Do Democrats Divide Between ‘Extreme Left’ and ‘Normal’ Moderates? Nope.

FAIR Examines Media Bias
Fair.org

July 17, 2019 – The 2020 presidential candidacy race is in full (absurdly early) swing, and there is a clear and obvious internal battle currently raging for the soul of the Democratic Party. One faction is attempting to pull the party in a more populist, social-democratic direction, while another favors maintaining a neoliberal, pro-business course.

We all know the most prominent members of the first group: The likes of presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders and freshmen representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley are constantly referred to (accurately) as representing the left of the party (e.g., New York Post, 7/9/19; New York Times, 4/10/19; New Yorker, 6/18/19), but also as a cabal of “extremist” (Atlantic, 4/3/19; The Hill, 6/17/19), “far-left” revolutionaries (CNN, 7/7/19; CNBC, 7/5/19) who have “contempt” for Americans (Fox News, 7/11/19). Given the broad overlap of their political positions with those of the public at large (FAIR.org, 1/23/19), those labels, popular as they are in the media, are pretty dubious.

But if there is a left-wing of the party, there must, logically, be a right. And it is equally obvious to those paying attention who represents that right-wing: figures like Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar come to mind.

The media do report on the split, but they never identify the latter as representing the right at all. In fact, the phrase “right-wing Democrat” has not appeared in the New York Times for over 30 years.

Last week, the Boston Herald (7/11/19) decried Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Omar as far-left “bullies” who were undermining Pelosi, and “sowing division” at a time when the party “needs to project a unified—and more centrist—front to retain its majority and knock Donald Trump from office.” The piece did not, however, scrutinize Pelosi’s political positions—or even identify them at all.

This is a common occurrence in media, and has the effect of normalizing the right-wing of the party as the default. Constantly reminders that Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez and Co. are leftists prime the news consumer to be on the defensive. “You are about to hear socialist propaganda,” is the subtle message delivered. But an analogous message is not transmitted if others are not identified as on the right. Understanding the power of this technique, in 2015, nearly 90,000 Britons signed a petition asking the BBC, in the interests of even-handedness, to start describing Prime Minister David Cameron as “right-wing,” just as it constantly called Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn “left-wing.”

On the US struggle, Buzzfeed News (7/10/19) reports Pelosi has been “publicly feuding” with “left-wing members of the caucus and their staff,” while the Washington Post (7/2/19) sympathetically portrayed her has being under attack from an “open rebellion” of “hard-liners” in the party, with neither suggesting she herself holds any particular political ideology. The effect is to present the battle between left and right as one between radical revolutionaries and the “mainstream,” “normal” or “default” position.

All this despite the fact that Medicare For All and free college tuition are very popular in the US, with even a majority of Republican voters supporting the former. Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez’s tax hike proposal for the super-rich is more popular than Trump’s tax cuts, and a plurality of Americans support her supposedly radical leftist Green New Deal. When the public, not political parties, define the left/right spectrum, the landscape appears very different.

When any position is assigned to those who have controlled the party for many decades, it is often misleading. Maureen Dowd in the New York Times (7/6/19) describes Pelosi as “trying to keep the party center-left” with the goal of ousting Trump from office by appealing to the American people, only for that to be “jeopardized” by the party’s supposed “lurch” to the “far left.”

Despite this, Biden describes himself as “center-left,” as do media (e.g. Politico, 6/8/19; Real Clear Politics, 6/12/19; Wall Street Journal, 6/3/19). As the Washington Examiner (6/21/19) noted, the dilemma for the party was between picking a leftist like Sanders or steering a “center-left” course with Biden.As a senator from Delaware, he is a friend of large finance and tech corporations, and blocked student debt forgiveness. In this election cycle, he opposes Medicare for All and claimed that billionaires were being “demonized,” assuring them that if he were president, “nothing would change” about America. “I need you very badly,” he told a group of extremely wealthy donors. He also suggests moving the party to the right by working with the GOP.

Another Democrat not only on the right of the party, but on the right side of the political spectrum more generally, is Joe Biden, a current frontrunner for the presidential nomination. Biden began his political career by opposing busing and maintained a very close friendship with arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond until his death, performing the eulogy at his funeral. Among the most hawkish of Democrats, he strongly supported the Iraq War and even boasted he was the true author of George W. Bush’s PATRIOT Act. He opposed immigration and suggested using troops against undocumented workers.

Successfully positioning yourself in the center is a powerful rhetorical and psychological tactic. Many people like to think of themselves as in the middle. The center is often considered (wrongly) as the default position, and therefore free of bias, as opposed to those on the extremes, which hold negative connotations.

