On Police Accountability

Below is my article On Police Accountability that was published by Newsday today. Below it is a constructive contribution by Paul Surovell that advances consideration of these issues.

The state grants the police the exceptional power of life and death for the purpose of providing for the safety and security of the community. Being granted this exceptional power, the police are responsible to the community for its exercise. They cannot clam immunity from responsible community oversight in the exercise of this power. But it has long been clear that the community’s elected political representatives are incapable of exercising the effective oversight needed to guarantee the fair, and impartial exercise of police power. That is in large part due to the power of police unions to create unjustified fear that creating such accountability would render society less safe. It has thus become patently clear the only way a community can adequately and systematically address issues of police accountability is if it creates an independent civilian complaint review board with effective subpoena power. That is the one necessary and inescapable requirement for the systemic rehabilitation of the relation between the police and the communities they have the responsibility to serve with equity and justice. Short of that, there will be no fundamental solution to the inequities in policing that have been, and are continuing to tear our communities apart, thus rendering us all less safe.

For a little perspective, Newark NJ created a Civilian Review Board that goes beyond the power to subpoena, but also includes the powers to recommend disciplinary action and to review decisions by the Police Chief. And equally important, 7 of the 11 members of the Board are appointed by community organizations that are concerned about police abuse, including the ACLU, NAACP and the People’s Organization for Progress, whose leader, Larry Hamm, who we’ve known for years (as has anyone in NJ involved in anti-racist, anti-war, pro-labor, pro-environment struggles). He’s absolutely incorruptible and indefatigable.

The Review Board is under challenge by the police union, but was restored by the appellate court after being gutted by the lower court. The NJ Supreme Court heard oral arguments in April. Hopefully part of George Floyd’s legacy will be to set the stage for a positive court decision.

If anyone is interested at looking in more detail at these issues, as well as the status of Civilian Review Boards across the country, here’s a great article by Udi Offer, former head of the NJ ACLU, now assistant political director of national ACLU.

https://scholarship.shu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1572&context=shlr

Biden v. Trump: Are We In Or Out?

An important article for Progressives, I would like to share from Carl Davidson’s “Leftlinks” website

“Biden v. Trump: Are We In Or Out?”
by Whitney Maxey

The next few months are decision time for the left.
Either Donald Trump or Joe Biden will be inaugurated President on January 20, 2021.
Millions of people, including the vast majority of voters of color and of workers of all backgrounds who reject bigotry and lies, will cast their ballots for Biden. Among them will be a large cohort who regard Trump as a unique danger and will go all-out to beat him.
Will we join them in that effort or not?
I believe if we throw down, and if we are successful, we create the best possible fighting conditions for working-class and people of color movements domestically and internationally.
And we will build a stronger and bigger left in the process.
BIDEN AND TRUMP ARE NOT THE SAME
We will shift the terrain because Biden and Trump are not the same.
There are major qualitative and quantitative differences between them. Trump heads a right-wing populist and authoritarian trend dripping with white supremacy. Biden is a neoliberal but is subject to pressure from the left to address at least some of our concerns. Denying those differences and choosing not to mobilize to beat Trump is turning our backs on multi-national working class and people of color communities and movements in their time of most need the world over.
Trump’s doubling down on neoliberal ideology to let government create the best circumstances and avenues for the market to do what it pleases to coordinate and direct national medical resources. He rejects the demand for government to step in to at least try and make the process more equitable. This literally means the difference between life and death for people who have contracted Covid-19, who are disproportionately working-class Black and other people of color.
Trump, along with European powers and the right-wing populist bloc he has been facilitating, have exacerbated the plight of many in the Global South. This bloc has repeatedly interfered to try and grossly undermine the various self-determination struggles. This has meant further destabilization and less of an ability to navigate the Covid19 multi-pronged crisis for so many of these countries. For example, since the start of the crisis, Trump has increased sanctions on countries like Venezuela and increased military presence throughout Latin America. The last thing these countries need is to be handcuffed as they struggle to see their country and the people in it through this crisis.
In contrast, Biden has called for lifting sanctions that prevent Iran from getting medical and other essential supplies, and condemned Trump pulling out of the JCPOA nuclear agreement (a.k.a. the Iran nuclear agreement).
Biden wouldn’t have pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord and would put us back into the agreement. Though the action itself is symbolic, it points to two very important things that our movements can build on: 1) A belief that Climate Change is real and something must be done about it on a global scale and 2) science and facts matter.
These are two major areas of departure between Trumpism and the moderate thrust of a Biden-led Democratic administration. Given part of the crisis we are facing is ecological our movements would be much better served with an administration led by someone who is already down the path of recognizing that there is a problem to be fixed (Biden) versus someone who thinks the whole thing is a “hoax”.
 
