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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/22/19

Forget Bernie vs. Warren. Focus on Growing the Progressive Base and Defeating Biden.

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From The Intercept

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders
Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders
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A FEW DAYS AGO, I shared what I thought was a fairly innocuous observation about a fundamental difference between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Warren spends most of her campaign unpacking and explaining detailed policy proposals, many of them excellent, while Sanders splits his emphasis between his own strong plans and his calls for the political revolution he has consistently said will be required for any substantive progressive policy wins.

"Smart policies are very important," I tweeted. "But we don't lose because we lack smart policies, we lose because we lack sufficient power to win those policies up against entrenched elite forces that will do anything to defeat us."

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Within seconds, I was in the grip of a full-on 2016 primary flashback. I was accused of being a shill for Bernie and an enemy of Warren (I'm neither). My feed filled up with partisans of both candidates hurling insults at each other: She gets things done, he is all talk; she's a pretender, he's the real deal; he has a gender problem, hers is with race; she's in the pocket of the arms industry, he's an easy mark for Donald Trump; he should back her because she's a woman, she should back him because he started this wave. And much more too venal to mention.

I immediately regretted saying anything (as is so often the case on that godforsaken platform). Not because the point about outside movement power is unimportant, but because I had been trying to put off getting sucked into the 2020 horserace for as long as possible.

Liberals in the U.S. often say the Trump presidency is Not Normal. And yeah, it's a killer-clown horror show. But the truth is that from most outsider perspectives, there is nothing about U.S. politics that is normal, particularly the interminable length of campaigns. Normal countries have federal elections that consume two, maybe three months of people's political lives once every four to five years; Canada caps federal campaigns at 50 days, Japan at 12. In the U.S., on the other hand, there's a total of about nine months in every four-year cycle when politics is not consumed by either a presidential or midterm horserace.

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There's another reason to resist attempts to turn Sanders vs. Warren into a redux of the 2016 primaries eight months before the first vote is cast. Today's electoral dynamics are absolutely nothing like 2016. That was a two-way race between two candidates with radically different records and ideas, in which one candidate's gain really was the other's loss. A winner-takes-all race like that pretty much always turns into some kind of death match. It's a spectacle that comes at a steep price. The relentless process of picking electoral winners sucks up intellectual energy, media airtime, movement muscle, and boatloads of money that are badly needed elsewhere. Like organizing to stop war with Iran, for instance. Or supporting movements trying to free migrants from Trump's concentration camps. Or figuring out what a transformative Green New Deal should look like on the ground. Or building international alliances with people in countries facing their own hate-filled authoritarian strongmen.

These primaries are another species entirely. There is a small army of candidates, with two of the leaders running on platforms so far to the left, they would have been unimaginable for anyone but a protest candidate as recently as 2014. The front-runner, meanwhile, is eminently beatable (especially if Joe Biden keeps showing us exactly who he is, as he did about six times this week).

All this means that for leftists and progressives, the name of the game is not canceling out each other's candidates. It's doing everything possible not to end up with a Wall Street-funded centrist running against a president with the power of incumbency. That means making the case against the idea that candidates positioning themselves as the "safe choice" are in any way safe, whether at the polls or once in office. And it means helping to bring more and more people to one of the genuinely progressive front-runners. There's plenty of time to worry about vote-spitting down the road the task now is to enlarge the number of votes available to be split (or combined).

Because Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was absolutely right when she said on ABC's "This Week," "We have a very real risk of losing the presidency to Donald Trump if we don't have a presidential candidate that's fighting for true transformational change in lives of working people in the United States."

That was clear on the morning of November 9, 2016. In case more proof is required, see the recent devastating elections in India and Australia, where right-wing incumbents won despite predictions to the contrary, as well as the results of the European parliament vote, most notably in France and Italy, where the far right has surged. Again and again, we learn the same lesson: Tepid centrists carrying the baggage of decades of neoliberal suffering are no match for machineries of scapegoating willing to stop at nothing to win. Luca Casarini, a longtime Italian activist who now works on an Italian ship that has rescued dozens of migrants in the Mediterranean, recently put it to me in these harrowing terms: "There is pleasure being taken in the suffering of others. That is what these politicians are selling."

