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Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Chris chastises me for being dismissive of the arguments advanced by him and others.  Fair enough.  I shouldn’t do that.  I apologize.  Let me address one or two of them directly and seriously.

First, he says: “Some of us have REAL fears that this MAY BE a witch hunt, which MAY blow up in the face of the Democrats, which MAY embolden Trump. Those are legitimate fears, they share with you a fear of Trump, and they need not be considered with disdain, straw man representation, and silencing of diversity in opinion.”   Obviously, I cannot tell whether the FBI investigation is a witch hunt, because I do not know what evidence, if any, triggered it.  There is so much information in the public domain about past, recent, and present contacts between members of the Trump campaign and administration and the Russians, and the behavior of Trump with regard to Putin and the Russian government is so odd, that it certainly does not look like a witch hunt at this point.  I quite agree that if the FBI turns up nothing at all, that will embolden Trump and make it more rather than less difficult to attack him on other grounds.  I continue to believe that the FBI investigation is going to prove explosive.  By the way, whatever our disagreements, there is nothing any of us can do advance, curtail, or shape that investigation.  But let me be clear:  I do not for a moment suggest that we should relax, lean back, and let Director Comey do our work for us!  The investigation just seems to me a potential blessing.

Chris continues:  If we want Trump out of power that means we MAY want Democrats in power. If we want Democrats in power there has to be a strategy to do that, and right now we fear this is not a tenable strategy. CRITICISM OF DEMOCRATS IS NOT SUPPORT FOR TRUMP IT'S PREDICATED ON FEAR OF TRUMP OR THE NEXT CHARISMATIC RIGHT WING ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT TRUMP (not yelling just emphasizing).”

Here I think there is a real disagreement between me and Chris [and perhaps Robert Shore and Jerry Fresia as well].  I may be wrong, but it seems to me to concern essentially the best way to advance a genuinely progressive or even radical agenda in the American political situation as we find it.  I am extremely skeptical, as I have said on occasion, of third party efforts of any sort.  They just seem to me to be doomed on the national level [although not at all at the local level.]  I think taking over the existing machinery of the Democratic Party is the way to go.  That is why I supported Bernie, why I supported Keith Ellison, and why in general I think our best shot is fighting first to return the party to the ideals and principles of the old New Deal and then to work to push it further to the left from there.  Progressive forces in America are now in really bad shape, for all the noise we make.  In state after state, we have suffered devastating losses.  The Clinton wing of the party is not just well-financed – money is the least of our problems, as Bernie demonstrated.  That wing is filled with full-time professionals with experience, practical knowledge of how the system works, and a willingness to make the party their careers.  That is why they are so difficult to displace, and why they keep coming back, even though we have won many of the policy arguments in the party.

What do I think we should be doing?  Just what I have been suggesting.  Be active locally in support of any progressive candidates who lift their heads up.  Encourage friends and neighbors to run for local offices, and maybe even do it oneself, if that is feasible.  Work very, very hard to get out the vote at every election, no matter what.  This last is the most important.  If we show that we can turn out the votes, I think progressive candidates will appear.


Jerry Fresia said...

I couldn't agree more. I think the electoral strategy of the left, for reasons that I have cited a few times, ought to be organized
around taking over the Democratic Party.

Chris said...

I don't see where there's any disagreement between us here:

"Here I think there is a real disagreement between me and Chris [and perhaps Robert Shore and Jerry Fresia as well]. I may be wrong, but it seems to me to concern essentially the best way to advance a genuinely progressive or even radical agenda in the American political situation as we find it. I am extremely skeptical, as I have said on occasion, of third party efforts of any sort."

My argument, and constant Democratic criticism, is often predicated upon the position that if we are to stop Trump, we need an anti-establishment left, which can be located in the Democratic party. If that really is our best chance, then we can't just vote for people because they have a D in front of their name, or because they aren't an R, but instead, because they are the other side of the anti-establishment fervor. Otherwise, repeating, someone that looks like Paul Ryan, with better charisma, and Trump or Bannon's views, can just win again.

We are in agreement that taking over the Democratic party is prudent.

The only area we 'disagree' is that because I think that's prudent, I'll vocally criticize ALL Democratic efforts to purge the party of progressives and/or maintain the status quo (something Obama did with extreme prejudice for instance).

Chris said...

One more additions. I fear that the Russia stuff may be a witch hunt, in order to maintain the status quo in the democratic party, while purging it of progressive influence that Bernie generated. That's a fear. It's not an established fact. If Trump gets impeached over Russia they can maintain the status quo by juxtaposing themselves to a party of treason. Which is why IF this investigation blows up in the Democrat's faces, while they've been anointing Master Tom Perez DNC chair, and his committee of 26 establishment hacks, and only 1 progressive, they will literally be in a remarkably worse place. If they are in a worse place they have less of a chance of stopping Trump.

