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Should We Be Ridin’ With Biden? A Progressive Debate

Issue 255.5

Ryan Opalanietet Pierce & Ethan Young Apr 27

The left finds itself in a familiar position following the demise of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign: embrace the presumptive Democratic nominee as the lesser of two evils, or break with the Democrats and refuse to support a party that, like the Republicans, caters to the interests of its wealthy donors? In this debate, two Sanders supporters argue for very different strategies going forward. 

Ryan Opalanietet Pierce: 1st Step: A Biden Defeat Will Allow the Left To Gain Control of the Democratic Party

At this pivotal moment in history, conventional wisdom is telling progressives to accept defeat and continue the movement. Well, progressives were defeated this year. Make no mistake about it. With the exception of the Latino vote, we underperformed with just about every demographic that exists. Which begs the following question: Where do progressives go from here?

Embracing the lesser-of-two-evils is a failed strategy. Why keep repeating the same mistake?

If conventional wisdom is telling you to continue the movement by putting pressure on the Biden campaign to move leftward, think again. While progressives did win the war of ideas, we failed to prove that these ideas are winnable. Thus, what incentive does Camp Biden have to adopt them in a general election? We couldn’t get the youth vote out in the numbers needed, we lost the white working class, and once again got slaughtered among African Americans. Biden won states where he didn’t even have a single staffer. Biden has every incentive to remain on the neoliberal, Wall Street gravy train that he’s been riding for almost half a century.

The only way forward for progressives is to prove that Joe Biden, like Hillary Clinton before him, is not electable. This is a hard message for progressives to swallow, because, absent some unforeseen strong third-party candidate, it means Trump will be in power for another four years. But those four years will be necessary to rebuild the Democratic Party in a progressive image. 

This will start with the election of a real progressive in the DNC Chair position. Tom Perez and any other corporate hack that Biden would appoint should he win, needs to be gone. Then in local, state, and Congressional elections around the country in 2021 and 2022, progressives will need to win up and down the ballot. This will help ensure that the party infrastructure will be there to assist a progressive presidential candidate in 2024, and should they win, help enact that progressive agenda.  

Should Biden win, the Democratic Party infrastructure will likely remain unchanged for another generation, leading to large intervals of Republicans lurching further and further to the right and flirting with fascism. 

How do we know this? Because we’ve seen this movie three times before: Carter led to Reagan, Bill Clinton led to George W. Bush, and Obama led to Trump. Each Republican was worse than the one before. Are we seeing the picture? And if that doesn’t work, remember the lessons of 2004: A respected, but not loved candidate was nominated by the Democratic Party telling us that he was the electable one. Sen. John Kerry was a war hero and, on paper, he had all the qualifications for being a president. Yet, no one was crazy about him. He had no specific agenda and had voted for the Iraq War. And in the end, he lost a winnable election to a controversial and hated Republican incumbent.  

How many times must we repeat the same mistake? If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, we have already proven ourselves bonkers a long time ago. And if you’re worried about the Supreme Court, ask yourself:  Has what we have previously done saved the court? No, it hasn’t. We have already lost the court for over a generation.

It is time now to win other winnable branches of government for future generations. And that starts with breaking this insane cycle and building progressive infrastructure from the ground up. There’s no other way to do it.  

Ryan Opalanietet Pierce is a performing artist in New York City, and a member of the Lower Manhattan branch of NYC Democratic Socialists of America. He also was an avid volunteer for the Bernie Sanders campaign, both in 2016 and 2020, traveling both to Iowa and Texas during the primaries.

Ethan Young: Forming a United Front to Defeat Trump & Neo-Fascism Must Be Our First Priority

We have two options before the election. The next president will either be a prop candidate in the hands of a panic-stricken party leadership or a sociopathic narcissist surrounded by right-wing business cronies and outright crypto-fascists. The first option is preferable. The second is too likely for any of us to be smug about it.

Neoliberalism does not equal fascism. They can be in real conflict with one another.

It’s true that Democratic Party leaders are not likely to move left in the next five months, no matter how progressives huff and puff. Still, as Bernie says, it would be wrong to sit this election out. The difference between the two outcomes is actually pretty extreme and would be even if the options were worse.

A strong movement needs political space in which to build and grow. Better if we’re not running from the law and death squads. That’s the difference between bourgeois democracy (what Noam Chomsky calls an open society) and any sort of fascist power. Simple enough: work to defeat the GOP, and fuel the anti-Trump vote where the Dems fall short. No golden ticket either way, yet it’s still life or death.

The pandemic and unemployment create a real crisis for both parties. That makes the Republicans even more dangerous, and it leaves the Democrats in disarray. The Dems’ crisis will remain even if they win. To put it simply: only more economic planning and regulation — a sharp turn away from neoliberalism — can fix this mess, even temporarily. That’s where the left and radical reform demands come in.

It’s good to raise the question of how to proceed with movement-building after the election. With either outcome, though, “building from the ground up” will not be enough. We also have to build on the outreach in the campaigns. There will always need to be ways to connect with folks at the far reaches of the left and the center, as long as fascism threatens. 

A united front requires that the left in its diversity — social movements, intellectual and cultural projects, political groups and electoral campaigns — operate autonomously while coordinating our efforts to reach shared goals, short and long term. That means more than coexistence. But it does not mean silencing debate — just an appreciation of how we debate, and toward what strategy and results. 

We have to strengthen our capacity to tell the difference between enemies, real and potential. Neoliberalism does not equal fascism. They can be in real conflict with one another. Capitalism can take different forms, for bad or worse, if never for the best. A corrupt district-level hack is different from an armed mob looking to terrorize your block. We need a proper response to all of these. This usually requires alliances across political, class or ideological lines.

Sometimes this means alliances with decent liberals. There is such a thing. We can even find common ground with corrupt hacks, when necessary. No political tendency has the corner on decency or corruption, or megalomania or pettiness. Sometimes we have to work in or with the Democratic Party, just to get a hearing. Sometimes we can’t. A lot hangs on how we decide to go at any given point in the fight.

I was a teen out to end imperialism in 1968. That was around when Bernie moved to Burlington, Vermont and started knocking on doors. If I had been old enough I would have voted for Eldridge Cleaver. I saw first hand what despair and frustration can do to a movement. The watchwords of despair are “fuck this shit.” The watchwords of mass democratic political action are “forward together.” 

Ethan Young is a moderator at Portside.org. He is the author of several pamphlets and essays for Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung-New York Office, most recently “The Democrats’ Super Tuesday.”

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