The State of American Socialism
DSA Fund Chair David Duhalde speaks with the Left Anchor podcast about the issues and dilemmas facing democratic socialists today.
Left Anchor, a podcast sponsored by The American Prospect, recently interviewed Democratic Socialists of America Fund chair and veteran DSA member David Duhalde on a wide range of issues facing the democratic socialist movement today. This is an edited transcript of the episode, co-hosted by Ryan Cooper and Alexi the Greek, and is published with permission. It has been edited for clarity and length – eds.
Ryan Cooper: We are welcoming to the show David Duhalde, who is the chair of the Democratic Socialists of America Fund. It’s basically a sister nonprofit to the DSA mothership. And David is also one of the authors of a new book, a chapter in a new book, called Power Concedes Nothing: How Grassroots Organizing Wins Elections. You’ve got a chapter in there about the history of DSA and the 2020 campaign. Before we get to that, I’ve been a DSA member since 2016, sort of a paper member for the most part, unfortunately. But I don’t have a really good grasp on how the organization is structured. So can you explain the chapter process, the National Political Committee, and all that stuff? Give us a sketch of the org chart as it were.
David Duhalde: I have actually been active in Democratic Socialists of America for about two decades, which makes me unusual, not necessarily for the length of time, but because I’m a millennial. So I’m in this Venn diagram of people who are super into DSA, but also are very active Twitter users and had an AOL screen name. That fortunately makes me a good person to answer your question because I’ve been involved in every level possible of DSA. I started as a campus activist. I was on the national leadership before I became national staff, which is when I first met Ryan in the District of Columbia when I was the deputy director from 2015 to 2017, and then have been in working groups and other, so forth.
So it’s important to remember that it’s Democratic Socialists of America. It’s very much an American organization, whether it wants to be or not. DSA is federated. DSA has a board that’s elected by the membership, which we can go into in a second, but there’s no real layer in between that. Then it just goes straight to the chapters. This was somewhat modeled off of organized labor, which has internationals, locals, then chapters. There was even a time when community-based chapters were called locals, and the YDSA groups were called chapters. But now everything is just called chapters.
The vast majority of people who are involved in DSA are involved at the local level, but I would estimate 10% to 15% of members do that. Most people are like Ryan, or my parents, and are paper members. And I think that’s pretty much been the standard ratio. It’s always been interesting to see, there must be some math genius who will figure this out, but there’s always pretty much the same percentage of people involved at a given time. It’s just that the numbers expand and contract.
But you are a member of a national organization, so the “branding” is similar. This is different from other non-profit federated organizations that come to mind, such as the Center of Popular Democracy, which is what had been ACORN, a progressive multi-issue, multiracial organization. Or People’s Action, which is somewhat similar too. The names of their local groups are all different. So it’s very much a local branding, whereas DSA there’s very much a central branding, but with a local focus.
The majority of work you people see around the country doing is really driven by the local chapters with some coordination from the national. DSA comes from the Socialist Party tradition, which granted local autonomy. It doesn’t have a very centralized vision, unlike lots of other socialist and communist groups that people come across. So really people do vote with their feet. The national really can only direct where the members were going to go anyway.
There are also these working groups and national committees, which my friend Jack Suria Linares wrote about in Convergence, which is the magazine that published the book we’re going to be talking about. He reflected on what had happened with Jamaal Bowman, who was getting pressure from the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) working group. There was a big divide where the BDS working group wanted DSA not to re-endorse Jamaal Bowman, and do other actions because he had voted for the Iron Dome funding. Jamaal Bowman’s a DSA member and congressional representative from Westchester and the Bronx, he’s actually my grandmother’s representative.
Alexi: David, was the working group a national working group, or local?
David Duhalde: It was a national working group. Jack was like me, he was a member before 2016, when working groups then were kind of like chess clubs. DSA was very weak. We were still about 6,000 members, we were gaining momentum because of Bernie’s run. But still, even if we didn’t want that, these were de facto structureless working groups.
Alexi: For scale, so the audience knows, DSA has something like 91,000 members now?
