Bernie to Deliver Captive Constituencies to the Democratic Convention

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Bernie will take his campaign all the way to the convention. We called him a sheepdog back in May 2015, and he's filling exactly that role, enticing the Dems' captive constituencies back into the trunk of the party one more time, where their votes will count but not their demands.  The issues that made supporters "feel the Bern" will be ignored. That's what it means to be a captive constituency.

Bernie to Deliver Captive Constituencies to the Democratic Convention

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

To absolutely nobody's surprise, Senator Bernie Sanders vowed to take his presidential candidacy all the way to the June California primary and the Democratic convention in late July, regardless of Hillary Clinton's insurmountable lead in the delegate votes which actually select the Democratic party's candidate for November.

A full year ago I branded the Sanders campaign as a sheepdog operation, a gambit employed by Democrats whenever there's no Democratic incumbent.

The sheepdog is a presidential candidate running ostensibly to the left of the establishment Democrat to whom the billionaires will award the nomination. Sheepdogs are herders, and the sheepdog candidate is charged with herding activists and voters back into the Democratic fold who might otherwise drift leftward and outside of the Democratic party, either staying home or trying to build something outside the two party box.

1984 and 88 the sheepdog candidate was Jesse Jackson. In 92 it was California governor Jerry Brown. In 2000 and 2004 the designated sheepdog was Al Sharpton, and in 2008 it was Dennis Kucinich. This year it's Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. The function of the sheepdog candidate is to give left activists and voters a reason, however illusory, to believe there's a place of influence for them inside the Democratic party, if and only if the eventual Democratic nominee can win in November.”

The problem for Bernie's supporters is that they have no influence among actual Democratic party shot callers. They might be the same color but they're not the same class.

When Democratic honchos look at the US they don't see massive inequality and injustice.  They don't see tens of millions still without health care, and tens of millions more too poor to use it. They don't see that wages have not risen in forty years, or that the prison and police state squats in the center of millions of families lives. The shot callers of the Democrat party , from from President Obama to Hillary and Joe Biden (the author of the 1996 Clinton Crime Bill) to big city mayors and their big time funders, from the Hollywood and hedge fund savants to the gentrifiers and Wall Street are oligarchs. When they look at the US they think they see meritocracy at work, with the cream rising like themselves rising to the top.

Democrat shot callers don't care one bit about the unemployed, about fast food workers, postal workers, bus drivers, Wal-Mart workers, or people whose good jobs moved to China or no longer exist. Democratic shot callers don't care about public school teachers or students or the communities those schools anchor. They don't care about working class immigrants (wealthy ones are a different matter though) or people living in areas about to be gentrified.

In the world of the Democratic party's shot callers, students drowning in education debt, families drowning in medical debt, blacks, browns, immigrants, the working class are all “captive constituencies.”  If recent experience is to be believed, Thomas Frank, the author of “Listen Liberal" seems exactly correct when he concludes that those in charge of the Democratic party hold the people that party calls its "base voters" in contempt.  They are voters with nowhere else to go. The complaints of Democratic "base voters" will be reluctantly entertained only during the primary season.  After that the base voters, labor, black and brown people and the rest will be sternly admonished to unite, to grow up, shut up, sit down and get Ready For Hillary who's As Good As It Gets. What else they gonna do, vote for Republicans? For Trump?

Captive constituencies DO have their uses, mind you. Allowing them to let off steam on the convention floor and in the lead up to the convention creates the illusion that Hillary is emerging from some small-d democratic give and take, rather than having been simply anointed by the billionaires. For those whose need for good news is stronger than their attachment to reality, some of the captives can be put out front to make it appear that their positions actually ARE Hillary's. Some of candidate Barack Obama's surrogates made amazing promises back in 2007 and 2008.  Captive constituents vote by the millions.

But when it comes to Democrats actually governing, the captive constituents of Democrats get no say. They don't drive the car, even from the back seat. They didn't drive the car when Bill Clinton was in the White House, they didn't drive the car during President Obama's turn, and they won't get near the steering wheel during a Hillary Clinton presidency either. Captive constituents don't steer the car, they ride in the trunk. They needed good public schools, they got punitive testing, charters and privatization. They needed and still need good jobs and got NAFTA, the end of welfare. They needed debt relief but they got student loans, phony housing loans and payday loans. They needed an end to the US global empire which gobbles half the nation's wealth every year, and they got a Nobel Peace Prize president who invades African countries, pursues a strategy of confrontation with Russia, a president who drone bombs children in Africa and the Middle East, a president who's building and deploying an entire new class of modernized nuclear warheads.

Bernie's supporters, the Democrats' captive constituencies, can holler at the convention.  They can pine and petition for Sanders to run as a Green (legally impossible in most states) they can demand that Hillary do this and that. It doesn't matter. Corporate media and the Democratic party's rules have been exquisitely managed ove rthe years to ensure that Hillary doesn't have to listen and she won't. The Democratic party has honed and developed its anti-Democratic procedures like the superdelegates for exactly this reason, so that captives remain captives and the wealthy call the shots.

Deep in his heart of hearts, Bernie probably does want to be president, and in the heat of a campaign may have convinced himself it's possible. But it's acting and Bernie is an actor too in a year long tryuout for what Ronald Reagan called “the role of a lifetime.” No matter what Bernie believes, he's playing the sheepdog role to the end.  Bernie is delivering the Democrta's captive constituents to the convention floor, as powerless to affect the convention's outcome as if they were bound and gagged. As we said a year ago...

The sheepdog's job is to divert the energy and enthusiasm of activists a year, a year and a half out from a November election away from building an alternative to the Democratic party, and into his doomed effort. When the sheepdog inevitably folds in the late spring or early summer before a November election, there's no time remaining to win ballot access for alternative parties or candidates, no time to raise money or organize any effective challenge to the two capitalist parties.

The noise about Bernie running again as a Green after the Democratic convention is utter nonsense. Many states have “sore loser” laws prohibiting anyone from running as a third party candidate after losing a Republican or Democrat primary. Most others have laws setting dates by which presidential candidates must file as Democrats, Republicans, independents or some other party. Many of those deadlines have passed already, and by the convention it will be legally impossible to get on the ballot in many states unless those states change their laws very quickly.

I think I called it correctly last year. Whether Bernie knows or cares either way, he's still the sheepdog in this year's race, herding strays back into the two party fold one more time. Bernie is doing his job, and doing it as well as anybody can expect. He'll deliver the Democrats captive constituents to the convention in Philly where they can briefly air their complaints. The question is how many of those captives will put the gags back in their own mouths, and climb into Hillary's' trunk after the convention. How many will cast their ballots out of fear of the White Man's Party and call it “strategic voting?” And how many of the captives will run, and where will they go?

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and the co-chair of the Georgia Green Party, which is eager to accept former captives of the Democratic party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via email at [email protected].