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No matter how bad Democrats are, they are not Republicans
The two parties may both be capitalist and opposed to the interest of most people, but they are not the same
Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of the few members of Congress I genuinely like and respect (even if I don’t always agree with her), touted President Joe Biden’s success in finally passing legislation allowing the government to negotiate Medicare drug prices for certain medications. It’s far from the fundamental change needed in our health care system, or even in the pricing of medications, but it will make an enormous difference in the lives of millions of people on Medicare who will be able to afford the medicine they need.
No one who follows my work can be under the illusion that I have many kind thoughts to spare for Joe Biden. I am furious that the Democrats are forcing Americans to choose in 2024 between Donald Trump, or whoever the Republican candidate may be if Trump is prevented from running, and a deeply unpopular and weak candidate like Biden. It’s not only anti-democratic, but also downright stupid. It is the one path that could lead to Republican victory and the possible return of Trump.
I have strongly advocated for a progressive Democratic platform, even signing many of my social media posts with the phrase “We desperately need a better alternative to the fascist GOP.” I believe that reshaping the Democratic party, a monumental task, is still the better strategy than trying to launch a third party, a strategy which has been tried many times and has always failed. But I’m open to either; whatever works.
All that said, there is an element in the sharp criticism of the Democrats from the left that is absurd. That is the notion that there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats. Setting aside the few Democrats who are genuinely progressive such as Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar, Bernie Sanders, Jamaal Bowman, and a few others, Democrats are, overall, a pretty awful lot. They long ago abandoned the working class that should be their base in favor of an urban, and suburban, professional middle class that is too privileged to really care much about the masses of working people or issues of justice that don’t directly affect them. It’s a NIMBY constituency that is not going to mobilize for justice, especially if that justice threatens their relative privilege.
But that is still vastly different from a Republican party that seeks power for its own sake and peddles in racism, misogyny, homo- and transphobia, class conflict, and any other form of hate and anger they can find to achieve their ends.
It is simply not the case, especially in terms of domestic policy, that Democrats and Republicans are the same creature. That is why I so strongly advocate for the need to reshape the Democratic party, but when it comes to it, we must mobilize to block the Republican agenda at every turn until we can bring people together around a common, progressive agenda that is clearly superior to anything the mainstream Democrats and certainly Republican, offer.
And that brings us back to Joe Biden. Unfortunately, progressive leaders declined to press the Democrats to allow for primaries. Is it because of the false narrative that a tough primary can hurt a candidate? Maybe, although this such an obvious fallacy, it is stunning that so many people, including some smart ones, continue to subscribe to it. They look at Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush as examples, ignoring that, in both of those cases, it was the weakness of their candidacies, particularly due to sharp economic downturns, which made them weak and cost them elections. It is that same weakness that encouraged primary challenges to them.
But progressives decided not to call out the Democratic leadership on this, despite Biden’s own weakness and lack of popularity. At this writing, despite some relative victories in recent days, Biden’s approval rating is still under 40%, with disapproval at nearly 55%. Offering Democratic voters no chance to nominate a strong, or even halfway decent candidate, is a suicidally stupid mistake.
But Biden still has the key appeal that the Democratic leadership values more than anything else: his promise that under his watch, nothing will fundamentally change. It’s the pledge he gave before running in 2016 and he has fulfilled that promise, even while breaking so many others.
It’s a lousy situation. But it’s up to us, who consider ourselves progressive, to change that situation. But meanwhile there is another fundamental truth that too many on the left ignore, and that is that Republicans, from MAGA to Never-Trumpers, have no political reason, much less an ideological one, to listen to us or care one whit about what we want. Democrats, if they want to win, must take our demands into consideration.
Politics means Biden is vulnerable to progressive pressure, as are the rest of his center-right Democratic allies. This victory for Medicare pricing happened only because progressives, even radicals, remain engaged. At least some of us do.
We need not lose sight of the goal of fundamental change. But such change is long term, and meanwhile we can ease the suffering of some people to some degree. It's not an either/or, we can do both. There is no good reason not to do that. It may not be enough, but an elderly diabetic on Medicare can now get their medication and still have enough to buy their basic necessities. If it were up to Republicans, they couldn’t. If it were up to most Democrats in Congress, they couldn’t, if they are left to their own devices. But when they need our support, they must at least throw us something.
So, what does that mean? It means we challenge conservative Democrats and work to move them out of office--in primaries. But the delusion that they are no different than Republicans is just that--a delusion.
