Saturday, September 16, 2023

Cornel West on Jimmy Dore and Briahna on Kyle & Krystal: Who’s a Default Democrat?

Cornel West on Jimmy Dore and Briahna on Kyle & Krystal: Who’s a Default Democrat?

Jim Kavanagh

There were two energetic political conversations last week that have been the subject of much discussion in the lefty blogosphere: the Jimmy Dore exchange with Cornell West and the Kyle Kulinski-Krystal Ball conversation with Briahna Joy Gray. It's worth clarifying what I think is the essential issue in both of those exchanges.

On the face of it, they were very different.

In the Kyle-Krystal-Briahna conversation, the issues were: 1) whether Cornel West should be running as a third party candidate rather than as a Democrat challenging Joe Biden within the Democratic party, with Kyle and Krystal arguing for the latter and 2) whether or not there is a substantive reason for leftists to vote for Joe Biden, who, it was presumed, would be the Democratic nominee next November—with Kyle and Krystal arguing that Biden had “surprisingly” earned that support, and Briahna staunchly refusing.

In the Jimmy Dore-Cornel West conversation, on the other hand, no one was arguing against Cornel running third-party, and no one was arguing for voting for Biden. Jimmy supports Cornel’s third-party run, and Cornel continually states his objection to “milquetoast neoliberal” Biden, and never explicitly suggests that anyone should vote for him.

Dore was, somewhat clumsily, pressing Cornell West on something else, and did so in a way that lost focus and allowed the conversation to get sidetracked. There’s a specific, precise question that Jimmy could have asked, which would have gotten the answer about Cornel’s campaign that I think he was looking for.

I should say, first of all, that I know Cornel West. We were colleagues at Princeton together back in the day and ran in the same social and intellectual circles. He's a great guy, I respect him enormously, and he certainly has the best overall political position of anybody now running for president.

Nonetheless, there are important issues regarding the relation of Cornel and the Green Party’s campaign to the Democratic Party and Biden (or whoever is the Democratic nominee) that Jimmy was trying to get at, and that a lot of people on the left, myself included, want to understand precisely. Jimmy Dore missed the opportunity to pose a key question that would have clarified that. It’s a question that we, and Cornel, should know the answer to.

So, I asked him. On Monday, September 11th, I sent Cornel an email asking this question: 

Will you, actively campaign for every vote in every state, no matter who the Democratic and Republican nominees are and no matter what effect that has on either of them?
Or, come the crunch in November—when, we are told, the outcome in four states will decide the election—is there some possibility that you will adopt what's been the previous Green Party strategy of saying that voters in swing states should vote for the Democrat in order to stop Trump or whoever is the Republican nominee?

Of course, I’m prepared to accept that Cornel is at the moment too busy to answer an email from someone he hasn’t seen in years.

Then, in a development this week that surprised and caused more brouhaha among lefties, Cornel appointed Peter Daou as his new campaign manager. Even more surprising to some, that was done on the advice, she says, of Jill Stein, who “didn't know of Peter Daou in his days as DNC defender.” I won’t comment specifically on this other than to say that either Daou’s radical break with his horrible Clintonite political past is sincere or it’s not. We’ll see.

I have an open mind about that, but, whether Daou is reformed or not, a lot of leftists are turned off by this decision—Compton Jay of Revolutionary Blackout Network, for example

This is like putting a "reformed" KKK member in charge of a Movement to Liberate Black people. 
It's great that you are "Reformed" but in NO WAY should you be in a supervisory/advisory position.

I hope Cornel’s decision was based on more awareness of these considerations than Jill’s recommendation. We’ll see.

Relevant to my discussion here, Daou’s appointment gave me another address for my question. Especially when I saw this tweet:

So, I immediately replied to Daou:

I think this is a crucial question, the answer to which would tell Jimmy Dore, and us, exactly what we want to know, without veering off into arguments about “fascism” and “white supremacy.”

In fact, I know it’s a crucial question for many leftists whose support Cornel is seeking, because a slew of them responded to my tweet thusly:

“My vote for The Dr. hangs on the answer to this question.”

"That IS the question!"

"If this happens I’ll 100% vote trump and never take the Green Party serious again"

 "So your question is “are you running a real campaign or just raising awareness?”

I have not had a response to that question from either Cornel or Peter. I can believe Cornel is too busy. I do not believe Daou has not seen the chain of responses to his dramatic “IRONCLAD COMMITMENT” tweet.

It’s a question that needs a response. Leftists who “are here to oppose the system, not to reinforce it” want to know whether Cornel West is in this to do everything he can to build an independent, left party and movement, no matter what the cost to either duopoly party, or whether he's in it to “raise issues,” but with the overriding goal to prevent the Republicans—especially Trump—from winning. In other words, to remain a pressure point on the Democratic Party.

I truly do not know what Cornel’s answer is. I know that the campaign has to answer it or accept the answer that many presume his silence gives. They must know that every moment not answering that question will cost them supporters.

