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Sunday, November 6, 2016


It is now clear that Clinton will win the presidency, there is a good chance that Democrats will retake control of the Senate [Sam Wang puts it at 80%], and there is no realistic chance that the Democrats will take control of the House.  I have forty-eight hours before I plant myself in front of the TV set and watch the results come in, so this is perhaps a good time to talk about the job we have ahead of us after this election is history.

Let us begin by being completely clear and unillusioned about what faces us.  So long as even a reduced Republican caucus controls the House, there is absolutely no chance that any of the fine proposals written into the Democratic platform will become law.  There will be no $15 an hour minimum wage, no more stringent controls on Wall Street, no movement toward a single payer health insurance system, no equal pay for equal work, no comprehensive immigration reform, no paid family leave, no re-enactment of the Voting Rights Act [although some progress via the Supreme Court is possible].  This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Clinton will be the president.  If it were Bernie about to be elected president [or Jill Stein or Ralph Nader or Noam Chomsky or Rosa Luxembourg], the same would be true.  What is more, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party nominee for president in 2020.  Trust me.

Our only hope for genuine progressive change is to mount a sustained national effort to elect progressive Democrats to city councils, State legislatures, Governorships, and House seats.  We must reverse the long-standing tendency of the Democratic Party coalition to go missing in off-year elections.  This work is not romantic and exciting, it is not fed by cable news reports and social media, it will for the most part fly under the radar, but it is the only way to get progressive legislation enacted.  My own rule of thumb is simple:  In any election, support the plausibly electable candidate farthest to the left.  If that candidate is a flaming socialist, lovely.  If it is a Blue Dog Democrat, suck it up and do the work.  There are enough progressives in this country to make a difference if we never stop working.

We face three well known structural disadvantages, of course.  First, progressives are clustered in urban Congressional districts, with the consequence that we cast more of what Lanie Guinier called “wasted votes” than conservatives do.  Second, as a consequence of their control of State Houses and State Legislatures, the Republicans have been able to gerrymander the Congressional district map.  Third, young voters, who tend to vote progressive, are not reliable voters, especially in off-year elections, whereas elderly white voters, who lean Republican, are.

Unless self-sacrificing residents of New York, Massachusetts, and California want to pick up by the millions and move to deep red areas of America for the greater good, we are stuck with the first disadvantage.  If we do our work well, we can retake State Houses and Legislatures and unskew the maps somewhat, but only if we do the work.  As for the third problem, young people are going to have to get off their behinds and vote.  Fortunately, as usual we have all the best songs [and all the best singers].

My fond hope is that Bernie’s new organization, Our Revolution, will lead this effort.  We shall have to wait and see.  I have done what I can.  I gave so much money to Bernie that he started sending some back [I apparently exceeded the $2700 legal limit without realizing it.]  I will do some organizing work here in Chapel Hill [talk about preaching to the choir!]  And, for what it is worth, I shall continue to write about this on my blog.  Those of you who live in the United States must do the same.  Complaining about Clinton’s shortcomings is pleasant and ego-gratifying, but it will have no effect on what happens in this country unless it is joined by political work at the local level.

Now I shall make my last preparations for tomorrow’s final Kant lecture, after which I shall count the minutes down to the time when results start coming in.


Tom Cathcart said...

I guess we all knew the sobering facts you lay out about the hopelessness of the next two years, Bob, but seeing it all in one place is almost too much to bear. Of course, your long-term solution is the correct one, including the eschewing of purity. But maybe in the short term, we can hope for the confluence of two miracles: 1) maybe the non-Tea-Party wing of the Republican party will wise up to the fact that all-out resistance has been shown to not be in their best interest, and we may get, say, a $12.50 minimum wage, etc., 2) maybe Hillary, being tougher than Obama, will be able to do some of the negotiating across the aisle that, in a modest way, she did as a New York Senator.

Okay, I said they were miracles.

Btw, I liked your Freudian slip on the Supreme Court, the only branch that so far has not been uncouth.

Marinus said...

Prof. Wolff, I was amused but not surprised to see you comment on the Princeton Election Consortium page on the most recent thread! I'm not even in the USA but I'm similarly checking PEC every few hours, not only since everybody loves a good horse race but also because the effects of your election will affect all of us around the world to some degree or the other.

Jerry Fresia said...

A few more thoughts:

1. Structural constraints converge to make the US a one party state (the business party) with two wings, as many have noted. Therefore, along with a focus on electoral politics, I would support reforms that challenge the Electoral College, single member districts (Congress), and plurality elections (for Congress and other offices). Some of this does not require a constitutional amendment and would give progressives more bang for their buck/vote who are concentrated in urban areas.

2. FDR was pushed from below by militant left unions, communists and socialists who both threatened and initiated massive disruption of business as usual. Following the analyses of Francis Fox Piven (now in her 80s), I would support massive disruptions ("disruptive power") that dramatize and highlight obvious injustices and reforms, and put pressure on political leaders as the Occupy, BLM, LGBT, and environmental movements have been doing recently.

3. Build democratic workplaces and urge legislation, like the Marcoa law in Italy which allows workers who have been downsized out of a job or abandoned by companies who leave, to receive their entire unemployment benefits up front if they join together to form cooperatives.

4. Begin left-right dialogue and coalitions: Tea Party and Occupy, Bernie supporters and Trump supporters.

Rosa Luxembourg as president? I think she would agree with you. Electoral politics is one avenue of resistance and reform, social movements and disruption are another. Often the latter has contributed mightily to the former. As one astute observer pointed out: "An unanswerable critique grounded in Marx's theory of exploitation creates not a ripple in the calm waters of institutional domination. But dropping one's pants or painting one's face or even, as during the '68 Columbia protests, calling the President of the University by his first name, drives the powerful wild."

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Jerry, I agree with all of that, especially the last point!