Do you agree with me on these points....?

Unknown said...


I fundamentally disagree with your view that it may make no difference if the candidate is a D or an R. If the Democrats had three more Joe Mancins in the Senate, they would control it. Obama care would not be repealed, Gorsuch would be toast. The majority controls the agenda, and it is important to work for that. A Democrat from the left wing of the party has no chance in a state like West Virginia. It’s either a Democrat from the establish wing or a Republican.

No politician is immune from the necessity of getting elected and staying in office. That’s why Bernie had a record of support from the NRA that was far to the right of the Democratic. If he’d stayed in Brooklyn, and had a Senate seat from New York, it is more than very likely that his votes on gun control.

My daughter once interned for a liberal Democratic House member from a conservative district. He’d won something of an upset after a good year for the Democrats, and managed to stay in several more years. He had, howeve, a nearly perfect rating from the NRA, something that distressed my daughter. He told her that there no difference between the way he votes on gun control and the way any Republican in the district would vote. That’s because anyone who did not vote that way would not represent that District. For him the important things were all of the other issues, where his record was decidedly to the left. We talked about him during the campaign when Bernie’s gun control votes were being discussed in the press.

Chris said...

Oh lord the falseness here. Bernie scored a D- from the NRA (in 2003 it was an F!), and did not capitulate to their demands. According to FactCheck he was never a supporter of the NRA either:

He took a reasonable position which was that you can't target gun sellers for crimes committed with the guns they sold. Just like you can't see Honda, if I choose to buy a civic in order to run over humans.

Some moderate republicans, and libertarian republicans are also prudent, can resist Trump, and are 'more progressive' on some issues that Democrats aren't (e.g., drug war, nsa spying etc.)

What I'm talking about here a long game with a real strategy and a real plan. Obama, a corporate Dem, held both houses of congress when he was elected, also filled with corporate Dems. In the course of 8 years, despite his popularity, a continued unrest grew in America that was vehemently anti establishment. If that strategy is JUST vote D over R, period full stop, that will only deal with some symptoms (e.g., better SC judge), but not fix the underlying disease (growing anti establishment fervor).

Let's look at some basic facts. The majority of Americans don't trust the government and are very unhappy with congress. They don't trust the media. They think elections are mostly a show, and not really effective. They also prefer Bernie Sanders to all other politicians. Period.

The democrats do not have a majority in any branch of government, and they are now in control of less than half the state governorship and are losing significantly in actual local state seats. MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, it's time to learn that the lesson that just voting for democrats because they aren't republicans is not having the consequences everyone desired.

Guy Tennenbaum said...

Throughout the whole time Clinton was being investigated by the FBI, every "informed" commentator kept assuring us there would be no indictment. They were right. I don't think anyone is offering those kinds of assurances about what will happen with the T***p investigation. At this point no one knows for sure. However, I do agree that what evidence is available does amount to a whole lot of smoke, as they say. It seems hard to believe that there wasn't some degree of illegal hanky-panky, at least on the part of Manafort.

It seems to me that both sides on this issue (that is, both sides of the left) are looking at the same set of data and reaching different conclusions about how damning it is; and each side is accusing the other of motivated thinking. With that being the case, and if we are going to engage in the game of armchair speculation, all we can do is agree to be reasonable.

Having read the various anti-Russiagate articles (i.e., the ones that telling us, basically, that this is all neo-McCarthyite conspiracy mongering and we need to move on), I'm not wholly convinced. The authors seem to me as selective in their choice of incident, and sometimes as sloppy in their reasoning, as they accuse their targets of being.

For example, in a recent comment Jerry Fresca linked to an article from ConsortiumNews by Robert Parry. While Parry does raise good points, to me it seems to mostly amount to nitpicking at details that aren't central to the case for collusion. Also, toward the end of the article, Parry poses the question: "Assuming that Putin read the polls like everyone else, would he risk infuriating the likely next President of the United States – Hillary Clinton – by embarrassing her with an email leak that would amount to a pinprick?"

Well, if we go back to last summer, the polls were actually very alarming for Clinton. They basically showed a dead heat, and for a while the consensus -- at least among the cable talking-heads -- was that we were heading for a nail-biter on election night. The so-called President didn't start to fall in the polls till later in the campaign, after incidents like the pussy-grabber video. (And let's not forget that one hour after that video aired Wikileaks began leaking the Podesta emails. Coincidence?) Also, might not Putin have just figured that Clinton wasn't going to play nice whatever he did, so he might as well do his best to damage her, and maybe even tip the election toward the current minority-president, his favored candidate?

Guy Tennenbaum said...