David Duhalde: Yeah. One of the things I always say to people who are worried is that even if we shrank to 40,000, which we’re not, that’s still eight times as big as when I joined, and eight times as big as when I was on staff. So you have to put some perspective on that too. What Jack summed up really well is you have these groups that in theory are beholden to the national leadership that’s elected, but a national leadership that’s mostly volunteers, five get a small stipend for their time. Staff is overwhelmed, and they’re not there to be people’s supervisors. So you can have these groups that operate independently and exert kind of their own force.
That’s an issue that DSA really needs to reconcile. I’m the chair of the DSA Fund, that’s a separate legally nonprofit, but it works with DSA. We have two staff independently, but otherwise we work with DSA very closely. But one thing we don’t do, for example, is put out statements. We just do educational programming to advance democratic socialism, and what DSA prioritizes, we prioritize and we try to complement. Right now we’re doing a series called “How We Win” on public policy victories that DSA chapters have led. DSA does a great job electing people, and we want to then educate the public, especially the members. It’s been a really fascinating series. Yesterday, we talked about Maine, New York, and Austin, and these worker rights victories that each of these chapters were part of. But going back to what I was saying is we don’t put out statements, but these other working groups do. The public, in fairness, cannot distinguish between a statement from a working group and a statement from the national organization. It’s just not something the press is going to do. It’s not something a reader is going to do.
Alexi: They just hear DSA. And we’re lucky if they know what that means, and that’s what they associate with the statement.
David Duhalde: Exactly. In electoral politics, we also run into the problem of having a very thorough endorsement system, and then someone says, “I’m a DSA member and I’m running,” and the press, especially in New York, we’ll be like, “DSA candidate.” And we’re like, “No, that’s not actually our candidate. It’s just a member who’s running.” Sometimes we’re like, “God bless them. We’re just not interested.” Sometimes we really wish they didn’t run. But it creates confusion.
Alexi: It’s messy.
David Duhalde: Messy, but it is a fascinating place to be in. When I take a step back, it is actually incredible that this small organization can really shape an agenda in New York, or at least push an agenda here and nationally with such prominent figures. So DSA does punch above its weight, especially if you compare to other nonprofits who have multimillion dollar budgets and dozens more staffers. They’re not getting the same amount of attention, which I think is a blessing and a curse. Sometimes attention isn’t always good.
Alexi: Just to kind of recap, the messiness has these tradeoffs, right? I think we should mention what has been so good about this kind of adaptive management structure and the organizational flexibility and federated nature of it. I think we could get into Ukraine and Jamaal Bowman a little bit, and what you advise going forward. But first maybe let’s talk about the success for those who don’t know, and why it’s even worth getting into the problems. Because it’s only really worth talking about the problems of an organization if the organization is strong enough to do good things also. Let’s recap a little bit for everyone who might not know why DSA in its big growth period has been good for the left, if you don’t mind.
David Duhalde: DSA was about 5,000 or 6,000 members before 2016, when Bernie Sanders lost the primary. People think that Bernie Sanders’ campaign really drew people into the DSA, and it wasn’t. It’s what got people aware of DSA, and then when Trump won that’s when thousands and thousands of people started joining. DSA was really good at a couple of things. We had younger staff who were more tech savvy, including myself. We had a porous democratic structure that you could just immediately come into, you didn’t have to go through this long onboarding stage. There were a variety of things people could do under the DSA banner. I remember people joining and they were cleaning parks. I was like, good. It’s not what I want to do personally, but people were looking for something to do, and electoral politics became a way to do it. The fact that DSA would be a venue in which you, as a newly activated person, often a young person, could immediately plug in to do things.
There was this perfect time after the inauguration where people were willing to do stuff, and DSA was able to take advantage and find these candidates. And these candidates find us who are members, and they win. It slowly started crescendoing to the famous victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018, but DSA in New York and Chicago started winning these small state legislative victories and started building squads of their own around pushing out very conservative Democrats. This leads to a really important thing where you have elected officials, very activist chapters, and a willingness to build a coalition.
