Tactics and the 2016 elections

BY:John Bachtell| June 15, 2015
Tactics and the 2016 elections

The remarks by John Bachtell were delivered to the CPUSA National Board, on May 6, 2015. It is the first of several discussions.

Announcements by candidates running for president are coming fast and furious. So I guess the 2016 elections campaign has begun.

This is the first of many discussions we’ll have over the next year and a half, dealing with many new developments, political turns, ideological challenges and mobilization in the movements.

We need to be in tune with the issues being wrestling with, how labor and the core forces are approaching things and discussions taking place among progressive and left forces.

I’ve been particularly struck by reactions to Hillary Clinton’s presidential announcement, which range from hostility to indignation to excitement. Some made me scratch my head: “I want a woman president, but not this one.” “I’ll be sitting out the 2016 elections,” “I will never support her” and so on. Some went so far as to declare little difference between Clinton and the Republican candidates. One person described, “Scott Walker vs Clinton” as “Pepsi vs Pepsi Light.”

There are echoes of this in our Party. Some want to draw a line in the sand to express their moral outrage over any number of positions held by Clinton. But we have to help people see the bigger picture, the dynamics unfolding, and think tactically and strategically.

The visceral hatred expressed by the Republicans toward Clinton, especially all of the Republican male candidates ganging up on her, not one of them a supporter of women’s rights, is unseemly. This may be one reason why Carly Fiorina is a candidate; it gives them cover.

I don’t think nasty and mean spirited attacks go over well among voters, particularly women voters. Especially when it is possible to make history by electing the first woman president.

Election campaigns – like politics – are all about coalition-building. In that sense I agree with a recent op-ed written by Paul Krugman in the New York Times – these elections are more about parties (coalitions) and policies than personalities. This isn’t meant to discount the role of personalities in inspiring and motivating, as we saw during the 2008 and 2012 campaigns with Obama.

Whether Clinton can assemble a winning coalition or her campaign is mortally wounded by controversy remains to be seen. So far it looks like the email issue is not a big deal among voters according to polls.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, will energize the primaries and debates and will influence what is talked about. We’re seeing it already with overflow crowds in Iowa and New Hampshire and concerns being expressed by the Clinton campaign. His candidacy can activate many who are disillusioned or those who desire a stronger anti-Wall Street voice.

What a great thing a self-described democratic socialist is running. It means more progressive and even radical proposals will get discussed among millions including Medicare for all, Wall Street regulation, opposition to TPP and TTIP, taxing the rich and wealth redistribution, labor law reform, rising incomes for workers, expanding Social Security, developing a peaceful foreign policy and cutting the military budget and American style socialism. Sanders will talk about things Clinton can’t or won’t speak about.

From being on the margins, socialism is part of the discussion, although how much remains to be seen. 52% of Democratic voters have no problem with it.

Both Clinton and Sanders are setting a good tone toward each other. “I’m not running to attack Hillary, but to raise issues that face the working class of this country,” said Sanders. This is important for maintaining unity during and after the primaries.

Inflicting a defeat on the GOP and ultra right is not possible without assembling a broad multi-class, multi-racial coalition of all the major social forces.

And it has to include political independents and even moderate Republicans. It means making inroads in “red” states and districts.

Only this kind of vision and breadth is capable of defeating the extreme right coalition of forces, grouped in and around the GOP.

The gulf between these coalitions is as wide as the Grand Canyon and who wins has enormous consequences. A victory would put the people’s coalition led by labor in a more advantageous position to fight the ultra right and neo-liberal offensive being unleashed by the capitalist class.

It’s impossible to move to more advanced stages without defeating the ultra right, removing it as an obstacle. For example, it’s hard to conceive of advanced stages of struggle without a bigger, better organized, more united and more politically and class conscious working class and organized labor movement and its broad alliances, a prerequisite for social progress.

But this rests on the assumption that one views the ultra right as the main danger to democracy and social progress.

One could argue the ultra right poses one of the greatest dangers to life on Earth. Climate scientists are issuing increasingly dire warnings and calling for more urgent action to stem global warming. If Republicans win, they are sure to undo actions by the Obama administration to curb greenhouse gas emissions, disable the EPA, block global climate treaties and allow the energy transnationals to write federal policy.

I am not suggesting labor, the democratic movements, the left and communists should passively support whoever is nominated. Nor is anyone advocating voting for the “lesser of two evils,” which itself is a no-struggle concept, which doesn’t acknowledge the right danger. Far from it, this strategy views the broad people’s movement and left as dynamic change agents, actively shaping issues, program and candidates.

The essence of our role is helping to convincingly argue what is at stake, and help assemble the broad coalition, add to its breadth, depth and unity, deepen its political consciousness, broaden its perspective and inspire and mobilize it to the polls; to help shape the issues and solutions.

To be actively engaged at every level: practically and in the battle of ideas, on a daily basis.

I think the AFL-CIO is showing the way on this including in both how the question is presented and in tone. They have developed a “measuring stick” for candidates called the “Raising Wages” agenda.

