I hope people do not misread this article in The Nation as saying do not speak to white racists about economic injustice in universal terms. It is an excellent article because it is saying, do not worry about being for sanctuary cities as it is not necessarily political suicide, for example.
The perhaps ironic key take from this article is that too often in the 1980s through somewhat recently, it was the Clintonian type of candidates who were the ones who tacked right on race. The article pointedly does not mention the following examples, but let's remind ourselves: Who should forget Bill Clinton's gratuitous attack on a woman rap star during the primary, and his eagerly supporting the electrocution state murder of Ricky Ray Rector during the lead up to his running for president in 1992? Who should forget it was Hillary Clinton publicly using racist code language during the debate over the 1994 Crime Bill or the 1996 Welfare Bill her husband eagerly and cynically signed?
What I am concerned about is these above examples are not in the article and so, a Hillarybot like Amanda Marcotte or her ilk are likely to say, "See? Bernie should not talk economic injustice because it is pandering to white racists." It is not. What we need is a politics that embraces our best, shared values regarding overcoming economic injustice with specific policies that in fact help people across racial and ethnic and even religious lines. And along the way, but very firmly and forcefully, we speak about the racist injustice inherent in the current institutions that comprise our so-called Criminal Justice system or the immoral deportations that break up families or put people in jail who are otherwise wonderful people who have something to add to the mosaic that is American culture. That is the language we need to develop, foster and support.
Again, the irony of this article is that it shows how it was often corporate Democrats who were tacking away from anti-racism policies for which the modern Democratic Party should be most proud.
And it is vital to remember that it was Bernie Sanders who voted against the misnamed "Defense of Marriage Act" in 1996. It was Bernie Sanders who voted against the Welfare Bill in 1996. And Bernie stood with many in the Congressional Black Caucus, stating loudly they were reluctant to join the Clintons and conservative Dems and the screaming Republican banshees in supporting the Crime Bill of 1994.
As my wife said to me last night as she saw there is a new documentary about Dolores Huerta playing in the local theater here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, "Before the primary campaign last year, I would say, let's go to this. But I have not forgiven Dolores Huerta for the way she treated Bernie and Bernie's supporters." Yes, I replied. I understand. It is how I feel about John Lewis and his lies against Bernie as a civil rights activist, and Gloria Steinem's ridiculous attack on young women who were early and ardent Bernie Sanders supporters. But, I said, too, I recall how beautifully Rosario Dawson wrote in her open letter to Huerta, which really is the way to go. As we are tight economically ourselves right now, we will end up watching that documentary on Netflix, Amazon or Hulu, I think...
"Oh, don't relive the 2016 primary, Mitch!" I hear people cry. I am not reliving it. I am wanting us to make damn sure we learn the lesson from it, which is that we must no longer belittle, disrespect or attack economic populism. It is not 1992 or 1996 or even 2008 anymore. We need to recognize that. especially with the deep inequality in our society, and with it, the rise of social media, we are in an economic populist moment. And economic populism is the basis for a successful politics that promotes our best values and best public interests, and allows the space to continue to move forward to ensure we are promoting policies that respect people regardless of their race, ethnic heritage or religion. It is a politics that demands we recognize racism in institutions even when finding individual racism may not be as easy as it was in the days of George Wallace and Bull Connor.
Michael Harrington often wrote about the fact that the Civil Rights movement succeeded with the laws that began to break down racist attitudes and institutions across the land at a time when the white majority felt most economically comfortable. For fear, he understood and wrote, is a powerful motivator for racist feelings and actions. Harrington's insight should guide us in how we promote racial, ethnic and religious justice across our land. And we have new evidence for his insight with this study from a Yale psychologist about conservative attitudes changing if they are told they are superheroes who cannot be shot or killed. Corporate Human Resources Department liberalism is not the winning political formula right now for the national party, though the DNC remains in the throes of corporate donor influence. What we need is Labor Union liberalism, where, a not so by-the-way, many public employee unions consist of minority leadership--something the wine and cheese donor class of the Democratic Party seems to forget.