Maine DSA covers the whole state, but a lot of it is centered in Portland, the major city. They have elected officials, they have the chapter, and they run this ballot measure. They built a coalition around increasing the minimum wage and creating better environmental protections in a very positive way. There was so much negative campaigning going on around Susan Collins at the time that it was just refreshing for Maine voters to hear a positive message. This is a fascinating example that really speaks to the strength of DSA. When it works best, it is able to leverage its elected officials, its positions in civic organizations, and its own membership base to really push change. Recently DSA in New York State was part of a coalition to get a renewable energy bill passed, and it failed. There was all this criticism coming from folks saying “Oh, well it looks like you can’t do it. Do you like being the junior partner?” which is a reference to the political strategy put forward by Justice Democrats and people like me who say, given the internal power dynamics of the Democratic Party, the social democratic left will be the junior partner for now, and hopefully will become the senior partner. Then someone in California whose politics I really don’t agree with said, “I’d really love to have these problems New York has,” because DSA doesn’t have the strength there yet to push that kind of agenda. Let’s take a step back and realize this wouldn’t have any chance if DSA hadn’t been part of a broader coalition to get this bill potentially to the floor.
Ryan Cooper: I think this is an underappreciated point that these big city machines just have no organic support to them. They rely, especially in New York City and New York State, on rigging the rules of the primary elections and other cheap tricks like nominating old people or dead people to be on the local party committees and stuff like that. They don’t have a sort of Tammany Hall organization of thousands of thousands of rank-and-file people ready to come out for them. So if you are even a little bit organized, you can basically do entryism, and still have a more substantive base in terms of serious numbers than these incumbent fossils. This is maybe a good way to get into the endorsement question you talk about in the 2020 campaign, which I feel like is what really seems to motivate you. Not about campaigning for Biden, but being in the game. Some interesting to learn was that DSA endorsed John Kerry in 2004. So run us through that history there briefly before you talk about 2020.
David Duhalde: Power Concedes Nothing is a great anthology that covers what different organizations did in 2020. I was asked to write about DSA, and one of my central theses in the chapter is that both those who said DSA should take no action to potentially defeat Trump and those who said DSA should do that both had a false narrative that not endorsing Joe Biden was unprecedented. So I went to this biography of Michael Harrington, who was the leader of DSA until his death, and found that not only did DSOC (Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, one of DSA’s predecessor organizations) not endorse Carter against Reagan, but Harrington didn’t really give a committal statement about the [John] Anderson and [Barry] Commoner’s non-major party runs. DSA often stayed out of primaries. It endorsed [Walter] Mondale instead of Jesse Jackson in 1984, which was a real mistake. I think it’s still one of DSA’s biggest mistakes in terms of having long term effects of DSA being very white. It was a key time where DSA should have jumped in, and Mondale gets crushed. DSA did get it right in 1988, endorsing Jackson.
But then DSA’s endorsements kind of went into a slumber. As Ryan mentions DSA didn’t endorse anyone for president until John Kerry. That’s interesting because if you look back there were two people running who seemed progressive at least to me, Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich, but DSA membership was split. It also showed DSA wasn’t, at the time, strong enough or willing enough to facilitate a discussion to intervene in a primary at that strength. So DSA actually didn’t intervene in a primary until Bernie Sanders in 2016. But even in that 2016 race DSA did not endorse Hillary Clinton, and I remember lots of people were upset about that. In 2012, where Obama had backtracked on so many promises, it didn’t make sense to endorse him over Romney.
Alexi: When it’s symbolic, it’s almost that’s where the real landmines are. But if there’s an actual change about to occur, people will swallow their pride a little bit and have more coalitional solidarity.
David Duhalde: In 2020, I was talking about this debate with my comrade, Sam Adler-Bell, who read the chapter. What blew his mind was that Biden never even wanted the endorsement. But people kept fighting like cats and dogs.
Alexi: Over something that wasn’t even requested or desired.
David Duhalde: Yes.
Alexi: This is classic leftist problems though. The reason DSA is popular in part is because people hate neoliberal, centrist, establishment Democrats for good reason, right? We’re anti-capitalist. And if it means anything to differentiate ourselves from just standard run of the mill establishment Democrats, it has to be on principle. Even when it doesn’t seem to have a pragmatic consequentialist effect, it feels like it really matters in the abstract to figure out what our principles should result in symbolically even, right?