Well, the latest is that Adam Schiff is confirming that there's "more than circumstantial" evidence of collusion between the T***p campaign and Russia. CNN is reporting the same, citing "US officials." A few days ago Diane Feinstein and Maxine Waters both used the I-word ("impeachment"). This on the heels of the T***p administration basically saying that they don't really recall anyone by the name of Manafort of Flynn or Page.

Could the proverbial shit be about to hit the fan?

Unknown said...


Maybe we’re talking past each other. My point on Bernie was simply an example of the fact that on an issue important to many voters in his state, he voted with them and to the right of most members of the Democratic party. He was an illustration--perhaps not the best--of what I believe is a political reality: to get something done, you have to get elected and usually re-elected.

My main point, however, is that we should always vote for the D just because of the D, rather than an R because it does make a difference. Many thought there was little difference between Bush and Gore, but they were mistaken. One big difference was the Iraq war. Others were John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court. In 1968, many disappointed McCarthy supporters didn’t vote for Humphrey as they saw no difference between him and Nixon. That attitude brought about many unfortunate things, such as 30 some years of William Rehnquist on the Supreme Court.

Moving the party to the left cannot be accomplished by electing Republicans. It has to be done in the nominating process. For the less visible offices, the Democrats for a number of years have been scrambling even to get candidates willing to run. That is an opportunity for the left, and they could start with the 2018 elections. Jon Ossoff is an example. My understanding is that he was so upset about Trump that he volunteered to run an apparently hopeless campaign for Price’s seat. Chances are he’ll lose eventually, but even if he does, he can boost the Democrats, and demonstrate the electability of left candidates, simply by losing by a significantly smaller margin than previous Democrats.

And should he win--it will be interesting to see what he does over the next two years. My guess is that on some issues, he’ll move toward the center. If he doesn’t, it’s hard to see how he can hold a seat in a district that is about 2/3 Republican. Nevertheless, I would support him because he’s a D and not an R

Robert Paul Wolff said...

David Palmeter, That is exactly the sort of hard eyed calculation that I think is a precondition for real change. It is also, I would remind us all, the sort of calculation that was constantly being made by such notorious non-conformists as Lenin, Trotsky, and Mao. Just sayin'.

Unknown said...

Prof. Wolff: Can you come up with any other examples!?

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

Lord. Look, all available present evidence and historical evidence since Reaganomics, has shown that when you just elect a D because it's a D, even if it's better in the short term, does not pay off in the long term. And we know why, I've repeated it, Jerry has, Greenwald has, Thomas Frank has, etc etc etc, because they don't actually stand for anything and actually do anything of substance to improve the lives of alienated voters. As such the voters become anti-establishment (justifiably). Hence, they vote for Trumps, or good old down to earth Bush, or "outsider" Obama. Professor Wolff and DP, you're playing a short game, not a long game. And the short game leads to anti-establishment right wing opportunism. There's a point where I and others are banging our heads bloody against a wall trying to make this point, and it's either completely ignored, or bait-and-switched (like that Bernie gun example).

The Democrats need an actual comprehensible ideology, a platform people can get behind, and members with integrity. Otherwise, just voting D will lead to anti-establishment R later. Hence IT'S NOT A SOLUTION IT'S PART OF THE PROBLEM!

Instead of continuing to goad me into side conversations that are unrelated, or silencing the point I've hammered home since November (there was a brief moment when Frank posted his response to the election in The Guardian and everyone seemed to be in agreement and Wolff took it quite seriously):
maybe address the symptom/disease dichotomy? Please! Just electing D because they are D is addressing symptoms, not the disease.

Chris said...

Also, I almost fell out of my chair laughing at the idea Lenin, Trotsky, or Mao, (or Marx, or Engels) would have said vote D just cause it's not R. Come on. Seriously? SERIOUSLY!?

These were people who would have suggested not voting for them to suggest a vote of no confidence and attempted to form their own anti-establishment revolutionary party.

Unknown said...

The cure for the disease is in nominating and electing the candidates you prefer. Meanwhile, treat the symptoms. It reduces the suffering.

Chris said...

"The cure for the disease is in nominating and electing the candidates you prefer."

is NOT synonymous with:

"My main point, however, is that we should always vote for the D just because of the D, rather than an R because it does make a difference."

For instance, I prefer Jill Stein to Hillary, or Ron and (sometimes) Rand Paul to tons of corporate Democrats.

Unknown said...

This is where we go in different directions. I see a vote for Stein as a wasted vote. It was certain in November 2016 that either Clinton or Trump would the be next president, and the consequences of the election of either would differ greatly from the consequences of the election of the other. My vote was determined by which of these two I'd prefer to have the incredible power to affect the lives of my family and me. Hillary was my second choice for the nomination, but when she got it, I supported her--as did Bernie.

