Centrists Don’t Want “Party Unity”—They Want to Defend the Wealthy

Attacks by moderate Democrats on Bernie Sanders are really about defending corporate power and structural inequality.

Christopher D. Cook

Michael Bloomberg's presidential run is a gambit to stifle progressives. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

As the Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus­es and pri­maries hur­tle ever clos­er, Demo­c­ra­t­ic cen­trists rang­ing from bil­lion­aire Michael Bloomberg to for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma are wag­ing a fran­tic war to sti­fle more pro­gres­sive can­di­dates, i.e. Bernie Sanders and Eliz­a­beth Warren.

If the Democratic establishment’s goal is defeating Trump and winning the White House, the evidence is clear: a progressive candidate such as Sanders or Warren can absolutely win.

In the name of uni­fy­ing” to defeat Trump, this cen­trist decep­tion false­ly insists that only a mod­er­ate can bring vot­ers togeth­er and win in 2020. This argu­ment may sound rea­son­able at first glance — but it con­tra­dicts facts on the ground show­ing strong sup­port for both pro­gres­sive can­di­dates and policies.

Polling shows waver­ing and declin­ing sup­port for would-be cen­trist stan­dard-bear­er Joe Biden, throw­ing into ques­tion his claims of elec­tabil­i­ty.” And while Pete Buttigieg is polling strong­ly in Iowa, his num­bers among African-Amer­i­can vot­ers — a key Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ing bloc — remain per­sis­tent­ly low.

While polls are volatile and ever-shift­ing, some long­stand­ing pat­terns are clear. Fore­most, sev­er­al lead­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates — includ­ing Bernie Sanders, by sub­stan­tial mar­gins — con­sis­tent­ly beat Pres­i­dent Trump by vary­ing degrees, bely­ing the cen­trist canard that only a mod­er­ate can win. Mean­while, the com­bined polling of Sanders and War­ren con­sis­tent­ly demon­strates strong sup­port for a pro­gres­sive nom­i­nee rather than a cen­trist one. (While Sanders is run­ning on a pol­i­cy agen­da to the left of War­ren, they’re both decid­ed­ly on the pro­gres­sive wing.)

Iron­i­cal­ly, estab­lish­ment Democ­rats insist a pro­gres­sive nom­i­nee can’t win, yet the clear via­bil­i­ty of a pro­gres­sive vic­to­ry in the pri­maries and the gen­er­al elec­tion appears to be pre­cise­ly what they fear.

On issue after issue, from tax­ing the rich to uni­ver­sal health­care and free col­lege, a major­i­ty of Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers sides with the pro­gres­sive wing of the par­ty over cen­trist naysay­ers. What’s more, analy­sis by Gabriel Lenz, a polit­i­cal sci­en­tist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, shows that vot­ers are less like­ly to be scared off by terms like social­ism” if they gen­er­al­ly agree with or approve of a can­di­date. And as Bernie Sanders remains one of the most pop­u­lar politi­cians in the coun­try, boast­ing high approval rat­ings, there’s ample rea­son to believe that his left-wing pol­i­tics would not be the lia­bil­i­ty many cen­trists claim.

In the lat­est move to stop Democ­rats from embrac­ing a pro­gres­sive chal­lenge to cor­po­rate pow­er, Bloomberg has leaped into the race, plunk­ing down an ini­tial $30 mil­lion nation­wide ad buy.

Sanders quick­ly blast­ed Bloomberg’s mul­ti-mil­lion-dol­lar entry, say­ing, We do not believe that bil­lion­aires have the right to buy elec­tions. That is why mul­ti-bil­lion­aires like Mr. Bloomberg are not going to get very far in this election.”

As Com­mon Dreams reports, Sanders’ speech­writer David Siro­ta not­ed that the tim­ing of Bloomberg’s announce­ment lines up with Sanders’ rise in the polls and a well-report­ed meet­ing between the media mogul and Ama­zon founder Jeff Bezos, one of the two wealth­i­est men in the world along­side Microsoft founder Bill Gates.” Siro­ta added, Bloomberg began float­ing the idea of a pres­i­den­tial bid in 2016, just as Bernie was begin­ning to gain momen­tum in that race. At the time, Bloomberg dis­par­aged Bernie and his campaign’s chal­lenge to Wall Street.”

Oba­ma, who until recent­ly has main­tained pub­lic neu­tral­i­ty on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry, hurled his cen­trist hand­wring­ing into the polit­i­cal sphere, insist­ing that pro­gres­sive lead­ers (read: Sanders and War­ren) are push­ing the par­ty too far left.” Politi­co recent­ly report­ed that the for­mer pres­i­dent has said if Sanders held a strong lead in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry, he would speak out to pre­vent him from becom­ing the nominee.” 