THE UPSIDE AND THE DOWNSIDE OF BIDEN
A Biden presidency creates more favorable conditions for our communities and movements to fight for the audacious ideas and demands that this crisis affords us the ability to do in a way that wasn’t possible even three months ago.
Biden would have to be more responsive to the political power that is being constructed by an increasingly galvanized and organized left wing of the Democratic Party social base. Approximately 25% of the Democratic Party electorate is progressive or left of progressive and thus Biden recognizes that he needs us to win. This is evident in his concessions to Bernie Sanders and statement that he needs Bernie not just to win the election but to govern. That means we can win more concessions as we go forward to include more of the things we want in his vision and plan for the US and abroad.
Additionally, we have a larger, though still relatively small but influential and loud progressive congressional leaders that are symbolized by “The Squad”. This provides more opportunities for our movements to center class, race, and gender into the narrative of the Democratic Party and inform more of its policies and programs.
Biden has and will continue to speak out, to the best of his ability, against white nationalism. He will not be beholden as Trump is to the Christian fundamentalist bloc which promotes a political program that hits hard at the multi-national working-class and people of color.
Will Biden be an avid defender of social democratic ideas that excited and energized so many within social movements? No. But he was never going to be. That’s not the ideology or world view that he represents and is fighting for. But he does have to be responsive to those ideals and the energized base that accompanies it.
We’ve already seen that around the expansion of healthcare debate which at its core is about human rights vs. the market. Will we allow the private market to effectively monopolize meeting our health care needs, or is health care a human right that must be insured by government action? Biden, and other moderate Democrats, have been forced by grassroots pressure to warm up to the idea of a public option for Healthcare. We should build on that shift and not thumb our nose at it, especially since any gains we are able to make on this front will necessarily mean greater access to health care for working-class and people of color. We have seen shifts in their political positions on the Hyde Amendment and how to center people in these Covid19 stimulus packages. These examples demonstrate our movements’ ability to influence those in Biden’s ideological lane, or close to it, that he represents.
 
NO QUICK FIX
We aren’t going to get everything we want in one fell swoop. We are fighting to build political power and fighting for hegemony amongst other competing forces who have started out much stronger than we are.
But the class struggle that centers race and gender is alive and well. Let’s not waste an opportunity to create more favorable conditions for the movements and communities we care about domestically and internationally by reducing Biden to be the equivalent of Trump.
We have to engage in the conditions we are presented with even if they are not to our liking. We need to be central to, not stand aside from, the actual ideological and on-the-ground struggle that is underway in this country. That means mobilize against Trumpism and the GOP in 2020 and beyond; expand the social bases that made up the Bernie coalition; develop independent political organizations and other statewide independent political power building formations that center people of color and the multi-national working-class; and continue to build tactical and strategic alliances with those that comprise the anti-Trump/anti-GOP front.
 
STEP BY STEP TOWARD OUR LONG-RANGE GOALS
Immersion in the battle at hand gives us a fighting chance to win, over time, things like:
A response to the COVID-19 pandemic that gets closer to the approach outlined by the five principles of the Peoples Bailout, including Green New Deal policies and programs
Healthcare for All
Programs that center the needs of Black, Indigenous, and other POC communities in government responses and interventions
A shift in how the Global North (and the US specifically) relates to the Global South (especially Africa which has been systematically underdeveloped and politically undermined for centuries) during the Covid19 pandemic, and in its aftermath
Demonstrating that the working class is too big to fail by having policies and programs that promote the increase of its health, wealth, and relationship to work and industry
The outcomes of this 2020 electoral cycle matter from the presidency down to the city level. We have a role to play and an ability to flex some of the hard-earned independent political power we have built in the last several years. Let’s use that power responsibly to create circumstances and avenues that can make possible today and tomorrow what was impossible yesterday.
We can’t afford to let up now. The global multi-national working class and communities of color are counting on us.

