Throw Off the Dead Weight of the Democratic Party
The following is a slightly edited version of remarks delivered by Glen Ford at a debate on Presidential Elections and the Key Issues of Our Time, held at the Unitarian Universalist Church, in San Francisco, February 6, 2016. The event was sponsored by the Socialist Action Party, the Green Party of Alameda County, the San Francisco Peace and Freedom Party, Bay Area Solidarity, and the San Francisco Progressive Democrats of America.
Power to the People!
The Bernie Sanders people are, naturally, quite excited by polls that say their candidate has drawn virtually even with Hillary Clinton among national Democrats. Some folks might think that we at Black Agenda Report might be upset with those numbers, since our managing editor, Bruce Dixon, has said that Bernie is a “sheep dog” for Hillary.
But, the truth is, it’s a good thing that Sanders is doing well in the polls. It’s a measure of public sentiment against corporations and Wall Street, among Democrats. We should all welcome such expressions of public sentiment. The problem is, the Democratic Party is not a vehicle that is capable of actually challenging Wall Street.
It is said that Wall Street is to the Democrats, what Big Energy is to the Republicans: their Sugar Daddy. And, that is accurate. It’s why Barack Obama’s 2008 race was the first billion-dollar presidential campaign.
That situation will not, and cannot change, even if Sanders continues to rely on $27 individual donations in the primaries. He will still be sheep-dogging for the Democrats.
I said last night in Oakland that the best result that can occur from the Sanders campaign would be that it leads to a split in the Democratic Party—somewhat like the split that occurred in the old Whig Party, over slavery, in the years before the Civil War.
That split led to the birth of a new, anti-slavery Republican Party, and the demise of the Whig Party—and, ultimately, to Black Emancipation.
I would love to see such a split in the Democratic Party, leading to the end of the rich man’s duopoly system and the creation of a new, broadly-based, anti-Wall Street and anti-imperialist party—and/or the blossoming of other left-wing parties. This would be an historical continuity of the Occupy Movement, which succeeded in popularizing the slogan of the one percent versus the 99 percent, which laid the basis for the mass public sentiment that is expressed, to some degree, in Bernie’s poll numbers.
There is also a lot of talk about how Bernie has succeeded in “moving Hillary to the Left.” That’s ridiculous. The Sanders campaign has only succeeded in forcing Hillary to tell the biggest lies of her non-stop lying career.
In any case, Clinton and the rest of her ilk will continue to lie about their plans for governance, because they serve the rich people that control the Republican-Democratic duopoly.
Let’s go back to Bernie’s poll numbers. These polls that show Sanders drawing even with Clinton, nationally, do not show the racial breakdown. Increasingly, pollsters don’t break down the numbers by race, or they lump all “minorities” together—which is almost as bad.
But, from what we do know, Blacks are the least likely ethnic constituency to vote for Bernie. This is historically consistent with Black voting behavior in national Democratic primary elections, and presents a great paradox and contraction that goes to the heart of the Black political crisis.
Black people are the most left-leaning group in the United States, on issues of war and peace, and social justice. This fact is affirmed by every poll on peace and economic issues over generations, and most dramatically, it is affirmed by Black grassroots movement behavior—when such movements exist.
In terms of pro-union sentiment, at the top of the list is Black women, followed by Black men, then Hispanic women, followed by Hispanic men, then white women and, at the bottom of the list, white men.
This, too, has been the case for generations. The Black Radical Tradition not only exists, it is measureable in the present day—EXCEPT on national primary election days in the Democratic Party. Which is why the Bernie Sanders campaign is all but certain to be derailed by Black voters Down South, where Blacks are majorities of the Democratic electorate in a number of states, and the decisive bloc in many others.
This, despite the fact that Blacks most resemble the Scandinavian Social Democrats that Bernie Sanders sees as his model. The noted Black social demographer Michael Dawson’s studies have shown that the biggest bloc of Black voters are most like Swedish Social Democrats, and that a very large number of them are “more radical than that.”
However, in national primary elections, these Black Social Democrats—these pro-peace, pro-social justice, pro-union folks—fail to express their own political sentiments at the polls.
That’s why the corporate media often list Blacks among the so-called “moderate” voters, as opposed to “liberal”—even though most Blacks are to the left of liberal.
