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Category: 2016 Primaries Page 1 of 5

Does Bernie Sanders Know What He’s Doing?

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Sanders-021507-18335- 0004

This post by Pachacutec seems worth revisiting (originally published Feb 16, 2016)– Ian

Bernie Sanders is taking a lot of heat for making promises everyone agrees can’t be achieved in today’s Washington. However, Sanders is not just smoking free-love-sixties-dope when he talks about universal health care, free college tuition, stopping deportations, and drastically cutting the prison population.

I used to teach negotiation to MBA students and lawyers seeking CLE credit, and have included negotiation content in executive coaching and other consulting work I do. One of the things I’ve sometimes taught was how to use audience effects to gain leverage in negotiations. The best story I know to illustrate this comes from Gandhi, from his autobiography.

Gandhi Rides First Class

Gandhi’s early years as an activist led him to South Africa, where he advocated as a lawyer for the rights of Indians there. One discriminatory law required “coolie” Indians to ride third class on trains. Soon after arriving in South Africa, Gandhi himself had been thrown off a train for seating himself in first class.

Looking for a way to challenge the law, he dressed flawlessly and purchased a first class ticket face to face from an agent who turned out to be a sympathetic Hollander, not a Transvaaler. Boarding the train, Gandhi knew the conductor would try to throw him off, so he very consciously looked for and found a compartment where an English, upper class gentleman was seated, with no white South Africans around. He politely greeted his compartment mate and settled into his seat for the trip.

Sure enough, when the conductor came, he immediately told Gandhi to leave. Gandhi presented his ticket, and the conductor told him it didn’t matter, no coolies in first class. The law was on his side. But the English passenger intervened, “What do you mean troubling this gentleman? Don’t you see he has a first class ticket? I don’t mind in the least his traveling with me.” He turned to Gandhi and said, “You should make yourself comfortable where you are.”

The conductor backed down. “If you want to ride with a coolie, what do I care?”

And that, my friends, illustrates the strategic use of creating an audience effect to gain leverage in a negotiated conflict. The tactic can be applied in any negotiated conflict where an outside stakeholder party can be made aware of the conflict and subsequently influence its outcome.

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It’s the Conflict, Stupid

A couple of weeks ago, members of the neoliberal wonkosphere and others in the pundit class tut-tutted, fretted, and wearily explained to Sanders’ band of childish fools and hippies that his “theory of change” was wrong. Well, not merely wrong, but deceptive, deceitful, maybe even dangerous. False hopes, stakes are too high, and all that. This was Clinton campaign, and, more to the point, political establishment ideology pushback. When Ezra Klein starts voxsplaining how to catalyze a genuine social, cultural, and political movement, you know you’ve entered the land of unfettered bullshit.

Bernie Sanders, like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter before him, wants to use mass appeal audience effects to renegotiate the country’s political and economic contract. The strategy, writ small in Gandhi’s train ride tale, is perfectly applicable–and has proven successful through history–in bringing about successful, peaceful, radical change.

These movements operate by forcing conflict out into the open, on favorable terms and on favorable ground. Make the malignancy of power show its face in daylight. Gandhi and the salt march. MLK and the Selma to Montgomery marches. FDR picking fights and catalyzing popular support throughout the New Deal era, starting with the first 100 days. OWS changed American language and political consciousness by cementing the frame of the 1% into the lexicon. BLM reminded America who it has been and still is on the streets of Ferguson.

One FDR snippet is instructive to consider in light all these discussions–and dismissals–of Sanders’ “theory of change.” As FDR watched progressive legislation be struck down by a majority conservative court, he famously proposed legislation that would have allowed him to add another justice. He failed, but:

In one sense, however, he succeeded: Justice Owen Roberts switched positions and began voting to uphold New Deal measures, effectively creating a liberal majority in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish and National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, thus departing from the Lochner v. New York era and giving the government more power in questions of economic policies. Journalists called this change “the switch in time that saved nine.”

