Thrown Under The Bus Again?


Anticipated publication at CounterPunch the week of May 1, 2017.

Thrown under the bus again?

Common sense needs to inform those on the left that hitching our collective and individual aspirations to the Democratic Party is like throwing oneself under a proverbial bus and expecting to come out of the catastrophe unscathed. The latter happens with about the same regularity and predictability as trains that ran during Mussolini’s rule.

After witnessing the decades of abandonment of left causes and ideals by the Democratic Party establishment, we need to have learned a lesson. The political duopoly in the U.S. is nothing less than a great and spectacular failure. The party that says it is the champion of both the working class and middle class is full of more hot air than a balloon.

The latest example of the failure of Wall Street interests and the permanent warring class within the Democratic Party is the presidential campaign of 2016. Rigged from the beginning within the Democratic National Committee, the idealism and energy that fueled the Sanders campaign never had a chance. The neoliberals who supported Hillary Clinton would not allow the Sanders campaign to be successful at the polls. And indeed with the forces of neofascism in play, the outcome of a matchup between Sanders and Trump would have been completely unpredictable.

And now we have the unity campaign of the Democrats, with the deputy chair of the DNC, Keith Ellison, and Bernie Sanders working their way across the country at rallies and stops in support of candidates they believe can win elections throughout the country at all levels of government, which is also one of the objectives of Our Revolution, a spinoff of the Sanders campaign.

On one stop of the “Unity Tour,” Senator Sanders rallied for Heath Mello, a candidate for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska. Mello, who as a state senator in Nebraska supported a bill requiring that women be informed that they have a “right” to a fetal ultrasound before having an abortion. At least the favored words of the antichoice right, “unborn child,” weren’t in the bill.

In Nebraska, the politics of the traditional base of the Democratic Party and the party’s leadership clashed like the storms of spring.

Readers would do well to read Ashely Smith’s May 2015 article in the Socialist Worker, “The problem with Bernie Sanders.” The article is prescient and accurately predicts much of what would happen in the presidential campaign of 2016.  Of particular interest is Smith’s cataloging of Sanders’ record on war and peace. This is especially important to consider when the warmongering that has gone unabated since the September 2001 attacks is front and center once again in the Trump administration:

“His foreign policy positions are to the right of many liberal Democrats. Sanders voted in favor of George W. Bush’s original Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution that gave the administration a green light to launch the war on Afghanistan. While he did vote against Bush’s invasion of Iraq, he repeatedly supported funding resolutions for both U.S. occupations. He is also a Zionist who supports Israel consistently, even after its recent escalations of the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza.”

In fairness to Senator Sanders, when issues were presented to him that diverged from the traditional cant of the Democratic Party establishment, he did, to a degree, incorporate those policy positions in his 2016 presidential campaign. He was the only candidate not to appear at the 2016 American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference (“Bernie’s bold move: Sanders only candidate to skip AIPAC pro-Israel conference, Salon, March 18, 2016). Sanders remains the most popular politician in the U.S. today according to a Harvard-Harris survey (“Bernie Sanders Is the Most Popular Politician in the Country, Poll Says,” Mother Jones, April 2017).

In a Democracy Now interview (“Cornel West & Former Sanders Staffer on Movement to Draft Bernie for a New ‘People’s Party’ in U.S.,” April 25, 2017), Professor Cornel West and former Sanders staffer Nick Brana make an impassioned case for a People’s Party to challenge the duopoly in the 2020 general election. The appeal makes perfect sense except for the fact that the two-party system is hardwired into most people’s mindset and it merits noting that false economic populism and fear mongering carried the election in 2016. Without a multiparty tradition in the U.S., and candidates success, to an extent, dependent on fear and loathing that is underwritten by the two-party system, the ideal of a People’s Party is a very, very distant prospect.

The track record of third-party candidates on the left has not been promising. Candidates like Ralph Nader and Jill Stein faced daunting obstacles in their campaigns, while third-party candidates on the right have done much better.

The daily outrages of the Trump administration continue ad nauseam, and the Democratic Party would like people to believe that Wall Street and individual donors from the 1% are the only source of campaign funding. The Sanders campaign proved that the latter is not necessarily so.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.


Feel The Bern

images Image by flicker.

Published at CounterPunch February 24, 2016

On the Road in the Sanders Campaign



On the Road in the Sanders Campaign for President

It had been twelve years since my wife and I had worked in a political campaign and attended a political rally. To say that we had been burned out by the 2004 presidential campaign would be a gross understatement with too many negative details to recount. One thing that was learned, however, was how the rightward movement of the political, economic, and social systems in the US had battered ideals.


But like the eternal optimist, fueled by irrepressible ideals for a just society that meets the needs of all its people, we joined yet another campaign after this long hiatus.