Whitney Maxey (she/hers) has done community organizing for the past 10+ years primarily in electoral and housing issues in Florida. She currently does organizing work with an independent political organization in Memphis, Tennessee called Memphis for All. All of her organizing experience has been working predominantly within working-class Black and Latinx communities. As a member of the Organizing Upgrade editorial collective, Whitney brings on-the-ground organizing experience and some organizational development experience to the team.

Camus’ Plague Is Not Ours

Let me share with all this excellent and timely article by my Philosophical colleague Ronald Aronson | April 14, 2020
Camus’ great novel about Oran under siege by nature has a number of things to teach us about living amidst plague – for example about the sense of coping with it day after day while waiting for the epidemic to end, and about being able to unheroically do what has to be done to mitigate its effects. Yet our situation differs radically from The Plague as read for example by Alain de Botton in the March 19 New York Times: he takes it as a universal statement of the fundamental suffering of the human condition, indeed, its absurdity. (note) Pace de Botton, our condition is not at all like Oran’s fictional situation in the 1940s (or perhaps symbolically, France during the German Occupation). First of all, in Camus’s story the plague strikes people entirely randomly, while we are slowly learning how it spreads and what we can do, individually and collectively, to avoid being struck by it. This is of course why the regime of social distancing. Furthermore, unlike Camus’s people we’re stuck in our homes – they still lived through days at work in Oran, had social life, went to restaurants, bars, and movies. Many of them longed to join the outside world. Among us there is no outside world, because this plague is everywhere on earth, not confined to a single region or city. Still, separated as we are, we have free access to friends and family through electronic devices, and can partake of endless media activities from nonstop news coverage of the plague to online meetings and lectures, as well as an ever-widening choice of entertainment.

The deepest difference, however, is that despite the fact that many in Camus’s audience read it as referring to the Resistance to the Nazis during World War II, there is nothing political about his plague, while our situation is profoundly so. For one thing, as our plague goes on, profound class and racial differences appear – as the African American death rate doubles and triples the death rate among white Americans, as workers go on wildcat strikes demanding safety, as the stress of unemployment and poverty hits those least able to afford it and the government creates slush funds for the largest corporations. Moreover, our plague takes place through the social and political madness of Trumpism, which from day one has forced every sequestered one of us to experience it through its crazy-quilt political reality. Long ago many of us worried and said: “What will happen if Trump is faced with a real crisis?” And now he is, and the chickens of Trumpism are coming home to roost: its viciousness, its sense of grievance, its cult of personality, its proud rejection of science and reason. Camus’s protagonists were doing battle only against nature afflicting humans, while we have to somehow struggle against our sick leadership and the social sickness that produced him and continues to sustain him (notice that his support has increased since our plague began!), all the while combating the disease itself.

Camus’ novel does parallel our experience as it highlights the sense of solidarity created among the team battling the plague. This reaches its climax in the late-night swim surreptitiously taken by the doctor, Rieux, and his friend and helper, Tarrou. That spontaneous solidarity, always a powerful theme for Camus, happened to be shared in the book by only a few actors in the small North African city while everyone else struggled to keep up a normal life. But among us, things are different. Our normal life has stopped, and while so many of us stay home and we depend on several millions doing what has become emergency work: medical work, transportation, stocking and delivery of food, restaurant work, all sorts of safety and infrastructure and information workers, and those coordinating all of this. We have been experiencing an ever-increasing appreciation of our dependency on others, especially those in the hospital front lines, and a growing concern for their safety and well-being. And we too have been assigned a role in the battle against our plague. Articulated with unexpected eloquence by the man who has become a kind of de facto national leader, Andrew Cuomo, our role begins with a paradox never before experienced: the widest possible social solidarity in the form of the most rigorous social separation. Even while protecting ourselves, this self-discipline seeks to help others, and all of us venturing out for groceries and medicine, waiting for carryout meals or taking walks in cities and suburbs are aware of it. With his feeling for human connectedness, Camus might smile at the fact that, as time goes by, our deep but latent social belonging has been awakened and our sense of solidarity has been growing.

