To understand the situation in the Democratic Party today we need to start with Obama, currently the main force opposing the long overdue shift to the Left in American politics. Obama cares for nothing but what he endlessly calls his “legacy.” He knows that he is already widely seen for what he is– the representative of the donors, the rich, the elites. Trump’s election had that meaning in the sense that it reflected the natural outcome of the neglect of the working classes, the industrial poor and the non-elites. If the Left comes to power in this election that will seal the meaning of the Obama Presidency– a long sad detour in the path of progress. Through a spokesperson Obama refused to support Sanders if he became the nominee in 2016 and he has recently said that he would speak out against Sanders in the ongoing primaries, Obama repudiates Sanders, because everything Sanders has done since 2016 Obama should have done in 2008. But the passion in the Democratic Part now is for a left turn. To too directly oppose the left—which includes so many young Black voters—would destroy the Democratic Party.
What will – what can — Obama do? As we learned recently he and his surrogates will support Buttigieg. This strategy launched today with endorsements from Reggie Love, Austin Goolsbee and Linda Douglass—three top Obama aides. The following is a speculation based on the best evidence we have.
Obviously Buttigieg will not get the nomination. Rather his strength will enhance the likelihood of a brokered convention at which Obama will be able to more or less pick the nominee and write the platform. Obama will have three pillars at the Convention: the Buttigieg delegates, the Biden delegates and the superdelegates, who get to vote on ballot number two. Undoubtedly, Sanders and Warren together will be very strong, most likely holding a majority of delegates between them. Obama and his forces will not throw the nomination to Buttigieg or Biden—that will completely destroy the Democratic Party, probably for a generation. What they will do is support Warren, but that will be a profoundly weakened Warren, wholly dependent on Obama and essentially running on the vacuous technocratic, bipartisanship rhetoric that Obama invented and that Buttigieg currently favors.
Warren has already indicated her “willingness” to go along with something like this by backing down on Medicare for all. Let us also recall that she did not support Sanders in 2016. Even though this will mean the continued domination of the Democratic Party by the corporate class, that will be obscured by a rhetoric of “first woman President” and the accompanying rumble of “Bernie Bros.” The key to American politics will remain what it has been since the seventies: marginalization of the left. Of course Warren will lose in another soulless campaign that will echo Hillary’s. But more than a single victory, what Obama and his class want is long term control of the Democratic Party, a goal to which Obama’s image and so-called legacy is key.
Eli Zaretsky is Professor of History at The New School for Social Research. He is the author of Political Freud: A History (2017).