Williamson and Kennedy.
Damaging the Progressive Brand. (Sorry, not sorry.)
Summary: Marianne Williamson and Robert Kennedy, Jr. have entered the presidential race and are being cast as the progressives in the field. And, to be fair, they’re talking a good game and have all the bullet points memorized. This essay speaks to why this is a disaster for the progressive movement and effectively torches Bernie’s legacy.
My congressman was just arrested on fraud charges.
Texas GOP Representative Bryan Slaton recently resigned after allegations of sexual misconduct with a 19-year-old staffer emerged. Slaton had previously introduced a bill banning minors from witnessing drag shows because they're part of “the LGBTQ culture of grooming.”
Just days after the Trumps were escorted from the White House, DJT’s son-in-law Jared received a $2 billion investment from the Saudi royal family into a brand spanking new private equity firm.
Somehow, in between hotel trysts and cocaine binges, Hunter Biden was able to find time to consult foreign governments, despite no apparent qualifications to do so.
I could go on. For days, weeks. Maybe years. It’s little wonder people are sick of politicians. Politics is historically corrupt here and abroad, and from time immemorial. And it often stinks more at the bottom than the top. Local politics is a breeding ground for stupidity and corruption because of the low barrier to entry.
So, when someone like Marianne Williamson comes along with a message of love, hope and healing, it’s tempting to give it a shot.
You might be able to look past Robert Kennedy’s stance on vaccines because he appears principled and consistent. And that last name!
The Democratic field of candidates consists of President Joe Biden, spiritual guide Marianne Williamson and environmental advocate Robert Kennedy, Jr. The Republican field is already cluttered with a car full of clowns, including disgraced former President Trump, conservative talk show host Larry Elder, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Corey Stapleton, former Secretary of State of Montana. These are the choices presented to the American public for the highest office in the land. I consider myself a progressive. And Joe Biden, far and away, has my vote. And here’s why.
Because this isn’t a fucking game.
Chapter One: Magical Thinking.
Forget the Republican field. That’s of no concern to this audience. Let’s talk progressivism. And I’m not going to get lost in the accusations against Williamson and Kennedy. They’ve been around long enough to have compiled a litany of embarrassing statements and positions that should discount them entirely from the process. From healing nuclear radiation with prayer to saying that at least Germans could cross the alps to escape the Nazis, unlike the COVID lockdowns in America. These are real things uttered by Williamson and Kennedy, respectively. Joe Biden has said and done awful things as well, so I’m certainly not going to measure candidates by the ridiculous things they’ve said over the years. This is a different argument. One that challenges progressives to think critically about what it is we’re trying to build in this country.
Both Williamson and Kennedy are promoting a progressive agenda. Break up the oligarchy. Get money out of politics. Reparations for Black people, in the case of Williamson. Punishing polluting corporations. Universal healthcare. Criminal justice reform. Name the major issue on the progressive platform, to the extent there’s consensus, and they conveniently check the boxes. So, why not applaud them for running?
Max, haven’t you said before that it’s important to run progressives in primaries to help promote and expand our ideals? Isn’t it incumbent upon us to challenge the establishment Democrats, if for no other reason than to force them to shift to the left, just like Bernie did to Biden?
Yes, and yes.
So, what’s the problem?
The system they’re stepping into doesn’t allow for magical thinking with zero experience. Forget the fact that they’ve skipped the line in such egregious fashion. Lost a congressional race, Marianne? Shit, just run for president then. We have one example in our very brief history of a candidate with zero experience actually winning the top job, and it literally tore the country apart. Instead of draining the swamp, Trump backfilled it with the worst people in the world, and we got what we paid for. That’s what happens when you don’t have a team. Or a plan. Expertise. Experience. Coalitions. The system overwhelms you, and the worst elements take over key positions of influence because the serious people will have nothing to do with you.
These two are representing the progressive brand. Every awful thing they’ve said and done will be surfaced, and they’ll be mercilessly mocked by the establishment media, opposition research will feed the punditry beast and donors will flee. That’s the system we have, and these aren’t the people to overcome it.
Do you know how hard it is to pass a piece of legislation?
Guess who else doesn’t know?
The two so-called progressive candidates.
