The Train Wreck Around the Bend

The Train Wreck Around the Bend

On July 31, 1909, the Milwaukee Road’s westbound Overland Limited went off the tracks and wrecked at Cambridge, Iowa. I’m inclined to see this as an allegory for what lies around the bend for the Democratic Party if things continue to shape up as they are.

It’s not just me saying this. The predictions are coming from both sides of the political aisle, with observers ranging from long-time Dem strategist James Carville to a ménage of commentators on the liberal cable networks, to none other than Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh on the right, echoing similar views.

I’m scared to death,” Carville ranted on MSNBC following the Iowa Democratic caucuses, something of a train wreck of their own. In a subsequent interview, Carville went on to say, “I don’t know. We just had an election in 2018. We did great. We talked about everything we needed to talk about, and we won. And now it’s like we’re losing our damn minds. Someone’s got to step their game up here.”

What has Carville and others so petrified is the rise of Socialist Bernie Sanders as a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nominee to challenge President Donald Trump in November, and the overall lurch of the party – and seemingly all couple dozen of its presidential wannabes – toward the far left.

We have candidates on the debate stage talking about open borders and decriminalizing illegal immigration. They’re talking about doing away with nuclear energy and fracking. You’ve got Bernie Sanders talking about letting criminals and terrorists vote from jail cells. It doesn’t matter what you think about any of that, or if there are good arguments — talking about that is not how you win a national election. It’s not how you become a majoritarian party.”

Right. Think about it. Plan to do it. Just don’t talk about it. You’d be excused for thinking that’s how politicians usually run their games. But that’s not the only cow, maybe not even the biggest one, lying across the tracks. It’s the ascendancy of the far left of the party, represented by Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her left-wing corterie, known as The Squad, in Congress. And it’s the failure of the Democratic establishment’s self-styled savior, former Vice President Joe Biden, to light anything other than a small and flickering flame among Dem voters. More than the chickens coming home to roost, it’s the cows that are coming home to ruminate, right across the tracks.

Old Bernie, backed with a good chunk of the younger vote and others with a weak grasp on the meaning of Socialism or Bernie’s questionable past, eked out a 26.2% of delegate equivalents versus Pete Buttigieg’s 26.13% in the Iowa caucuses (if you can believe the results). And in New Hampshire he came out with 25.8% of the vote versus Mayor Pete’s 24.5%. Not exactly a rousing victory, especially since in 2016 he came away with 60.4% versus Hillary Clinton’s 38% (admittedly in a less crowded primary field). Meanwhile Trump, in the little-heralded Republican primary in New Hampshire, came away with more votes, by far, than any candidate of either party in the history of the state, even doubling the number generated by former President Ronald Reagan when New Hampshire was a far more conservative state than it is today.

The real story of both Iowa and New Hampshire has less to do with Bernie’s numbers as with the crashing and burning of two other candidates, previously considered “front runners” in the contest. In Iowa, both Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden sank respectively to third and fourth place, with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar hot on their heels. And then in New Hampshire Klobuchar jumped to third place, with 19.9% of the vote, exceeding the combined totals of Warren (from the neighboring state of Massachusetts, from which many New Hampshire residents have relocated) and Biden. Biden didn’t even wait around for the results before bailing on the Granite State and his supporters there and heading off to the Palmetto State, South Carolina, which he has called his “fire wall.” Underscoring Biden’s fall from grace, Sanders’ New Hampshire showing was enough to push him within just a day to the top of the polls nationwide, displacing Biden, the previous choice of the Dem establishment.

Are you beginning to see why this situation could be shaping up as a train wreck for the Democratic Party?

Shades of 1968

Police in Lincoln Park, Chicago
Sihouetted view of a group of police officers as they advance through clouds of tear gas in Lincoln Park in an effort to remove protestors during the Democratic National Convention, Chicago, Illinois, late August 1968. (Photo by Art Shay/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images); used under Fair Use.

To be clear, let me say that, for a number of reasons, I don’t see what happens in June at the Democratic convention in Milwaukee likely to be equivalent to what happened in August 1968 at the Democratic convention in Chicago. Well, probably not quite. The country isn’t as worked into as much of a frenzy over the political divide as it was over the Vietnam War going full bore at that time. And probably more people, especially young people, have other things to concern themselves with today than they did in 1968. But it doesn’t mean that something along those lines might not lie ahead for the party.

