Low turnouts in American elections have favoured conservative candidates. The affluent always have the means and the motives to vote. Nonvoters, as the Pew Foundation reports of the 40 per cent or so in 2016, tend to be “younger, less educated, less affluent and nonwhite.” So, despite the raging coronavirus crisis, a fretful Democratic party establishment, deeply deferential to big donors, proceeded with primary elections in Illinois, Ohio, and Florida that were guaranteed to bolster their preferred presidential candidate Joseph Biden.
A week earlier, on so-called Super Tuesday, the same Democratic Party elite executed an impressive coordinated manoeuvre to shed excess ‘moderate’ candidates (Amy Klobochar, Pete Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg) to allow a clear field for Biden and thereby to derail democratic socialist Bernie Sanders’ alarming insurgent campaign. While Sanders is no socialist by any stretch of the imagination, in an America has driven steadily Rightward over five decades his mild New Deal-style policies appear, almost preposterously, to be ‘revolutionary.’
Republicans and corporate Democrats, like Biden, instinctively will condemn Sanders’ policies as odiously socialistic whether he uses the taboo term or not. So why not own the label and see what happens? Almost half the American people don’t recoil at this scare word ‘socialism’ anymore, as they were so meticulously trained to do during the Cold War. Words can and do change their political meanings. The term “moderate,’ for a pertinent example, was redefined overnight in the US mass media to indicate anyone who opposes the consistent American majorities who desire a national health care system, a Green New Deal, tuition-free public university education and debt forgiveness, a doubled minimum wage, and restoring taxes on firms and personages who pay less tax as a percentage of their income than their maids and gardeners do.
One never hears these inconvenient facts mentioned on a major newscast in the US or the UK except when a commentator decries what dunces average income voters are to expect the same indulgent treatment that the rich are accustomed to. It has been grimly entertaining during this coronavirus epidemic to watch these six and seven-figure salaried broadcasters calling every day for government-sponsored socialistic measures in health care and welfare spending that they sneered at when Sanders in the US or Jeremy Corbyn in the UK still had a good shot at gaining office. The coronavirus fright tends to induce anxious voters to huddle around the most familiar, if foggy, figure on the political landscape. Black voters, for that reason, suddenly became a dismayingly regressive force in American politics, opting for Biden simply because he was the vice-presidential sidekick of Barack Obama who, whatever his oratorical gifts, did absolutely nothing materially for Blacks (or anyone else beneath median income levels) during his presidency.
It is quite baffling for observers to behold Blacks, and a lot of working-class whites, voting against their own apparent interests since Bernie Sanders’ platform in every way should be advantageous to them. Yet one cannot chalk this up to sheer foolishness or gullibility. The short-term reasoning, induced by a mass media bombardment, local political figures indebted to the Clinton machine, and worn-out cynicism is that only Biden was electable and could stop the downward slide everyone who is not filthy rich is experiencing.
Lynch law is not that far back in black folk memory either. Though numerous polls attested that Sanders can beat Trump handily, you wouldn’t find any trace of them reported in the press or on cable. Old fashioned cash matters too. House Representative James Clyburn, a Black figure singularly credited with the big swing to Biden in South Carolina on Super Tuesday, is a happy captive of pharmaceutical company donors, who tend to take a very dim view of demands for national health care and for corporate regulation. Most Blacks (only 17 per cent voted for Sanders) reckoned that the white power structure would not allow Sanders to win anyway.
While that’s not necessarily true, if enough people are hectored into believing it, it becomes true. Biden backed a 1994 Welfare Reform Act that harmed Blacks (and the poor in general) immensely as well as a Crime Bill that resulted in mass incarcerations of Blacks for often petty infractions. Obama and Biden recast health care reform as state support to huge private insurance companies, not a formation of a public health system. Biden recently promised to veto national health care legislation, if he should become President and it comes before him. Since 1989, according to Federal Reserve Board figures, the top 10 per cent share of wealth rose from 60.8 per cent to 70.1 per cent, while that of the other 90 per cent declined from 39.2 per cent to 29.9 per cent.
Midway through the second term of the Obama administration, the share of the richest 1% exceeded that of the poorest 90%. During Obama’s eight years, the share of net wealth held by the top 1 per cent went from 26.4 per cent to 30.8 per cent. Is it any wonder that the Occupy Wall Street movement erupted, followed by strong runs by a declared socialist ran for the presidency? Biden will stabilize, not reverse, what Trump has done, and that’s about it. Some years ago a renowned film director, a genuine artist in that often crass trade, ruefully told one of us that an amply funded publicity campaign can make a success of the most mediocre product. Looks like he’s still right.
(The writers are well-known political commentators and authors of No Clean Hands, Parables of Permanent War and many other books)