At any rate, the question will be answered by November 2024, when, three days before the election, on MSNBC, Chris Hayes asks Cornel: “Polls show a dead heat between Biden and Trump in Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Wisconsin. Are you still urging every voter in those states to vote for you?” and Cornel answers either simply “Yes!” or gives some complicated version of “I’d like everyone’s vote, but I also understand precious people’s fear of neo-fascism and the loss of democracy under Trump. I can’t tell people how they should vote. I’ll respect everyone’s decision”—something that allows him to say he didn’t “drop out” or “endorse the Democrat” but sends a message of system-reinforcement that everyone understands. Not to do that is the IRONCLAD COMMITMENT my question asks for, and Cornel West and Peter Daou know they have not given.

Please note that this question gets to the core of what both the Jimmy-Cornel and Kyle-Krystal-Briahna conversations are about. The answer to this question tells us how different Cornel West actually is from the people who are criticizing him for being a third-party candidate, like Kyle Kulinksi. Kulinski led the attack on Cornel for running third-party rather than Democrat, but he also says that he’s going to vote for Cornel West in New York because it's a safe state. For Kulinski, then, running in a third party is actually good, if it only has a political effect in safe states.

So, if Cornel does not make the IRONCLAD COMMITMENT to endanger the Democrats in swing states, he and Kyle Kulinski are on the same page. They are on the same political page about the relation of leftist politics with the Democratic Party and the duopoly—which is a lot. This is something that leftists, to whom Cornel is making a pitch, want to and should know.

So, I wish Jimmy Dore had asked Cornell that question, the answer to which would clarify what he was trying to get at in challenging Cornell. Dore may feel that the logic of the distinction Cornel was making between Biden and Trump implies that Cornel will, indeed must, adopt that safe state, swing state strategy.

I, too, feel that may be Cornel’s ultimate position, but I'm not sure, and I'd like Cornell to answer it. It’s certainly my point of view that no independent, left third party in the United States will get anywhere until and unless it makes Democrats lose elections. The purpose of a third party is precisely to defeat the Democrats as well as the Republicans.

The Green Party has been problematic for leftists, and there are all kinds of reasons why third parties may be doomed within the US electoral system anyway. But as a general principle, a third party that is not willing to, does not understand it must, make Democrats lose elections is a third party that will never go anywhere. It's just a pressure group on the Democratic Party.

This goes to the central point of how one understands the relationship between the left and the Democratic Party. We have this bizarre notion in the United States that there's some intrinsic relation between the left and the Democratic Party, that leftists are naturally closer to the Democrats. It goes back to the aura surrounding FDR, but has been repeated among cohorts that gravitated to the Democrats because of Nixon and Watergate or Bush and Iraq (forgetting things like the party of the Klan, and LBJ and Vietnam).

Most leftists today consciously understand that in the post-Clinton Democratic party, the progressive social or peaceful international party they may have been seeking is gone, baby, gone, and never coming back. Still, there lingers in many an unconscious, implicit belief that there's something in the Democratic Party as an institution or in its nominee personally—some essential quality, no matter how well hidden—that is or wants to be a force for significant progressive change, and that the Republican Party is the primary obstacle to any such change. Therefore, in a political contest between the Democrats and Republicans, the left must always ultimately support the Democrats as the only politically possible check against the essentially more reactionary Republicans.

This is the notion that leftists are Default Democrats.

This is a pernicious, paralyzing assumption that we must extirpate from our minds. Being a leftist has nothing to do with being a Democrat. The political left and right, in my understanding of it, do not correlate with Democrat and Republican. They correlate with class positions.

As some of us have known for a long time, and is now clear to most leftists, the Democratic Party is not a party of, or for, the working class. If it ever was, it has now, as Chuck Schumer has stated, explicitly renounced any such role. It now strains—and only intermittently—to attract working-class support, precisely because its programs and politicians do not advance working-class interests against those of corporate and finance capital in some way that is crucially different from the Republican Party.

Despite any conjuring of the ghost of FDR past, the Democratic Party is, as increasing numbers of Americans recognize, an enemy of the working class. Despite any prior demonizing of Bush, the Democratic Party fully internalizes his war-mongering, imperialist spirit, and is an enemy of world peace.

It is therefore not a party of the left. And the idea that there's any natural connection between being a leftist and supporting Democrats, that leftists are Default Democrats, is ridiculous, and a manacle in our minds. We absolutely must do away with that. Extirpating that persistent and pernicious assumption from people’s minds is, in fact, one of the most important missions of any independent left third-party movement. The intrinsic relation between the Democratic Party and the left is that they are enemies. The Democrats know this, and leftists should.

The Democratic party is not an essentially more progressive institution than the Republican. Its job is to be, and it is, as Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report said, the most effective obstacle to any serious progressive reform. It does that by co-opting the movements for such reform and killing them, as it did with Medicare for All, the prime example.

