The meek-as-a-Lamb “opposition”

March 20, 2018

Democratic leaders want the party base to unite behind Republican Lite candidates and wait for November--but the resistance to the right needs to be organized now.

BE CAREFUL what you wish for because you might get it.

Democrats are celebrating the victory of their candidate in a Pennsylvania special election for Congress in a district that Donald Trump won by almost 20 percentage points in 2016.

Conor Lamb barely eked out his win, and his U.S. House seat will disappear after the November elections because of court-ordered redistricting, but Democrats still see the election as a good sign for their hopes of winning back control of Congress.

It's certainly satisfying to watch Donald Trump and the Republicans lose this election after they went all-in--complete with frenzied rallies featuring Trump.

But Lamb begs the question of what Democratic control of Congress would look like. If it's anything like him--an ex-Marine and former prosecutor who tacks with the NRA line on guns, "personally opposes" abortion and couldn't be coaxed by the media into criticizing Trump--then the millions of people who hope the Democrats will put the brakes on the Trump blitzkrieg will likely be disappointed.

Joe Biden (left) campaigns for newly elected Congressman Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania's 18th district
Joe Biden (left) campaigns for newly elected Congressman Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania's 18th district

This is a rerun of the well-deserved defeat of Bible-thumping sexual predator Roy Moore in the special election in Alabama last December. The Democratic victor, Doug Jones, went to the Senate and promptly started voting with Republicans, when he wasn't defending Trump against allegations of sexual assault.

Bernie Sanders supporters who hope to steer the Democratic Party in a different direction with their own candidates and agenda should take heed: The party establishment and its mainstream liberal defenders see Conor Lamb and his Republican Lite campaign as the road to follow, and they have no intention of tolerating any detours to the left.

Trump and his shrinking circle of true-believer reactionaries are stoking opposition every day with their bombast and reactionary outrages, and it will seem like common sense to millions of people that they should vote for a Democrat in the November midterm elections to stop the right.

But the basis for building a real anti-Trump resistance could be seen this month to the south of Conor Lamb's Pennsylvania district: In West Virginia, where teachers rebelled against a Republican-dominated state government and kept the schools closed until they won the raise they deserved for themselves and all state workers.

As November gets closer, the pressure will grow more and more intense on anyone who wants to stop Trump and the right to put struggle and activism on hold, and work on getting Democrats elected to Congress.

Socialists and the left need to stand against this pressure--and make the case that we should follow the example of West Virginia teachers in fighting back now, rather than trying to elect more Lambs in Trump clothing.

"A GOD-fearing, union-supporting, gun-owning, job-protecting, pension-defending, Social Security-believing, sending-drug-dealers-to-jail Democrat." That's how Conor Lamb was described at a pre-election rally--by United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts, no less.

Roberts ought to know better about unions cheerleading another Republican-Lite Democrat. Once installed in Congress, previous versions have become obstacles to labor's priorities in Washington.

Lamb certainly fits the profile. During his campaign, he was pro-military, "socially conservative," opposed to a ban on assault weapons--one pandering campaign ad showed him firing an AR-15--and determined to avoid criticism of Trump.

Yet according to the liberal establishment, Lamb is "proof of concept for a strategy that could replicate itself across the country," wrote pundit Jonathan Chait at New York magazine.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which oversees the party's national strategy for House elections, has turned the reins over to the most conservative wing of the party: the so-called "Blue Dogs," a caucus that formed in the mid-1990s as a home for Democrats who thought the triangulating Clinton administration was too liberal.

DCCC Chair Ben Ray Luján promised last year that there would be no "litmus test for Democratic candidates" so the party could support "candidates that fit the district." Bob Moser provided the translation at Rolling Stone: "This is code for: You can hate abortion and Obamacare and love guns and run like a Republican, and we'll still support you if we think you can win."

The DCCC and party apparatus aren't just promoting business-friendly social conservatives as candidates. They're actively opposing progressive challengers.

