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Why Democrats Are (Finally) Criticizing Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders’ campaign recently stabbed Elizabeth Warren in the back. She was the Vermont senator’s comrade in arms. It also threw a pack of lies at Joe Biden, tarring him as corrupt with zero evidence. As former Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin told Politico, Sanders “will play dirty.” The Democrat added, “I’m concerned that we’re seeing a replay of the kind of dynamics that didn’t allow Hillary to win.”

The difference between now and 2016, though, is that Sanders’ targets are finally hitting back. This outbreak of hostilities among Democrats is not hurting the party. On the contrary. An airing of these grievances is long overdue.

And whether one shares Sanders’ political views is irrelevant to this conversation. (I like some of them.)

The danger Sanders poses for the party is that, to him, electing Democrats comes second to building the “movement.” This explains why his sidekick, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is pushing primary challenges to moderate Democrats who won difficult races in swing districts.

The catchphrase on Sanders’ website, Our Revolution, is “Campaigns end. Revolutions Endure.” Indeed, he and his fellow socialists have latched on to the Democratic Party because having a D after their names is the only way they can win an election.

Few things make the Bernie base madder than the charge that their hero helped sabotage Clinton’s candidacy. Its members passionately note that he politicked for her in the last days of the campaign. That’s true, but by then, not doing so was tantamount to openly supporting Donald Trump.

Early in 2016, when it seemed possible that Sanders might score more votes than Clinton, he assailed the superdelegates who mostly backed Clinton and could have delivered her victory. His supporters demanded that superdelegates reflect the popular vote, “not the party elites.”

By June, when Clinton had racked up a commanding majority of primary votes, Sanders did an about face and urged the superdelegates to ignore the voters and support him. “Superdelegates have a very important decision to make,” he told NBC News.

Upon winning the Republican nomination, Trump announced, “To all of those Bernie Sanders voters who have been left out in the cold by a rigged system of superdelegates, we welcome you with open arms.”

Trump was the official Republican candidate, and Sanders still wouldn’t back the Democratic one. In the weeks leading up to the Democratic National Convention, he withheld his endorsement of Clinton, insisting that certain demands be met. Some of his delegates chanted, “Lock her up!” right on the convention floor.

Sanders (and Trump’s Russian trolls) had brainwashed some liberals and independents into believing that Clinton was horribly corrupt. That helps explain why 20 percent of those who voted for Sanders in the primaries did not vote for Clinton in the general election. Some of his supporters are now spreading the fear that history could repeat itself if a moderate such as Biden becomes the nominee.

Elaine Godfrey wrote in The Atlantic that progressive organizers she has spoken with said they are “worried that, absent a Democratic candidate who excites them, many Americans might not vote at all.”

Trump should excite them enough. People who don’t get that they are voting against as well as for are political neuters. Are they going to help reelect Trump on Tuesday and then rage on Wednesday that he’s burning up the planet?

Yes, mainstream Democrats had to have it out with the heretic hunters of the left. The person most displeased by this counterattack on Sanders surely must be Trump. Sanders is the candidate Trump most wants to run against. And that should tell Democrats something.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Is Barack Obama Too Moderate For 2020 Democrats?

Who would have ever thought that in his post-presidency years, Barack Obama would take a hard turn to the right? But lately he’s earned praise from sharp-edged conservatives while getting the side-eye from progressives.

“Good for Obama. (Not sarcastic!)” tweeted Ann Coulter.

“What’s really nice to hear is Barack Obama standing up for our rights and our values of the First Amendment,” said Fox News commentator Tomi Lahren.

These comments came after Obama criticized the censorious attitude of some on the left, particularly on college campuses. “There is this sense sometimes of, ‘The way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people,’ and that’s enough,” he said. “That’s not bringing about change.”

This is the latest marker he has laid down between himself and the progressive wing of his party. At a closed-door meeting in March, The Washington Post reported, “Obama gently warned a group of freshman House Democrats Monday evening about the costs associated with some liberal ideas popular in their ranks.”

Out on the campaign trail, Joe Biden is unusual in playing up his ties to Obama. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, by contrast, treat the last Democratic president as too nice and too cautious. They make it clear they intend to be far more aggressive in pushing drastic change.

Most of the Democratic presidential candidates have repudiated Obama, explicitly or implicitly, by endorsing single-payer, Medicare-style health care coverage — rather than an upgrade of his Affordable Care Act.

Sanders sounds nothing like Obama when he tweets, “Billionaires should not exist.” Warren’s favorite word, “fight,” serves to separate her from the conciliatory, unifying themes Obama often deployed. Julian Castro — who was, keep in mind, a member of Obama’s Cabinet — has attacked Biden over Obama’s immigration policies.

Whatever happened to the symbol of hope and change who became the darling of progressives as he challenged establishment candidate Hillary Clinton in 2008? When Obama won the nomination, liberals were thrilled; when he won the election, they were ecstatic. But today, he is increasingly seen as an under-ambitious compromiser who chased vainly after bipartisanship.

