Massachusetts Social Democrats will sponsor a forum on November 28th on the topic of “What’s Ahead for Massachusetts Progressives?” Outstanding speakers include State Senator Jamie Eldridge, Jeff Ballinger (the SDUSA endorsed candidate for Congress) and Benjamin Bloomenthal (former candidate for State Representative). The speakers are expected to discuss challenges to progressives in the MA State Legislature, the Congress and the Democratic Party. The meeting will be held at Christ Church, Zero Garden Street (near Harvard Square), Cambridge, MA and will begin at 7:30 PM.
Following a successful tabling at the Democratic convention in June, Massachusetts Social Democrats unveiled its new web site and Facebook page last Saturday. Eldon Clingan, Chair of the Bay State group, said that its purpose is to disseminate social democratic ideas to the progressive movement and to provide space for their discussion. “We welcome social democrats from several activist groups in our state,” he said. “We don’t seek to supplant such groups but to supplement their efforts with education and advocacy.” He said that MSD is planning future distribution of social democratic printed materials, in addition to its web site, and that the group is hoping to sponsor a conference on the future of progressive politics after the fall general election. He pointed out that MSD has made arrangements with Dissent Magazine to provide each member with a digital subscription, normally a $19.95 value, as a member benefit. “Since member dues are only $20 a year, we think that’s a good deal,”. Clingan said.
MSD’s Secretary/Webmaster is Michael Passarini, a student at the University of Massachusetts- Boston. The web site can be found at masocialdemocrats.org.
When I was a small boy, growing up in the poor area near the meat packing plants of Oklahoma City, there was a universal understanding of politics. It was not the politics of platforms
and policies, much less the politics of personality clashes. Instead, it was the profound
sense that Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal had literally saved the lives of people like us. In the homes of Armour and Swift workers, there were frequently two pictures: one of Jesus and the other of Roosevelt. In the event that one picture had to come down, it would not necessarily be Roosevelt’s that would go. Probably nobody in that neighborhood had ever
read the Democratic platform but they all understood one important fact: Franklin Roosevelt was on our side. His Democratic Party was for people like us; the nearly-invisible Republicans were for rich people.
How far we have come from those days is apparent in the new book on the 2016 campaign by
Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. Largely based on off-the-record interviews with campaign staff members, it depicts a dysfunctional campaign that was more of a snake pit than the well-oiled political machine that we would expect from two accomplished people who have pursued the Presidency, one of them successfully, for their entire adult lives. But more important, it shows a party that had lost its way and a candidate who had overwhelming ambition and a sterling resume but no principled center. Hillary Clinton, by all accounts, is a policy wonk, and certainly she had policy statements on nearly every subject, but she lacked two elements that Roosevelt, the Hudson Valley aristocrat, had: deep empathy for the problems of the American people and the ability to communicate that empathy.
Clinton’s fundamental shortcomings are made clear in the book’s first chapter, when her speech writers are struggling to come up with a memorable, hopefully even historic speech, to kick-off her campaign. The event has been scheduled for Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York’s East River (optics are important in modern campaigns and this is intended to link her tightly with FDR). There is only one problem: neither the candidate nor the hired help can come up with an acceptable rationale for her quest for the Presidency. The bright graduate of Wellesley and Yale Law can’t articulate answers to one aide’s questions: “why you? why now?” These questions will haunt the campaign until it ends in defeat at the hands of a man who can encapsulate his purpose in four vacuous words: Make America Great Again.
The broader failure, I suggest, is not that of Hillary Clinton but of the Democratic Party
that she not only shaped but that shaped her. The legacy of FDR was a party that, with
many failings, was seen as the champion of the working class and the poor, and large parts of this legacy remained at least through the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson. The leadership of the Democratic Party began to pull away from that legacy under Carter and
Bill Clinton, the neoliberal New Democrats. With the ascendancy of leaders who could not and did not want to speak for them, the working class began to leave the party of Roosevelt. States that had once been Democratic strongholds, such as Wisconsin, Michigan
and Pennsylvania, became battleground states. While it is true that Trump’s winning margin
was small in those states, the real question is why millions of working class people had previously moved over to the Republican Party in numbers sufficient to make those states even close.