Republicans cannot be moved by progressives no matter what we do. Democrats can. And while we get incidental, but important, victories like Medicare pricing, we can still be pressing for real, fundamental change to the cruel system that Biden defends.
But we will not do ourselves any good by sitting idly by while fascists and unabashed, ultra-authoritarian bigots take the reins of government. Worsening conditions for so many people does not bring us closer to some sort of breaking point. On the contrary, it creates the illusion that centrist Democrats who want to perpetuate a capitalist system that grants working people only enough to stop them from organizing for change (while Republicans would deprive us of even that much) are the best we can do.
We can do better, much better. But until we have the strength to do better, we must limit the damage Republicans can do, and achieve what victories we can. Democrats are, mostly, horrid, but Republicans are far worse. We need better options, and we need to create them. Until we do, minimizing harm is crucial.
Change the Democratic party or build a third party if that’s what you prefer. But when, for one day, we all must choose between those awful Democrats and the far worse Republicans, we must still make that choice, not abdicate it to the fascists. The worst Democrat is bad, and the best of them, with a few exceptions, are far from good enough. But the worst of them is still far, far better than the best Republican, and there is a huge gulf between them.
Recent writings and appearances
Mitchell on "Keeping Democracy Alive" with Burt Cohen
I sat down last week with Burt Cohen of "Keeping Democracy Alive" for an in-depth discussion of the developments in recent months in Israel and the US. Here's the blurb for the show:
"It’s been an exceptionally long and bloody stalemate. And with the far right anti-democracy government of Netanyahu turning its wrath on Jewish Israelis, and opinion in the US and the world showing real shift, our guest Mitchell Plitnick of ReThinking Foreign Policy cites reasons why 2023 stands to be a turning point at last."
It was a very interesting conversation,. Check it out.
What the latest Libya debacle tells us about U.S. and Israeli indifference to Libyan lives
After Israel broke confidence by reporting secret talks with the Libyan foreign minister, the repercussions are still being felt in that troubled and divided country. While Israel acted shamefully, the lion's share of the blame, as usual, belongs to the Biden administration. This piece at Mondoweiss looks at the context and just how despicable U.S. actions, as well as Israel's and the Libyan leadership's, were.
The U.S. double standard on nuclear power is dangerous
Although Joe Biden's pathetic and desperate effort at Israeli-Saudi normalization is almost certain to fail, the fact that he's willing to even consider helping Saudi Arabia develop its own, independent nuclear enrichment program (something it is legally entitled to, but the US is by no means required to help with) reveals much about nuclear double standards and hubris in the region as well as how political theater and scaremongering, not genuine security or nonproliferation concerns, have needlessly brought the Persian Gulf to the brink of war in recent years.
2023: A turning point for Palestine in global politics
2023 has been an eventful year in Palestine. Unfortunately, "eventful in Palestine" generally means bloody, and there is no doubt that this has been a particularly bloody year. Yet there has been more in 2023, as we have seen profound shifts in the political realities in key areas. Nothing has changed immediately for Palestinians, or for their supporters in the United States and elsewhere. But the seeds for potentially fundamental change have been planted this year.
AIPAC strikes back with the help of cooperative Democrats
Hakeem Jeffries just led a delegation of two dozen congressional Democrats to Israel, with a token stop in Ramallah just to tick the box that they'd been there. But Jeffries and his fellow travelers had plenty to say about Israel and their host, Benjamin Netanyahu.
At a time when Israel is defiantly annexing the West Bank, massively increasing its already huge violence against Palestinians, dismantling even the democracy it reserves for Jews alone, and leaning heavily into its most authoritarian tendencies, mainstream Democrats, led by the Minority Leader of the House, are falling all over themselves to express their love and devotion to that state and to its prime minister.
Biden’s fanatical pursuit of Israeli-Saudi normalization is a dangerous delusion
It is a bizarre sight to see the Biden administration chase Saudi-Israeli normalization like a dog chasing an electric rabbit around a track. But it's more than just Washington wanting this deal far more than either Israel or Saudi Arabia does. The price tag for the U.S. to get it done, even if only a small piece of it is revealed to be the actual cost, would undermine not only U.S. strategic interests, but regional and even global ones as well. That's before we even consider how it would legitimize Benjamin Netanyahu and completely bury the Palestinians in the diplomatic arena. And Biden won't get anything like the electoral bump he thinks he will either.