AFL-CIO president Trumka described it as a broad vision that includes earned sick leave, full employment and fair overtime rules for workers. “It also includes taxing Wall Street to pay for massive investments in infrastructure and education, so Wall Street serves Main Street, not the other way around,” he said “and the ability for workers to bargain collectively with employers for good wages and benefits without the fear of retaliation.

Connecting the activism of all those who are pouring into the streets to Fight for $15, protesting police murders, marching for action on the climate crisis, marriage equality, women’s rights, students for debt relief, those fighting for immigration reform, curbing the climate crisis – in short the broad people’s movement led by labor – with the 2016 elections will be decisive.

Activism is key to determining what issues will be fought over. The political atmosphere is different today largely because of these movements. Austerity has been discredited. Majorities support a higher minimum wage, taxing the rich (52%), marriage equality, action on the climate, immigration reform and police brutality, reducing mass incarceration and sentencing reform (big shift in public opinion).

Even though the country is divided, and the right wing has control of much of the political apparatus, there are majorities emerging on key issues.

If the election terrain is based on issues advanced by the austerity “zombies” or war hawks, the political atmosphere and debate shifts to the right, and with it all the candidates.

Republicans offer nothing new here: supply side, trickle down, austerity economics, chipping away at Social Security, denying climate change, ending immigration reform, etc.

At this moment they are out of step with voters, 60% of whom want to see a continuation of the Obama policies.

It’s not entirely clear who will emerge out of the Republican primaries although it looks like Jeb Bush has the support of the Republican establishment, who desperately want an “electable” candidate. However, the Koch brothers are committed to raising $1 billion to back Scott Walker. Another billionaire patron is bankrolling Marco Rubio. There are sharp disagreements among factions of the Republican Party.

If the election is defined around vast income inequality, the climate crisis and other issues facing working families, then the ultra right will be placed on the defensive. The bigger and more united the movements, the more favorable the terrain of struggle.

All the candidates will have to adjust to shifts in public opinion. Even Clinton shouldn’t be viewed statically. The country and the movements are not the same as the 1990s, nor is Clinton.

Clinton certainly has many problems and limitations. She also has many advantages over the declared and potential Democratic candidates. She is best equipped to appeal to the core forces – she has developed the best and deepest relationships with labor, African American, Latino organizations, women’s groups, etc.

She has decades of experience dealing with the ultra right and has been hardened in those battles.

As distasteful as it is, she is in the best position to raise the $1 billion it will take to win.

She has already taken some forthright positions including on issues of income inequality, mass incarceration, reforming sentencing guidelines, advocates a path to citizenship for undocumented workers and their families, supports continuation of Obama’s policies on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, etc.

She has adopted rhetoric of Elizabeth Warren on income inequality and is taking steps to reach out to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. She understands the need for unity of the various wings and trends.

While she will distance herself from Obama to a certain degree, she also embraces most of his policies.

On the other hand, while Sanders is by far the best on most issues, he was slow to articulate a response on police brutality.

Of course Clinton will take some positions labor and democratic movements will not like and the movements will be quick to oppose her on them. She must court a substantial section of Wall Street to win. That is a given which means advisors, money, etc. from Wall Street. But she needs labor and allies too.

It’s the nature of this multi-class coalition.

How do labor and its allies deal with the Democratic candidates when there is disagreement on neo-liberal policies, TPP, a more aggressive foreign policy, education privatization, etc.?

First, no one issue will make or break labor’s support, although as Trumka warned, one’s position on TPP or TTIP would certainly be considered in any endorsement. It’s vital to keep building movements, to shift the debate and public opinion to make it more difficult to espouse positions opposed by labor and the people’s movements. We express our differences and are part of helping to shift public opinion.

Labor and the core forces, progressives, the left, including our members will likely be active in various campaigns through the primaries. This is nothing new. Our role has to be to promote unity of forces coming out of primaries, and keep the focus on defeating the ultra right.

Therefore we need to continue to promote the issues, build the movements that will shape the elections and the debates and discussions. It’s also within this context that more advanced ideas can be raised, for example expanding Social Security and increasing benefits, scrapping the cap on taxing the wealthy, radically reducing the military budget and turning to sustainability, etc.

Secondly, the movements have a big role in building broad based multi-racial unity and activating, educating and drawing into the election process millions of voters including new and emerging movements like #blacklivesmatter, ending student debt and others.

It will be necessary to extend the reach of the movements, build their influence and engage people in “red” districts and states. It will mean engaging white communities who have been inundated with racist and right wing poison.

Such a strategy will create a more favorable post election political terrain and help the movements emerge stronger, more united and with a deeper political conscious. Far from static, the anti-ultra right coalition is dynamic, an arena of unity, but also contestation. While the anti-ultra right coalition is being built, the class struggle is still raging. It can result in strengthening the pro-labor or progressive wing in relation to the Wall Street wing in and around the Democratic Party, and advance the process toward working class political independence.




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