The 1st Democratic Debate of 2016 Race

I hope that everyone was able to watch the debate Tuesday night. You saw grown-ups actually debating issues as opposed to candidates calling each other names, disparaging people of various ethnicities and races, and making sarcastic comments about women. There were a number of interesting things said during the debate that we can comment on, but I want to focus on two things at this time. One, why did the major newspapers all award a debate victory to Hillary, while all the polls and focus groups called Bernie the winner? Second, why did Anderson Cooper ask Bernie if he is electable, given that he and his wife honeymooned in the Soviet Union? No doubt, these two questions are actually part of the same question.

cnn pollMany of you saw this Facebook segment during the debate. The real-time Facebook poll showed Sanders winning with 75%. But notice how many times in this short segment that the announcers say that Facebook is for “kids”. I will have to tell my 77 year old mother that FB is just for kids, and tell myself while I’m at it! At first I thought it was just a joke, but as I watched it a couple times I noticed Don Lemon saying that this is who the “kids” think is winning the debate. This is clearly an attempt to dismiss the results as insignificant. CNN had posted the results on their website, but later took it down. Additionally, CNN had organized a focus group and after the debate polled them. Most thought Bernie won. Fox also organized a focus group of democrats in Florida. Their focus group said that Bernie won. Unfortunately, all of this conflicted with CNN’s plan to announce Hillary as the winner. No matter, they announced Hillary won anyway. Other mainstream news outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post likewise proclaimed Hillary the winner.

Chris Cillizza was gushing over Hillary at WaPo, “There’s no debate about who won… Hillary Clinton was knowledgeable, relaxed, funny, totally relatable and, most importantly, presidential”. Meanwhile his colleagues at WaPo, James Hohmann and Elise Viebeck were frankly reminding us that Hillary’s job wasn’t to convince the American people of her viability, it was to “quiet doubts among party elites”.

CNN’s organizing of the debate was suspect from beginning to end. They placed Hillary in the center of the group. That provides a powerful subliminal message about her leadership position. And at the end they allowed her to make final remarks last. All of us have been in debates or even informal discussions; getting the “last word” is prime placement for victory. Note however that these gimmicks did not sway the focus groups or online polling. I think the thing that bothered me most about CNN and Cooper was when he asked Bernie about honeymooning in the Soviet Union. This is an old gimmick of propagandists called “red baiting”. The idea is to discredit the candidate by associating him with Communists. So, here’s the backstory. In 1988, Sanders was mayor of Burlington, VT. His city has just become a “sister city” with Yaroslavl, a city 160 miles north of Moscow. The sister city program had been started by Eisenhower in 1956 to reduce tensions during the Cold War. Sanders led a 10 member diplomatic delegation from his city to Yaroslavl, and since he and his wife Jane had just married the day before, she came along. She has since joked that she spent her honeymoon in the Soviet Union. So, that was the story that Anderson Cooper used to imply that Sanders is really a Communist. If I were naïve, I would say that CNN doesn’t do their homework. We all know better. CNN is owned by Warner, a major contributor to Hillary’s campaign. Bernie is right about the influence of money in campaigns. The question is whether or not he can overcome it.

SDUSA Endorses Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

As we prepare to watch the first Democratic candidates debate this evening, we consider who the SD will endorse. Many organizations will announce endorsements without asking for their members’ input. We don’t believe this is appropriate for a democratic organization. So, we conducted a poll of our members regarding the 2016 presidential election. We asked:

1. Should SDUSA endorse a candidate?
2. Regardless of party, who is your preferred candidate?
3. What are your top three most important issues in the election?

You might say that it would be a foregone conclusion that our members would be supporting Bernie Sanders. That is, for the most part, true. But there is some diversity in the responses. Below are the outcomes from our members poll conducted during September.

For the 1st question, the answer was 100%, “Yes, SDUSA should endorse a candidate”.