This was a constitutional overreach by FDR, and it caused him political damage, but forcing the conflict created pressure on the Court, making its actions highly visible to the mass of people who wanted change, who voted for change, but did not always see or understand how the elite establishment acts to thwart change.

Your Mistakes are My Ladder

The paths to change for all of these movements are neither linear nor predictable. By nature, they act like guerilla movements. They force conflict and force an entrenched enemy into the open. Then, once exposed and vulnerable, the guerilla tactic is to attack opportunistically on strategically favorable ground. In peaceful social movements, “winning” means winning the hearts and minds of the majority of the society’s stakeholders to the point where they actively choose sides. First make them witnesses, then convert them into participants in the conflict. That’s exactly what Gandhi did with the Englishman in the first class compartment.

This is why calls from pundits and Camp Clinton for Bernie to lay out the fifteen point plan of how he gets from here to there are, at best, naïve. The social revolution playbook requires creating cycles of conflict and contrast, taking opportunistic advantage of your opponent’s mistakes. No one can predict with certainty where and how those opportunities will arise, though you can choose where to poke. If the Clinton campaign wants to know how Bernie can run that playbook in action, it need only review its own performance campaigning against him.

Does Sanders Have a Plan?

So, is Bernie Sanders the underpants gnome of political change? Is his theory: “1) Call for revolution; 2) ?????; 3) Profit!”? Or does he have something else–some other historical precedents–in mind? Everything I hear and see from the Sanders campaign suggests the latter.

Take a look at this ad from Sanders:

To me, this ad says that Sanders understands very clearly what kind of coalition and movement he needs to ignite to accomplish the vision he’s putting out in his campaign. It’s an aspirational vision, sure. And neither he nor any movement he helps create can or will accomplish all of it, just as FDR was unable to accomplish all he set out to achieve. Still, accomplishing as much as FDR did, relatively speaking, would be pretty damn good. Democrats used to say they liked that sort of thing.

Or how about this ad, where Sanders is introduced by Erica Garner explicitly as a “protestor,” invoking the lineage of MLK:

Yes, I’d say Sanders has a very clear, and historically grounded “theory of change.” What those who question it’s validity are really saying is either: 1) they lack imagination and can’t’ see beyond the status quo; 2) they lack knowledge of history, including American history, or; 3) they understand Sanders’ “theory of change” very well and want to choke it in the crib as quickly as they can.

They may succeed. Elites may beat Sanders himself but they will not beat the movement he’s invigorating but did not create. However, saying Sanders may fail is not the same as saying he doesn’t know what he’s doing, or that what he’s setting out to accomplish is impossible.

Because, if history shows us anything, it is, indeed, possible.

Obama’s Responsibility for Clinton’s Purchase of the DNC

So, it is now beyond question that the DNC was quite literally working for Clinton during the primaries. The party was 24 million dollars in debt, thanks to Obama, and Clinton paid off those debts in exchange for control of the DNC.

Brazile discovered that an explicit written agreement had been made between the Clinton campaign and the DNC, which:

“…specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.”

But the part that many people aren’t highlighting is that Obama is responsible for this. He was a terrible party leader. He could easily have raised 24 million and chose not to do so. Under his watch the party lost 1,000 state level seats and is in danger of losing control of so many states that Republicans could pass constitutional amendments.

Obama just didn’t care. He wanted to be President and left a wasteland behind him.

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2016 In Retrospect

There seems to be a general belief that 2016 was a particularly bad year. Part of that is the twin political events of Brexit and Trump, and part of it seems to be that a number of particularly beloved celebrities died.

But unless you were in a few specific places, like parts of Syria, and certainly if you were in most of the developed world, your odds of having something bad happen to you were about the same as they had been in 2015.

Certainly Brexit and Trump are both, potentially, earthquakes, though their severity remains to be seen, and I regard both as consequences of decisions that were made over a period of decades.

