagues and in haappening to live in such a homogeneous boring postage stamp of a state he simply rarely is called upon to compromise because nobody wants anything from Vermont).

Needless to say, as a lifelong hippy faggot socialist art school teacher in San Francisco I am far from disdaining the politics of those who would condemn and resist plutocracy and militarism. My point of contention with the Sanders fandom in the Democratic Party has always been with what I regard as their preference for a politics of purity-tests and symbolic protests over a politics of real-time problem solving and piecemeal progressive policy reform. I am an advocate of the Kingian model of the "revolution of conscience" and the ongoing struggle toward and of the Beloved Society of sustainable democratic equity-in-diversity. I am neither contemptuous nor afraid of those who call for Revolution in this nation of white-supremacy and patriarchy and plutocracy -- but I must say I do disdain those who label themselves "Revolutionary" without a substantial diagnosis of the actionable terrain and a program for change. I would never be so foolish to pretend there was anything Revolutionary about campaigning for HRC for President. This isn't because HRC was less "revolutionary" than Bernie -- indeed, I preferred HRC over Bernie as a candidate (I don't know her as a person, and don't judge candidates as potential friends, dream dates, or parent surrogates) because I regarded her experience, temperament, and connections as more capable of the kinds of progress in the direction of my own more "revolutionary" aspirations -- but because election campaigns and partisan politics, even at their best, are not revolutionary activities. Saying otherwise is a deranging error, it actively mis-educates citizens as to the nature of political change and substantial radicalism.

In the closing months of the campaign, Obama sometimes seemed to rebuke the unreliability of Democratic voters who seem all too eager to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, who forget that voting for a lesser evil that makes a real difference for the better can still be a way of voting for the greater good, who cannot be counted on to promote progressive accomplishments and remind majorities they have something to root and vote for. Whatever their frustrations with the Clinton defeat, the trustees of the Obama administration's legacy and living representatives of the REAL real diversifying secularizing planetizing America of the Obama coalition will, I both think and hope, ally with the architects of the Clinton campaign's move to the left, the professionalism of its policy shop, its embrace of intersectional analyses and harm reduction policy aims, its celebration of the diversity of America and the Democratic base. A return to Dean's 50 state strategy and ACORN-style voter registration drives coupled with legal challenges to disenfranchisement schemes is clearly the order for the day. Presumably, since this is something pretty much everybody always says one can assume eventually some party muckety-mucks will get around to doing it in earnest.

However indispensable the mass protests of Trump Republican authoritarianism and individual support of the vulnerable, organizing to win elections (at the City and State level and in the House of Representatives for 2018 -- even to hold in the Senate is a dauntingly big task, I'm afraid, given the math) is the most useful thing we can all do in coming months. More, and Better, Democrats is a virtuous circle making everything else we need to do that much easier. Bernie Sanders isn't even a Democrat and too many who take him as their champion are simply Greens and Naderites and anarchists who want to piss on the Democratic Party and/or take it over because they cannot build or maintain their own. But not all politics are partisan. There is a lot of education, agitation, and organization at the local level, in the streets, in classrooms, in culture. This work is not to be dismissed but celebrated. It is no less indispensable to progress than partisan reform also is. But a stump speech isn't the same thing as an academic lecture and a party platform isn't the same thing as a revolutionary manifesto and a party isn't the same thing as a fandom and a slogan isn't the same thing as a policy and a vote isn't the same thing as performance art.

Like Howard Dean, I am from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party: I want a Democratic Party that stands with and for the majority of Americans who work for a living. And I believe that Obama and HRC both worked to re-orient the Party to that work after the long night of the Southern Strategy and the Republican dismantlement of the New Deal and Great Society (very much including the distress of the Clinton administration in the immediate aftermath of the Reagan years during the Gingrich "Contract [On] America"). I have no trouble with those who prefer more conspicuously progressive candidates for this or that office (I was a fan of Tsongas against the first Clinton, and a fan of Obama against the second Clinton the first time, and might have been a fan of a Biden/Warren ticket over Clinton a third time too given the chance), once a solid case can be made for the path to their actual election. But I prefer my Democrats to be... Democrats, with real accomplishments and solid relationships and a detailed understanding of current events. Bernie wasn't, in my view, and it matters to me that he still isn't.

The Democratic Party is signaling that it is NOT post-Obama in the Moment of Trump. This is a good thing in my view. I think the Party is also signaling that it IS post-Clinton, as I believe it has been doing since the Party's purge of DLCers and Blue Dogs, mostly in 2010. In the past I would have described that development as a good thing as well, because I regarded it as the conclusion of the Great Sort of the parties on questions of civil rights which I imagined would eventually force the GOP to adapt wholesomely to reality to become a viable opposition Party again, but I cannot say I am quite so confident of those assumptions at the moment given recent events. Is Trump the last gasp of white supremacy as the Southern Strategy blows its wad and America turns into a majority minority country -- or is a "Southernification" of white suburban/"rural" voters coupled with disenfranchisement of Democratic base voters in mid-western states extending the electorally useful life of the heinous Southern Strategy? The concentration of Democratic voters in cities in a system that ultimately allocates representation in ways that skew to geographic rather than demographic realities is a deep problem, as the example of how small a minority subjugated how great a majority so terribly so long in South Africa, for example, is an important reminder.

Be all that as it may, I think it is more important to get past Bernie Sanders than to get past HRC in this post-[Bill]Clintonian Democratic Party. I believe, the Democratic Party is the most indispensable but at once inadequate tool in the struggle for freedom and justice in the United States. I don't personally expect to like the process in which the progressive vegi-sausage is slowly made. I don't expect actual policies to resemble my own ideal versions of them, since they will always also reflects the needs, facts, and ends of stakeholders who differ from me but share the world in which and for which legislation is made. In the long term, despite our current Trump-Republican catastrophe, I have to think it is a sign of greater long-term health for the Democratic Party that it was able to fend off a takeover by an extra-party insurgency while the Republican Party was not. While it is true that you don't get to govern if you don't win elections, the converse is not necessarily true with Republicans who may win and yet are incapable of or opposed to actual governance. Again, while I am pretty far to HRC's left politically myself, I think her greatest flaw as a candidate was actually not her policy positions, even the ones I disagreed with, but her awkwardness and discomfort as a public communicator in an era irretrievably mass-mediated -- this is a flaw that recurs catastrophically as a Democratic tic from Adlai Stevenson, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry to Hillary Clinton. I daresay if the people of the Democratic Party took rhetoric seriously neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders would have been the frontrunning candidate in our primary.  

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