As explored previously (FAIR.org, 3/23/19), every political organization Washington supports is presented as a moderate, centrist force. Indonesian military dictator General Suharto, who presided over genocides against ethnic Chinese and Timorese, was described as a moderate (Christian Science Monitor, 2/6/87). The New York Times (3/7/33) even described the “new moderation in the political atmosphere” in Germany as Hitler came to power, while the Philadelphia Daily Bulletin (1/30/33) praised his “indications of moderation” (cited in the Daily Beast, 12/20/15).

Even Donald Trump Jr., someone not noted for his high intellect and political wisdom, is in on this trick. Writing in The Hill (7/11/19), he “warns” us that if the Democrats undermine “centrist” “moderates” like Pelosi, allowing “radical left” “extremists” like Ocasio-Cortez to come to power, his father will be assured of winning the next election. This has to be the apotheosis of the “Inexplicable Republican Best Friend” trope (FAIR.org, 2/26/19), in which media conservatives offer supposedly good-faith advice to Democrats on how to beat them (which always entails surrendering progressive principles and embracing conservative policies).

Corporate Democrats have now begun to use the “this is why Trump won/will win” tactic on the left. The Washington Examiner (7/10/19) warns the “left-wing elites” that their single-minded charge towards is socialism will isolate and alienate them from “moderate Democrats” and the vast political center of America. Instead, they must be “pragmatic” and choose the best candidate: Joe Biden.

“Pragmatic” meaning adapting sensibly and adopting realistic, fact-based positions—is another newspeak word media use to describe right-wing Democrats espousing pro-corporate policies, regardless of what the facts actually are. CNN (2/18/19), for example, applauds Klobuchar for being the “pragmatic” presidential candidate. Her pragmatism, according to the positive CNN portrait, was “resisting the urge to pander to the party’s progressive wing,” as shown by her strong opposition to Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and free college—all of which, we have seen, are distinctly popular with the public (Jacobin, 8/24/18; Atlantic, 6/21/19) and could be huge vote-winners.

That “pragmatic” is usually used as a euphemistic codeword for moving towards the right can be seen by glancing at recent headlines:

  • Pragmatic Pelosi Points Democratic Party Toward the Center (CBS SF Bay Area, 5/14/19)
  • Pelosi’s Pragmatic Approach to Balancing Democrats’ Leftward Shift (Christian Science Monitor, 2/11/19)
  • Idealism vs. Pragmatism: How Style Divides the Democratic Candidates (NPR, 1/27/16)

Even explicitly anti-left organizations are not described as right-wing. On a story covering the Democratic Majority for Israel, which it notes was set up by “major donors and Washington insiders” expressly to counter left criticisms of Israel in the party, the Huffington Post (7/11/19) did not describe it as “conservative” or any similar label, but framed the debate as being between the left and the “pro-Israel” wings of the party. If wealthy donors and “Washington insiders” don’t count as the right wing of the party, no one can.

Corporate media are funded by the same sources that fund both parties and broadly share the same ideology, hence the reluctance to critique them. By refusing to position them on the political scale, or falsely identifying them as left of center, they are attempting to close the Overton window and prevent a leftward shift in US politics. But that does not mean that we as news consumers have to accept these framings.

Continue reading Do Democrats Divide Between ‘Extreme Left’ and ‘Normal’ Moderates? Nope.

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PA 17th CD Chapter of PDA Endorses Bernie Sanders

At its May 2019 Steering Committee meeting, the local chapter of Progressive Democrats of America endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders for President in the 2020 Democratic primary election.

Bernie and Tina

Photo: Bernie Sanders with PA 17th CD Chapter Pres. Tina Shannon

USW Condemns Cruel Treatment of Migrant Children

 From Fred Redmond

United Steel Workers

PITTSBURGH—The United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo Gerard released the following statement in response to the reporting from the Mexican border on the shocking conditions of our country’s migrant detention centers:

“The USW prides itself on the morality of our core values and its mission of being a collective voice for the voiceless. Therefore it is our duty, as a union that stands with workers and families everywhere, to condemn the cruel and inhumane treatment of migrant children in our nation’s overcrowded and unsanitary detention centers.

“Our global alliances with organizations and unions like Los Mineros in Mexico serve as a reminder of the common ties that bind nations together.  It is also important to remember that the plight of the people fleeing Mexico and Central America is partly a result of our own country’s failed trade policies that have wrecked their economies and their livelihoods.

“At the end of the day, this is not a partisan issue. This is about human decency. This is about recognizing that many of the people coming to our borders seeking asylum are workers. They are our members’ families. They are Americans in waiting. They deserve humane treatment and a real shot at becoming contributing citizens of our great country.

“The labor movement likes to say, ‘An injustice to one is an injustice to all,’ and we must stand firmly in that belief today.”

The USW represents workers in North America employed in many industries that include metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining and the service and public sectors. 