The use of phone banks in presidential campaigns had changed. Cell phones make it more difficult to reach potential voters, but newer dialing programs are better at reaching people on voting lists. And rather than making calls from a centralized location, which is always good for enhancing a sense of camaraderie with likeminded campaign volunteers, calls can now be made from anywhere using a computer, smart phone, or tablet. As long as expectations are high, and the phone lists are fairly accurate, the chance of abusive responses to phone calls is minimized. The latter was not so twelve years ago when hours spent calling lists of voters felt much like how the late rounds of a prizefight must feel.


Canvassing homes is a more risky proposition depending on the demographics of the canvassing assignment. The area I canvassed was a rental area in far western Massachusetts. The list of registered Democratic voters I had was small, but the majority of people were not home on the Sunday afternoon of canvassing, and those people who were home were hostile. I don’t know why the latter was so, but door-to-door canvassing has never been a positive experience for me. I’ve never canvassed in an economically “advantaged” area, so I have nothing with which to compare the results from years of knocking on doors and talking with potential voters.


The highlight of the campaign thus far was the huge rally at UMass Amherst on Monday, February 22 “Young and old cheer Bernie Sanders at UMass Amherst,” (Boston Globe, February 22, 2016). The serpentine line of Sanders’ supporters wound in a seemingly endless throng of students from the many colleges and universities in central Massachusetts and folks from nearby communities. A cold wind blew from the north, which made waiting in line to enter the cavernous Mullins Center at UMass all the more uncomfortable.


Once inside, the wait for Sanders to appear seemed like it would last forever. Bands played, speeches of local politicians and a union leader took up some of the time in the sports complex. It was a welcome  reprieve from the cold and wind outside the arena.


When Sanders finally took the stage, his speech electrified the crowd of about 8,000 supporters. He eloquently and forcefully addressed the issues of how the political system was at the beck and call of the interests of extreme wealth; student debt; financing a college education; investing in schools and daycare; equal pay for equivalent work of men and women; income inequality; the plight of the homeless and veterans, those living on social security pensions, disability pensions, and veterans benefits; the catastrophe of climate change; the decaying infrastructure of the US; how the economy has failed to provide decent jobs for millions of people; and how his adversary, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, could not possibly remain unaffected by the outpouring of massive amounts of cash from Super PACs funding her campaign. He spoke of how Citizens United had unleashed that money and how his campaign has relied on the contributions of about 4 million small donors. It seemed as if the energy of the powerful sound system in the complex had been transformed into the electrifying response of the gathered thousands. I have not witnessed such a response to a political message since Dustin Hoffman spoke at a rally for Eugene McCarthy’s candidacy for president in August 1968 in Providence, Rhode Island. And Sanders did not shirk in providing the specifics of where money would come from to fund proposed programs. Offshore accounts of US businesses would be taxed. A tax would be paid on investment transactions. The familiar cry of the far right about “tax and spend,” would be replaced by progressive taxation on wealth with those monies being put back into the economy for the betterment of all people. Had so many years passed since it was possible to give voice to the aspirations of average people who wanted to take back the political, economic, and social system and make it work for ordinary people?


It felt as if Sanders was giving voice to the lost ideal of a society worth living in after the feeling of angst that is best voiced by Charles Dickens in David Copperfield when his main character expresses how bereft of hope his life has been.


Sanders has discussed his differences with Hillary Clinton vis-à-vis the start of the Iraq War, but he needs to talk honestly about how war has become such an accepted part of life in the US, as endless wars continue almost without criticism.


I would have liked Sanders to have addressed the link between those endless wars that the US is now involved in and how the outlays for those wars has sapped the economy of necessary funds with which to challenge the chasm of income inequality that now exists in the US. But, I was not disappointed by what I did hear.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

The Political Landscape in the Real World


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Published at CounterPunch on February 15, 2016.

The Political Landscape in the Real World


The Political Landscape in the Real World

The online and print attacks against Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign come as a nor’easter batters the New England coastline in one of the extremes of global warming. The attacks by the far right are expected. Not a single Republican candidate will endorse the science that backs the reality of the fossil fuel fired decaying environment. These Neanderthals of the right, along with the help of their paymasters of the 1%, get some traction among those not inclined to learn anything about the nation and world in which we live, and in fact really don’t want to do much else than to hate and rant. Donald Trump is their perfect reflection of both the haters and the ranting.


But there is also a fatal flaw in the left’s criticism of the Sanders’ campaign. Who else do people have as an electoral choice and where are the legions that will put their feet to the pavement to change the status quo? The left, at least the antiwar wing of the left, melted away with the election of Barack Obama. While he expanded US wars, deported more immigrants than any of his recent predecessors, allowed the criminals who tanked the economy to go free, and expanded the surveillance of ordinary people to levels never before even imagined in an Orwellian nightmare of government snooping, the left became an unimportant appendage. The left’s critical stand was great, but feet on the ground amounted to the support of identity politics and occasional bursts of economic populism such as for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The only exception to the lack of left’s ineffectiveness has been the uprising of the Black community in opposition to the war being waged against Black people across the US.

