US elections: two parties, one playbook

The fight doesn’t begin and end with Bernie Sanders — or at the ballot box

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It’s happening again. Bernie Sanders has become the promise dangled in front of voters only to be rudely sidelined by the Democratic Party machinery.

The torpedoing of his candidacy is one very strong clue that capitalist elections are a con game. In the U.S., the Republican and Democratic parties are the racket’s hucksters and linchpins.

Here today, gone tomorrow. It’s stunning how nearly all the other Democratic candidates clustered together in support of status-quo candidate Joe Biden just at the right moment to give him momentum before Super Tuesday, with its outsized delegate prizes.

That was not the only sabotage of Sanders in 2020. For one thing, the primary and caucus system itself is biased against candidates considered progressive.

Both the primaries and general election give more delegate weight to states with smaller, more rural, and often more conservative populations. And the primaries start with the overwhelmingly vanilla states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Then there’s the redbaiting of Sanders, which Democrats justify by saying he is too far left to be electable. No matter that his ideas align better with the majority of people in the U.S. than Biden’s or Trump’s!

Democratic influencers Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have cannily not yet endorsed a candidate, out of supposed concern for Democratic unity. But Clinton has made her disdain for Sanders obvious, while Obama told party donors in November not to take seriously “certain left-leaning Twitter feeds or the activist wing of the party.”

We’ve been here before. Among the tactics used to deny Sanders the nomination in 2016 was the Hillary Clinton campaign takeover of the Democratic National Committee’s funding and operations early in primary season.

History has a running list of more liberal Democratic candidates who were in the mix just long enough to keep the party’s core constituencies hopeful and invested in the process. Jesse Jackson’s runs for the nomination in 1984 and 1988 are prime examples.

A. Once the hopper of candidates is heavy enough the lid pops opens. B. The sorter removes minor party candidates. C. The major candidates land on their platform, which they immediately abandon. D. Democratic and Republican candidates proceed through the primaries buoyed by taxpayer money. E. Leftward-bouncing candidates may get stuck on red-baiting paintbrush. F. As other candidates drop out, a path opens for the party machine’s favorite. G. At the end of the process an acorn falls into a hole. Voters may watch the sapling grow as they stand in line waiting to vote. — Text and graphics by Gordon Frazier

One half of the swindle. The Democratic Party relies on its voting constituencies of unionists, women, people of color, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ people to get into office. But once that’s achieved, what do its supporters have to show for it? Less and less all the time.

As a sampling, see Obama’s continuation of the Middle East wars and his function as “Deporter in Chief” and Bill Clinton’s destruction of welfare and expansion of the prison-industrial complex with his 1994 and 1996 crime bills. The Democrats are as much the party of war and Wall Street as are the Republicans.

No matter how good candidates sound, it’s a losing proposition to support them if they run as Democrats. Doing so just perpetuates a rigged game that working people can’t win. That’s one fundamental reason the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) doesn’t support Sanders. (For more, see “Can Bernie Sanders move the Democrats left?”.)

And what about the social democratic (aka democratic socialist) politics that Sanders touts? They are no panacea for capitalist ills. Sweden, often held up as a model, has more billionaires per capita than any other nation. And it delivers its social benefits by taxing people with a highly regressive system that falls heavier, proportionately, on those with lower incomes.

Furthermore, the record of social democrats in power in Europe is one of enforcing the same neoliberal, anti-working class policies as in countries where conservatives or moderates rule.

Lack of democracy is embedded. Back in the U.S., one of the world’s most exclusive electoral systems holds sway. Voters have been in the grip of a Democratic-Republican chokehold for a century and a half.

The arrogance of the bosses’ parties even extends to making taxpayers foot the bill for their party conventions — and only theirs!

Their grip is enforced in a variety of ways, primarily by the tangled vipers’ nest of laws and regulations that keep minor parties off the ballot. Ballot access legislation varies state by state; the U.S. is one of very few countries without uniform federal ballot laws.

No third party has ballot status in all 50 states. Only three — the Libertarian, Green, and Constitution parties — are recognized in more than 10. Disgust with the Democratic and Republican institutions is rampant; 39 percent of U.S. adults polled identify as independents. This is more than identify with either major party. But what good does it do them, if they have nobody to vote for?

Locking the doors against minor parties is hardly the only undemocratic maneuver of a political system designed of, by and for the rich.

Voter suppression takes many forms, from denying people who commit felonies the right to vote to purging electoral rolls of masses of Black and brown people and making voting unnecessarily difficult for students and those who are elderly or poor or have disabilities.

This year, as in past years, potential voters were also turned away by absurdly long lines, with people in Texas and California waiting up to seven hours! Who knows how many people were unable to endure this wait, with mouths to feed or jobs to get to, and simply gave up?

Beyond the ballot box. Clearly, fights for reforms are needed to win things like universal voting rights for U.S. residents regardless of immigration or criminal status, elimination of barriers to minor parties, changes to the primary system, abolition of the imperious Electoral College, and much more. (See “Two parties, no choice: A practical program for radical electoral reform”.)

And someday a groundswell may arise for a mass working-class party truly independent of the Democrats and Republicans, which could be a huge advance.

But let’s be real. We cannot fundamentally change capitalist elections as long as the profit system they serve remains unchanged. We need not just a political revolution, but a social revolution, one that transforms every aspect of life.

The reason a candidate like Sanders emerges is because of discontent and organizing from below that puts the fear of the people into the powers-that-be. Workers and oppressed people are stepping up, and it is not going unnoticed. The most important fight is on the ground, and whatever happens with Bernie’s candidacy, la lucha continúa.

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