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Joe Biden speaking at a campaign event for Hillary Clinton at a September 27, 2016 rally at Drexel University, in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Joe Biden speaking at a campaign event for Hillary Clinton at a September 27, 2016 rally at Drexel University, in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Here's What Neoliberal Democrats Who View Bernie Sanders as an 'Existential Threat' Have Yet to Realize

A centrist candidate—which, let’s be honest, means one who is beholden to the uber rich and corporations—cannot and will not address these truly existential issues.

John Atcheson

Over the past few days, the mainstream Democrats’ war on Bernie Sanders has come out of the closet.  Recent articles in Politico and the Guardian, detail how centrist organizations like Third Way have been pushing the narrative that Sanders is unelectable.  The reason, according to Third Way leaders and other neoliberals, is the dreaded label of “socialist.”

There’s two things wrong with this premise.

First, Sanders has been a nationally known figure since 2015, and the label hasn’t hurt him much. He still polls better against Trump than any Democrat except Biden—and they're essentially tied at the moment in a race with Trump. And make no mistake, with Biden’s record of coddling Wall Street and big banks, backing the Iraq War, and a history of racist and sexist remarks, it’s Biden who is frighteningly unelectable.  He’d face the same fate as Hillary Clinton in 2016 if he got the nomination, because the vast majority of voters hold more progressive views and a centrist candidate just can’t generate the turnout Democrats need to win.

Yes, Republicans and a few older folks see the term “socialist” as a non-starter, but more people view capitalism negatively and many young people see socialism as a positive. Sanders himself has done a good job of defining exactly what democratic socialism is, and it lines up well with what voters say they want.

"People understand two things. First, government has been taken over by oligarchs and second, it no longer represents them.  Some of them are mad as hell, and they vote for the likes of Trump because he at least shares their inchoate rage at the system, even if he reinforces it with his policies. Others are justifiably cynical and choose to stay home on election day."

But the second thing that reveals how wrong the centrist neoliberals are, is that, until 2018—when Democrats were more progressive and the Party ran more progressive candidates—they’d been losing ground for nearly five decades. In the 1960’s about half of all voters registered as Democrats—today that number is only about 29 percent.  As recently as 1978, Democrats controlled both legislative branches in thirty-one states, while Republicans had majorities in only eleven.

By 2016 Republicans controlled both legislatures and the governorship in twenty-five states, while Democrats control all three institutions in just six states. Nebraska, which has a unicameral, nonpartisan legislature, isn’t counted in this total.  Meanwhile, thirty-four states have a Republican governor, while only fifteen are headed by a Democrat, and one—Alaska—is headed by an independent.

This losing trend directly parallels the Democratic Party’s drift to the center and then to the right. As groups like the Democratic Leadership Council embraced corporatism, and ran from New Deal and Great Society values, the Party lost ground.

In short, Democrats are on the verge of an existential crisis, but it’s centrism that is causing it.  In fact, in many ways Trump may be saving them.  He is so abhorrent and so manifestly unfit for the job, that enough people may turn out to vote him out to give the Democrats a victory.

But that’s not certain, and it’s far different than winning with a mandate in any case. And the country desperately needs a progressive mandate right now.

We as a country are sleepwalking into Armageddon.  The twin horsemen of the new apocalypse are ignorance and hate.

We are facing a real crisis—perhaps an existential one—in the form of the climate change, and it’s closer and more serious than we’ve been led to believe.

We have a press which thinks that covering both “sides” of a debate is more important than divining the truth behind the debate.  Balance has replaced accuracy, truth, data, and facts as the media’s polestar.  As a result, morons get equal time with sages.

We are seeing economic and political power concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, as corporations merge at a record pace, and wealth and income gets increasingly concentrated at the very top of our society.

Americans tend to believe that freedom is embedded in the documents our founders developed; it’s not. Rather, it derives from the collective cultural commitment to freedom that, until recently, was a part of our national DNA, and it is rooted firmly in ideas that come from the Enlightenment.  Without this foundation, our Constitution is just a thin piece of parchment, easily ripped to shreds.

And today, we are abandoning science, reason, and the Enlightenment values, and as a result, demagogues are wholesaling hate, blame and greed.  We are trading in a Constitution written from the frontal cortex, for a social fabric defined by the amygdala and the limbic lizard that resides there.

A centrist candidate—which, let’s be honest, means one who is beholden to the uber rich and corporations—cannot and will not address these truly existential issues. Only a progressive candidate can and will.

People understand two things. First, government has been taken over by oligarchs and second, it no longer represents them.  Some of them are mad as hell, and they vote for the likes of Trump because he at least shares their inchoate rage at the system, even if he reinforces it with his policies. Others are justifiably cynical and choose to stay home on election day.

That’s how Trump won in 2016. Targeting a few more votes from the mythical center won’t change that. Getting the no shows to show will. And only a progressive can do that.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a California car accident in January 2020.

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