And, greatest of ironies, this is needed as we begin to mobilize for the election that will above all become a referendum on how Trumpism has failed to protect us. Will the kind of social solidarity needed to effectively mobilize people against the coronavirus carry over and unite enough of us to defeat the plague of Trumpism? Will the growing sense that “we are all in it together” have an appropriate political effect? And knowing that we may still face months and years ahead of rebuilding and reorganizing our society, can we keep alive today’s sense of caring widely beyond ourselves?

1. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/19/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-camus-plague.html

Sartre and Camus: a much misunderstood relation (excerpts)

The following is an excerpt from my article that was recently published in “Brill’s Companion to Camus”. In it I present an original interpretation of their relationship which challenges the official interpretation of Sartre’s left-wing credentials. Those interested in learning more about their relation, and my “revisionist” interpretation, can contact me at dsprintz@me.com.

I think it is also fair to say, that the pre-WWII Sartre was essentially oblivious to political matters. He spent the academic year of 1933-34 studying philosophy in Berlin with no obvious reference or effective realization of the significance of the rise to power of Adolph Hitler. We cannot know his actual thoughts at that time, because, quite remarkably, practically all of his correspondence from that time is missing. But, de Beauvoir does report on a trip they took to Fascist Italy in 1936 for which they availed themselves, with no expressed misgivings, of a discounted train trip which required them to visit a display of Fascist military equipment, and with no comment made on the political situation by either of them.

Then there was the war itself, for which de Beauvoir, with Sartre’s apparent approval, later concocted a series of fabrications of resistance activity that apparently did not exist. Contrary to their fabrications, Sartre did not escape from the German prison camp, but was liberated by the Germans, probably upon the request of notorious collaborator Drieu la Rochelle. Further, there is absolutely no evidence for the existence of the purported underground group, “Socialism and Liberty”, that Sartre was supposed to have created, nor for the purported French constitution that he was supposed to have written, even supposedly having sent a copy to de Gaulle. In fact, what evidence there is suggests both his and de Beauvoir’s limited collaboration with the German occupation: Sartre, having written a couple of articles for Commoedia, and serving on an artistic jury for them in 1943, and de Beauvoir producing a series of brief programs for Radio Vichy as late as 1944. Thus the almost universally accepted version of a Sartre of the Resistance is a complete fabrication, apparently primarily concocted by de Beauvoir with Sartre’s approval.

At the same time, Sartre’s philosophical and dramatic writing up to that time shows no signs of any left-wing political consciousness. Certainly, there is none in Being and Nothingness. It is often claimed by Sartreans that his mid-War plays, The Flies and No Exit, are expressions of his political commitment to human liberation, being hidden critiques of Nazi occupation, and invitations to resistance. Of course, such interpretations fail to explain how the Nazi censors could have been so dense as to miss those meanings when they approved these plays for presentation under Occupation. But I think the reality is less confusing, as both of these plays in fact say nothing about political oppression and rebellion, but rather address themselves only to the question of the human being’s ontological freedom. A position that perfectly represents the Existential philosophy developed in Being and Nothingness.

Actually, it is Camus who plays a major role in what we might call the beginning of Sartre’s political rehabilitation, by providing Sartre with resistance credibility by using his position as editor of Combat to assign Sartre the task of writing about the liberation of Paris, an article that in fact was probably written by de Beauvoir. It is only with the liberation of Paris, and the consequent defeat of the Nazis that Sartre becomes politically engaged. While there is no adequate account of the nature of his conscious transformation, that transformation is announced with his call for the death penalty for collaborators, his creation of what becomes the premier journal of the French left, Les Temps modernes, along with his subsequent articles on Reflections on the Jewish Question, and his existential critique in Materialism and Revolution. This not only served to completely erase any knowledge of his ambiguous war-time activity, but required him to theoretically begin to confront the profound tension that existed between the ontological celebration of unlimited human freedom that is Existentialism and the historical materialism and apparent causal determinism that was central, at least to official Communist interpretations of Marxism.