We have to kind of disaggregate a few things here about the endorsement stuff, right? Because you’re not even saying that DSA should have endorsed Biden, and as you say, he didn’t even want it, but whether or not there was much work done at all to defeat Trump in terms of the electoral energy that DSA put forward. I don’t know if it’s in terms of financial resources, in terms of what the different kinds of tools were in the fight. But that reminds me that there’s kind of a meta argument over how much or when DSA should be really involved in electoral politics. The Bernie example is a really good example because it was so clear that this guy is different from the rest of those Dems, right? This guy is actually somebody we could call a socialist in some way. Some people say he’s a “socdem,” whatever, but he is not Biden, if that’s clear.
When you look at what Biden has actually done in office, I would feel a little bit bad if DSA endorsed Biden because what are people going to learn about who DSA is in contrast to these feckless Democrats, if we’re willing to endorse this idiot, this kind of establishment guy who won’t fight for anyone, right? And yet the left has this problem where it sometimes looks like we don’t care about the reactionary right and those forces.
David Duhalde: I was part of an effort that included a letter by DSA members who said, “We should be more explicit in defeating Trump.” And we intentionally never listed Biden’s name. What we also said was that we should focus, and this is something that Rashida Tlaib did in Michigan, is focus on swing states where we have members and fight hard to get the GOTV turnout, because that will increase the number of people who will vote against Trump. We felt like this was the way to thread the needle. I never thought DSA should endorse Biden. It would’ve been much harder to defeat us by being like, “Why don’t we just get GOTV for Rashida Tlaib? Why don’t we really go hard for all the Philly candidates in the general who are going to win anyway, but-”
Alexi: How can you say no to that, right?
David Duhalde: Because you can’t say no to that. Not to jump too far ahead, but with January 6th, if you really said there was no huge difference and that it really wasn’t that important to defeat Trump, to keep that thread going, you really have to just dismiss the January 6th hearings and-
Alexi: Which a lot of leftists did. They did that.
David Duhalde: Which a lot of leftists did and are doing. And I think it’s unfortunate that I really do rely on the Daily in the New York Times to find out what’s happening about January 6th. The American Prospect reports on it. But there’s lots of other left wing outlets, and my Facebook, the social media, where it just gets-
Alexi: They won’t touch it.
David Duhalde: If I was being a typical American and not reading the mainstream media and just listening to my Facebook, I honestly wouldn’t even know what was happening on January 6th. Because so few people in my social network are talking about it.
Alexi: Because some leftists, they’re allergic to anything that makes them seem liberal. I get it. I understand that. But that’s not a good enough reason.
David Duhalde: Yeah. And I don’t think this about being liberal, I think it’s a fundamental attack on democratic rights. In the chapter I talk about how DSA played a real role in the People Power for Bernie table, which is a DC way of saying coalition. It had different nonprofits like Our Revolution, Justice Democrats, and some organizations of color, like Dream Defenders, which is an African American group. Those groups all stayed on for the Defeat Trump table, and DSA didn’t join. I bring up Our Revolution, who I used to work for. I disagreed with a lot of things they’ve done, but I thought they did it best. They didn’t endorse Biden, and they didn’t advertise it. They just focused on the work, and I think that was the thing to do. That’s where the DSA electeds were. It was Bernie, AOC, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Rashida Tlaib were, and it was just odd for us not to be there in the same way. Cori Bush has legislation about punishing the January 6th people, and broadly speaking the anti-capitalist left doesn’t seem interested in that bill. I don’t want to pick on DSA because it’s not like DSA is unique here. I think that it’s a problem, because as Astra Taylor says, “Bourgeois democracy sucks, but you’re going to miss it when it’s gone.”
This is personal for me because my dad’s from Chile, and he was there for the coup. He definitely taught me two things. One, he told me “I didn’t take it that seriously. At one point I even said maybe it’d be worse to have the Christian Democrats in power than the military.” He was like, “I was wrong.” My dad couldn’t vote for most of my childhood. Even when he became a citizen again after exile, the Chilean government said people who live abroad can’t vote because it was a way to punish all the leftist refugees. They only changed that recently because more business people now go abroad. But these are real democratic dilemmas that I think socialists and social democrats have a real investment in as part of our broader political vision and can’t just leave to the liberals. Because if you leave defending bourgeois democratic rights to liberals, you’re going to get a worse conclusion. I will credit AOC’s leadership right now. Especially around Roe, if you just left it to the establishment to defend Roe, nothing’s going to happen. But she and others are pushing so hard, and you do see groups like DSA involved in actions. Now you do see Biden saying, “Well maybe we can do the filibuster reform for this.” The base now is getting so restive, and that’s what we want to see.