The Bernie Sanders campaign proved at least one thing: there are still millions of Americans
who respond to the spirit of the social democratic message that FDR articulated in his 1944 State of the Union address. Had Clinton understood that, she might have brought home to the Democratic Party the key working class voters who cost her the election. Unfortunately, she, her husband, Barack Obama and their neolib allies had hollowed out the ideological
core of the Party, and she could not make up for that loss by ordering her staff to find a rationale for her candidacy. It was too much to expect that a candidate who hung out with millionaire pals in the Hamptons and who took hundreds of thousands from Goldman Sachs could
truly understand the fears and hopes of working Americans. But from Clinton’s loss, a catastrophe in so many ways, may come a new birth of the Democratic Party and make it again
“our” party. That is the Social Democratic challenge today.
Last night I attended a meeting whose purpose was to establish an Our Revolution- Indivisible
group in the towns southwest of Boston. A colleague and I also hoped to find a few people who would be willing to be candidates for delegates slots for the coming Democratic State Convention. We had done a reasonable job of organizing, using lists provided by Indivisible, Our
Revolution- Massachusetts and national Our Revolution, and as organizers do, tried to predict the likely result of our efforts, partly to calm our anxieties. We set up the room for 10 people
and hoped that most of those who had promised to come, would in fact turn up.
The meeting was called for 7:30 and about 7:15 the first attendees began to arrive. We had pleasant chats with the early arrivals and a few others came in, filling the chairs we had set out.
At about 7:25 a flood of people poured in, filling the room. They came so fast that we couldn’t set up chairs quickly enough. Soon we had more than 30 people in a room that would comfortably hold 15 or 20. We sorted out the situation and started by going around the room with each person saying a few words. The message was soon clear: they were mad as hell and they weren’t going to take it any more. While each had her own concerns (they were women by a factor of 5), they were worried generally about what was happening to our country. Most of them were Bernie people but the reality of Trump had kicked their outrage up to a new level. They were ready to march, to hassle members of Congress and to work to transform the Democratic Party. At the end of the meeting I suggested that we meet again in a month and was shouted down. “Two weeks!” they demanded. On that note, we all headed for home, with the buoyant feeling that we were on our way at last, moving forward to take back our country and our Party.
Something is happening in our country. I am told that this experience is typical of what is happening in progressive meetings and Democratic caucuses throughout Massachusetts. The news from California is that the Bernie movement has moved to a dominant position in the Democratic Party. The great challenge is to organize this spontaneous movement. The social democratic moment has come; let’s not lose this opportunity.
It felt like the sixties. There were the ghastly transportation struggles to get to the actual demonstration. The earnest concerns of the demonstrators were almost palpable. Above all, there was the sense of comradeship and fun. Even the symbol of the demonstration- a knitted pink hat with cat’s ears- poked sly fun at The Donald’s hot mike incident and the lack of respect it showed for women. The signs were home-made and showed a wide variety of anti-Trump sentiments, from the serious “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” to “Keep Your Tiny Hands Off My…” Alas, as I walked across Boston Common, my joints reminded me that I wasn’t still thirty, no matter how familiar the demonstration looked. But the more than a hundred thousand people on the Common was witness to a statement I have been making to younger people: the progressive movement now has its best opportunity in the last fifty years.
It would be nice to report that Trump paid some attention to the half million or so demonstrators who came to Washington to shout their defiance outside his window. Even Nixon went down to the Mall on one occasion and had conversations with demonstrators. Our new President, however, was busily engaged in his favorite game, “Mine is bigger than yours.”
In this instance, the “mine” was his crowd at the inauguration versus that of Barack Obama.
In their own ways, both Trump and some Democrats made a similar point: the election is over and the protesters should have made their views known at the ballot box. This is nonsense, of course; those very responsible people almost certainly voted and many of them probably worked hard for Hillary Clinton. More importantly, this argument obscures the fact that Clinton gave them (us) precious little reason to feel enthusiastic. Having available the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party, some of whose planks were forced on her, she managed to run a campaign that left cold a significant part of the Democratic base. Hillary and her chosen technocrats ran the kind of campaign they wanted;
the election was hers to lose and lose it she did.
Inevitably, the Pussy Hat rallies had a diversity of speakers (in the case of Boston, there were two Native American speakers, not including Elizabeth Warren). And, yes, the crowd was mostly middle class. There was some labor sponsorship, but the demonstrators were not working people, on the whole. This should not concern even those of us who want more attention paid to the needs of poor and working people. Social Democracy is an ideology of human liberation, and while it certainly includes economic justice, it also covers a broad spectrum from gender equality to equality of sexual orientation. To borrow from Sheri Berman, Social Democracy is a cross-class coalition. From moment to moment, groups of us will emphasize one aspect or another. While doing so, it is important that we not lose sight of our role of fighting against all forms of oppression.