The Road Not Taken

The shuttering of the GM works in Lordstown will also bury a lost chapter in the fight for workers’ control.

By Sarah Jaffe
The New Republic

June 24, 2019 – Illustration by Nicolas Ortega Chuckie Denison took the podium at the United Steelworkers hall in Canton, Ohio, in his ever-present blue Good Jobs Nation T-shirt, flanked by people holding protest signs. One handmade sign read “Promises Made, Promises Broken”; it featured a likeness of President Trump, who’d flown into Ohio that day for a big-money fund-raiser at a nearby country club. Another sign pointed out that Lordstown, home of the iconic General Motors auto plant, was only 49.4 miles away. Still another read, “We will lose 43,000 jobs because of Lordstown closing.”

Denison leaned into the microphone and told the assembled crowd his story, introducing himself as a third-generation GM autoworker. “I started in Dayton, Ohio. I watched that plant close. I went to Shreveport, Louisiana. I watched that plant close. I come here to Lordstown, Ohio, happy to be back in my home state. I’d never have thought that Lordstown would close.”

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Denison said, Trump came to northeast Ohio and promised better days. “He looked the people in the eyes and told them, ‘Do not sell your homes. The jobs are coming back.’”

The jobs never came back. When GM announced, last November, that the Lordstown plant would be closed as part of a restructuring plan, the community held out hope that the company would decide to retool the plant, and rehire some of the laid-off workers. But the last Chevrolet Cruze rolled off the Lordstown assembly line on March 6—a no-frills white model that workers draped in an American flag and posed behind for a last photo.

Variations of this scene have played out in countless shuttered plants and deindustrializing communities over the past four decades. But with the closure of Lordstown, workers are losing more than paychecks, retirement plans, and long-term job security; they’re also burying a lost chapter in union organizing—the moment in the early 1970s when the militant leaders of United Auto Workers Local 1112 at the Lordstown facility briefly revived the demand for greater control in the workplace. With the specter of Trump, the self-advertised mogul-savior of the manufacturing sector, lurking offstage, the last days of Lordstown feel like a parable about what becomes of workers in a political economy that hinges on their systematic disenfranchisement—on the factory floor and in the public sphere alike.

And as a twenty-first–century parable of the workplace, it naturally involved Donald Trump spouting off on Twitter. Nearly two weeks after the last car left the plant, Trump fired off a couple of tweets telling David Green, president of UAW Local 1112, to “get his act together and produce.” That outburst, combined with the news that Trump was heading to Ohio but skipping the plant, led to the press conference where Denison had laid into GM and Trump.

At the same event, Ohio Democratic Representative Tim Ryan—who’s mounting a 2020 run at the presidency—spoke about how plant closures destabilize the entire community. “You hear from a football booster, ‘So-and-so had to transfer. He was treasurer of the football boosters. So-and-so had to transfer. They ran this Boy Scout group,’” he said. “That’s what workers are…. They put their time in. You do everything right and then when you get home, you go coach Little League.” American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten joined him in calling for GM to reopen the plant. “If parents lose their jobs, it devastates the community,” she told me afterward. “Teachers understand that; they are in some ways the first responders.”

Alyssa Brookbank is one of those teachers and the president of the Lordstown Teachers Association. She’s seen the effects of the shutdown up close. “Students know they are going to have to leave some of their family and close friends behind,” she said. “They don’t know how to handle it, and it is not their fault. It is a lot to put on the shoulders of young kids. This is much bigger than just GM. It is going to affect other businesses in ways we don’t even realize yet. It is going to have a ripple effect.”

Denison has the words “Union Thug” tattooed across his forearm in sweeping script. Higher up on his arm, he told me, he has a tattoo of the state of Ohio. He returned to Ohio, to work at Lordstown, just in time for the bottom to fall out of the economy in 2008. By that time, he had enough seniority with GM—having hired on right out of high school in 1998—to survive the wave of layoffs that came with GM’s bankruptcy filing in the wake of the crash. “The biggest thing wasn’t the money,” he says now. “It was the fact that I had a pension.” Because of those benefits, he was able to retire this year after 20 years of factory labor. He’s one of the lucky ones. Continue reading The Road Not Taken

PA General Assembly Under Some Pressure to Act on Minimum Wage

By John Finnerty
New Castle News

June 18, 2019 – HARRISBURG – The state’s secretary of Human Services on Monday called on the Legislature to boost the minimum wage, noting that child care workers and direct-care workers who serve seniors and the disabled make so little many of them are enrolled in public assistance programs, themselves.

Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller said that she depends on quality child care for her 3-year-old daughter and she knows that some of the people who take of her child while she works are enrolled in safety net programs her department oversees.

“No one who works full-time should have to go hungry so their kids can eat,” Miller said in a Monday afternoon rally at the state Capitol.