Thus begins a profound redirection that will theme much of the rest of Sartre’s life, playing a crucial role in the slow transformation of his relation to Camus, that culminated with their definitive break following the publication by Camus of The Rebel in late 1951. Initiated by Jeanson’s obviously polemical review of The Rebel in Les Temps modernes, the break was consummated by the articles of Camus, Sartre, & Jeanson in response a few months there after. While I’ll have more to say about that controversy shortly, what I want to note here is the divergent political paths that led from their post WWII personal, social, and political alignment — can I say, friendship — to their passionate ideological and political antagonism that endured until the end of Camus’ life.

Blaming Trump, Blaming Biden, Saving Ourselves

Let me share with you this excellent article by my dear friend and superb Political Scientist at U. of Indiana, Jeff Isaac.

Blaming Trump, Blaming Biden, Saving Ourselves

Donald Trump is a threat to American democracy. This has long been known. But only in the past month or so has the magnitude of the threat he presents become crystal clear. In the face of a deadly virus he has weakened key government health agencies; lied about the danger; failed to take decisive action, and then followed with rash and inconsistent action. All the while he has placed an entire nation at risk as he has exploited the crisis, partly of his own making, in order to further cement his authoritarian hold on the presidency.

Trump’s response to the crisis has laid bare the irresponsibility and malevolence of his administration and the challenge his very political existence poses to public health and to democracy itself.

It is thus easy to blame him for our current situation. And it is necessary to do so.

Less than two weeks ago, this case was made by two of the best columnists covering the plague that is Trumpism. Michelle Goldberg insisted that “Of Course Trump Deserves Blame for the Coronavirus Crisis,” noting:

It can become tedious to dwell on the fact that the president is a dangerous and ignorant narcissist who has utterly failed as an executive, leaving state governments on their own to confront a generational cataclysm. But no one should ever forget it. Soon, even if the pandemic is still raging, there will be an election, and the public will be asked to render a verdict on Trump’s leadership. Being clear that people are suffering and dying needlessly because the president can’t do his job isn’t looking backward. It’s the only way to move forward.

Jamelle Bouie followed a day later with “Don’t Let Trump Off the Hook,” insisting that: 

It is the political task of the Democratic Party to make the public understand the nature of the Republican Party and its leading role in this disaster so that when November comes, Americans hold no illusions about what it would mean for their futures — and their lives — to give Republicans another four years of power in Washington.

I agree with Goldberg and Bouie. Trump is a menace, he is responsible for the magnitude of the current crisis, and blaming him, and then removing him from office, is the only way to get a government capable of dealing with COVID and its effects in a way that is just, competent, and simply humane. In order to remove Trump, it is necessary to relentlessly expose and to blame him.

At the same time, this has proven to be a difficult thing to accomplish politically. And while we writers and activists must relentlessly criticize Trump, we also need to understand the reasons why the opposition to Trump has been so profoundly hamstrung by its inability to effectively blame him during the current crisis as it has thus far unfolded.

One reason is simply that the very real crisis has given Trump, always the master of mass media attention-getting, a perfect platform for his unique brand of daily reality TV, and he is exploiting this to the max. The virus–and Trump’s responses, non-responses, and Tweets—has literally taken over the news, spreading like the virus itself, and crowding out everything else. Trump is using his “bully pulpit” to bully, bloviate, and lie, and as his voice has been magnified, all others have been diminished. 

There are obvious exceptions, like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and to a lesser extent his counterparts in Ohio, Washington state, and elsewhere. But in a way they are exceptions that prove the rule. Because, at the same that these figures have been able to garner justifiable media attention for their efforts to contain the pandemic, they have been forced by circumstance to moderate their criticisms of Trump and in effect to play along as if he were the responsible and competent president that he manifestly is not. A recent Associate Press story by Kathleen Ronayne and Jonathan Lemire states the challenge confronting these Governors well: “Flatter or fight? Governors seeking help must navigate Trump.” As Ronayne and Lemire make clear: 

“Facing an unprecedented public health crisis, governors are trying to get what they need from Washington, and fast. But that means navigating the disorienting politics of dealing with Trump, an unpredictable president with a love for cable news and a penchant for retribution. Republicans and Democrats alike are testing whether to fight or flatter, whether to back channel requests or go public, all in an attempt to get Trump’s attention and his assurances.”