Ryan Cooper: The whole thing kind of reminds me of my thought process in 2016 and in 2020. There was a moment there in 2016 where it seemed like Bernie maybe was going to pull it out, and then he didn’t. There was a moment in 2020, people forget this, where Bernie was ahead. All the election handicapper guys, the Nate Silvers and whatnot, said that he had by far the greatest chance to win. And he almost pulled it out. That didn’t work, bummer. So my thought process is, all right, we’re in the election. What can I do that’s consonant with the mission of journalism, writing and stuff that is also politically useful. And it was just attacking Trump over and over again for the entire year. I wrote the case for Bernie Sanders, then after that was wrapped up, it was the case against Donald Trump.
There’s this glib statement that if voting mattered, then they’d be trying to take it away from you. Well, they’re doing that right now. The Supreme Court recently today announced they’re going to take a case for the next term next year about the independent state legislature doctrine. That’s basically saying that these gerrymandered Republican majorities in places like Wisconsin, where it’s literally impossible for Democrats to win. I mean, in the absence of a 40 point margin of victory, they can just do whatever they want to election laws, or just vote to give the electoral votes to the Republican candidate without even having an election at all. If you look at places like Hungary, which is a fake authoritarian democracy, that is not a great place to be on the Left. The people face coercion, lack of job opportunities, if not violence, from street gangs and stuff like that. It’s just terrible oppression. In Chile it was even worse, people were tortured and died. People were thrown out of helicopters. And the right wing now, they explicitly talk about doing that. They have fucking t-shirts with like leftist plus helicopter type shit, and I take them at their word. I think that they really would like to indulge their violent fantasies, and it really sucks to be in a situation where Biden has to stand up to this lawless court. If he doesn’t, or you can’t get somehow another action against this effort to overturn democracy, it’s not going to work out well for the left, for labor unions, or for anyone affiliated with them.
I think it’s correct to say that from about 2014 through about 2018 or 2019, the left was relevant in the mix of a popular conversation. Since that time, it seems to have kind of lost the thread. A lot of people aren’t even participating in the popular discussion, or they’ve just completely given up on any chance of things getting better. Just a sort of sense of scoffing. You see it on January 6th, you see it with anything the Biden administration tries to do. What explains that in your view?
David Duhalde: I recently went to my union steward’s training, and I came a little late. What were people talking about? January 6th. Here are the union members, the advanced sector of the working class, and they were talking about January 6th. You can’t say that working class people aren’t talking about it. It’s literally happening in my union hall. Biden is just so inept and doesn’t have any charisma. Even when he does good things like the NLRB, it’s about as good as it’s going to get for an establishment Democrat. But he doesn’t know how to sell it. So people get really more and more depressed, and can’t see the good, and there’s all this negative energy. There’s a better NLRB because workers are in motion. The left has gotten people elected. Biden is at least talking about doing something on student debt. It’s far from enough, but actually he has shifted on that. People don’t want to give credit for that because it’s not Bernie or it’s not us doing it. It’s somebody else. But that’s politics. Politics is moving people, and that’s the hard part, because sometimes you move people and see how weak you are.
People really thought we were going to be in power, and it didn’t happen. That hurts. There’s a bit of trauma from COVID, trauma from Bernie losing. And people don’t want to admit that we are changing the discourse because this isn’t as much change as we’d like. This nuance doesn’t play well on social media. I do a nuanced tweet and it gets three likes, usually one from my mom. If you do some toxic mean tweet, it does so much better. That really influences how we respond to all these things emotionally as well.
Ryan Cooper: Yeah, no question about it. It’s easy to say Twitter isn’t real life or Facebook isn’t real life, but it kind of is in some important ways. I think Twitter is in American politics anyway because it’s so influential among the media. I mean, Trump just led the entire television broadcast industry around by the nose just tweeting 50 times a day, and it does have the exact negative incentive structure that you described there. Try to be nice. I struggle with this myself, but at least extend comrades a little bit of generosity of interpretation.