Zero elections won between them.
Zero pieces of legislation passed.
People have this notion that politics is easy. It’s the biggest spectator sport in the world that everyone assumes they can play. These two are asking to fly the plane because they’ve traveled. To prepare your food because they’ve eaten in restaurants. To dunk the ball because they’ve sat courtside at a Knicks game. Fuck that.
Williamson and Kennedy don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of beating the establishment. But they’re going to accomplish something big. I mean, huge. And, it’s a gift to the Republicans and the establishment Democrats wrapped in a bow. They’re going to destroy the credibility of Bernie’s movement and all of the progressive caucus members—the real ones— by putting themselves out there as progressives.
There’s two elements to this critique. First, is the campaign. Second, is doing the actual job. In terms of the election, as former NY governor Mario Cuomo famously said, “You campaign in poetry and govern in prose.”
These candidates are certainly capable of poetry. They’ve got all of the buzzwords and phrases down. Especially Williamson, who has been grifting for secular Jesus for decades by preaching the word of the bullshit Course in Miracles. Her acolytes are quick to point out the double standard of calling her out for talking about the soul of America when Joe Biden literally made that his campaign slogan. Or how the Catholic church is a corrupt organization that issued visas to Nazis after the war or covered up pedophilia for decades.
Hey Mitt Romney, tell me again about those gold tablets your guy found in Rochester that said men can have multiple wives? Doesn’t the Bible promote slavery? How is Williamson’s poetic and spiritual view of the world any more dangerous than literally every other religion? I’m here for all of it. I’m with you. I’m the wrong person to talk to about religion and dogma. But, there’s a difference here.
Biden, and now a hundred years of executives prior to him, with the exception of the exception to every rule—Donald Trump—were all public servants who were people of faith. Williamson and Kennedy are people of faith who built their entire personas around their particular dogmas, and now they want to be public servants. It’s no different than Pat Robertson, and the outcome will likely be the same. For good reason.
Chapter Two: A Professional Political Class.
Without going further on their particular grifts, let’s talk about how Williamson and Kennedy are going to get smoked in the primary. That comes down to the fundamental reality that exists in the current structure of our politics. Money talks, bullshit walks. Does that need to change? Of course. That’s the central thesis of UNFTR. Are these the candidates that are going to change it? No.
They have no organizations.
No ground game.
No allies at the state and local levels willing to hurl themselves in front of a moving train to accomplish something.
No evidence that they can build coalitions.
Followings are not coalitions. People with followers who look to get into politics at quite literally the highest level without understanding anything of the process or the real power players become demagogues. (Again, for reference, see one Donald J. Trump.)
It sounds like I’m making a swamp argument. I know. That I want more of the same bureaucratic politicians who grew up inside the system and are corrupted by it. There’s a difference. Take the beloved Obama-Biden team that establishment Democrats love so dearly.
Obama. Harvard Law. Constitutional law scholar. Community organizer. Senator. President. Chose one of the most seasoned senators as his running mate to overcome his lack of credentials and youth. Someone who could twist arms in Congress and get things done. The guy behind the guy who knew where the bodies were buried. They came in with a mandate and a majority in both houses, even with a filibuster proof majority for a time.
And what happened?
No bankers were punished after the financial crisis. They hunted down journalists and chilled speech. Passed sweeping healthcare reform that was written by insurance companies. Remained in the protracted wars abroad. Didn’t tax the rich. Spent years negotiating a back channel, secret treaty that would have allowed corporations to abuse the poor and working class in other nations. Inequality widened. The recovery took years longer than it should have. Guantanamo stayed open. Nothing material improved for Black and Brown people. Dreamers weren’t given citizenship.
So, aren’t you contradicting your exact point about a professional political class?
Yes, and no. There’s a lot here, so bear with me. Three points, using the person Democrats believe to be the best president of their lifetime to illustrate the need for a functional progressive revolution within the Democratic party, led by a professional class of politicians.
Obama was incredibly well credentialed. Just like RFK Jr., who also attended Harvard, got a law degree from the University of Virginia, overcame personal obstacles and went on to pursue a robust career as an environmental justice attorney and fierce critic of U.S. militarism, corporate pollution and treatment of the poor and marginalized. And, Obama was able to galvanize the nation with a message of hope and change. Just like Marianne Williamson and the legions of devout followers she has amassed as a successful speaker and author.
