By Abayomi Azikiwe
A series of Democratic primaries in the race for the party nomination has resulted in more victories for former United States Vice-President Joe Biden.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who was leading other candidates in many polls prior to and after the first three contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, has since the first southern primary in South Carolina suffered losses in key races such as Michigan, Washington state, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Missouri, among others.
In the state of California after March 3 it took nearly two weeks for the election officials to proclaim Sanders as the winner despite the fact that he led by a quarter million votes against Biden and other candidates. Even after this admission, the apportionment of the 415 delegates has yet to be decided.
Although in Michigan Sanders had upset former Senator and Secretary of State under the administration of President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, in 2016 by a narrow margin, in the 2020 primary Biden won over Sanders by a double-digit margin. The Michigan primary was marked by establishment politicians rallying against Sanders.
Just four days prior to the Michigan Primary on March 10, Sanders held a rally at the TCF Conference Center in downtown Detroit which attracted an estimated 6,000 supporters. This gathering was followed by a number of large meetings in Flint, Ann Arbor and Dearborn.
At the Detroit rally on March 6, several leading progressive politicians and union officials spoke urging people to vote for the Vermont Senator. Those public figures included Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield, first-term U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, Bob King, former UAW president, Prof. Cornel West of Princeton University, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba of Jackson, Mississippi and Justin Onwenu, a local youth environmental activist.
Nonetheless, by this time, other purported leading Democratic candidates had announced their departure from the race including Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former Mayor of New York City and billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Senator Kamala Harris of California, all of whom immediately pledged their support to Biden. By the end of Super Tuesday on March 3, and the Michigan race on March 10, corporate media pundits and mainstream Democratic Party politicians were suggesting strongly that Sanders exit the campaign and endorse Biden.
Sanders, so far, has committed to remaining in the race until the Democratic Convention scheduled to be held in Milwaukee in July. However, the unrelenting attacks by the corporate media and Democratic politicians continue around the overall categorization of Sanders as a Democratic Socialist.
During one of the debates, Sanders was attacked for his comments during a CBS 60 Minutes interview where he gave critical acclaim to the healthcare and educational system in the Republic of Cuba. Of course these statements by Sanders were largely nullified by his assertion in the same interview that Cuba was an authoritarian society which he rejects.
Unfortunately, the questions related to the continuing blockade of Cuba by the U.S. were never addressed. Neither was the role of Cuba acknowledged in its sterling internationalist solidarity towards other states in the Caribbean and South America along with Havana’s military and political support in the decades-long African liberation struggles, assistance to independent states and its widely praised role in halting the widespread Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) pandemic which struck several West African nations during 2014-2015.
COVID-19 Pandemic and the Need for Universal Healthcare Coverage
During March the rising number of cases of the Novel Coronavirus 2019 disease throughout Asia, Europe and eventually North America paralleled the media assaults on the notion of “Medicare for All” advanced by Senator Sanders. In response to the outbreak, the government of the People’s Republic of China embarked upon extraordinary measures to arrest the spread of the infection.
China in a relatively brief period of time mobilized the full resources of the national government to address the COVID-19 crisis. Field hospitals, clinics and testing centers were developed and measures were put in place to quarantine those infected and under threat of contracting the virus.
Meanwhile in the U.S. and many states in Europe, the rate of infections continued to rise rapidly. The administration of President Donald Trump maintained a nonchalant attitude towards the spread of the pandemic and failed miserably in reassuring the ruling class and the general public of their concern related to public health.
As the stock market tumbled during the early weeks of March, Trump and his administration was forced to establish a task force in an effort to appear concerned about the deteriorating situation. The first policy initiative centered on the imposition of travel bans from China and Europe. Trump claimed that all incoming travelers into the U.S. are being screened for COVID-19 when this proved to be blatantly false.
Biden’s response to the “Medicare for All” slogan of Sanders has been to defend the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as “Obamacare”, which was enacted during his Vice-Presidential tenure beginning in 2009. Yet, the ACA has left tens of millions of residents, citizens and visitors in the U.S. without health insurance.