One aspect of this, it seems like there’s a sort of a self-belief issue there too. I mean, it’s something you see, I think in Biden as well, that people do not actually behave as though they deserve to run the country. And on the left, that’s combined with a criticism of the United States, pointing out all of the bad things that have happened in the past and continue to happen. This is mostly entirely legitimate but it makes it hard for people to put themselves into the headspace of thinking that I and the people with me deserve to run the show. It seems like neither the left nor the liberals believe that. If they did they would be standing up to Trump, putting him in jail, like Grant did.
You talked about Reconstruction. Grant and Amos T. Akerman were there for a couple of years, and they broke the KKK with federal prosecutions. It wasn’t that difficult. It just took a little military aggressiveness. But you don’t see this just pathetic dithering from Garland, and I think it reflects just a crisis of hegemony among the liberals who don’t actually believe their own bumper stickers. Is there any way for the left to stand up and come to a new understanding of their own position?
David Duhalde: The DSA Fund is doing “How We Win” series, which is partly to have people debrief publicly how they won a campaign. We’re also working to bring more and more policymakers together. In terms of organization, there have to be more conversations that are in person or on Zoom, not Slack, not Twitter, about what strategies to build coalitions that can govern in a city, a state, or the country to defeat the right and also advance. That has to force people to make honest assessments. Last November I made a very unpopular tweet with a lot of DSA members where I said, “Maybe we’ve hit the plateau of candidates we can win on our own.” I think that I’ve been vindicated on that. I think we can elect progressives, I think we can elect DSA members, they just have to involve broader coalitions. It can’t just be this kind of vulgar vanguardism. It’s not even vanguardism, because at least vanguardism is building cadre organization. It’s a broader insularism that I’m not the first one to identify. DSA does best when DSA is part of coalitions.
DSA and other groups need to put out more statements about January 6th and get their members and people to call and to make statements, because I think Garland and the other audiences need to see that. Going beyond that, the midterms are going to be bad and I don’t think it’s just that the Democrats didn’t do anything. I think the Democrats didn’t do anything because they just don’t know how. When I say “Democrats,” I’m speaking specifically of the establishment. They’re willing to do the things to go through the motions, like the Supreme Court justice, do the one Build Back Better bill. But after that, they just aren’t willing to have these hard fights.
Many people voted for Joe Biden because he said he could use his Senate relationships, and he hasn’t been able to. The whole thing was that Bernie had no friends in the Senate and Biden did. What ultimately is going to happen is we are going to have to build these coalitions locally because the federal government is so stuck. To go back to [Supreme Court justice Louis] Brandeis, you have to build these petri dishes of democracy and have some proof of concept. I think that’s really what the left can focus on and provide inspiration. When people do see things working, they get excited, and for me that’s what’s been exciting about Starbucks. But on the federal level, I’m the first person to say as much as Biden disappoints me, I don’t think the left should bother to challenge him because it’s a tremendous amount of energy for a losing cause. I think there’s a lot of energy that would be better spent elsewhere, but I’m very curious to hear what you both think about getting unstuck right now.
Alexi: Well, just on that point, what’s your thinking in terms of a waste of energy?
David Duhalde: I wrote a piece for Socialist Forum, which is DSA’s more theoretical journal, where I go over this. If there’s an open race for president, I think there needs to be a standard bearer, whether it’s AOC, Bernie Sanders, Ryan Cooper, there just has to be someone who’s constitutionally eligible.
Alexi: I think Ryan would be a good choice.
David Duhalde: I think he would be too. I love Ilhan Omar, but she’s not constitutionally eligible to be president, which I have to remind a lot of comrades. We’ll change the Constitution one day, but for now she’s not eligible. But I think history has shown that if you have a challenger, like Ted Kennedy or Pat Buchanan against George Bush Senior it’s a harbinger that this person’s going to lose. There was a DSA member who was in the International Socialist Organization, which is defunct now, but which supported Ralph Nader in 2000. He was the first person in 2020 to sound the alarm to me privately being like, “We need to say something because if Trump wins, DSA will be blamed like the Green Party was in 2000, whether you think that’s fair.” The point was realpolitik. Whether it’s fair or not, whether you think Ralph Nader actually cost Gore the election, is irrelevant. The Green Party never recovered from that.
