Sunday, January 31, 2016

"Ghosts": Up Against The Establishment With Bernie Sanders (& The Jam)

“Why are you frightened, can’t you see that it’s you
That ain't no ghost, it's a reflection of you
Why do turn it away, an' keep it out of sight?

“Oh, don't live up to your given roles
There's more inside you that you won't show"
--The Jam, "Ghosts"

The "adults" in the room are panicking. They're visibly nervous and sweating, even shaking a little bit. You can practically see the clamminess glistening off their palms. What other conclusion can you reach when Hillary Clinton sends her Hollywood buddies -- who work once a year, even as they remind us, "I'm just like you" -- to verbally pile on her opponent, Bernie Sanders, for having the nerve to question how she can call herself a reformer...

...when she and her husband, Bill Clinton, have hauled in $125 million in speaking fees since they left the White House in 2000. Seems like a rational question to me, but that's probably why you won't hear Clinton broach that subject on the campaign trail. Still, as we head Monday into the first Democratic contest in Iowa, it's time to touch on why a vote for Sanders might actually mean something.

The Squawker and I have weathered a hellish month. Our ordeal began at the end of December, when an ice storm killed two days of power -- forcing us to spend $150 that we didn't really have. Like most households on pinched budgets, this situation created a budgetary tsunami of massive proportions.

I've had to borrow money for food, and pay my phone and car registration. I paid my car insurance premium on the last possible day (before they charge for two months, instead of one). Last Tuesday, I had a tire blow out, which forced me to find another $100 from out of the blue. We've gone to food pantries and community dinners to stretch an already slender food budget. If I could summarize the mood, it might be: "Been There, Done That, Torn Up The T-Shirt."

Same as it ever was.
Same as it ever was.
Same as it ever was. it...ever...was.

“But there's no need, just 'cause it's all we've known
There's more inside you that you haven't shown”

Such experiences naturally make you ornery, which is only one reason why I won't give Clinton my vote. The media calls her a better campaigner than in 2008, but I don't see it, especially as you ponder her positioning as "the candidate of continuity," which I'd paraphrase like this: "If you loved the '90s, you'll love me. Help me bring back those heady days of Soul Asylum soundtracking the Inaugural Ball, and the go-go finance that kept the Slacker Generation safely on their couches."

However, nostalgia is often a lie, and Hillary's brand of hullabaloo is no different. Though she often claims that her husband helped the little guy, that doesn't square with my own experience. During that era, I held three jobs, which paid raises of roughly 75 cents to $1.50. Needless to say, I didn't get them all in one sitting. Talk about leaving pennies on the kitchen table! Meanwhile, Clinton presided over one of the most sweeping deregulatory frenzies in recent memory -- and one that exceeded the expectations of the most diehard government-hating Reaganaut.

The bill came due in 2008, when the economy tanked, and the banks -- bigger and flusher than ever, thanks to their Clinton-era goodies -- came cap in hand, asking for more money. Obama showed little more stomach for a fight than his Democratic predecessor, so he crowbarred his congressional allies into coughing up the $800 million that the banks demanded as the price of propping up the economy (read: Bahamian vacations, bonuses, golden parachutes). By contrast, when Iceland weathered a similar crash, its government responded by breaking up the biggest banks, sending the most flagrant violators to prison, and returning the money to its people. Hmm...maybe I should buy a plane ticket for Reykjavik?

“One day you'll walk by, out of this life
And then you'll wonder why you didn't even try"

By contrast, it's not hard to see why Bernie Sanders draws record crowds. He asks us to imagine a better future than the dog-eat-dog hell we've been creating since the go-go '90s, when the safety net started shredding at indecent speed. How well Bernie's big plans pan out remains to be seen, assuming that he can make it past Iowa, and New Hampshire, which seem like good demographic matches for him -- but verbally, at least, his rhetoric marks a major advance on the tip-toeing timidity that characterized the Clinton and Obama eras.

