Tuesday night the establishment proved a point I’ve been trying to make for a long time. This is going to be a long fight. Since 2016 I’ve been telling people my plan horizons are 10 to 20 years, re-evaluating at the end of every presidential election cycle. The plutocracy is not a one or two cycle problem. It’s at least a four or five cycle problem. What we’ve seen since last Saturday is the power of an establishment aroused, afraid, and fighting back.
When I think of the establishment I’m not thinking about just a group of people. I’m thinking of the people, the feelings, thoughts, and ideas broadly shared among them, the processes, systems, institutions, and relationships that connect them, both formal organizations and informal associations. It’s useful to think of the establishment as a big machine spread out over the landscape, with many people and institutions plugged into it. The establishment machine requires two different fuels – money and people. Money directs, maintains, and grows the machine, people provide the power. The machine organizes money, people, and power into effective action partly by formal structures, partly by incentive structures. At the base of those incentive structures is the key feature of an establishment – it’s easier to do things from inside the establishment, and harder from the outside. The machine incentivizes things it’s designed and set up for and disincentivizes changes to the machine itself by attacking or ostracizing anyone who tries.
Last Saturday’s South Carolina win was delivered by Jim Clyburn, an establishment stalwart, not Joe Biden. Sixty-one percent of voters said his endorsement was an important factor in their decision, including 27% who said it was “the most important factor.” Of those who made their decision after the Clyburn endorsement, 49% voted Biden. The Clyburn endorsement wasn’t the only factor in the win, it was the overwhelming factor in the size of the win.
The size of the win was the signal for the establishment to get behind Biden, and for Buttigieg and Klobuchar to drop out. Maybe they both saw the writing on the wall, looked at the establishment’s incentive plan, and took it. They both get to be “former presidential candidate” so-and-so for the rest of their lives, and establishment heroes – they took one for the team. They’ve banked a nice stack of favors and a giant cauldron of goodwill from very wealthy and powerful people. Maybe they needed a push, either a call on the wine cave line cutting off their funding, or a promise of something in a Biden administration, or some other incentives. Buttigieg was jetting off to another campaign stop, turned the plane around in midair, and headed home to South Bend to bow out and endorse Biden. Sounds like he got a call.
Clyburn is one of the few political bosses in the country with the kind of relationships, influence, and political machinery in his community to deliver a constituency like that. Probably the only one in the country that could deliver a constituency that large, with that high of a margin, other than Sanders. Clyburn is a legend in the civil rights community nationally and has deep ties to the communities in his state. Nothing against Clyburn. Mad respect for his civil rights work and decades of organizing and doing great work for his communities.
The vast majority of rank and file and mid-level establishment Democrats are good people who believe they’re doing the right thing. Even the vast majority of Democratic leadership believes they’re doing the right thing. They have every right to follow their best judgment. At the same time, whether they’re aware of it or not, they’re surrendering to the wealthist plutocracy.
Every candidate now running, except Sanders, could not run at all without plutocratic patrons. Biden has 50 some billionaires plus Bloomberg just dropped out and will be funding him. Warren’s SuperPAC is run by people with tight ties to the fossil fuel industry, which is literally destroying the planet to keep their stock prices up – wealthist plutocrats all.
Without being rescued by the plutocracy, Warren would have already run out of money and had to leave the race. “The Warren campaign limped into February with just $2.3 million on hand and needed to take out a $400,000 bank loan,” according to opensecrets.org. Her fundraising fell off a cliff after backing away from Medicare for All and smearing Sanders as a secret sexist drove half her support away. Warren staying in while Buttigieg and Klobuchar dropped out was the best scenario for Biden. She split the progressive vote in Minnesota and Massachusetts, dragging down Sanders’ delegate count, while the other two dropping out boosted Biden. Warren has every right to stay in as long as she likes. Staying in doesn’t advance progressive policy goals. Warren is making her run about her, not progressive goals. She’s leaving the progressive movement and standing with the establishment of the wealthist plutocracy. She’s not fighting the plutocrats, she’s funded by them. No judgment, just facts. She’s dependent on wealthy donors now, even if she wasn’t before.
I’m not saying all of this was explicitly coordinated, though some of it certainly was. I’m saying our cultural, social, and institutional systems are set up to reward obedience to the establishment and the plutocracy, and punish disobedience and disloyalty.