As to Rand Paul, I can't think of a single Democrat (now that the southern segregationists have gone over to the Party of Lincoln) that I would not vote for against Paul. Which ones do you have in mind?

s. wallerstein said...

I don't see why a vote for Stein is necessarily a wasted vote. It is true that in the last presidential election the danger of Trump was so great that it made sense to vote for Clinton, but I suppose that there will be "normal" elections once again in the U.S. between a Democrat who is a "serious" candidate and a Republican who is a "serious" candidate.

It may be possible to open a space in the U.S. for a third party, a left party. Their presidential candidate may not win, but they may be able to elect a couple of congresspeople and it would be very important to have truly left people in congress besides Bernie Sanders. Elected congresspeople get media space for their ideas that non-elected intellectuals will never obtain.

Politics is educating the masses as well as passing bills in Congress. It is clear that a mass who voted for Trump needs political education: clear leftwing ideas that can come from a third party option.

You'll undoubtedly say that the U.S. has a long tradition of a two party system, but the U.S. also has a long tradition of presidents with political experience and who are not outright con artists, and now we have Trump. That is, traditions only last so long and then new options arise. Maybe a viable third party left option can arise in the U.S.

I'm not sure, but it may be worth betting on a third party in the future.

Unknown said...

Third parties have long been a feature of the US political scene, but none has succeeded. The system would have to be radically changed for that to happen. If it is to occur, it most likely would be in Congress (at least at first). As in parliamentary systems, a third party could be enough to control which major party governs. Something like that goes on in the Senate on a smalls scale where Sanders and Angus King of Maine are Independents who caucus with the Democrats. I know of none in the House but it seems to me that the House would be easier for this to occur than the Senate simply because a campaign in a smaller constituency would be less expensive for a party whose war chest is not as large as those of the two major parties.

This is very different from voting for Jill Stein or any other non-major party candidate in the presidential election. At that point, last November and for the foreseeable future, the candidate of one of the two major parties will be the winner. A vote for anyone else is wasted in the sense that it takes voter out of the race that matters.

Chris said...

Again, you're either bait and switching me or not reading what I'm saying. I did not say VOTE FOR STEIN. I did not say people SHOULD vote for Stein. I said your two 'strategies' were not synonymous and gave reasons why they cannot be conjoined. That Stein is 'PREFERABLE' or that Paul is 'PREFERABLE' does not mean stratetgically they shouldnt be voted for.


"The cure for the disease is in nominating and electing the candidates you prefer."

Okay, I PREFER Stein, I PREFER Paul to many corporate Dems, I even prefer Gary Johnson to many corporate Dems and ALL Republicans.

"My main point, however, is that we should always vote for the D just because of the D, rather than an R because it does make a difference."

That doesn't mesh with the above PREFERENCE based voting which lets in Stein, Johnson, Pauls, etc.

So I repeat, for the 1000th time on this blog, I'm not advocating voting for Stein, or anyone else for that matter, I'm pointing out this all Ds are > all Rs, period full stop, strategizing, is at best reckless, but at worst, the disease that gives us Trumpism/anti-establishment rightism.

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,

I agree with you a third party candidate has more chance of being elected to congress than to the presidency and I pointed that out in my comment above. The presidential candidate of a third party, however, may be a way of potentiating the congressional list insofar as they get more media coverage and should (although that is not the case in the U.S.) be allowed to participate in the presidential TV debates. In other countries all presidential candidates participate in the debates and that gives minority candidates a chance to present their ideas to the society at large.

However, Professor Wolff wisely points out that a politics of radical change is a long march (to use a term from our new friend Mao) and that once one decides which side one is on (and I think that all of the regulars in this blog are basically on the same side), one should do what one feels comfortable about doing because, Professor Wolff points out, one will be doing it for the whole long march.

So if you feel comfortable about supporting Democrats, fine. I would last about 17 minutes in a meeting of Democrats before I say something which seems obvious to me, but which brings upon me that collective "you're weird" look which I know so well and which in more picturesque eras of human history was the prelude to a heresy trial or to a good old fashioned stoning. On the other hand, in a meeting of the Green Party or a similar grupúsculo some will find me weird, others will start an argument with me that will last half the night, some women will find me, if not attractive, at least interesting and I'll return next week.

So I'll support the Greens or a similar alternative and you'll support the Democrats. If Trump runs again, I promise to support whichever Democrat runs against Trump.

All of us in this blog seem to be in the same boat against neoliberalism, against climate change and against the satanic trinity of racism, sexism and homophobia. I think that it's possible to participate in the same struggle from different perspectives and different angles.

Unknown said...

Chris, OK, I think I understand your terms now. I took words like "prefer" to mean "vote for," since in my experience that's what most people do.