Exit, stage left

Updated Apr 15 2020


JUST as I sat down to write, the breaking news flashed that Bernie Sanders had formally endorsed Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination in the US.

It didn’t come as a surprise, given that last week Sanders suspended his campaign for the candidacy, convinced there was no path forward. That, too, was more or less inevitable. Spooked by his ascendancy in the first three caucuses and primaries, the Democratic Party machine evidently became more determined than ever to thwart his progress.

Biden’s strong showing in South Carolina was like manna from heaven for the establishment Democrats who would rather have a Republican in the White House than a radical outsider who threatens to shake up the status quo. Most of the remaining candidates were shortly thereafter persuaded to step out of the race, and to endorse Biden. Barack Obama was apparently a key component of the conspiracy to ensure that Sanders’ path would effectively be blocked after Super Tuesday.

It went more or less according to plan. The Sanders campaign lost its momentum despite a few significant victories, not least in California, the largest state in the union. It wasn’t just the party establishment, of course. The mainstream media certainly played its part, not least supposedly ‘progressive’ outlets such as MSNBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post, which have ‘balanced’ occasionally positive assessments of the candidate and his policy goals with a great many more adverse comments ranging from superficially sympathetic critiques to vicious diatribes.

The anti-Sanders conspiracy went according to plan.

One must not ignore the fact, of course, that the Sanders campaign suffered from its inability to enthuse older generations of voters. It’s not the campaign that’s mainly to blame, though. Its failure at this level testifies to the success of ideological brainwashing over the years. All too many people resist sensible policy propositions — from universal healthcare and free higher education to higher wages for the lowest paid and far less stingy welfare provisions — not because they disagree with the goals, but because they consider them unattainable.

That’s a sad reminder that for a substantial proportion of US citizens the American dream is little more than an inescapable nightmare. That seemingly includes the majority of older African-Americans, swayed in their preferences not just by Biden’s eight years as a loyal deputy to Obama or by the black congressional establishment’s wholesale capitulation to champions of corporate capitalism such as Michael Bloomberg, but also the ingrained notion that incremental change is the only realistic possibility. Change we can believe in, as the Obama campaign put it. Which in most spheres translates into little or no change at all.

Stay calm and carry on, as some would put it on the other side of the Atlantic, regurgitating a slogan that was invented to undergird British stoicism in the event of a Nazi invasion back in the 1940s. Fortunately, that never came to pass. But in the aftermath of the war, voters were propelled towards change they may not have believed in earlier, and the welfare state was born under the aegis of a Labour government led by the moderate Clement Attlee and buttressed by the left-wing Aneurin Bevan. At least some of the arrangements it put in place, including the National Health Service, have since then been undermined but never quite dismantled even by the many Conservative governments that have held power since then.

Just three years ago, British voters had the opportunity to revive the spirit of 1945. In the 2017 election, the Labour Party obtained more votes than at any point since the evisceration of the Tories 20 years earlier. Back in 1997, though, it was led by a man determined to pursue the Thatcherite agenda. In 2017 it was led by Tony Blair’s antithesis. As a leaked party document has confirmed in the past couple of days, the Labour establishment was determined to block Jeremy Corbyn’s path to 10 Downing Street. And it succeeded.

The impression that the ambitious agenda endorsed by Corbyn was unattainable was steeped in the consciousness of the vast majority of British voters by the time the 2019 poll came along, alongside a seemingly coordinated cross-media character-assassination campaign against perhaps the most decent man to have ever led a mainstream UK political party.

It is said that the movements generated by Sanders and Corbyn, and the hopes they led to, cannot be ignored by the Democratic and Labour parties. My confidence in that proposition is shaky, given all that both parties have done to dim the reasonable possibilities held out by the two old men revered mainly by younger generations.

Yet there’s cause to accept Joni Mitchell’s verdict in Both Sides Now to the effect that “something’s lost, but something’s gained”, and, perhaps more than ever, to hold fast to Dylan Thomas’s advice to relentlessly “rage against the dying of the light”.


Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2020