Looking at the lay of the land going into the Nevada caususes, the South Carolina primary, and then Super Tuesday on March 3, when 16 states and terrirories hold their primaries, caucuses, and conventions, we have Bernie on the left and set to pick up most of the support on that side of the political spectrum. That’s even more likely given the lack of a viable way forward for Warren. Among the more ” centrist” (though not really) candidates, we have Buttigieg, the mayor of a small city in Indiana and a gay man also seen as beholden to Wall Street; Klobuchar, a lesser known senator from Minnesota with a history of abusing her staff; and Biden, an aging former Vice President who has a hard time putting two sentences together, who thinks it’s okay to refer to voters in terms of a 1952 movie on the Canadian Mounties, and whose credibility and integrity has been cast into serious doubt as a result of the Dems’ ill-fated impeachment fiasco targeting Donald Trump. Oh, and then we have another billionaire besides the President, former New York City Mayor (and ex-Republican) Mike “Stop and Frisk” Bloomberg, who thinks he can buy his way into the nomination by pumping hundreds of millions of his own funds into the race. Speak of a field of poor choices. Now are you starting to see more of the problem?

Through the use of super delegates, the Dem establishment stole the nomination away from Sanders in 2016. Will they do it again this year? If you think the party poobahs in Washington and on Wall Street and out in the bastions of Dem power across the land (such as they are) aren’t thinking about it, I have a railroad to sell you. They have seen the writing on the wall about the virtually inevitable demise of Joe Biden. And so, seeking another alternative, they’ve already bent the rules to let Bloomberg onto the debate stage, even though he doesn’t have one actual donor other than himself, donor numbers being one of the previous standards for deciding who gets on the stage and who doesn’t. But any port in a storm, and somehow these people (who have had nothing good to say about the 2010 Citizens United decision) apparently think pitting one billionaire against another is a good idea and good for America. Or maybe it’s just good for them? Am I being too cynical here?

Let’s say the Dem establishment manages to once more steal the nomination away from Bernie. What then? Undoubtedly a significant number of his supporters will either stay home on Nov, 3, or they’ll vote for Trump, just as they did in 2016. But some of his supporters are talking about a third option.

As stated by Kyle Jurek, Sanders Field Organizer in Iowa, “If Bernie doesn’t get the nomination or it goes to a second round at the DNC Convention. Fucking Milwaukee will burn. The billionaire class. The fucking media, pundits. Walk into that MSNBC studios, drag those motherfuckers out by their hair and light them on fire in the streets.”

This inflammatory rhetoric, videotaped and presented online by Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe, must have touched a nerve somewhere out amid Sanders’ supporters. The Washington Post incorrectly reported that Jurek was a mere volunteer, not a paid staffer, and when O’Keede challenged that report as false Twitter blocked his account. Lest you think Jurek is an outlyer, remember that it was largely Sanders supporters who, in true Brown Shirt form, turned out en masse on the streets of Chicago on March 11, 2016, to force Trump to cancel a rally he had planned there that night. Do you remember that scene of political obsctruction by mob? I do.

I also remember, if vaguely, the events of August 1968. If you don’t remember them or were too young to have lived through them, you really should update yourself. If nothing else, you’ll learn there are precedents for today’s political divide, and the divide within the Democratic Party, and you might learn something about the power of the disenfranchised (self-styled or real) to disrupt and make their presence known. [Disclaimer: Following a little 1972 imbroglio with the Rutgers University Campus Police on the Rutgers-Newark campus, I was successfully represented by one Stu Ball, who had been part of the Chicago Seven defense team. Life’s little claims to fame.] One way or another, the chances for a schism within the party is almost fore-ordained. Whether it will lead to the kinds of dramatic events that gripped Chicago in 1968 remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, amid the current churn on the Democratic side, the President is at the highest levels of his popularity since taking office and has every reason to be optimistic about his reelection chances, regardless who the Dems wind up putting up against him.

Who put this cow on the tracks?

While it might take a village to raise a child, it took Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her band of unruly House Dems to help set up the crisis of identity facing the Democratic Party and the chess board likely to lead to the reelection of the President. As I’ve called it in a previous posting, the Dems’ unremitting rage against Trump and their repeated unsuccessful attempts to unseat him and undo the results of the 2016 election is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Cow on the tracks
Cow on the tracks, The Jack Finn Collection; used under Fair Use.

What the ill-fated impeachment did, besides bolstering Trump’s support, was put a spotlight on the possible corruption of Joe Biden and his son Hunter in Hunter’s business affairs in Ukraine and China. In the process, Pelosi managed to take the shine off her party establishment’s front runner and throw the whole process into even more disarray than it already was. All of Pelosi’s antics, like tearing up the President’s State of the Union address – seen by many as tasteless and lacking in decorum – can’t stop the impending train wreck she may have engineered.

After what will seem like an eternity of sound-alike debates, charges and counter-charges, and jockeying (or pony soldiering, if you’re Joe Biden) for position among the candidates, June is likely to roll around in, say, a mere four months, and then we’ll all get to see if the Dem train stays on the rails or runs off into a ravine. If nothing else, it should be entertaining to watch.

Featured image: Cambridge, Iowa, train wreck, unknown, presumed public domain.

 

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