Talking specifically about Biden or Trump: Neither candidate has any claim, by any leftist metric, to be substantially better than the other. Joe Biden is a proudly reactionary politician, who, over his fifty-year political career, has done more damage to the American people, to the multiracial working class—particularly to Black Americans—and to millions of people around the world, than Donald Trump has done or is likely to do. I repeat, by any leftist metric, by far.

l dare anyone to argue otherwise.

There’s a fundamental difference between the left that understands itself as Default Democrats and the left that’s indifferent to the pretension that Democrats are less of an enemy than Republicans. It was nicely demonstrated when Kyle Kulinski said to Briahna Joy Gray: “Let's just say it's election night, 2024. It is all of our worst nightmare: Biden versus Trump...It's going to be Biden or Trump winning. Are you sitting there like, yeah, of course, I would prefer Biden win over Trump,” and she said, “Honestly, I don't care.”

They are living in two different political paradigms. I’m with Briahna. I don’t know where Cornel West is.

As I understand it, to be a leftist means precisely not to be in some complicated sympathetic relationship with, but to reject being a Democrat.

Of course, these discussions really need to be re-considered in light of the fact that Joe Biden is not going to be the Democratic nominee in November 2024. His cognitive decline is too fast and too obvious.

So, what will Kyle and Krystal do with a Democrat that does not have what they consider Biden’s “surprising” presidential accomplishments, which, they say, are what made him worthy of their support?

Will Cornel find a less/different “milquetoast neoliberal” more worthy to protect in swing states?

As The Party comes back into focus as the principal actor, everyone will demonstrate whether their true allegiance is to it or something else.

Actually, Kyle has already answered, endorsing Gavin Newsom, the Party’s likely replacement, who’s “net, net…slightly to the left of Joe Biden.” Kulinski instantly replaced praise for Biden’s “surprising” NLRB policy with applause for Newsom's wonderful labor achievements ("sectoral bargaining…which is massive for fast-food workers”). Via text, email, or telepathically, he's getting a memo from the DNC, saying, "Focus on labor issues. We need the unions."

We’ll have to await Cornel West’s “net, net” appraisal.

Don’t forget, it’s only on domestic policy so-called progressives can make any pretense of significant distinction between the Democrats and Republicans.

No one can any longer make the case that the Democratic Party is any less imperialist and warmongering than the Republican Party. Kyle Kulinski going on about how Joe Biden was less likely to get us into World War III was another classic, different-universe-of-thought moment. In the universe Briahna and I live in, Biden’s already got us in World War III.

So the core issue in both of these discussions—which you see explicitly in Kulinski and Krystal Ball, and maybe implicitly in Cornel—is whether a leftist is a Default Democrat. One votes for the Democrats by default because something about that party is just essentially more “leftist” (or less “fascist”) than the Republicans.

Again, from my left position, the Democratic Party has to be understood as the most effective obstacle to any significant social-democratic or anti-imperialist policy. They take popular positions—Medicare-for-all, end forever wars—that would win elections, pretend they'll doing something about them, and actually kill them—not because Republicans prevent them, but because the Democratic Party itself opposes them.

That's what they did with Medicare for all. The Republican party did not and could not stop a progressive program like Medicare for all, which is enormously popular among Republicans and Democrats. If we had a Democratic president, and a Democratic party and its allied media, who were committed to getting it, if they would repeatedly and consistently argue for, explain, promote, and use every political tool to achieve it—half as much as they did to promote Russiagate and impeach Trump twice, and send hundreds of millions to Ukraine—the Republicans could not stop it. And the Democrats know that.

But we don’t. And we don’t have a “weak” version of it; we have the opposite. It is only because the Democrats don't do that and won't do that, and are strongly opposed to it, not because the Republicans prevent them from doing it, that we do not now have Medicare-for-All.

If we are ever going to have Medicare-for-All, or any significant social-democratic program like it, we have to reject and defeat the party that deliberately and effectively kills such initiatives.

Briahna’s exchange with Kyle and Krystal about Biden not canceling student debt was another case in point.

So, I enjoyed watching both of these charged exchanges. Briahna Joy Gray was brilliant with Krystal and Kyle. Jimmy Dore stumbled and missed a chance to get a precise, on-point answer. But we can see that the core issue in both conversations was the relationship between the left and the Democratic Party, and how that defines the purpose of a third-party campaign.

We know what Kyle and Krystal’s position is, and I think Cornell should state clearly whether he’s ironclad committed to campaigning for every vote in every state, or only in a way that will not allow his campaign to be the reason Biden (the Democratic party) is defeated by Trump (the Republican party).

That’s what I think Jimmy Dore was getting at. That’s what would tell us something about how different Cornell is from Bernie Sanders or Kyle Kulinski. That, I think, is something a lot of leftist inquiring minds want to know.


Related posts: Joe or No

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