Even on the off chance that Biden did manage to pull off a Macron and win (which he's about 35 years too old for), there is the problem of what he would (and wouldn't) do once in power. "No one's standard of living will change. Nothing would fundamentally change," he told a swanky fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel a philosophy he helpfully reiterated, for those at the back: "You beat them. Without changing the system."

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AS I'VE SAID before a time or two, in the age of climate breakdown, if nothing fundamentally changes in the political and economic spheres, then absolutely everything is going to change in the physical sphere. Indeed, these changes are already well underway. So we either change those human-created systems or the natural systems on which all life depends will ruthlessly force change upon us. Given this and so many other life-and-death crises, would it still be worth substituting Trump for Biden or some similarly compromised runner-up? Without question or hesitation. Getting rid of Trump in 2020 is a civilizational imperative, if only to slow this slide into barbarism.

But what the progressive surge in these primaries is telling us is that we can, and must, do so much better.

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Naomi Klein is the author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, now out in paperback. To read all her latest writing visit www.naomiklein.org

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Jerry Lobdill

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I cannot read enough Naomi Klein articles and books. She is perhaps the very best progressive thinker today. In this article she presents the best plan for a progressive win in 2020. We must guard against a fight between Bernie and Elizabeth supporters. We can't afford a Republican victory.

As Naomi says, we are somewhere where we have never been before. We had better be alert and tread carefully.

Submitted on Saturday, Jun 22, 2019 at 8:12:17 PM

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Art Costa

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Naomi Klein, who is smart, knows what she's dealing with and is either in denial or in a state of wishful thinking. The system was pronounced rigged and hasn't changed. Sanders and Warren's programs will NEVER be implemented in the existing system. NEVER. We are bombing at least 7 nations 24/7 and have starvation sanctions on children all over the globe. Not a "Medicare for all" kind of government. The system needs to fear the populace and it clearly doesn't...AT ALL! There's no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny in this picture. And these 2 candidates wouldn't be any different than Obama which is why if elected they will be hated more than Trump.

Submitted on Sunday, Jun 23, 2019 at 10:07:36 PM

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John Rachel

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What a great piece! What excellent ideas!

And golly ... this is exactly what the CFAR project has been working on for three years. Go district-by-district, community-by-community, and put up a legitimate progressive candidate in every race. How do we know the candidate is a real progressive? The CFAR is the "purity test", a guarantee in writing for all to see that the candidate is on the side of the people.

As to the Sanders vs. Warren vs. Biden vs. [fill in names of the 24 Dems] ... it says right on the intro page, the presidential race is not what's important. What's critical is a power base for the people in CONGRESS, the institution that makes the laws. With a veto-proof Congress, we can rein in any president, or sufficiently support any "people's President". If the guy or gal in the Oval Office is a problem, Congress can VETO the president. It's called impeachment.

Glad to see Ms. Klein and I am hoping others are finally seeing the wisdom of building a true progressive power base, and stop wasting time on the soap opera of presidential politics. As we say right on the first page ...

THE PRESIDENT IS THE LIGHTNING ROD. BUT CONGRESS IS THE LIGHTNING!

Jetzt verstehen?

Submitted on Sunday, Jun 23, 2019 at 10:38:17 PM

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shad williams

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May as well go for the last hurrah. The neocons and their masters seem to be in a hurry to risk mighty destruction in the world...why? What's the point in having the most chips when the casino is collapsing on everyone's head?

Submitted on Monday, Jun 24, 2019 at 1:35:46 AM

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John Lawrence Ré

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Warren's willingness to "break up big tech," protect consumers and serve as a watchdog over Wall Stree is nice, but she is a firm believer in US exceptionalism and has never rejected american imperialism. President's are commander-in-chiefs; Warren is a Commerce Secretary or a Director of Consumer Affairs. The world is in too precarious a place as Klein correctly notes. Electing a US president whose focus is riveted on domestic issues would be kicking the can down the road as MIC and the globalists take us to midnite. Gabbard is the only one who recognizes this. And Bernie's obsesssion with taxing the billionaires is nothing more than a huge distrction from ending empire. In fact, if Bernie were to win, MIC will take every last schekel of tax revenue Bernie squeezes out of the billionaires just as the feudal kings eventually turned on the nobles to finance thier armadas. Wouldn't surprise me if MIC is secretly rooting for him.

Submitted on Monday, Jun 24, 2019 at 3:15:01 AM

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