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A Contrasting View Of Nina
By: George John Jacobs | Our Voice Contributor
The recent news of former Ohio Senator Nina Turner taking over the helm of Our Revolution has generated nothing but excitement, praise, and energy in progressive circles. Indeed, certain aspects of this move are compelling and offer promise. I think most progressives would agree that the ostensible sending of Jeff Weaver out to pasture is long overdue, and more than welcome news.
Weaver did a great job of convincing Bernie supporters that his understated manner and careful choosing of words was part of a larger chess game, when in fact it was more indicative of an individual who had no intention or talent for organizing a movement. Nor was he able to overcome the tilted playing field which revealed itself in the 2016 presidential primary. Progressives should not miss Jeff, but we should mourn the loss of other progressive figures for reasons that I’m about to outline.
After having viewed several interviews with Turner, I hold that she is a brilliant speaker, and find it hard to disagree with most of what she says. If, as she insists, Our Revolution will implement a grassroots empowerment of local panels, allowing them the decision-making power to endorse prospective candidates. If, as Turner states, the local panel would be the final deciding body, not to be overruled by higher-up committees, and if the party affiliation of the lobbying candidate would not be a factor in endorsement decisions then all of this is a significantly fresh approach to political action. So, kudos where kudos is due.
However, when one examines a politician, it is important to be conscious of words both spoken and unspoken. The plan implemented by Nina relies heavily on a faith in our existing election infrastructure, a belief that — as currently designed and overseen — our election apparatus can deliver a people’s representative to office. However, 2016 has proven that this is a heckuva leap of faith to make.
While Nina has spoken critically of the Democratic Party often, she has not taken them head-on publicly on their election-rigging and primary-rigging in 2016. This is not insignificant, because to date, nobody of high political stature has defended those voters who had their votes flipped, denied, or canceled. Nor should we expect that O.R. would be willing to mobilize any public challenge regarding this.
In the very recent Tim Black interview, Nina stated “part of the problem in Congress is everyone is taking their corners: “you’re a D, so you can’t associate with an R. You’re an R so you can’t associate with a D…. that’s why we are not getting anything done — it hurts our nation.”
It’s a good sounding argument which certainly has some level of truth to it, but also assumes that the system itself is still functional. Are there Democratic and GOP legislators who would agree on moving forward any significant, positive legislation, but for the fact of an unwritten rule that they cannot cooperate because of their party affiliation? Are Democrats and Republicans not in public agreement with one another because, “I’m a D you are an R, so we can’t find common ground?”
I would argue this isn’t really the problem, but rather an easily consumable interpretation of the symptom. The notion that gridlock is the result of ‘not coming together’ is specious. It may be a digestible narrative, but it does not get to the heart of the matter.
Is not the actual problem that the entire two-party system is a charade? Democrats and Republicans agree. Far from being adversaries, they work in conjunction with one another to legislate as the corporate plutocracy instructs them. The system is corrupt, or to quote progressive economist Yanis Varoufakis, “the architecture itself is flawed,” not just its participants. Most Americans know this intuitively.
Therefore, putting energy and resources into fine-tuning a mechanism which will perhaps change a few members of the roster is unlikely to yield the results we hope for.
American Politics, whether we choose to admit it or not, is largely based upon a glorification of the persona. People can support an agenda, but that agenda is almost always irreversibly connected to the personality who publicizes it. While it would be lovely to say that ‘it isn’t the candidates themselves, it’s the message,” the fact is this simply has never been borne out in US politics.
If such were the case, then when Bernie capitulated to the Democratic Party establishment and endorsed Clinton in the summer of 2016, Jill Stein and the Greens should have seen a meteoric rise in support and popularity. After all, the Green ticket supported the Bernie 2016 message, and were far more unequivocal in their support for progressive policies. While this writer believes the Stein/Baraka ticket had significantly more support than both polling and final vote tallies reflect, the fact is that the immediate drop of progressive momentum, post-convention, was indicative of the fact that persona was massively important.