One close advis­er to Oba­ma, while refus­ing to con­firm the reports, acknowl­edged: The only rea­son I’m hes­i­tat­ing at all is because, yeah, if Bernie were run­ning away with it, I think maybe we would all have to say some­thing.” The idea that Oba­ma would inter­vene” to help pre­vent a Sanders vic­to­ry fits a pat­tern of com­ments from the for­mer pres­i­dent dis­miss­ing pro­gres­sive can­di­dates or poli­cies as not viable.

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic establishment’s under­min­ing of Bernie Sanders is, of course, noth­ing new — sub­stan­tial evi­dence showed the DNC lead­er­ship active­ly worked to under­mine Sanders’ 2016 cam­paign. This round, estab­lish­ment Democ­rats are back at it. In one ear­ly sal­vo, the cen­trist think tank Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress pub­lished an anti-Sanders video in April crit­i­ciz­ing the sen­a­tor as a mil­lion­aire.”

Clin­ton loy­al­ist David Brock, a long­time polit­i­cal oper­a­tive, said he’s had dis­cus­sions with oth­er oper­a­tives about an anti-Sanders cam­paign and believes it should com­mence soon­er rather than lat­er,” the New York Times report­ed last April. In a sto­ry depict­ing cen­trist moves to sti­fle Sanders, the Times not­ed, His strength on the left gives him a real prospect of win­ning the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion and could make him com­pet­i­tive for the pres­i­den­cy if his eco­nom­ic jus­tice mes­sage res­onates in the Mid­west as much as Mr. Trump’s appeals to hard-edge nation­al­ism did in 2016.”

There is evi­dence that some Wall Street and cor­po­rate power­bro­kers who hold sway over the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty would sit out the 2020 elec­tion, or even back Trump to avoid redis­trib­u­tive poli­cies such as the wealth tax. As one senior pri­vate equi­ty exec­u­tive told CNBC anony­mous­ly: You’re in a box because you’re a Demo­c­rat and you’re think­ing, I want to help the par­ty, but [War­ren is] going to hurt me, so I’m going to help Pres­i­dent Trump.” (While some Wall Street exec­u­tives sin­gled out War­ren, Sanders’ wealth tax would sim­i­lar­ly redis­trib­ute America’s wealth downward.) 

In truth, the divi­sive attacks on Sanders and War­ren have noth­ing to do with assur­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic uni­ty, or vic­to­ry. Rather, they serve to defend deeply embed­ded finan­cial inter­ests and the wealthy donor class on which the main­stream Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty has come to rely. Such wealthy inter­ests are adamant­ly opposed to the types of poli­cies being advo­cat­ed by Sanders and War­ren — such as Medicare for All and a Green New Deal — that would threat­en their con­cen­trat­ed finan­cial and polit­i­cal power.

Both of these sup­pos­ed­ly rad­i­cal” poli­cies, which cen­trist can­di­dates rou­tine­ly den­i­grate and dis­miss, boast robust nation­wide sup­port, even across par­ty lines.

More than two-thirds of Amer­i­cans sup­port Medicare for All, sur­veys show, while only 20% out­right oppose” this pol­i­cy. The Green New Deal, mean­while, reg­is­tered more than 80% sup­port among vot­ers in 2018.

While many estab­lish­ment cri­tiques claim Sanders is une­lec­table because of his unabashed­ly left agen­da, by many mea­sures, he appears more elec­table than most of the oth­er can­di­dates in the race. Sanders con­sis­tent­ly polls bet­ter against Trump than every­one but Biden; he con­sis­tent­ly rais­es more mon­ey than his oppo­nents and recent­ly shat­tered cam­paign records by reach­ing four mil­lion indi­vid­ual con­trib­u­tors and his 2016 per­for­mance in key swing states such as Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin could bode well for a Sanders vic­to­ry in the gen­er­al election.

If the Demo­c­ra­t­ic establishment’s goal is defeat­ing Trump and win­ning the White House, the evi­dence is clear: a pro­gres­sive can­di­date such as Sanders or War­ren can absolute­ly win. There is, in fact, no evi­dence that only a cen­trist can.

As long­time polit­i­cal ana­lyst — and for­mer Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee mem­ber — James Zog­by recent­ly observed, Pun­dits & Dem oper­a­tives con­tin­ue to insist that Bernie Sanders is too angry, too left, or too what­ev­er to win. They’re dead wrong. He has the right tone & right issues to win a broad coali­tion. What won’t win is dull-edged cen­trism that can’t excite or con­vince voters.”

Christo­pher D. Cook is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and author of Diet for a Dead Plan­et: Big Busi­ness and the Com­ing Food Cri­sis. His writ­ing has appeared in Harper’s, The Atlantic, The Nation, the Los Ange­les Times and else­where. You can reach him at http://​www​.christo​pherd​cook​.com/.
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