Alongside Biden were other “moderate” Democratic Party primary and caucus contenders who reiterated the false notion that “Medicare for All” would take away the private healthcare plans that people were theoretically satisfied with. Such claims about the purported merits of the healthcare system in the U.S. completely ignored the increasing numbers of people without any insurance or inadequate coverage.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau in a recent report: “In 2018, 8.5 percent of people, or 27.5 million, did not have health insurance at any point during the year. The uninsured rate and number of uninsured increased from 2017 (7.9 percent or 25.6 million). The percentage of people with health insurance coverage for all or part of 2018 was 91.5 percent, lower than the rate in 2017 (92.1 percent). Between 2017 and 2018, the percentage of people with public coverage decreased 0.4 percentage points, and the percentage of people with private coverage did not statistically change. In 2018, private health insurance coverage continued to be more prevalent than public coverage, covering 67.3 percent of the population and 34.4 percent of the population, respectively. Of the subtypes of health insurance coverage, employer-based insurance remained the most common, covering 55.1 percent of the population for all or part of the calendar year.”
Although the rate of uninsured African Americans decreased with the enactment of the ACA in 2010, inequality based on race in the overall number of those covered by insurance remains intact. Therefore, how could the continuation of the status-quo involving healthcare coverage be of benefit to the nationally oppressed in the U.S.?
African Americans, people of Latin American ancestry, Indigenous nations and other people of color communities have suffered the most due to the class character of U.S. society where rates of poverty and disparate healthcare indices remain paramount. There has been a consistent widening wealth gap between the ruling class and the proletariat of all races.
A report published by the Kaiser Family Foundation on healthcare availability, published on March 5, 2020, noted that: “As of 2018, most groups of color remained more likely to be uninsured compared to Whites. Moreover, despite the larger coverage increases for groups of color, the relative risk of being uninsured compared to Whites did not improve for some groups. For example, Blacks remained 1.5 times more likely to be uninsured than Whites from 2010 to 2018, and the Hispanic uninsured rate remained over 2.5 times higher than the rate for Whites.”
The Need for a Mass Party of the Working Class and Nationally Oppressed
What the Sanders campaign has further revealed since 2016 is the need for a genuine revolutionary party of the proletariat, oppressed nations and national minorities in the U.S. Biden and others have frequently spoken derisively of Sanders for being an Independent Senator from Vermont and not an official member of the Democratic Party.
Seeking the nomination of the Democratic Party for president presents monumental obstacles to overcome for any candidate with even a slight semblance of progressive politics. The reaction to even a minimum Democratic Socialist program calling for universal healthcare coverage, free higher education and the cancellation of student loan debt, absent of any real focus on major foreign policy issues such as the Pentagon budget and imperialist hegemony globally, reveals clearly that this is far too much politically for either of the Wall Street backed and controlled political entities in the U.S. to tolerate.
There was much fanfare over the ostensible central role of African Americans in states such as South Carolina and Mississippi in the victories won by Biden in the primary races for 2020. Nonetheless, these states have gone to Republican candidates in presidential races for decades and the overall social conditions of African Americans remain dire. Can Biden defeat Trump in a general election in these southern states where the rates of poverty, mass incarceration, lack of education, racial segregation and healthcare deficiencies remain?
Moreover, the lack of exit polling and other data related to the percentages of voter turnout among African Americans, Latin American descendants and working class people in general paints an unclear picture of the actual level of political consciousness and engagement going into the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. With an independent party of the workers and oppressed a program based upon the material interests of these majority constituencies could be advanced without hindrance.
With the decline in the economy spawned in part by the COVID-19 pandemic and the failure of the Trump administration to take effective remedial actions, the Democrats, with Biden poised to be the nominee, are hoping for a victory at the polls in November. However, the record of Biden and the Democratic Party in general has been just as detrimental to the workers and oppressed in the U.S. and indeed internationally as the Republicans.
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