On Super Tuesday
On Monday, two ‘moderate’ candidates with a modicum of vote-getting ability, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, dropped out of the race and endorsed Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination. It seemed likely that the Democratic National Committee had been at work, consulting with such behind-the-scenes operators as Terry McAuliffe (a heavy-hitting Clinton donor and ex-governor of Virginia) and Rahm Emanuel (Obama’s chief of staff and ex-mayor of Chicago). In the days after Bernie Sanders’s victory in the Nevada primary, they would have put through many phone calls and sealed many promises, and not only to Buttigieg and Klobuchar. The order of the day had become Stop Sanders By Any Means Necessary. The lukewarm interest in Biden had to be screwed up to a pitch of enthusiasm overnight.
It worked. Late on Tuesday evening, everything changed. Of the 14 states in the Super Tuesday primaries, Sanders won California, Colorado, Utah and Vermont. Biden took Alabama, Arkansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. In total votes, Biden now leads Sanders by a proportion of five to four; in the delegate count, his margin is similar. The remaining candidates add up to less than a third of the Sanders haul. As I was revising this paragraph, Bloomberg dropped out of the race, and he too endorsed Biden, leaving only Biden, Sanders and (lagging far behind) Elizabeth Warren to fight it out.
In the space of a week, the Democratic Party went from the strong possibility of a Sanders nomination to the extreme likelihood that Biden will lead the ticket. Both men have done consistently well in conjectural polling against Trump (both leading by 5 per cent or so). The case against Sanders is that he could never survive a full-blown propaganda storm by Republicans that would portray his democratic socialism as identical with support for totalitarian communism. With Biden, the strategy is simpler but untested. Trump will go after his son Hunter’s involvement in the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings. Never mind that in the matter of nepotism, the Trump Organisation is multiple pots calling the kettle black. Biden’s weakness on this point resembles Hillary Clinton’s weakness in 2016. The pay-to-play shadow over the Clinton Foundation and her decision to give expensive talks to Wall Street firms diminished the contrast with Trump. The same will be true of Biden: besides Hunter and Ukraine, there are his career-long relationships with the Delaware-based credit industry and his conservative position in major legislative battles over civil rights. Biden helped to write the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, whose consequences became a deep embarrassment to the Clintons. Still, the numbers of African Americans voting for him on Super Tuesday in the Deep South, in Texas and elsewhere, have put some of these apprehensions to rest.
Sanders won’t be quitting. A possibility remains, therefore, that the Democrats will conduct a ‘brokered convention’. Secondary candidates like Buttigieg and Warren had lately put themselves in the anti-popular posture of endorsing such a proceeding (though there’s been nothing like it since the 1950s): at a brokered convention, a candidate with a solid plurality can be denied the nomination on the first ballot and defeated later by a coalition. If Biden now runs far ahead of Sanders, he may sew it up in advance. On the other hand, his verbal gaffes (announcing himself a candidate for the Senate rather than the presidency; saying ‘I was a Democratic caucus’) and his fabricated or false memories (a non-existent arrest in South Africa for demonstrating against the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela) have exposed a cognitive fragility that some people fear could make him ridiculous by November.
A Biden-Trump contest in 2020 would resemble Clinton-Trump in at least one respect. It would be a case, yet again, of the right wing of the Democratic Party making the conventional choice against the party’s own insurgent energy. But the difference of personalities may matter. Though many (perhaps most) people have felt superior to Biden at some point, he is hard to dislike. ‘One thing he has going for him,’ said a voter who supported Warren but has resigned herself to Biden, ‘is that he is not an angry man. He may lose his temper but anger is not his core motivating force.’ That makes a contrast with Trump, all right.
Could Sanders find a second wind? He has yet to explain with the requisite patience what he means by democratic socialism; and the liberal-corporate media have so relentlessly caricatured him as a person that a second speech may be in order just to tell people who he is. Take a trip to Vermont and you find that no one has a bad word about Bernie. The affection has nothing to do with politics. On the bulletin board of a grocery store in 2016, I saw this sign: ‘Senator Sanders will march in annual cow parade.’ He was arrested once – he didn’t have to imagine it – in a protest for civil rights. He took part in Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington.
This is nothing like the picture one gets from grinning CNN presenters and their pundits, or from the incapable Democratic National Committee. The DNC ruled out a separate debate on climate change – the single issue that most moves thinking persons to regard the Trump presidency as a catastrophe. They likewise excluded Fox News from any role in any of the debates; but why? Fox was going to report on the debates anyway. Why not give their audience the full context? There have been notorious permitted acts of collusion, as with the exchange in the Iowa debate between a moderator and two candidates:
Mod: In 2018, [Senator Sanders], you told [Senator Warren] that you did not believe that a woman could win the election. Why did you say that?
Sanders: Well, as a matter of fact, I didn’t say it …
Mod: So Senator Sanders, I do want to be clear here. You’re saying, that you never told Senator Warren that a woman could not win the election.
Sanders: That is correct.
Mod: Senator Warren, what did you think when Senator Sanders told you that a woman could not win the election?
The political diet of the debates so far has been largely confined to the pros and (mostly) cons of Medicare for All, the menace of Vladimir Putin, and general attitudes toward women and persons of colour. They have contained very few questions about America’s wars in the Greater Middle East, close to nothing about climate change, and nothing (outside the narrow ground of the impeachment) about Trump's corruption of the federal departments and agencies. For both the party and the media, treatment of US politics has been channelled into a familiar cultural ‘theming’ of race and gender. The National Public Radio Guide to Super Tuesday dealt entirely with demographic reminders such as ‘A wild card [in California] is black voters’ or ‘Maine is the whitest state to vote on Super Tuesday.’ The Democrats and their media outworks are treating Latinos, African Americans and whites as separate nations. Women are a nation, too – parsed (where useful) as Latino, African American or white.
So the answer to Trump’s divide and conquer comes in the form of these college-certified categories that self-divide and surrender. The only other weapon of note has been an attempted revival of the Cold War. On 23 February, the New York Times led with two anti-Sanders hatchet jobs, targeting him as both a destroyer of the Democratic Party and a possible Russian agent. The paper has even called him the ‘Teflon’ candidate – an epithet originally applied to Ronald Reagan. But the mainstream media and their captive party, the party and its captive media, show no sign of letting up the pressure. A recent leak from a misinterpreted fragment of a report by the Director of National Intelligence became a two-day Red Scare. Was Putin once more gearing up to steal an election? Was Sanders complicit, or was he merely duped? All this while the planet burns.
The truth is that the corporate-liberal media are comfortable with the Trump presidency. They have prospered wonderfully from his entertainment value, even as they staked out a high ground in the anti-Trump ‘resistance’. It will be hard to deny the plausibility of the charge likely to issue soon from the Sanders campaign, namely that ‘the fix is in’; and that, once more, the people are being denied their proper voice – at first through an organised propaganda campaign that was fed into debates as well as news coverage, and at last through public co-ordination by the party establishment to guide Democrats into the one acceptable box.