Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Clinton, Sanders, and the Empire State

We might get back around to who's qualified and who's not by Thursday, but if we don't there's still plenty of topics upon which the Democratic Party's race for the presidency is going to be decided, on the debate stage or off.  One is that the NY primary is closed, which aids Hillary Clinton and hinders Bernie Sanders since the election data has demonstrated his strength among indys, who would have had to register as a D weeks ago in order to vote next week (as Donald Trump's children glaringly reminded us).  That helps us understand why Clinton has taken to questioning Sanders' Democratic bonafides; she's speaking to a New York electorate that votes in that primary consistently, and not so much for the Zephyr Teachouts on the ballot.

And despite her (and her husband's) by-now-typical collection of verbal malaprops, Clinton maintains a solid polling lead in New York.  Also in spite of her waffling on the death penalty, as well as some historical and damning evidence that black folk have been taken for a ride downtown in the back of the squad car for the past twenty-two years courtesy of the Clintons -- long before social media's scrutiny of summary executions by paranoid, trigger-happy LEO became a thing -- that support base is still standing by their woman.

This is best explained in the context of why Bernie Sanders has been unable to erode her support by Salim Muwakkil at In These Times.  Go read the whole thing; the following has three links you should also check out.

Many are perplexed by what they consider black Americans’ perverse allegiance to Clinton. Michelle Alexander, author of the highly influential The New Jim Crow, for example, argued in a widely discussed Nation essay that Clinton is undeserving of black support. Alexander notes that the Clintons “presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history.”
Others are not so perplexed. Glen Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report, argues that black people “tune Sanders out, because their main purpose for voting in national elections is to keep the White Man’s Party, the Republicans, out of the White House, and believe Clinton has a better shot.”
I think Ford is on target, and although he bemoans this tendency, it’s one that’s been honed by centuries of hard-earned experience. New York Times columnist Charles Blow calls it “functional pragmatism.”

Alexander, Ford, Blow, and other black intelligentsia (some would call 'elite') including Dr. Cornel West, radio show host Tavis Smiley, rapper Killer Mike, author Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hollywood- connected activists Spike Lee, Sidney Poitier, Danny Glover and others -- have made the case for Sanders over Clinton, but their 'bookish, boutique' support, as Muwakkil calls it, doesn't resonate with the African American working class that votes in droves for Democrats, mostly establishment ones.  There is no 'gospel accent' (again, Muwakkil's term).  It helps to apply Rev. Al Sharpton to this label, and note that while he had a sit-down with Bernie two months ago, he's also been critical.  Sharpton's blessing may be the key to victory for one or the other; so far he's not giving it up.

What I find profound (as the unenlightened middle-aged white guy) is this.

The significance of these ideological nuances made a brief appearance during a debate in Flint, Michigan, when Sanders’ response to a question about his “racial blind spots” implied that only black people live in “ghettos” and that most black people were poor.
It was a minor verbal gaffe that was likely the product of debate exhaustion. But it was a gaffe that might also be characterized as a “Marxian slip,” in that a bit of Bernie’s worldview slipped out. Specifically, his conflation of black America with the lumpenproletariat, a Marxist-Leninist conceit widely held during the days of the Black Panther Party, the time of Sanders’ ideological formation, but one that can elide the specificities of racial oppression and the subtleties of class divisions in the black community.
It was indeed a slip for Sanders. He’s been trying hard to update his rhetoric to be more attentive to issues of white supremacy. He effectively incorporated an early encounter with Black Lives Matter protesters into a more inclusive campaign platform.
But his gaffe also played into an ongoing squabble among progressives about the role of race in the class struggle (or the role of class in the racial struggle). That disagreement has been debated rancorously for the better part of a century now. And despite the historic campaign Bernie Sanders has run in this election, we still don’t seem any closer to resolving it.

I had to Google some of those words to get the full meaning.  I didn't when I read D. R. Tucker in Washington Monthly a couple of weeks ago: that blacks just aren't so keen on Bernie's message of upending the system because they have long sought a seat at the table within the system.  A piece of the pie, as The Jeffersons soundtrack sang about.

In all likelihood, most African-American voters reject Sanders because they reject the tenets of democratic socialism, preferring a more effectively regulated capitalism as a solution to the country’s woes. Sanders’s call for a “political revolution” is one most African-American voters do not hear. They don’t want to overthrow the current system; they just want more fairness in the current system.


It is this ethos—the creed of the African-American striver—that fuels black opposition to democratic socialism. Most black voters would agree with Sanders that the system is rigged; they’d specifically point out that the system has been rigged against African-Americans since 1619. Yet most African-Americans do not wish for the system to be destroyed: they wish for the system to be un-rigged, to be made fair, to be made whole.


Most African-Americans believe in capitalism, and praise those who have overcome the obstacles of racism to succeed in a capitalist system. They do not believe that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked; they believe it is possible to reduce bias without having to shift towards democratic socialism. In other words, Sanders’s core message—his linking of racism and other social “-isms” to capitalism—is one most African-American voters have zero affinity for.

Bernie's win in Michigan pointed to the class distinctions between Southern African Americans (low wages, no unions) and Midwestern ones (unions and high wages) as part of the reason why he won there and lost badly to Clinton in the South.  Reasonable enough, but not as thorough as Muwakkil and Tucker.

Last summer I wrote about the two reasons Bernie wouldn't win the nomination: minority voters and superdelegates.  So all of this helps me better understand why, exactly, that forecast is coming into tighter focus.  I'll hold off on another prediction until after Thursday night's debate, but absent something earth-quaking the nom is still Hillary's to lose.  And she could still lose it.

Update (4/14) More from Nina Turner.

1 comment:

Gadfly said...

Sure, on a piece of the pie. After all, that's what Jesse wanted in 1988, knowing he couldn't get the nomination. And he sold plenty of subdivided slices off his piece.

And, not all of the black intelligentsia is in the Great Society type camp. Cory Booker's not the only neoliberal out there, of course.

And, there's a section of the black intelligentsia that tilts more religious. And, to the degree this segment believes in the Success Gospel, they're certainly pro-capitalism. (That said, this section's also more likely to pull the R lever, too.)