What made them seem so severe, I think, is that they were, to the liberal classes, surprises. In both cases, polls indicated they wouldn’t happen; and it was conventional wisdom among certain groups that both events were absurd.  Trump, in particular, was treated as a grotesque joke when he announced his candidacy, and right up to the last moment, almost literally, icons such as 538 and the New York Times insisted he was almost certain not to win.

When he did, an entire world view went away.

Because they thought it had been impossible for Trump to win. He was a joke, according to that world view, and those who held it have seized, in particular, on “Russia did it!” It was a deus-ex-machina, because their world model simply cannot accept that it happened.

And, in both cases (Brexit and Trump), there is a great deal of shaming and othering of those who voted the “wrong” way. They are castigated as stupid and immoral, people who are too dumb to vote in their self interests, to understand how the world works, motivated almost entirely by racism.

Bad people.

So many liberals in America and Britain now believe they live in countries where half the voting population are evil, stupid racists and that those people are now in charge.

Oh, and the big, bad Russians are also responsible.

While some are willing to admit that perhaps, just perhaps, the policies that even they voted for and/or supported (under Blair, Clinton, Obama, and the EU) might have something to do with all of this, the metaphysics of most essentially boils down to the notion that bad people (Russia, racists) combined with stupid people, are destroying our world.

Because they can see little responsibility for themselves (either in past policy or in the specifics of the campaigns (Clinton’s was notably incompetent)), they have eviscerated their sense of their own power, and thus their ability to create change.

Responsibility and power are exactly equal to each other. You have exactly as much power as you have responsibility, any mismatch is a denial of reality, and if society abets you in denying that reality, as it often does, by giving you more credit or less blame than you deserve, it does not change either your responsibility or power.

It is also true that an accurate perception of blame enables correct action. When Clinton and her team completely fumbled their campaign, not removing them from all positions of power indicates a willingness to tolerate failure again and again. Indeed, after Clinton, the presumptive front-runner, was defeated by Obama in 2008, perhaps the realization should have dawned on us/her that she and hers were incompetent and that she should not be the presumptive candidate. She started with a vast advantage and lost it.

Meanwhile, in the eight years Obama has led the Democratic party, vast losses have occurred in State Houses and Congress.

As for policies which have lead to vast numbers of Britons and Americans being willing to vote for Brexit and Trump; well, I have written on those subjects more than enough.

Liberals and centrists, as a group, deny responsibility, and thus deny agency. They refuse to put the locus of responsibility in those areas over which they have control. Instead, they blame forces over which they have no control (Russia) or over which they have less control (the current racism that is ex-nihilo, completely unrelated to the policies they have championed for decades).

It is not the crisis, as such, that predicts the future, it is the response. I was able to accurately predict the shape of America and Europe’s economy because I saw the response to the crisis in ’09. The day the outlines of Obama’s stimulus were announced (he’d already fumbled the bailouts, by bailing out the rich rather than ordinary people), I wrote that American jobs and wages would not recover for 20 years. Eight years later, that’s still looking accurate. (The unemployment rate is not what matters here, the jobs/population ratio is.)

So, seeing the liberal response to 2016’s political crises, it is clear that, at least so far, liberals have not learned the necessary lessons. Thus, trends will continue in the wrong direction. Locating the problems as beyond their control, liberals have self-emasculated.

There is still time for that to change, and perhaps it will. So far, however…well…

Happy 2017.

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Well America Has Their Thatcher; Congratulations?

Hillary Clinton Secretary of State PortraitIf Clinton becomes President she will kill and impoverish a lot more people than Sanders would have.

If Trump becomes President, well, Sanders was more likely to win a general election against him.

Bernie might be flawed, but he was significantly better than Clinton on almost every axis than Clinton.

If you are one of Clinton’s retainers, she will take care of you. ‘Grats.

If you are in the top 3 percent of the population, you should do well under her policies.

Everyone else will do badly under her policies, or no better than they would have under Bernie.

As for brown people overseas, well, no one who voted for Clinton actually gives a shit about whether they live, die, or suffer.