In fact, he is today what he was in 2008 and what he was in the White House: a moderate in temperament and tactics as well as policy. He hasn’t veered to the right, and he hasn’t migrated away from the left. He’s stayed in the middle of the road, where he was all along.

Conservatives routinely depicted Obama as a Saul Alinsky radical and an angry black militant, and some still do. The other day, an editorial in The Wall Street Journal likened his “polarizing governance” to that of Donald Trump, which is the equivalent of equating ginger ale with tequila. For all his restraint, Obama somehow drove right-wingers crazy.

They said his health insurance plan, modeled on that of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, was “socialism.” When he expressed empathy for Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American killed by a white vigilante, writer Abigail Thernstrom said Obama “should be ashamed of his effort to stir America’s turbulent, dangerous racial waters.” When he reached a deal with Iran to block it from developing nuclear weapons, Republicans accused him of craven appeasement.

But Obama insisted on preserving a central role for private health insurance. Liberal economists regarded his 2009 stimulus package as far too small to overcome the Great Recession. He steadily reduced the federal budget deficit, and an analysis by the libertarian Cato Institute pronounced him the “most frugal” president since Dwight Eisenhower.

Obama reminded whites of the harmful legacy of racism, but he also lamented the absence of fathers from many black families and exhorted African Americans to take “full responsibility for our own lives.” The deal with Iran would have blocked it from getting nuclear weapons for a decade or more.

His record is not one of a scheming Marxist or even a staunch lefty. It’s that of a sober moderate who sought practical solutions that could bridge partisan differences and yield concrete improvements.

It’s a stark contrast with what the country could expect from Sanders or Warren, who might actually live up to all the false fears once trumpeted about Obama. Republicans were eager to be rid of him, but in time, they may echo Tomi Lahren: “Just remember that we used to think Barack Obama was bad.”

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

IMAGE: President Barack Obama speaks during his last press conference at the White House in Washington, January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Top Democratic Candidates Pitch To Union Voters

Bernie Sanders lives 1,100 miles away in Vermont but, sharing a stage with three union leaders and four bales of hay at a racetrack amid Iowa cornfields, he couldn’t have been more at home.

“Let me thank you all for being here, my union brothers and sisters,” the Vermont senator bellowed, as some in the audience leapt to their feet, hollered and waved Sanders 2020 signs.

With his deeply progressive platform and unapologetic calls for a political revolution from the bottom up, Sanders’ natural constituency has long been working Americans. In 2016, he managed to appeal to many local labor groups and the rank-and-file of national unions, even as their leadership often backed the more-establishment Democratic primary choice in Hillary Clinton.

With 2020’s first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses less than three months away , Sanders is counting on his message to again resonate with union members — but has even stiffer competition this time to win them over.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is promising “big structural change” within the existing political system that can buoy everyday Americans at the expense of the rich. Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has longstanding relationships with many powerful unions and is betting his personal charisma can woo them, even if his more-moderate proposals may not energize all of their members.

“It might come down to between Joe, Bernie and Elizabeth,” Lon Kammeyer, a 70-year-old from Waterloo, Iowa, who is the community organizer for the Amalgamated Transit Union and was a fan of Sanders’ in 2016. He now says he won’t decide who to support this cycle until his union votes on a formal endorsement.

“What they all need to do,” Kammeyer said, “They need to speak out for unions.”

With an economy dominated by agriculture, Iowa is rarely associated with unions as much as states like Michigan, built for decades on manufacturing. About 8% of Iowa’s workforce belong to unions, less than the national average, but membership increased in 2018 as compared to the previous year for the first time since 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And Democrats see an opportunity to make inroads since the Republican-led Legislature in 2017 voted to reduce collective-bargaining rights for many public employees.

That “awakened people who may have been taking their wages and benefits for granted about how vulnerable they now are,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of Service Employees International Union.

Many of the country’s largest unions have yet to make 2020 endorsements, though Warren secured the support of the Working Families Party, the labor-aligned progressive group that backed Sanders in 2016. Biden began his presidential campaign with the International Association of Fire Fighters choosing him.

The push to appeal to labor was on display this weekend at a Cedar Rapids fish fry hosted by Rep. Abby Finkenauer, the second-youngest woman ever elected to Congress and a union favorite in her eastern Iowa district. This swath of the state includes many counties that supported Barack Obama but swung to Donald Trump in 2016.

Inside a Hawkeye Downs expo hall thick with the odor of cooking walleye, top Democrats took the stage one-by-one, trying to win over a heavily union crowd. Sanders proclaimed himself the most pro-labor member of Congress, and, in a nod to his surroundings, proclaimed, “I come from one of the most rural states in America and we have nothing to be ashamed about in rural America.”

Biden, too, said he was one of the most pro-union members of Congress during his long Senate career, telling the crowd, “I know I’ve been criticized at the front end: ‘Joe’s too pro-union,'” to which some Sanders supporters shook their heads.

Still, fire fighters were out in force for the former vice president, especially when Biden said that unions help workers retain basic decency against wealthy interests determined to roll over them: “You are the ones who keep the barbarians from the gate, man.”