Without the establishment media, wholly owned and operated by the plutocracy, Biden wouldn’t have had the positive media coverage, or the lack of negative coverage, necessary to carry him over his slump from the first three states and position him for Jim Clyburn to bring him back. In the three Super Tuesday states with triple-digit delegate counts, exit polls show people who decided in the “last few days” (after South Carolina) went for Biden – 49% in Texas, 43% in North Carolina, and 41% in California. Biden’s been running for president for 32 years, South Carolina 2020 was the first state he every won. He didn’t win it or a bunch of Super Tuesday states because he’s a better candidate than he was before. He won because the establishment got behind him. That’s not cheating or anything like it. It’s playing as a team. As Biden said, “My buddy Jim Clyburn, you brought me back!” That’s a team play. Progressives had the same kind of team play when Sanders was down and AOC stepped up to endorse him.
Sanders is the only candidate with the grassroots support to run without plutocratic funding. Sanders is funded by the people, everyone else is funded by the wealthy and powerful. Plutocrats and wealthists believe wealth entitles the wealthy to power over people, societies, and governments. Acting on that entitlement, the plutocracy is literally trying to buy the presidential election. First, they’re trying to buy the Democratic primary. If it can make that happen, the plutocracy wins – the Plutocratic Party will be the only party with candidates in the presidential election. It won’t matter who we the people pick, we don’t get an option – we get the Plutocratic candidate or the other Plutocratic candidate. The establishment wing of the Democratic Party is managed by the blue wing of the Plutocratic Party. They work together closely. If the plutocracy can’t buy the primary, it gets another crack at the progressive candidate in the general. The system is rigged to give the plutocracy as many opportunities as possible to beat any other candidate. The Plutocratic Party also has a red wing that’s pretty much taken over the Republican Party as a wholly-owned subsidiary.
Establishment media is key. Biden didn’t have an organization in most states or enough money to make significant ad buys. Leading up to Super Tuesday the Biden campaign announced a “six-figure” ad buy. Not even a million dollars, while Sanders and others had multiple millions in ad buys. Biden had three things going for him headed into Super Tuesday – the establishment media, the Democratic Party establishment, and the blue wing of the Plutocratic Party.
Progressives fought the media, the Party establishment, and the plutocracy to a draw.
Now the establishment will consolidate again. They’ll probably push Warren to drop out, further consolidating establishment forces behind Biden. She’s probably gotten calls from important and powerful people already. They can live with her staying in though, as long as she’s not dragging Biden down below Sanders. She’s not. She’s dragging Sanders down in some places. Bloomberg has already dropped out and thrown his support to Biden – he’s a professional technocrat of the plutocracy. He knows when it’s time to pack it in and get behind the plutocratic candidate.
The progressive movement isn’t a candidate-based movement, a cult of personality. We’re a political movement for progressive policy goals. A movement that acts now to win what we can, plans for the medium term to win as much more as we can get, and organizes for the long term to achieve victory – fully implementing our policy goals.
A lot of activists are only talking about acting now, winning everything now. I’ve heard a lot of people say if Sanders isn’t the nominee they’re done with electoral politics. Folks need to re-orient themselves to a long fight, four or five election cycles at least. Not just for this nomination. Win or lose this primary, this is not about Sanders or any other one person. This is about all of us getting excellent healthcare and a good education without the burden of debt, a job that pays a living wage, restorative justice, equal rights under just laws, control over our own bodies, and a sustainable and resilient environment with abundant clean and healthy air, water, food, housing, safety, and security for ourselves, our families, and our communities. This fight is about the policy goals of the progressive movement.
Fight to win the primary. Win or lose, push our policy goals on whoever the Democratic candidate is, especially if it’s Sanders. Push the nominee hard on progressive issues even if you didn’t vote for them in the primary and won’t vote for them in the general. They’re running to represent all of us, not just some of us. Win or lose the general, fight – for Democratic Party positions, for state and local offices, for the 2022 mid-terms. Then do it again in 2024, 2026, 2028, and every year in between and thereafter, until we’ve enacted our policies.
The real fight isn’t Sanders vs Biden, that’s just a proxy. Focus on winning the primary and the general for the movement, for the policies, not for the man. Eyes on the prize. The real fight isn’t just this election cycle, or next, or the one after that.
The real fight is democracy vs plutocracy.
Rule by the people vs rule by the wealthy.
Who’s side are you on?
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We win this fight together, or not at all.