This, then, is the second reason it has proven so difficult to hold Trump politically responsible: because it is impossible for any elected official at any level of government to accomplish anything meaningful to address the pandemic without some assistance from the federal government, whether this be executive action by Trump or legislation, which of course requires the approval of a Trump-dominated Senate and the signature of Trump himself. During the intense negotiations surrounding the two pieces of emergency legislation passed in recent weeks, it was common to hear Democratic Senators and House members talking about how important it was to “work across the aisle” to get the legislation passed, and to “look forward” to what can be done rather than “look backward” at who is responsible for what. Admittedly, that was, and remains, a very fine line to walk. And there has been a constant rhetorical wavering between the rhetoric of “coming together for the public good” and the rhetoric of outrage and blame of Trump’s handling of the crisis. In recent days Nancy Pelosi has come out with strong and entirely legitimate attacks on Trump. At the same time, she and Chuck Schumer have been compelled by circumstances to work closely with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, one of Trump’s closest confidants, to finalize deals with the White House. This has understandably muted their attacks on the administration. Unlike during the protracted impeachment struggle, it has been impossible for most Democratic messaging to focus on Trump, for it has been necessary for all elected public officials to focus on the virus.

And this leads to the third reason why blaming Trump has been so difficult: because the pandemic, by literally shutting down all forms of public gathering and virtually eliminating all forms of face-to-face interaction, has essentially shut down the Democratic primary campaign, and along with it all forms of public campaigning and all kinds of public assemblies, demonstrations, “town halls,” and events where people can come together to be politically mobilized.

The enforced social distancing, however necessary, has been profoundly enervating for everyone, turning most of us into house-bound and anxious individuals whose social contact is extremely limited. And with the complete closure of public life, the only form of mass politics and political mobilization that currently exists is the form of mobilization practiced by Trump through his monopolization and manipulation of the mass media. 

And so we confront a bitter paradox: the more necessary it is to hold Trump responsible, the more difficult it is to hold him responsible.

Governors are trying to govern, legislators are trying to legislate, health care workers and other “essential personnel” are working hard at their jobs at great risk, everyone else is trying to get by while “sheltering in place,” and Trump alone dominates the public sphere.

This is an explicable and even predictable consequence of a crisis of this magnitude.

But dominance can be challenged. And indeed, it was presumably the purpose of the Democratic primary contest to select a Democratic candidate best suited to challenging Trump’s dominance. Such a challenge is necessary now, more than ever, and the fact that the obstacles are great only means that determined and creative leadership is all the more necessary. 

In the face of this need there is now an obvious void, as Joe Biden, having claimed “victory” after his strong Super Tuesday results, has more or less gone into quarantine.

To be fair, he has attempted to speak out, appearing regularly on cable news shows, making announcements, and even organizing a few video “events.” As Eugene Scott of the Washington Post’s “The Fix” has noted, “Joe Biden is Working From Home.” But, as The Hill’s Bernard Goldberg has also noted, “Joe Biden can’t lead the charge from his home in Delaware.” And while in recent months I have disagreed with much of Ryan Cooper’s relentless criticism of Biden, it is hard to argue with his recent assertion that “Joe Biden is the worst imaginable challenger to Trump right now.” What Cooper says seems true:

Indeed, Biden has barely been doing anything. As the outbreak became a full-blown crisis, Biden disappeared for almost an entire week. His campaign said it was trying to figure out how to do video livestreams, something any 12-year-old could set up in about 15 minutes. (Hey guys: Any smartphone with Twitter, YouTube, or Twitch installed can become a broadcasting device with the press of a single button.) When Biden did finally appear, he gave some scripted addresses that still had technical foul-ups, and did softball interviews where he still occasionally trailed off mid-sentence. . . . 

Trump, meanwhile, is similarly out there on TV every day boasting about how what he’s doing is so smart and good. What he’s saying is insanely irresponsible and has already gotten people killed, but absent an effective response from the Democratic leadership, it can appear to casual news consumers as though he has the situation in hand. Democratic backbenchers and various journalists are screaming themselves hoarse, but it plainly isn’t working.