Sanders is often dismissed as starry-eyed and unrealistic by detractors who prefer to ignore their own mulligans -- like the endless Afghan and Iraq wars that bankrupted the country. Funnily enough, I don't recall anybody asking many hard questions about those ventures. They certainly didn't come from the countless Baby Boomer-era journalists who embedded themselves with the military to live out some warped Ernest Hemingway-esque fantasies -- only Ernest would probably have asked a few harder questions. Nor does the wave of mainstream media endorsements for Clinton -- including the Boston GlobeDes Moines RegisterNew York Times -- impress me. After all, the newspaper industry is struggling, and undoubtedly dreams about some kind of life preserver getting tossed out by a prospective Clinton administration.

Yet, in spite of this dismal litany, Clinton and her allies ask us to hold our noses yet again, because -- God forbid -- you don't want some nasty Republican behind the desk at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, right?  This dilemma is typically described as tactical voting, which -- as the term implies -- is commonly done to pursue a strategic objective, like keeping an undesirable candidate from winning an office. Examples include the Edwin Edwards-David Duke gubernatorial slugfest in 1991, which forced a truly unenviable choice on Louisiana voters: elect the rascal (Edwards), or his ex-Klan opponent? 

And, as that Shakespeare chap once suggested, therein lies the rub. Tactical voting hardly implies happiness with your lot. How could it, when you're often presented with that evil of two lessers dilemma? However, if you accept the realpolitik argument (Sanders can't win 'cause the Republicans will paint him a nice shade of pink, blah-blah-blah), and cast your vote for Hillary on that basis, don't expect anything. Clinton's willingness to scoop up dark money and finance industry money makes her an uncertain advocate, at best, for the kind of reform that this country desperately needs. Trust me: I'll keep a box score on that one, if she wins.

“So why are you frightened, can’t you see that it’s you
At the moment there’s nothing, so there’s nothing to lose
Lift up your lonely heart and walk right on through”

Like many political decisions, mine just simply comes down to good old-fashioned gut feeling. If nothing else, the contentious Clinton-Sanders matchup has shone a bright light on the Democratic Party's glaring disconnect between its troops in the trenches, and the donor base that actually writes the checks. Going by the last two Democratic presidencies, that gap isn't getting any better -- because once the ink dries on all those campaign promises, the troops in the trenches get shut out and shit on. But they're just the mooks whose job is to shut up (and suck it up) once the last image of the electoral victory party fades from the screen. To the donor base, that's just the natural order of things.

In my view, however, it's exactly this warped dynamic that has pushed our country to the brink of disaster. As I've observed before on this subject, realpolitik doesn't improve real people's lives. Yes, politics is a game of inches. I get that. However, if you end up settling for weaker policies -- or gutted ones, or sidetracked ones, or postponed ones -- then what have you accomplished? That's an uncomfortable truth often lost in all the cattle trading.

America's dance with voodoo economics has lasted since Reagan's election in 1980, with predictable results. I've watched this two-step play out for half a lifetime now. How much longer must I wait for something else? I'd rather reach for bigger possibilities than accept another round of the same-old, same-old -- which is why "Ghosts" remains one of my all-time favorite songs (appearing on the Jam's last album,
The Gift (1982), during the equally noxious Thatcherist era). According to its composer, Paul Weller, "I was trying to call out to my generation, a rallying call in the name of inspiration and fulfillment." Keep those words close to your heart, wherever you're heading to the ballot box. And don't let anyone tell you any differently. Especially the donor class. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Read 'Em & Hurry
Before More Dark Money Falls Off The Tree):
Common Dreams:
Iceland Jailed Bankers
& Rejected Austerity: And It's Been A Success:

The Washington Post: Bernie Sanders Is The Realist We Should Elect

Think Progress:
Iceland, Where Bankers Actually Go To Jail
For Committing White-Collar Crimes:

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