By Woody Woodruff
Harold Meyerson, political reporter and columnist and DSA stalwart, observed to a progressive Northern Virginia audience Sept. 24 that Bernie Sanders’s failure to beat Hillary Clinton past the post in the Democratic primary race indicated he had not broadened his class-based appeal sufficiently to bring in voters of color – a possibility Meyerson had suggested back in March before a Metro DC DSA audience, when the race was still quite undecided.
Local DSA members last formally heard from Meyerson, an acute analyst of political events from the socialist left, at a March “Continuing the Poiitical Revolution” one-day conference our local co-sponsored. Then, the Sanders campaign was making major inroads into Hillary Clinton’s presumed lock on the nomination and Meyerson told the members and allies gathered to discuss “Continuing the political revolution” that the appetite for left-flavored change had been overwhelmingly more widespread than even the fondest dreams of a long-beleaguered political tendency.
Saturday, September 24, Meyerson spoke* at Arlington’s Central Library to fifty-plus members of Northern Virginians for Bernie – who had recently (but tentatively) renamed themselves part of “Our Revolution,” the post-Bernie brand of left continuity. Since the columnist’s March discussion, Sanders had won huge swatches of delegates but short of a majority, Clinton had been nominated at the Democratic Convention with his endorsement, and the increasingly tense struggle with GOP nominee Donald Trump was less than six weeks from its conclusion.
In March, the April Washington Socialist then reported, “In an extended, productive question period Meyerson suggested that Sanders, as a candidate, was pinned down by his own emphasis on class politics, a ‘class-oriented mindset’ – more so than would be true of many members of DSA – and that has limited his ability to appeal to identity-based tendencies like Black Lives Matter or more generally the intersectional issues of race and inequality.”
In Arlington, Meyerson reiterated the problem, not only of the campaign but of the broad left. Sanders didn’t lose to Clinton because the DNC supposedly “rigged” the race, Meyerson emphasized – he lost because of a failure to appeal to African American voters who recalled the last Clinton presidency as a good era. Sanders was “wiped out in the Southern states” because of that, Meyerson observed, a deficit he could not win back among the Northern and Midwestern working-class voters who leaned in his direction.
Sanders is now campaigning to get his voters – especially millennials, missing in action in the Clinton coalition compared to the Obama campaign – out for the Democratic ticket, from Clinton to insurgent House candidates like New York’s Zephyr Teachout, trying to unseat GOP incumbents. He is, Meyerson said pithily, in a “half-way house” situation trying to assure election of an administration within which significant policy changes can be struggled for, while promoting the next-steps iteration of his campaign called “Our Revolution.”
Much of Meyerson’s discussion before a group that included self-described “Bernie die-hards” circled around the question of strategic voting versus voting “conscience” or “heart.” Many in attendance indicated ambivalence about voting for Clinton and being attracted to the Green Party message of Jill Stein. In a recent column in the American Prospect, where he is executive editor, Meyerson noted that Clinton shows much more damage from voters in swing states going for third-party candidates than does Trump.
Despite the overall demographic trends in swing states that favor Democrats in the near future, Clinton’s future is nearer still and she needs to recapture the voters leaning toward Stein or the “tabula rasa” Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. Johnson’s “appeal [because] of a non-interventionist foreign policy” attracts especially millennials, but they appear largely unaware – yet – of his lack of policies on climate change, student debt and educational affordability.
Likewise, Latino and other quasi-immigrant demographic sectors are likely to lean Democratic but they need to be motivated to vote. “Democrats today who worry about the low voter participation rates of Latino and Asians, then, need to grasp the lesson that Tammany and the CIO should teach us: Demography may be destiny, but it always needs a push….”, Meyerson said in another recent article in the American Prospect. In Arlington, Meyerson warned that much GOP money had – at least until very recently – been diverted to down-ballot Republican candidates in Congressional and state legislative races.
On the current topic of “next steps” to sustain a left movement, Meyerson suggested there were two challenges. First, the perennial fissures in the left might mean that progressives “gratuitously ghettoize ourselves” by not reaching out to those who are clearly allies “on our side.” Nevertheless, he said to questions after his talk, forcing premature unity within the left “might be bloodier than we anticipate.” Better to find issues that attract common work, he said, and cited opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact as a principal example. Update Oct. 1 — Meyerson promised more details in a forthcoming article in the American Prospect, and it is here.
Second challenge, he suggested, is the “perils of success” – the significant victories won in the Democratic platform and movement of Secy. Clinton’s stance left on trade, student debt/college affordability and other front-Berner issues. The peril? “Younger people may not see how much progress has been made.”
“Bernie unleashed energies we didn’t know were there,” Meyerson said in an echo to his March discussion. One was the re-establishment of class as a political category, begun by the Occupy Wall Street movement, which “had no second act, but a helluva first act.” He noted that despite its odd fit in typical US political discourse, OWS “always polled well,” indicating class was ripe to be elevated back into the discourse. Like many commentators, Meyerson pointed out that Trump was making perverse (for an alleged billionaire) use of class as a stimulus. “Now we need to steer it into Bernie channels, not Trump channels. “
*Full disclosure: Your correspondent, making an unaccustomed foray into Northern Virginia via Metrorail, managed to be late and missed the early portion of Meyerson’s talk.
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.The Washington Socialist is Metro DC DSA's monthly e-newsletter. Focusing on our local's events, socialist analyses of current events and book reviews, among other topics, The Washington Socialist is a great way to stay on top of the progressive goings-on in DC, Maryland and northern Virginia. We also encourage our readers to submit their own articles! Contact Editor Woody Woodruff for more info at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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