After the attacks of September 2001, it soon became obvious to those in the antiwar movement that no force on Earth would stop the war in Afghanistan (The latter is not a criticism of those on the left who continued to protest that war, but simply a critique of our effectiveness.). Prominent members of an antiwar coalition in Rhode Island, where I was involved in the antiwar movement at the time, said it was time to end our actions and focus our efforts on organizing, which of course, never materialized in an effective way. As I write, the war goes on today after nearly 15 years.


Why can’t the left mount a real effort through organizing to offer the electorate a viable alternative to politics as usual? Grotesque abuse of the environment may very well spell the end of civilization, or perhaps a nuclear catastrophe by way of a confrontation between the many nuclear powers?


Almost all of the variables work against the formation of a left party in the US. Campaigns like that of Eugene Debs happen with great infrequency. Debs, an authentic hero of the left believed that “I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it,” Debs once wrote, “than vote for something I don’t want and get it.” In other words, Debs believed that it was better to work for his ideals through organizing than get undesirable results while in political office. Debs best presidential showing was in the fourth of his five runs in 1912 when he garnered 5.99% of the national vote as the socialist candidate. Liberal Henry Wallace also was shunned and jettisoned by the political establishment for his socialist views and turned into a politically marginal player. Ralph Nader was transformed into a political pariah by his critics for simply daring to run for president with progressive policy positions. He garnered just 2.74% of the popular vote in 2000 as a Green Party candidate.


Not many people will take serious risks for their commitment to transform the political, economic, and social system. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the thousands who resisted the Vietnam War brought about only incremental and sometimes only temporary changes to the political system that were later either turned back, to a degree, or rolled back completely. Black Lives Matter rose up to challenge the insane official violence against African Americans. Occupy Wall Street, a real threat to the 1%, was so strenuously and violently opposed by the power of great wealth that it disappeared from the political and economic landscape with perhaps the idea of the 1% as its major accomplishment, but with no real achievable program for change.


The Occupy movement addressed the $3.3 trillion lost in home equity in 2008 and the $6.9 trillion lost in the stock market, the home equity loss most significant for ordinary home owners. Glass-Steagall had muted the worst excesses of the banking industry, joined at the hip in investment and commercial banking, until the New Deal. In a 1999 deal with Congress, the Clinton administration set the stage for the economic debacle of 2008 and Glass-Steagall was history. The floodgates for buying campaigns and candidates were opened by the Supreme Court through the Citizens United ruling in 2010.


What society-wide political movement for change has succeeded in the recent past? It’s been more than forty years since the antiwar movement challenged the waging of war in Southeast Asia, and that war may have been ended as much through the illegal acts of the Nixon administration and the fact that the ruling class just didn’t think it was worthwhile any longer to wage a costly, meaningless, and divisive war, as much as the war was ended by the years of strident protest of the antiwar movement.


Bernie Sanders votes on war appropriations, his unquestioning support of Israel, of military outlays, and his support of gun rights all require a serious appraisal and critique. But he is not the candidate of Wall Street; not someone who has supported the mass incarceration of the African American community; would make higher education available to students without the burden of lifelong debt; would fund the needs of ordinary people in the areas of health, education, and housing; and I believe, not someone who would give the current blank check to defense contractors to feed at the well of fear and militarism. While other socialist and green candidates may have better platforms, they have little chance of winning even a small fraction of the vote. The organization of masses of Americans into a movement that recognizes its own best self-interests is not happening and has not happened since the New Deal and the antiwar movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, and that was a very long time ago. Those who believe that much can be accomplished through the political system to make a more just and equitable society need to recognize these facts. Try to imagine Donald Trump or some like-minded candidate of similar fascistic bent in the Oval Office with a Republican dominated Congress, and a majority of right-wingers on the Supreme Court. It’s not only an unattractive prospect, but it would be dangerous to many who hold left beliefs. Many on the left have said in past electoral cycles that such a political scenario would be beneficial for the left, but it always proves counterproductive and could be dangerous for many around the world and here in the US.


Hillary Clinton is either a Republican-Lite or a Democratic neoliberal candidate depending on the issue. Regime change and unquestioning pandering to Wall Street are the trademarks of her tenure as secretary of state, her actions as a senator, and as a candidate. The blood of innocent civilians runs in the streets from her support of regime change in Iraq, Libya, and Syria.


History has recorded that the Democratic Party has co-opted and harmed movements for political, economic, and social change. But in a two-party system the latter is a reality that must be confronted and dealt with. Working within the so-called system has many, many drawbacks, but I see no revolutionary party being effectively organized to confront this dilemma. A person can change his or her immediate surroundings in some ways and work for national and global change in meaningful ways from either inside or outside of the electoral and political system, but the electoral system of politics in the US is an important entity and player on both the national and world stage. And it must be engaged in both critical and productive ways.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He has worked in political campaigns since the 1960s.