I am unconvinced by those on the left who have never reckoned with the real weaknesses of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and who now believe that COVID can revitalize Sanders’s bid for the nomination. (Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor declared on Monday that “Reality Has Endorsed Bernie Sanders.” But, as one Facebook friend put it, “Reality” has no Democratic delegates.)  But I am equally unconvinced by those Democratic centrists who are now denouncing Sanders’s refusal to leave the race. And the reason is simple: while Biden acts like the nomination is his, and while almost everyone else acts like the nomination is his, and while in fact the nomination probably is his, Biden has allowed the COVID crisis to sideline him, and has allowed the momentum of his campaign to wane. And now is not the time for the presumptive Democratic nominee to rest on his laurels. If Biden is going to lead us forward, he needs to be woken up and energized. And if he can’t now compete with Sanders, how is he going to compete six months from now with Trump? While weeks ago it made sense for many, including some important left activists, to call for Sanders to leave the race in exchange for real concessions from Biden, now it is necessary to reignite some version of a Democratic campaign. If Sanders can light a fire under Biden’s ass, all the power to him. And if Biden continues to remain in his basement, then this will be telling indeed.

What should Biden do? There is no easy answer. But it is clear that he should get his act together. If he is going to run an effective social media campaign while temporarily in quarantine, then he needs to put together a real social media campaign. He needs to be proactively in the public eye, and do everything he can to gain positive media attention every single day. Indeed, if Andrew Cuomo can venture out in public and hold a makeshift press conference every day, surrounded (at a distance) by his advisers and in the presence of a small group of reporters who question him, why can’t Joe Biden do something similar? Yes, he is a much older man, more susceptible to the virus (but Cuomo, at age 62, is also in the at-risk age group). But he is running to hold the most powerful position in the country. If he is too frail to do what Cuomo is doing, and if he has no alternative way of performing leadership, then it is hard to see how he can effectively run against Trump in November.

So as we blame Trump, it is also appropriate to blame Biden, for not doing more to lead, visibly and publicly, at a time when leadership is needed now more than ever.

At the same time, even if Biden were an utterly electrifying and media savvy personality, the defeat of Trump and his Republican enablers in November would still require an energetic grass-roots campaign and sustained voter mobilization. And this is the work of campaign workers, activist groups, and engaged citizens. Even before COVID, such an effort was an urgent challenge. Both the urgency and the challenge are now greater. We know this. And yet we shelter in place, for at least the next two months. And in the best of circumstances, if something approaching “social normality” returns in mid-summer, it is likely to be disrupted again by the coming of flu season in late Fall. And in November we will confront a fragmented and inefficient election system that might well be unable to accommodate the needs of “social distancing.” And a president empowered by the exhaustion, alienation, and anxiety of the citizenry at large. Democracy itself is thus at grave risk.

Can the Democratic party get its act together, and reignite a real campaign animated by a real vision?

Can we save ourselves, from the plague that is COVID or the plague that is Trump?

Giving more substance to the claim that Sanders should end his personal campaign.

Jeffrey Isaac brought my attention to the following article by Peter Drier, which sets forth the points I want to make in some detail. That article, which can be found at: https://publicseminar.org/…/next-steps-for-the-left…/
was actually written before this past Tuesday’s votes. Those votes only strengthens Drier’s (and my) case. The primary challenge the Democratic campaign will face, will be to convince most of the Sanders supporters (more than the Warren supporters, I believe) to support, not even to say actively support, a Biden campaign. I’ve even seen some — EVEN in the Facebook chain of comments to my original post — to go so far as to say there is no difference between the Dems and the Republicans. How does one argue with such people?!!! And after what we have been going through these last 3 years, and the overwhelming disaster that a Trump re-election would constitute for any sort of representative government, not to say progressive politics. But that’s the rabbit hole down which too much of the Left seems to have fallen. Peter Drier’s proposals for Sanders, Warren and Biden hopefully would significantly address many of these concerns.

Reflections on the Democratic Candidates

With Sanders’s significant defeat in Michigan, the Democratic race is effectively over. Now it’s very important for Sanders to draw the obvious conclusion and to concede, and for Biden to reach out to Sanders, and to find a way to include Sanders’ views, and thus his constituency, within the on-going frame of his Presidential campaign. And it now becomes incumbent on Sanders’ progressive supporters (as well as Warren’s) to commit to support Biden’s candidacy — and to use their organized and enthusiastic support to press some of their pressing issues, such as The Green New Deal and income inequality.
Our overwhelming concern must now be to defeat Donald Trump so as to be able to preserve whatever is left of our tatered democracy.