For the 2nd question,
Sanders, 58%
Clinton, 9%
Webb, 7%
all others, <6% each (included some Republicans such as Kasich and Cruz)

For the 3rd question, the responses are listed by the most frequently cited,
1. Campaign finance (includes other election reforms)
2. Income inequality (includes corporate welfare, Wall Street oligarchy)
3. Global warming (includes jobs programs that create green infrastructure)
4. National healthcare (includes single payer initiatives such as Medicare for All)
5. Protect civil rights (includes voting rights and eliminating police abuse)
6. Maintain vigorous foreign policy (fight terrorism, support weak nations, aid refugees)
7. Maintain strong national defense
8. Protect women’s rights (includes reproductive freedoms and pay equity)
9. Grow the movement (includes creating left dialogue, left unity, and organizing voters)
10. Affordable higher education
11. Protect gun ownership rights
12. Control global population growth
13. Restrict abortion
14. Reduce unemployment
15. Support Israel, while also pushing for greater human rights

Based on the results shown above, SDUSA continues to follow its tradition of being leftist regarding economic issues, but having a mix of positions on other issues. If you know the history of the SDUSA, you know that when the Socialist Party changed its name to Social Democrats USA in 1972, many of the more liberal members left the organization. Those who remained with SDUSA were a mix of liberals and conservatives. Many were associated with trade unions, and many of those were conservative in their social outlook. This included not only being conservative on social issues, but also hawkish on foreign policy.

Our members today continue to have diverse perspectives. We have members who are liberal on social issues, but hawkish on foreign policy. We have members who are conservative on abortion and marriage, leftist on economics, and vigorous in their support of refugees. We have Labor Zionists. We have members who are leftist on economics and are also pacifists. We really can’t tell you what a “typical” SD member looks like, other than that common thread of strong conviction in social democracy and the fundamental rights of every human being.

It’s important to mention that we have members who are anti-abortion, or pro-gun, or anti-gay marriage, or all of the above. Often the positions of our conservative members are based on their religious convictions, and the SDUSA is the only political organization where they feel they are welcome as Christian socialists. That is not to say that all Christian socialists are conservatives, because we also have members of the Christian Left in our ranks. Conservative members represent a minority of our members, but their opinions are respected and they are part of the fabric of SDUSA.

In summary: Given the diversity of our membership, the results of the SD members’ poll were not surprising to us. We continue to uphold the ideals of social democracy in a heterogenous organization comprised of liberals and conservatives, labor unionists and religious socialists. Despite our disagreements, we hold fast to a respect for workers, our obligation to protect our weaker brothers and sisters, and the right of peoples to democratically choose their destiny.


Social Democracy Is 100% American

Editor’s Note: This post by Harvey J. Kaye, University of Wisconsin, first appeared on Moyers & company. It is reposted here with his permission.

Appearing late last week on MSNBC’s Morning Joe,Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri insisted that Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont “is too liberal to gather enough votes in this country to become president.” Indeed, responding to the fact that candidate Sanders is not only drawing big, enthusiastic crowds to campaign events in Iowa and New Hampshire, but also pulling within 10 points of frontrunner and party favorite Hillary Clinton in certain state polls, McCaskill said: “It’s not unusual for someone who has an extreme message to have a following.”

Extreme? McCaskill’s remarks indicate that we may be in more trouble than we thought. For some time we have feared that Republican politicians were losing their minds. Now it seems we must worry, as well, that Democratic politicians are losing their memories.

Clearly, McCaskill’s attack — which, to me, smacked of red baiting — was intended as a dismissal of Bernie Sanders’s candidacy based on the fact that Sanders, who has repeatedly won elections in Vermont as an independent and then caucused with the Senate Democrats, is a self-described “democratic socialist” or “social democrat.” And of course, we all know that social democracy is not just unpopular in the United States, it is un-American.

Well, think again. Social democracy is 100 percent American. We may be latecomers to recognizing a universal right to health care (indeed, we are not quite there yet). But we were first in creating a universal right to public education, in endowing ourselves with ownership of national parks, and, for that matter, in conferring voting rights on males without property and abolishing religious tests for holding national office.

Thomas Paine by Laurent Dabos

But there’s even more to the story. It was the American Revolution’s patriot and pamphleteer, Thomas Paine — a hero today to folks left and right, including tea partiers — who launched the social-democratic tradition in the 1790s. In his pamphlets,Rights of Man and Agrarian Justice, Paine outlined plans for combating poverty that would become what we today call Social Security.

As Paine put it in the latter work, since God has provided the earth and the land upon it as a collective endowment for humanity, those who have come to possess the land as private property owe the dispossessed an annual rent for it. Specifically, Paine delineated a limited redistribution of income by way of a tax on landed wealth and property. The funds collected were to provide both grants for young people to get started in life and pensions for the elderly.