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People Are Soooo Convinced Trump Can’t Win the Presidency

Just as people were soooo convinced that Trump couldn’t win the Republican nomination.

Let’s clear a couple things up.

  1. Trump is not stupid by any useful definition of stupid. He has spent his life getting what he wanted.
  2. Trump is not crazy, except in terms of being crazy like a fox. He knew what he was doing and it worked.

Trump has a basic critique:

Our elites are corrupt fuck-ups who work for rich people, screw over ordinary people, and couldn’t manage to a Taco Bell.

They have bungled the economy, they have lost multiple wars, and they allowed 9/11 to happen on their watch.

Trump, because he is rich and successful, is not politically corrupt; he does not need to take anyone else’s money. He owes no one anything.

Because he has played at the top of the game, he knows how politics and business works and because he needs nothing from anyone, he will use his skill and knowledge to help ordinary shmoes.

America’s economy will work under him. America will avoid stupid wars.

This is a strong critique, because it is true. America’s elites are corrupt incompetents whose only skill is funneling more money to rich people. They have lost multiple wars, bungled terrorism, and completely fucked up the economy for ordinary people.

Whether Trump is the right man to fix this is more questionable, but his critique works against Clinton. She was there for all of it and she was in favor of virtually all of it. Clinton is a corrupt, oligarchical tool who never saw a war she didn’t like, and whose reign as Secretary of State was an endless series of fuck-ups.

Maybe Trump isn’t all he says he is, but many Americans are very likely to be willing to take a flier on him, because his critique of Clinton will be right in the essence, even if it misses some of the details.

I shouldn’t have to point out, but apparently do, that Trump will now move to the center. He’s pandered to the right-wingers whom he needed to to win the nomination. Now, he’ll pander to the people he needs to win the presidency.

I do not know whether Trump will win. But I am quite certain he can win.

This is true, also, because Clinton is an incompetent executive and campaigner. She damn near lost the nomination to a socialist. She did lose in ’08 when she had everything going for her. She promotes cronyism, her entire campaign is, “No, we can’t, don’t be a child, you can’t have anything good,” and her instincts are terrible.

Clinton’s campaign premise will be, “I have ovaries and he’s crazy.”

That isn’t a good message against, “I’ll make America great again and give you a good job.”

Clinton’s entire hope comes down to Trump’s bigotry. She will rest heavily on the minority and female votes.  But if inroads are made there, she can easily lose. Women are not the monolith people act like they are: Married women often vote in their husband’s interests, seeing those interests as their own.

Also, it remains to be seen how much people will come out for Hillary. They won’t vote for Trump? Okay. But vote for Hillary? A different thing.

There’s plenty of time before the election, and Clinton does not seem to me to be a sure thing.

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Cries for Sanders to Be Conciliatory Miss the Point

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Sanders-021507-18335- 0004

So, Sanders has most likely lost. Last minute upsets are possible, but highly unlikely.

And now come the calls for Bernie to be conciliatory.

This misses the point.

Sanders doesn’t need anything Clinton can give.

Any promises she makes with respect to his priorities are not credible. He’s old and his career is all but over anyway, so there is little she can offer in terms of career “advancement.”

Why does he need to be conciliatory? Only “for the good of the party.”  But the party has not been good to Sanders–in fact, it has repeatedly put its hand on the scales to help Hillary.

Clinton’s policies are far enough from Sanders that the only argument for him to be “conciliatory” are based on Trump being even further from him. But on things like not attacking foreign countries, Trump is actually closer to Sanders.

From my POV, the onus is on Clinton to be credibly conciliatory to Bernie, and more importantly his supporters. If her entire argument is “I’m the lesser evil,” then she should expect little beyond the occasional symbolic olive branch from Sanders or his followers.

Of course, it’s hard to be conciliatory for Clinton. Her entire campaign has been based on “I deserve this,” which doesn’t leave a lot of room for saying to other people, “I see your side.” She’s already saying things like TPP only needs a few tweaks, etc.