And yet, once he ascended to the top spot in the nation with a mandate from the public and a clear majority, he instantly fell into the machine and was ground by the gears of neoliberalism. Why? Because he had the words, but not the background or the discipline, and all he had to do to sell a progressive profile was be more liberal than Hillary Clinton.
It takes more than speeches and rhetoric to implement real change. Even in the best of circumstances, with everything in his favor to pursue a progressive agenda, Obama delivered more of the same and was a gift to the neoliberal establishment.
Why is Biden getting more of the progressive agenda done than any other president in our lifetime? And, before you punch your phone or car speaker, consider this. We’re not at war. The use of drone strikes has fallen off the map. We’re making an historic investment into clean energy initiatives and infrastructure. There’s a plan to offer student debt relief; regardless of what happens at the Supreme Court, he did what no one else has done. He actually got a gun safety bill passed. Passed the CHIPS Act to onshore semiconductor manufacturing. Increased taxes on corporations. Capped prescription drug out of pocket costs.
Now, I’ve literally criticized everything on this list in one way or another, because they didn't go far enough. And, beyond this, he’s made a bunch of terrible moves as well. But, I’ve been clear that it’s way more than Obama did. In fact, it’s the most progress we’ve made on progressive issues since Lyndon Johnson. The reason it doesn’t feel like it is because we’ve failed the lower and middle classes of this country so badly over the past 70 years, we’ve forgotten what success looks like.
So, yeah. I’m taking the victories and the scraps because it demonstrates that forward progress is possible. But, that’s actually not the point here. The point is this: There’s no fucking way any of this is on the agenda without Bernie Sanders. Bernie scared the shit out of the establishment because he was actually winning the primary before South Carolina. If not for Clyburn and COVID, we’ll never really know what might have been. But, I know this. He had the DNC on the ropes, and a few things happened as a result.
Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen a wave of progressive candidates that grew up under Bernie’s messaging. Inequality. Medicare for all. Stop endless wars. Bernie didn’t invent these concepts, but he’d been saying them the longest as a public official. People say, “Oh Bernie wouldn’t have done anything as president because he can’t get legislation passed.” You’re looking at it backwards. Has he sponsored and passed sweeping legislation like Medicare for all? Nope. But it’s getting harder to pass things without him and the base of support that he’s amassed.
And every victory Biden points to has Bernie’s fingerprints all over it. And, in that way, he’s been massively influential. You can’t work around Bernie any longer. Bernie Sanders is the most responsible for shaping the successful parts of the Biden agenda because he’s been in it, knows his way around, built a following inside and outside the political system. Stayed on message. Built coalitions in every town, every municipality, every precinct, every district. He didn’t ask to fly the plane because he’s been a passenger. He’s not cooking the meal because he’s eaten in restaurants. He did the fucking work. Took the shots. Shouted at the rain and got back to work. Inch by inch to turn this ship around.
Chapter Three: Final Point.
Lastly. Point number fucking three.
Leonard Leo, the head of the Federalist Society was recently interviewed about the 30 year process to bend the courts to the right and stack the federal and Supreme Courts with activist conservative ideologues. How did he do it? He started with the law schools. That’s why it took 30 years. Now, we have a conservative 63 majority on the Supreme Court. He was so successful, he believes it’s a blueprint to take over every other institution in this country.
Tucker Carlson’s last speech before Murdoch dumped him was at the 50th anniversary of the Heritage Foundation. We’ve addressed Heritage many times before, but for those that need a refresher, this is the Koch brother invention that spearheaded the Reagan tax cuts that gutted the middle class and set us on the course of inequality we have today. Climate change denial, school choice, vouchers and charter schools. Blaming Islam for instability and fomenting wars abroad. Even Obamacare, as a way to line the pockets of insurance companies and take us off the path toward universal healthcare. They boasted that during the Reagan years the administration was filled with Heritage people, a tradition that continues to this day, and that Reagan adopted 775 of their proposals over his eight years. In case you’re wondering how good their hit ratio has been.
