Democratic Party bosses and corporate media pundits were taken aback on March 8 when they grossly miscalculated the strength of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign in Michigan.
Pollsters projected a win for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by 21 percent to 37 percent. Nonetheless, Sanders took over 50 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 48 percent, winning 20,000 more votes than Clinton and exposing the consultants’ flawed research methods.
It appears Sanders drew votes from regular Democratic Party stalwarts and independents, including young people, women, African Americans, Latinos/as and Arab Americans, to a far greater degree than anticipated by the politicians who had lined up behind Clinton. Even the claim that only 31 percent of African Americans in Michigan voted for Sanders — based on exit poll results — is questionable in light of the statewide outcome.
In Flint, for example, where many campaign commercials showed that recently elected Mayor Karen Weaver had endorsed Clinton, Sanders won in the city’s Genesee County. People are outraged and traumatized by the poisoning of the public water system under the aegis of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. Flint was the scene of a Democratic debate on March 6.
Sanders constantly attacked the 1990s administration of President Bill Clinton and its engineering of the North American Free Trade Agreement and deregulation of the financial industry. These policies resulted in massive personal bankruptcies, job losses and home foreclosures during the first decade of this century. Sanders’ attacks resonated among Michigan residents.
Clinton attempted to accuse Sanders of not supporting the so-called “auto bailout,” which he denied. Sanders’ response during the debate centered on Clinton’s, and by implication President Barack Obama’s, continuing “bailout” of Wall Street.
Despite the ruling-class propaganda echoed in the corporate-funded media, actual unemployment and poverty in Michigan are still far higher than the national average. Majority African-American cities have been subjected to emergency management — and, in Detroit, to bankruptcy — which has stripped away basic bourgeois democratic rights such as local control over municipalities and school systems.
The Democratic administration under Obama supported the imposition of emergency management and bankruptcy in Detroit and other cities. As a result, billions of dollars in pension funds, health care benefits, public assets and services were turned over to financial and corporate interests.
The Democratic Party machine
Clinton’s campaign managers relied on what has been perceived as the loyal base of the party, including elected officials, union leaders, African-American churches and women. They falsely assumed that the bulk of potential voters were to be found in the confines of precinct delegate organizations, labor representatives, religious groups and mainstream Civil Rights organizations.
Nonetheless, over half of the people who voted in the Democratic primary rejected the Clinton campaign’s superficial sloganeering and patronizing nature. The perceived Democratic Party constituencies are in a state of flux due to the economic downturn hitting Michigan and elsewhere.
In Detroit, the first white mayor in 40 years was installed amid emergency management and bankruptcy in 2013. This city administration lacks real grass-roots support, which has been revealed in public meetings where Mayor Mike Duggan and other officials have been shouted down. With the downsizing of heavy industry and municipal services, hundreds of thousands of unionized workers have lost their jobs.
In many communities where African-American churches are located, the crises of job losses, home foreclosures, evictions and utility shutoffs have dislocated hundreds of thousands of people. In Detroit, many leading churches, which had thousands of members less than two decades ago, have been reduced to several hundred people, many of whom are seniors.
Eight years ago, many in the African-American, Latino/a, Middle Eastern and Asian communities, and among women in general and lesbian women, gay men, bisexual, transgender and queer people, voted en masse in support of Obama and the Democratic ticket. Since then, the problems of perennial unemployment, increasing poverty, mass incarceration, police brutality and judicial impunity have persisted. The Democratic-dominated Congress and White House during the years 2006 to 2010 failed to deliver minimal reforms. People now won’t tolerate the same empty promises regarding the ongoing decline in living standards and political empowerment.
Sanders’ campaign personnel have worked quietly on the ground in Michigan since Labor Day weekend. Supporters of Sanders participated in the Detroit Labor Day parade, which tens of thousands of unionists attended. They were at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day demonstration in Detroit, the largest gathering of progressive forces in southeast Michigan. Sanders’ people were outside the Fox Theater during demonstrations on March 3 against the Republican debate.
Beyond Michigan, toward November
Despite the claims of Clinton supporters, African Americans and other oppressed groups who are also workers and youth are looking for more than the same dubious approach to racial, gender, foreign affairs and economic issues.
Donald Trump has mobilized right-wing, racist and pro-fascist sentiments among broad segments of the white population. To defeat Trump in the general elections, the Democratic Party must overcome the lack of enthusiasm surrounding Clinton.
Moreover, the lack of real democratic practice within the party is starkly evident. Clinton holds far more delegates than Sanders even though her margin of victory in state primaries and caucuses remains thin leading into the battle for Ohio, Illinois and other states in March and April.
If the undemocratic methods lead to a Clinton victory, the Sanders supporters who have come out in rallies on campuses and community venues numbering more than 10,000 may be alienated from a Democratic Party running Clinton. Should this happen, it could create the conditions for a Republican victory with or without Trump. Sanders would have a better chance of defeating Trump.
Obama’s electoral victories in 2008 and 2012 showed that the majority of people in the U.S. can be mobilized into an electoral alliance of African Americans, Latinos/as, Asians, Middle Easterners, women, unionists, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender and queer people, environmentalists and others. If the Sanders campaign fails to secure the nomination, then these same social elements that elected Obama twice must be independently organized, concentrating on a broader and deeper program based upon their class interests and fighting national oppression.
History has shown that fundamental change in the U.S. will not come from the election of Democratic Party administrations and Congresses. The Democratic Party is still a manifestation of the imperialist ruling class, which inherently reinforces national oppression, class exploitation of the workers and the poor, and the continuation of imperialist war against underdeveloped states internationally.
The workers, youth, women and all other oppressed sectors of the population need their own political party that can directly address the existing social conditions. Only when the workers and oppressed take power in their own name can a real political revolution take place.