The average pay for a day care worker in Pennsylvania is $9.71 an hour, she said. Direct care workers make about $11 an hour.

In both cases, about half of the workers in those positions are receiving public assistance of some kind.

Miller said that the state’s low minimum wage – Pennsylvania uses $7.25, the rate set by the federal government, while every surrounding state has moved to a higher minimum wage – creates a “system built on inequities” that shame workers who must turn to safety net programs “for circumstances they can’t control.”

Gov. Tom Wolf has called for a move to $12 and hour with target of reaching $15 an hour by 2025.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated last August that there were about 106,000 people making minimum wage in Pennsylvania, about 3.1 percent of the hourly paid workers in the state.

A report by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a labor-linked think tank, estimated that moving to $15 an hour would lead to wage increases for 2 million Pennsylvania workers.

Legislation to increase the minimum wage has not moved in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. Continue reading PA General Assembly Under Some Pressure to Act on Minimum Wage

Ohio Valley Environmental Tour a ‘Real Eye-opener’

Shippingport, due to close, but some irrationally want to keep pouring money into it.

Why the Green New Deal Matter to Us

By Rick Shrum
Observer-Reporter / Southwest PA

June 1, 2019 – Ned Ketyer, a Peters Township pediatrician, appreciated the five-hour excursion along the Ohio River.

“This tour has been a real eye-opener,” he said Friday afternoon. “Look out the window and what you see should be beautiful, should be pristine.

“You see areas that aren’t green. You see a lot of damaged roads and probably a lot of damaged lives for people brave enough to live there.”

Ketyer, a leader with the environmental support group Climate Reality Project and a board member of the Southwest Environmental Health Project, was lamenting what he regarded as casualties from heavy industry that still has a significant presence in the Ohio Valley. He was among a group of 30 who coursed through this part of the tri-state on a bus, glimpsing and stopping at industrial sites along a 100-mile stretch.

And the sites were many.

The tour was organized by the Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania chapter of the Climate Realty Project; FracTracker Alliance; Breathe Project; and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

Tour attendees discussed and listened to concerns related to natural gas processing, pipelines, emissions, pollution and – of course – cracker plants.

Many of their contentions, to be sure, conflict with statements by industry officials, such as fracking is usually done safely and greenhouse gas emissions have been cut dramatically. One natural gas producer recently established a goal of zero emissions.

Coalition members and supporters stated their case Friday.

The event began in Robinson Township, advanced to Beaver County, then navigated Ohio and West Virginia roadways that hugged the river south to Proctor, W.Va.

Twenty minutes into the tour, shortly after the bus crossed into Beaver County on Interstate 376, Karen Gdula picked up the microphone and talked about “my nightmare that became reality.”

She pointed to a barren hillside to the east where, last Sept. 10, the Revolution Pipeline burst following a landslide, sending flames aloft a short distance from the home where she grew up and which she now owns. One house and several garages and vehicles were destroyed.

“As a child, I had a nightmare that the woods behind my house were on fire,” Gdula said. “Then we had this fire in September. The flames were probably 300 feet high. It was very intense.”

Early in the journey, organizers passed along a jar containing polyethylene pellets, “the building block for plastics,” one said. These so-called “nurdles” are a vital product for the much-celebrated Pennsylvania Shell cracker plant that is under construction in Potter Township, Beaver County.

This type of facility processes ethane, a component of natural gas that is prevalent in the nearby Marcellus Shale, and processes – or “cracks” – it into ethylene.

Continue reading Ohio Valley Environmental Tour a ‘Real Eye-opener’

New Brighton was ‘Hub of the Underground Railroad’

At least nine sites in New Brighton — homes, flour mill and church — were safe houses to help runaway slaves escape from Southern states where slavery was legal to free states in the North, and ultimately to Canada.

By Marsha Keefer
Beaver County Times

June 9, 2019 – NEW BRIGHTON — New Brighton’s strategic location on the Beaver River and compassion of prominent abolitionists made the borough a natural harbor for fugitive slaves seeking asylum prior to the Civil War.

“It was the hub of the Underground Railroad,” said Odette Lambert, a member and former president of New Brighton Historical Society, who’s spent close to a quarter century researching the town’s clandestine freedom trail.

The organized system depended upon a network of people and safe houses to help runaway slaves escape from Southern states where slavery was legal to free states in the North, and ultimately to Canada.

It’s estimated as many as 100,000 slaves may have fled the South between and 1810 and 1850, according to u-s-history.com.

At least nine sites in New Brighton — homes, flour mill and church — were part of the effort.

What’s fascinating, Odette said, is that “very few safe houses are still in existence in the country” — many of them in disrepair and ultimately demolished — “and our little town of New Brighton is one of the few that still has that many homes in existence.” Continue reading New Brighton was ‘Hub of the Underground Railroad’

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