If DSA launched a challenger, I don’t think we would recover if Biden was to then lose. DSA would become the scapegoat, and become further isolated. I think there are comradely arguments against this, such as presidential primaries being one of the main vehicles for political discussion in this country. That’s true, and it’s not just social democrats and progressives who are underwhelmed by Biden. That complicates it, doesn’t it? Because at this point, to say that the left doesn’t want to challenge Biden might make him want to run again, when we want him to not run again because it would probably be better. So it’s a very tricky thing.
Ryan Cooper: Your point about local stuff being an organizing priority for specifically leftist organizations is well taken. I watched Paul Prescod try to take on Anthony Hardy Williams. They did not win, but it was a good fight. It was fairly close as far as the primary goes. I think they won some important lessons. They did very well in Philly, less well in the suburbs, in the State Senate race. But we have a bunch of other DSA folks in the Pennsylvania legislature now, and they’re making strides. We got Nikil Saval, we got Rick Krajewski.
David Duhalde: And Elizabeth Fiedler.
Ryan Cooper: There’s a beginnings of a caucus there, and that’s something you could build on. Philly and the Philly suburbs are like a fifth of the state population. The thing about the presidential race that’s sticking in my head is that if Biden and Congress won’t take on the Supreme Court and Congress won’t take on the Supreme Court, then there won’t be an election in 2024. We’ll have that independent state legislature shit I was talking about before. And in that case, that’s the ball game.
Number one is to keep the Republican victory down as low as possible in the midterms. And then if Biden’s just going to let the Supreme Court steal all of his power as president, then you need somebody else. I wouldn’t run AOC, I don’t think. She’s very young. She’s also very controversial. She’s been a hate object on the right for a long time already. The person that comes to my mind is J.B. Pritzker, the governor of Illinois, who is, I think, fairly close to the sort of center of normie opinion. If the Democratic president isn’t going to stand up to the court, and at least prevent them from gutting the entire presidential election system, then why are we even bothering with anything? I could be wrong about that, but it’s hard to escape the logic, right?
David Duhalde: I think you’re hitting one of the things we haven’t delved into, but is a real problem, is diffidence. There’s a worship of the Supreme Court that is so bad at this point, which leads to the problem where it creates real tensions that are irresolvable long term. Why should New York State not enforce its gun law? They’re not depriving people of a really fundamental right, they’re not oppressing a marginalized class. I mean, it’s a safety issue that New Yorkers want to address. What’s best is building things locally right now to build foundations that can resist some of the worst elements that are happening.
I agree with you about Pritzker in the sense that Pritzker was at least speaking against bipartisanship. Why people care and worship bipartisanship is beyond me at this point. The parties have realigned. People don’t want to admit that sometimes. They’ll say “Democrats used to do this.” I’m like, “Did they? Or was there a New Deal coalition that forced them, and there was the threat to the US ruling class by both fascism and communism, which forced Roosevelt to do these things.”
DSA’s vision originally was uniting the basis of the “three Georges”: George Wallace, George Meany, and George McGovern. The peaceniks, the labor folks, and the white working class. And that didn’t happen. But the Blue Dog Caucus, as I’ve written about, has been slaughtered. They don’t exist. And the liberal Republicans – I don’t know how old you are, but I really do remember them – don’t exist anymore. Especially in New York, where you had people who were pro-choice or even pro-union. Those people don’t exist. So bipartisanship just isn’t possible for most things. I’m really shocked they even got the gun bill. But otherwise it’s really not possible unless you’re doing symbolic votes, like when the Squad votes against the infrastructure bill because they know that 12 Republicans will do it. And those Republicans are being attacked by their own base.
I’ll never forget, I knew the PRO Act was in deep trouble when five Republicans voted for it in the House because none of those Republicans voted for the COVID relief. So I was like they know this is not going to pass, they’re not worried about their base coming after them. I think it’s like it’ll take a left organization prioritizing the grassroots and making a liberal democracy a real possibility. People have to admit that, even if it means aligning with people we don’t always love, because the alternative is fundamentally so much worse.