James Buchanan, Lewis Powell, Charles and David Koch, Milton Friedman. The list of neoliberal villains is a mile long, and their efforts began decades ago. Milton Friedman even produced a 10-part documentary on his free market belief system that aired in 1980 and has become a cornerstone of neoliberal teachings in schools, think tanks and policy circles.
A 30 year assault on the judiciary. Building networks of conservative justices, beginning at the law school level before these assholes are even lawyers.
A 50 year assault on the poor and middle class at the hands of the Heritage Foundation that created the blueprint for neoliberal model legislation and turned out candidates year after year to promote their theories.
Seventy years of Chicago School legal, economic and political dogma infused into young conservative minds who were dispatched throughout the world to spread the gospel of free markets. Generations of policy makers and influential figures who architected policy frameworks that gilded the corporate class in this country and solidified the oligarchy.
This is the real fucking course in miracles.
Williamson and Kennedy, with no practical experience. No legislative wins. No coalitions. No infrastructure. No talent pipeline. No organizations. No blueprint. These are the faces of progressivism? This is sending lambs to slaughter, and all the while they’re going to be flying the progressive flag and damaging the brand.
This isn’t a game. It’s for professionals only. Williamson’s bizarre version of Jesus isn’t going to save this country. Kennedy’s last name and pseudoscience won’t either. You want to use your fame and power to throw your support from the sidelines? Be my guest. But, to assume that because people attend your spiritual seminars or that you hail from a political dynasty—and let’s be honest, it’s a tainted one at that—you can pull off the same trick that Donald Trump did and just walk into the Oval Office?
Go sell your bullshit somewhere else, because we have work to do.
I’ve taken some criticism from listeners about this idea of a professional political class. Some are even rather agitated, as I’m sure Williamson and Kennedy’s followers would be, to hear this particular critique. As usual, most Unf*ckers are willing to engage in productive dialogue about it like our friend Cam, who said this:
“You mention a ‘professional political class,’ which I see how one could conflate that with the “swamp,” however, it seems like you’re describing what Lenin called a Vanguard party (I believe). One that requires members to be educated on what is currently revolutionary theory and geared towards serving the people, not capital.”
Cam, that’s precisely what I mean, though I’m obviously looking for a better outcome than what Leninism became. Not to get too far afield, but the Marxist, Leninist, Trotskyites of that time all believed that Germany, not Russia, was the fertile ground in which to plant the seeds of socialism because it was an established capitalist state. For that matter, they considered America to be the best candidate. But, yes, The Vanguard Party, which was ultimately tied to Leninism as a party, was intended to educate the proletariat on revolutionary theory and the intricacies of political systems.
We have the former already. The youth vote in this country has the tenets of progressivism down. They understand the revolutionary theory aspect of this. The gap is in the construction of the political system and apparatus capable of overthrowing the current system because neoliberalism has a 50 year head start on us. Every progressive attorney like Larry Krasner that runs for DA. Every local organizer that runs for town counsel. Every principled attorney like Jamie Raskin that runs for Congress and learns the ropes and fights in the trenches. You know my list. It’s AOC. Corey Bush. Jamie Raskin. Pramila Jayapal. Barbara Lee. It’s Governor Josh Shapiro.
We have the models. But we need to go downstream and continue building coalitions of support on the ground. (Look at Steve Bannon recruiting poll watchers and precinct captains.)
2004. That’s the last time Republicans won the popular vote. That’s how much they’ve rigged the system. They don’t need majorities to govern, because they’ve taken over the building from the basement on up. We’re so focused on partying in the penthouse, we don’t even realize that there’s no escaping the building from the top. That’s why Democrats are painted as elites. We’re not winning the ground game. Not winning hearts and minds in every precinct, in every county, in every state.
Go ahead and love Marianne and listen to her thoughts on special Jesus and pray away storms all you want. Listen to RFK Jr. give a lecture in a room full of unvaccinated people. I don’t care. Just get the fuck out of this race and leave it to the professionals. We have work to do, and whether you win or lose, you’re only going to damage the progressive brand.
Here endeth the lesson.
- National Farm Worker Ministry, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Changes were made.
- Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Changes were made.