In probably the most outrageous example, the DCCC ran a smear campaign worthy of Breitbart News against Laura Moser, who is running for the Democratic nomination for a U.S. House seat from Houston. Moser was accused--by the Democratic Party apparatus--of being a "Washington insider" who overcame her "outright disgust for life in Texas" to move back to the state in order to run for Congress.

Moser was endorsed by Bernie Sanders, who has pinned his strategy of transforming the Democratic Party on candidates like her. "As we work to create Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress," Sanders wrote in an e-mail to supporters earlier this year, "I will be giving special focus to a core group of up-and-coming progressive candidates at the national and state level.

The DCCC has served notice that they'll have a different kind of "special focus" on any candidate that might upset the neoliberal status quo within the Democratic Party.

This highlights the contradiction of Sanders' "work from within" strategy that many on the left are attracted to: He is devoted to "creating majorities in Congress" for a party whose leadership demands his loyalty, while smearing his supporters and opposing the progressive agenda he stands for.

LAMB'S VICTORY and every other election advance for the Democrats since last year have clearly been driven by widespread hatred of Trump. So why are party leaders christening Conor Lamb, who refused to criticize the Bigot-in-Chief, as their midterm model?

It isn't because Democrats don't understand the mood. Party leaders know from long experience that they can count on fear and loathing of the Republicans to propel their base voters to the polls.

What they don't want are candidates winning office who would threaten the priorities of the "base" that the Democratic establishment cares most about: Corporate America.

That's why party leaders are perfectly happy with a Republican-in-disguise like Doug Jones serving in the Senate.

This month, Jones was one of 17 Democratic senators who supported Republican legislation to gut Dodd-Frank, the Obama-era law that put new regulations on Wall Street and major banks in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown.

Dodd-Frank was a watered-down alternative to measures that would have had more teeth, but Wall Street hated it anyway, and Republicans have been trying to undermine it ever since.

They finally got their way thanks to the Democratic Party.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia--another supporter of gutting Dodd-Frank even though he was an author of the original legislation--claimed that small, locally based banks were suffering under regulations designed to control the banking giants, and needed a break.

But as liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren pointed out, the rollback "permits about 25 of the 40 largest banks in America to escape heightened scrutiny and to be regulated as if they were tiny little community banks that could have no impact on the economy."

As the Democrat most associated Dodd-Frank, Warren waged a sharp campaign against the Republican-sponsored bill and publicly criticized Democrats who signed on. But she stopped short of challenging Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who was against the GOP legislation for the record, but did nothing as leader of the party in the Senate to stop fellow Democrats from joining the Republican crusade.

In other words, Warren finds herself in the same position as Sanders--of remaining loyal to a party that uses her image as a liberal to maintain support among the base, while backing down from a fight over one of the issues Warren cares most about.

KEEP AN eye out for the Democrats' all-talk-and-no-action pattern of behavior in the coming week as the Senate prepares for confirmation hearings for CIA Director Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel as the new head of the spy agency.

As Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, wrote in an article for the Guardian, Haspel "should be arrested, not promoted" to head the CIA for her role in the torture of "war on terror" detainees during the Bush administration--and for destroying evidence of these crimes, to boot.

Actually, Haspel is free to order torture again because the Democrats let the Bush administration criminals off the hook--it was one of the ugly capitulations of the Obama years that they were never prosecuted or even punished.

There shouldn't be any question about where anyone with an ounce of decency stands on confirming Haspel or her boss. Already, Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul and John McCain have spoken up. But Schumer hasn't yet gone as far as these conservative Republicans and called on Senate Democrats to oppose confirmation.

The Democrats may still put up a fight, but don't count on it. Pompeo was already known to be a Tea-Partying, torture-supporting, climate-change-denying, war-on-Iran-saber-rattling reactionary when the Senate confirmed him a year ago as head of the CIA by a 66-32 margin, with 14 Democrats--Schumer among them--voting yes.

This November, millions of people who want to stop Trump will feel like they have no other option but to vote for the Democrats. The left needs to repeat: Be careful what you wish for.

Or as Eugene V. Debs put it another way: "I'd rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don't want and get it."

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