Sunday, August 5, 2018

Barking socialist

I have a warm feeling about Cory Booker. Not a hero worship; a quiet admiration. The kind I have for people who keep getting up when knocked down, keep swimming upstream, keep on keeping on. Loved his ability to go into Newark, New Jersey, which until he took it on as mayor I thought of as just another of America’s many “loser” cities. Took it on with his bright eyes and his optimism and made it a better place.

Booker is in the news this morning for his clash with Republican leader John Cornyn after observing, quite rightly, that there are things in this country which are “savagely wrong.” It’s bringing him to tears, this normalizing of injustice. “If this country hasn’t broken your heart,” Booker says, “then you don’t love her enough.”

Cory Booker is speaking for millions of us. The country’s broke and we’re looking for a fix.

For some the question is too big to handle. They cite Voltaire. Go tend your garden. Leave the fools to fix themselves. For others, the problem is cultural. I’m reading a marvelous history of the United States by Kurt Andersen on “how America went haywire (the subtitle)” called Fantasyland.  Andersen traces the history of America’s willing surrender to the many worlds of make-believe.

The problem, as I see it, is two-pronged. It's about economic and social injustice. We are a country with an ever-widening chasm between rich and poor. We are also a country which won’t face up to its history of racism and genocide.  The people to address this injustice adequately have to at least include our democratically elected political leaders. I’m trying to figure out how to find better ones.

There’s another book also speaking to that task, a book by George Lakey on “how the Scandinavians got it right” (subtitle) entitled Viking Economics. So the “socialist” solution is presenting itself on two fronts: there's the appeal of Bernie Sanders (and the nagging question of whether we might have been spared this Trump nightmare if Bernie had won the democratic nomination instead of Hillary) and there's the fact that by all international measures, the Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Finns and Icelanders are doing things better. Less crime. Better educational results. Better health care. Better representation by women. Better equity.

Not perfect. Just better.

It would be na├»ve to assume that socialism is going to solve all our problems. But at the moment, until someone can show me the squirrel is not up there, I’m going to bark up that tree.

A good friend came by for coffee the other day and told me she had decided to join the Democratic Socialists, the DSA. She has a close association with Sweden, so that probably explains why socialism is not a dirty word in her estimation. Somebody had asked me once if I had any German heroes and Willi Brandt came immediately to mind. Again, I’m not into hero worship, but there’s another guy, like Cory Booker, who lived his life like the Energizer Bunny. Left Germany under Hitler, went to Norway and fought against his native country until the nightmare was over, then came home and eventually became its socialist chancellor. With the courage to fall to his knees in Poland to apologize for the Holocaust.

My hesitation about leaving the Democrats and joining the Democratic Socialists is the obvious one – could there possibly be a worse time to split the Democrats now just before the mid-term elections when there is hope of taking back the House?

Fortunately, it’s not an either/or proposition. The DSA are not a political party, but an interest group. One can view the Democratic Party as Matt Grossman does when he addressed that question in a New York Times article last month.  Grossman points out that America’s two parties are already coalitions of interest groups, and policy gets established in the primary process when those individual subgroups struggle for dominance. The Tea Party moved the Republicans to the right, remember, and the Republicans still won. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition loomed large in the 1984 Democratic primaries, but ultimately Mondale got the nomination, anyway. And at least those left of Mondale had a platform from which to voice their views.

New York’s mayor Dinkins was a socialist. Oakland’s mayor Ron Dellums was a socialist. Ben Jealous, a Bernie supporter, has won the democratic nomination for governor in Maryland.

Whether the DSA will split off from the Democrats at some point in the future depends on two things. Their own numbers, and the response of mainstream Democrats. It’s possible the mainstream Democrats will take on the proposals for greater equity and justice the DSA are making and make them their own.

For now, the task at hand is to convince Americans that socialism is not a dirty word.

It’s an educational task. Got questions you are too embarrassed to ask? Check this out.

Two things need fixing – the gap between the rich and the poor, and the ongoing racial discord, as evidenced by the need for such movements as Black Lives Matter.  The word “intersectionality” is a new buzzword these days as people try to solve these two problems. Not one first, the other later. Both at once.

Greater economic equity. Greater social justice.

Sounds like just another political slogan.

Maybe. But we can’t sit still and expect change to happen by itself.

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