My own studies have found that Blacks who describe themselves as “moderate” or even “conservative” are, in fact, to the left of whites who call themselves “liberal,” on core issues of war and peace and economic justice. That’s because the whole U.S. Black political spectrum is to the left of the white political spectrum. There are, in fact, two separate spectrums, and the self-defining labels do not match.
However, Black national voting behavior is inconsistent with Black ideological characteristics. Indeed, Black voting behavior often betrays Black people’s politics. The reason lies in what Blacks perceive as the purpose for voting in national elections, and how they view the Democratic Party.
The nature of the American duopoly system is that one of the parties will always be the White Man’s Party, with white supremacy as its organizing principle. In this era, it’s the Republicans. In a past era, it was the Democrats.
Both of these parties are, of course, Rich Man’s Parties.
Throughout U.S. history, Blacks have sought protection from the White Man’s Party in the bosom of the other party, the one that is more inclusive of minorities. They want the party that opposes the White Man’s Party to pick the strongest possible candidate. The question of whether that candidate actually agrees with them, ideologically, becomes secondary or even irrelevant. Blacks will vote against their own politics, in order to pick a winner.
Huge numbers will even vote against their own race, all things being equal, to pick what they believe is the strongest candidate against the Republicans—the White Man’s Party. Which is why half of Black voters, and most Black elected officials, refused to support Barack Obama against his ideological twin, Hillary Clinton, until after the Iowa primary, in 2008. Only after Obama won in a white state did Blacks abandon Hillary Clinton, wholesale.
Blacks are deeply antiwar, but they are quite willing to vote for Democratic warmongers. They may ideologically resemble Scandinavian Swedish Social Democrats, but they don’t vote that way in national elections.
Blacks are the most re-distributionist constituency in the country, but they rejected Dennis Kucinich, a genuine social democrat, and John Edwards, who kicked off his campaign in New Orleans and pitched it directly to Blacks, in 2008. Instead, they rallied around the two corporatists, Clinton and Obama, as the antidote to the White Man’s Party.
Is there something wrong with African Americans? No, there is something wrong with America, its history and its race and class dynamics. There is something wrong about this two-party system, where both parties are Rich Man’s Parties, and one of the parties is always the White Man’s Party.
The duopoly system traps Blacks in the Democratic Party, and keeps them there on the premise that only Democrats can beat the White Man’s GOP.
The numbers in 2016 show Black voters are operating under the same dynamic. They know Sanders is to the left of Clinton, but their priority is victory for the Democratic Party, and they are willing to sacrifice their own politics in its cause. This is the acute contradiction.
The Democratic Party is hegemonic in Black America. I’m not just talking about the fact that Black elected officials are overwhelmingly Democratic. The mainline Black civic organizations—the NAACP, the Urban League and the rest—are annexes of the Democratic Party. So are most Black churches. The party’s tentacles even reach down to the Black sororities and fraternities.
The Democrats ooze like pus from every orifice of the Black body politic.
And now, with the emergence of an incipient grassroots movement for the first time in two generations, the Democratic Party has moved quickly to absorb and render it harmless to the Rule of the Rich.
That’s to be expected. What is worse, is that elements of the new movement appear eager to embrace the Democrats back. One leader of a faction of what is called the Black Lives Matter movement is running for mayor of Baltimore—as a Democrat, of course.
DeRay McKesson’s Campaign Zero met twice with Hillary Clinton and failed to make anything that could be called a substantial demand. He is also a fanatical proponent of charterization of the public schools. His candidacy is getting more play in the corporate media than all of the other City Hall hopefuls in Baltimore.
Democratic Party politics kills Black politics. The two cannot coexist. If you want a real Black grassroots movement, you have to fight the Democratic Party, tooth and claw.
Bernie Sanders’ supporters think they can transform the Democratic Party “from below.” They are wrong.
Black people ARE the “below” in America, and we make up a quarter of the Democratic Party. But, Blacks haven’t transformed the Democratic Party by our overwhelming presence. Instead, the Party has transformed us—and overwhelmed our radical politics.
The solution is to throw off the dead weight of that party.
Bernie Sanders, the Democrat, does not represent some kind of turning point in history, although his supporters seem to think so. The turning point in history comes with masses of people in the streets, fighting BOTH Rich Man’s Parties.
Power to the People!
—Black Agenda Report, February 10, 2016