She’s simply, and to the core, a right wing hawk who is fundamentally opposed to most left-wing policies and who only changes her mind once those policies are inevitable (as with gay marriage, which she supported very late in the game).

In emotive language, she’s evil. Bernie’s no wonder on a lot of issues, but he did actually oppose all the key wars, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, and so on. Clinton? On the wrong side of almost every issue which has mattered for her entire career and she’s not even believable where she’s better than Bernie, for instance on gun-control, about which she has attacked Obama as anti-guns, but then pandered in PA on gun-control.

So Clinton has to rely on Bernie being loyal to a party which has screwed him repeatedly in order to help her win the nomination, and she can’t credibly give him anything that matters because she’s not trustworthy on any issue that matters to Sanders or his followers.

Conciliatory? Ridiculous. She’s not credible, and he doesn’t need her. If she wants to be conciliated, she had best go first and find out how to make it credible.

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Hillary Clinton Is a Monstrous Politician

Ok.  I’ve had enough. Let’s speak truthfully about Hillary Clinton:

She voted for the Iraq war and defended that vote for years.

She was a primary driver behind the Libyan war.

She was involved in the cluster-fuck that is Syria.

She was for the “welfare reform” and three strikes laws during her husband’s administration. She actively spoke for them, thus, she is culpable.

She opposes the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall.

She has blamed homeowners for the financial crisis.

Henry Kissinger, a man who has a great deal of responsibility for two genocides was her adviser while she was Secretary of State, and he is her personal friend.

Hillary Clinton supported the Iraq sanctions which killed half a million Iraqi children or so.

She has compared Putin to Hitler.

It is a fact that Clinton is a bad person, who has championed policies which have killed a lot of people, and which have impoverished many others.

No Realpolitik case can be made for these policies: They have clearly made the world a more dangerous place, vastly increasing failed states and terrorism. These policies were unethical both in and of themselves, and massive suffering have been direct results.

I have been told by people who know her that she is a wonderful, concerned friend, and very warm in small groups.

I care about that as much as I do about the fact that Americans thought that George W. Bush was “someone who they wanted to have a beer with.”

Clinton, as a politician, has supported terrible policies. Moreover, she has not learned from these policy failures. For example, after Iraq, she supported Libya.

I am tired of the “lesser evil” argument; but it is not clear to me that Clinton is the lesser evil.

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Trump Hysteria

So, yeah, I oppose Trump. (I oppose Clinton, too.)

But let’s get real, here.

America is already ruled by monsters. Bill Clinton killed 500k Iraqi children for no particularly good reason (is there a good reason to kill half a million children?). George Bush invaded Iraq. Obama green-lit the destruction of Libya. Hillary Clinton voted for the war on Iraq and pushed hard for the destruction of Libya.

These people have crippled the economy for ordinary people, immunized bankers, destroyed safeguards put in to protect us from another Depression, and so on. They have deliberately made sure the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class becomes the poor.

They have been completely inadequate on climate change. They have gutted civil liberties (remember, Obama is worse than Bush on civil liberties). They all torture. Obama deported more Hispanics than Bush, by a significant margin.

Clinton has been there for all of it and demurred for very little of it.

They are all monsters.

Every time you are offered someone better, you refuse. If someone truly decent runs, like, say, Kucinich you think that’s hilarious and would never consider voting for him because he’s not viable. Of course he wasn’t viable, because you wouldn’t consider voting for someone who’s not a monster.

So, yeah, Trump may turn out to be worse. But he’s just a greater evil, and Americans are used to voting for evil.

Heck, if Trump means what he says about foreign affairs, he may turn out to be the lesser evil. Oh sure, he’ll be horrible for people with melanin inside the US, but if he doesn’t attack any countries while President, the net math will be in his favor.

So calm down. All that’s happening is that more of the violence America has so casually exported to the rest of the world might be coming home. If you didn’t mind it for other people, on what ethical grounds do you now object to it in your own country?

Trump will probably be bad, if he’s President. But net worse than your other Presidents? That’s yet to be seen.

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