Think again. The social-democratic tradition was nurtured by Americans both immigrant and native-born – by the so-called “sewer socialist” German Americanswho helped to build the Midwest and, inspired by the likes of Eugene Debs and Victor Berger, radically improved urban life by winning battles for municipal ownership of public utilities. By the Jewish and Italian workers who toiled and suffered in the sweatshops of New York and Chicago but then, led by David Dubinsky and Sidney Hillman, created great labor unions such as the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. By the farmers and laborers who rallied to the grand encampments on the prairies organized by populists and socialists across the southwest to hear how, working together in alliances, they could break the grip of Wall Street and create a Cooperative Commonwealth. By African-Americans who came north in the Great Migration to build new lives for themselves and, led by figures such as the socialist, labor leader and civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph, energized the civil rights movement in the 1930s.

And think again. Think about the greatest president of the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt, whose grand, social-democratic New Deal initiatives – from the CCC, WPA and Rural Electrification Administration, to Social Security and the National Labor Relations Act — not only rescued the nation from the Great Depression, but also reduced inequality and poverty and helped ready the United States to win the second World War and become the strongest and most prosperous nation on earth.

Fighting for the Four Freedoms

Moreover, those we celebrate as the Greatest Generation, the men and women who confronted the Great Depression and went on to defeat fascism, fought for the decidedly social-democratic Four Freedoms – freedom of speech and religion, freedom from want and fear – and the chance of realizing them at war’s end.

Polls conducted in 1943 showed that 94 percent of Americans endorsed old-age pensions; 84 percent, job insurance; 83 percent, universal national health insurance; and 79 percent, aid for students — leading FDR in his 1944 State of the Union message to propose a Second Bill of Rights that would guarantee those very things to all Americans. All of which would be blocked by a conservative coalition of pro-corporate Republicans and white supremacist southern Democrats. And yet, with the aid of the otherwise conservative American Legion, FDR did secure one of the greatest social-democratic programs in American history: the G.I. Bill that enabled 12,000,000 returning veterans to progressively transform themselves and the nation for the better.

Nor did that generation of veterans give up their social-democratic aspirations. On reaching middle age in the 1960s, they enacted civil rights, voting rights, Medicare and Medicaid; established protections for the environment, workers and consumers; and dramatically expanded educational opportunities, especially in public higher education.

We ourselves honor America’s social-democratic history with two great monuments on the National Mall – not just the FDR Memorial, but also the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Yes, King was a democratic socialist. Drawing on the New Deal experience, embracing the American tradition of Christian socialism and peaceful activism, and believing, like so many of his generation, that Americans could harness the powers of democratic government to enhance freedom and equality, he campaigned for both racial justice and the rights of working people and the poor.

Senator McCaskill’s attack on Senator Sanders appears to have been launched on behalf of the Clinton campaign. Its rationale rests on the belief that, in the light of the past 40 years of conservative ascendancy and liberal retreat, her words were simple common sense: Aren’t we, as the talking heads tell us, a center-right nation?

Well, no, we are emphatically not. And it is regrettable that by swallowing this myth, the present leadership of the Democratic Party, embodied in the Democratic National Committee has, in election after election, shrunk from some of the party’s best traditions in order to keep up in the race for campaign cash, even to the extent of marginalizing and openly scorning what is described as its “left wing.”

Indeed, when America’s purpose and promise have been in jeopardy we acted radically, progressively, and, yes, as social democrats. Hillary Clinton herself seemed to recognize the power of that history and its legacy by launching her new presidential campaign at New York City’s Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island. Though she never did actually pronounce the words of FDR’s Four Freedoms, her speech revealed some awareness of a reviving — dare we say it? — social-democratic spirit? Whether simply tactical or genuine on her part is an important question that remains to be answered.

Bernie Sanders may never appear at Four Freedoms Park. But he sounds like FDR, not simply because you can practically hear him saying of the one percent what FDR did — “I welcome their hatred” — but all the more because of what he wants to do: tax the rich, create a single-payer national health care system, make public higher education free to all qualified students, create jobs by refurbishing the nation’s public infrastructure, and address the environment and climate change.

But even more critically, like FDR he doesn’t say he wants to fight for us. He seeks to encourage the fight in us: “It is up to us to launch the most heroic of all struggles: a political revolution.” If that is “extreme,” then Democrats like McCaskill are not just forgetting their history, but trying to suppress it.