Then there was Warren, who tells audiences all over the country that her brother, a retired crane operator, owes a solid pension to his union membership.

“Unions built America’s middle class,” Warren told the fish fry crowd in another line she uses frequently. “Unions will rebuild America’s middle class.”

Henry, the service employee union president, said that, nationally, there were more 2018 strikes and lockouts than during any year since 1986. Sanders, Biden, Warren and other Democratic presidential hopefuls have joined picket lines — including demonstrating with United Auto Workers at a General Motors plant in suburban Detroit and with Chicago teachers .

“This is an entirely different moment in the presidential campaign because we’re seeing candidates respond to the demands of workers and how are they going to fix an economy that, when you work for a living, you can’t even feed your family,” Henry said.

The Sanders campaign says it has used its contacts list to send hundreds of thousands of emails and texts urging supporters to attend union-led strikes around the country, as well to back protests of employees at companies like Amazon.

On one of the race’s key issues, health care, Sanders and Warren support universal insurance coverage under a “Medicare for All” plan. But both have included caveats to protect existing health coverage that was collectively bargained. Biden supports a “public option” to compete alongside private insurance.

Teresa Glover, 49 and from Dubuque, Iowa, listened to all the candidates attending the fish fry, but said she’s long since settled on Warren despite her husband, who works in insurance, potentially losing his job if Medicare for All becomes a reality.

“She seems genuinely happy and excited to be applying for the job,” Glover said of Warren seeking the presidency.

Kammeyer, the community organizer who walked the fish fry with a jacket emblazoned with the nickname “Mr. Union,” said he has had a chance to meet top Democratic presidential candidates at various, small meetings at union halls around Iowa.

“Biden will walk up to you on the street and talk to you,” Kammeyer said, noting that Sanders and Warren are similarly approachable. “But 45 (Trump)? If he died, I wouldn’t tinkle on his grave. I don’t want to wait in line that long.”

IMAGE: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

The Senate Needs Strong Democratic Voices

Stacey Abrams, please change your mind.

Earlier this week, upon hearing news of the impending retirement of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Abrams released a statement saying that she would not seek the seat. That’s too bad.

Georgia isn’t a purple state quite yet — it still has a reddish hue — but Abrams, former minority leader of the Georgia Senate, likely stands a better chance than any other Democrat of re-coloring the electoral map by capturing the seat. While she lost her bid for governor last year, she finished with a very respectable total, winning 48.8 percent of votes cast. It was the closest race for governor in Georgia since 1966, according to political experts.

If the reign of Mitch McConnell has taught us anything (aside from the truth of that old adage about the link between power and corruption), it’s that the U.S. Senate is critically important in determining the fate of the nation. Americans naturally focus on the authority of the president; the man or woman who inhabits the Oval Office is believed to hold the power to correct the economy, safeguard our constitutional rights and defeat our enemies abroad. But Congress is a co-equal branch of government, and the upper chamber has been given a special role by the U.S. Constitution.

As long as Trump-happy Republicans remain in charge, the federal judiciary will steadily harden into a formidable barrier against progressive forces; protections for the environment and consumers will continue to erode; and corporations and the wealthy will continue to enjoy special political privileges that lay waste to the concept of the common good. The obstructionist rule of Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, has been especially detrimental.

Even as minority leader, McConnell used protocol and procedure to gum up the works, preventing President Barack Obama from passing many of his legislative priorities. In 2010, McConnell infamously declared that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” He didn’t achieve that, but he did manage to derail many of the president’s second-term priorities. When Republicans gained control of the Senate in 2014, McConnell’s talent for forcing party discipline helped him to block Obama’s last U.S. Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland.

The Trump presidency has merely magnified McConnell’s power, not only his ability to force through right-wing Supreme Court justices but also to block commonsense policies. McConnell has even refused to allow a vote on a bill, already passed by the House of Representatives, that would give states more money to protect their elections from foreign interference. Why?

Still, he has good reason to be optimistic that his malignant reign will continue. Electoral math and political terrain make 2020 a challenging year for Democrats hoping to take control of the upper chamber. They would have to hold on to every Senate seat they now control, and that won’t be easy. Alabama’s lone Democratic senator, Doug Jones, won his seat because of special circumstances — a vile opponent named Roy Moore — that worked in his favor. Jones is particularly vulnerable in his re-election bid.

In addition to retaining the seats they now control, Democrats need to pick up three seats currently held by Republicans. (That’s if Democrats win the White House; if Trump is re-elected, Democrats would need to pick up four seats for effective control.) While 23 Republican senators are up for re-election next year, most are in states considered likely or certain GOP territory.

Isakson’s announcement, though, makes one formerly certain seat a little less so.

His replacement, who will be named by Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, will surely be a hardcore conservative, and that new senator will bring the advantage of incumbency to the campaign in 2020. But he or she won’t have Isakson’s stature.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee should get serious about including Georgia in next year’s prospects, starting with recruiting an excellent candidate. Getting rid of McConnell ought to be every bit as compelling as getting rid of Trump.