Ralph Nader wrote a very perceptive essay in the wake of the edifying defeat of the despicable arch-imperialist, Israel Firster and reliable servant of Wall St. Banksters, Eric Cantor, at the capable hands of the libertarian leaning Professor David Brat. It was titled "Can Progressives Learn From Eric Cantor’s Defeat"? Can they? Yes. Will they? It is highly doubtful. It is difficult to learn if you think you have nothing more to learn.
But here we are interested only in the lessons of Cantor’s electoral humiliation at the hands of Brat for the progressive antiwar, anti-Empire movement. (For the significance of the Brat victory beyond the matter of war, see this.) What do we mean by Progressive? "Progressive" for the most part is little more than a change of name for what was once called "liberal." One looks in vain for a self-described liberal these days only because they have rebranded themselves.
Here are two relevant quotes from Nader’s essay:
“(The Brat victory) has several takeaways for progressives besides envy and shame over why they do not directly take on the corporate Democrats.”
“Unfortunately the driving energy of progressives, including the dissipating Occupy Wall Street effort, is not showing up in the electoral arena. The political energy, the policy disputes and the competitive contests are among the Republicans, not the Democrats…”
In summary, why are the progressives not taking on the corporate (and hawkish) Democrats in the electoral arena? And what does that mean for the next presidential year, 2016? Certainly it is desirable to have antiwar candidates in primaries of both major parties – and even better to have them win the nomination in each party. Thus, there are two electoral tasks for the broad antiwar movement in the rapidly approaching election year of 2016.
On the GOP side, antiwarriors must make sure that there is an antiwar Republican running in the primaries and hopefully winning the nomination. That person is Rand Paul. And Brat’s victory over the establishment’s candidate bodes well for Paul’s success. So the forces of peace are making headway in the GOP even though they face an uphill battle. They have a horse in the race, a formidable one.
On the Democratic side, things do not look so good. The progressives must field a candidate to take on the bloodthirsty Hillary to make good on Nader’s challenge. Otherwise, she could well be “the first woman” – to start a world war. So far there is no one – and the undependable Bernie Sanders is not that person, as even a cursory reading of the late Alexander Cockburn’s denunciations of Sanders over the years makes clear. Nor is that great American Indian, my Senator, Elizabeth Warren who ran for Senate as a hawk on Iran, a credible peace candidate.
That leaves the Democrats without any anti-Empire voice. Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) will not do the job of challenging Hillary. From Norman Solomon to Medea Benjamin they are notorious by now for putting Party over principle. Other progressives operating outside the Dem Party, and few in number, are well defended, claiming that elections are for naught. But history argues against this. Truman, the architect of the unpopular Korean War was defeated in the New Hampshire primary, paving the way for an Eisenhower victory due in part to a pledge to end the war, a pledge he kept promptly. Lyndon Baynes Johnson, the inheritor of a very unpopular war from JFK was also undone in New Hampshire, by the principled Eugene McCarthy, not the most "liberal" Democrat and a bit of a libertarian. From that point on despite the best efforts of both Humphrey and Nixon to prolong it, the Vietnam War was over. Primary challenges have an effect. Ron Paul built a very powerful movement, especially among the young, with his 2008 and 2012 runs.
Other progressives will tell you that street actions like Occupy are the way forward despite the inability of Occupy to so much as articulate a platform, program or strategy. And they are bereft of even a shadow of ideology and consistency having long ago abandoned the more traditional left precepts. Most notably the decade of wars went largely unmentioned in their gatherings, in great part because they are now Obama’s wars. Nader kindly describes Occupy as "dissipating." Strangely, some of these Occupiers find refuge in the Green Party, which is dedicated to electoral action. The Green Party itself is a resounding failure. Its perennial presidential candidate is a very pleasant, organized and well meaning person but is entirely too solicitous of "progressive" Dems to make an impact. And she has not been able to win even a State House seat in very progressive Massachusetts, although she has tried.
Picasso said he became a Communist, because the Communists were for the peasants and he was for the peasants. Often it is as simple as that. What are people to do if they are for peace and the only viable force for peace is the libertarians, as was true in 2012? Then they will become libertarian Republicans. And we see that happening with many young people. If "progressives" cannot accomplish a challenge to Hillary, they will be finished for the foreseeable future, probably a generation at least. And that seems to be the way things are headed.
John V. Walsh can be reached at John.Endwar@gmail.com.