That Sanders, given his background, is garnering huge crowds who shout his name with an enthusiasm reminiscent of the heyday of the People’s Party in the 1890s, radiates a special glow. Americans may once again be remembering who they are and what they need to do to recapture a government now in thrall to the Money Power. And that ain’t extreme. It’s fundamentally American.

**Harvey J. Kaye is the Ben & Joyce Rosenberg Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of the new book The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great (Simon & Schuster). Follow him on Twitter: @harveyjkaye.

Netroots 2015

Secretary Treasurer Rick D'Loss and interim Chair Patty Friend

Secretary Treasurer Rick D’Loss and interim Chair Patty Friend

Social Democrats USA attended Netroots Nation for the first time this year. The first Netroots Nation convention (then called the YearlyKos convention) was held in 2006. At the time SDUSA was going through a bad spell— still suffering from the death of our Executive Director, Penn Kemble. Netroots started as a convention of political bloggers (headed by Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of the DailyKos fame) who wanted to use the internNET to develop grassROOTS political organizations— hence the name change to Netroots. Yes, there were some big name speakers at the very first Netroots, including Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and Barbara Boxer, and since then the annual convention has become a “must attend” event for Democratic candidates. Thus it is interesting that Hillary did not show up this year. Elizabeth Warren was present, as was Martin O’Malley. But clearly the favorite of the crowd was Bernie Sanders. Almost everyone that I interacted with over the 3 days of Netroots was wearing a Bernie button.


Jose Antonio Vargas, Tia Oso, Martin O’Malley

As you saw in the press over the weekend, the big story was the interruption of the candidates forum on Saturday morning by the “Black Lives Matter” coalition. The less than stellar responses by O’Malley and Sanders were most reported. What wasn’t reported was that the protesters were protesting the Netroots organizers, not the candidates. They felt that that the issue of blacks being harassed and killed by police should be front and center, and that the mostly white Netroots organizers were unsympathetic to the crisis. Hence, when forum moderator Vargas was conducting his Q&A, the protesters assembled and took over. In fairness to O’Malley and Sanders, it was Vargas who was in charge of dealing with the situation. At one point, Sanders looked at Vargas and asked “what are we doing”? Most of us have been involved in protests at some point or another. The goal is to disrupt the normal flow of things, get attention for your cause, and perhaps make some demands. I think if you accomplish the first two and not the third, you have missed an opportunity. That’s what I saw Saturday. The protesters had the sympathy of the crowd, initially. They stopped the show. The leaders were invited to the stage. They spoke their piece. And they demanded responses from O’Malley and later Sanders. But here’s were it fell apart. As the candidates were responding to the protesters, the protesters continued their protest and didn’t allow the candidates to speak. Vargas was unable to control the situation.

Vargas asking the protesters to let Sanders speak

Vargas asking the protesters to let Sanders speak

Hence, O’Malley exited the stage after his “all lives matter” comment was not well received. Sanders ended up shouting over top of the protesters, which was also not well received. When Vargas said our time is up, Bernie responded, “good”. Amongst the audience there were mixed responses: some sympathetic to the protesters and some not. One man near me hollered, “sit down and shut up” at the protesters. I asked my colleague Patty what she thought. She recalled the protests of her youth during the sixties. “We disrupted a lot. But what was the result? We got Ronald Reagan for governor because he promised to crack down on agitators. Protesting has its limits. You have to get the politicians on your side if you want action.”

For me, that was the lesson of the day. Protesting is just venting anger and frustration if there is no follow-up. No matter how sympathetic we are to the anger, there will be no value to the protest if it can’t be turned into political action.

Suspicious Humanist- Spring 2015

Steve Weiner is a member of SDUSA’s National Committee. He lives in Medford, Oregon. For 45 years Steve has been publishing his thoughts in a paper he calls the Suspicious Humanist. Like many of you, I get barraged by reading material from many political, cultural, and news media organizations. Yet, I always make time to read the Suspicious Humanist. The writing is thoughtful and enlightening. Steve never focuses on just one subject, and each item is an easy read, short and pithy. He uniquely weaves a story of politics, literature, psychology, religion, and ethics. He will insert an unrelated vignette here and there. It never fails that the 10 minutes I spend are very well worth it.  I have attached the most recent copy HERE.