Reflecting on this, many progressives remain inseparably tied to what Bernie says today, even when his words regularly reveal a DC triangulation which at times obfuscates exactly where he stands.
What does this have to do with Nina? Simply put, the personality factor comes into play in our country. People need to attach their hopes and aspirations to an individual with a face, style, and manner. Bernie was this.
There are very few people in this country who are in a similarly empowered sociopolitical position, and certainly very few progressives inhabit such an echelon. These are attributes both bestowed upon and developed by an elected official occupying the halls of power in this country. It is a national familiarity which gives such personalities a pulpit larger and far more resonant than what 99% of others can ever muster.
Jotting down a list of widely-known, publicly popular progressive politicians, doesn’t take very long. There is Bernie, Tulsi Gabbard, Nina Turner. Perhaps, if one were to extend the net, a Dennis Kucinich or Cynthia McKinney — retired political figures who still pop up enough to remain in the public psyche.
While “this isn’t about me, it’s about us” has often been lauded as indicative of how upstanding a candidate Senator Sanders was, (although it always struck me as having a second intent — perhaps as a semantic out once the time of his capitulation arrived), history has proven time and again that a campaign isn’t just about the us. It is very much connected to the persona.
Acknowledging this reality diminishes the possibility of taking a relative unknown and — with a well-organized grassroots push — making them as potent a contender as a familiar, recognizable, prominent national figure. I would argue that given the current election context we find ourselves in, such a blueprint will never achieve this sort of elevation. It has yet been proven to succeed on any significant level, although 2016–2017 is certainly littered with examples of its failure.
So, what does all this have to do with Nina? Well, given so few progressives have an elevated following, I see Nina’s taking of over the administration of Our Revolution, as well as her decision to pursue hosting a talk show, as an indication that she has also removed herself from being a candidate for elected office in the foreseeable future.
Herein lies my critique. Nina talks a fantastic game, it is hard to disagree with her, but she also produces a very consumable argument. Thus, in my view, she never intended upon taking the giant step which American progressives are still waiting for someone to take. As laudable in certain respects as her recent decisions may be, they also likely suggest someone who has no intention of securing an elected position again. Rather, through her oratory gift , Nina has decided to call others to action. One can observe that until around early 2017, her own website described her services as a “motivational speaker.”
Please note — I am not by any means ignoring or disparaging Nina’s efforts, nor the work she has done. I take issue with her chosen path and decision to put her energies into avenues which are not the most effective nor desperately needed.
She may be able to implement a structure and policy at Our Revolution, which does in fact empower local committees with candidate choice, but exactly how far is that going to take us? While her words inspire, is she not in a better position to employ her power to achieve progressive goals more directly?
She has stepped back from leading the charge as a candidate herself, much in the way as Bernie Sanders has. This is very unfortunate because given the dearth of publicly elevated, popular progressives she would be a much more effective leader of the movement by leading, and challenging the establishment with an actual candidacy.
And a very popular, high-profile, juggernaut candidacy it would be. No grassroots-elevated individual can ever have the same starting line as that. For those who might counter this is not an indication that she won’t run, I’d posit that an expectation of Nina running for office again has very little basis beyond faith.
Now one may reasonably ask what right do any of us possess to place that expectation on a public figure? My answer is simple: When one occupies a unique and empowered place in time and history, and concurrently events have allowed a very finite window of opportunity to open then not stepping through would be a tragedy.
Human history shows repeated periods of rise, periods of stagnation, periods of decline, periods of disaster, periods of apprehension, periods of despair, and periods of hope. Within those periods of hope, history is full of examples of public figures who, often at great expense to their own position or career, took the great leap of becoming a leader when the chance was presented. We saw this chance passed up in the summer of 2016.
Yet the window still tentatively remains open, and public momentum is intense.
However, I see Nina’s decided direction as a huge opportunity missed. Yet another potential earth-shaker voluntarily removing themselves from leading the charge, choosing instead to hold that window open and urge their supporters to “go get ‘em.”