THE BLOG
09/14/2012 12:15 pm ET | Updated Nov 14, 2012

Why I'm Finished With Presidential Politics

Los Angeles-based Stanley K. Sheinbaum was, in his "younger years," referred to as the head of the Malibu Mafia, a self-styled group of L.A. Westside liberals active in Democratic politics which included his wife, Betty Warner Sheinbaum. He was also a key player in the original negotiations with then Palestinian President Yasser Arafat -- negotiations that eventually led to the Camp David Agreements. The following is a compilation taken from the prologue and epilogue of his recently published memoir, Stanley K. Sheinbaum: A 20th Century Knight's Quest for Peace, Civil Liberties and Economic Justice. In this compilation, Sheinbaum describes his disenchantment with presidential politics that ignore the problems of average citizens.

My final break with Democratic presidential politics came after Bill Clinton's last term. My wife Betty and I had been guests of the Clintons at the White House. President Clinton gave me a great deal of unofficial leeway when I was pursuing Middle East peace, and I tried to be helpful for him with the Palestinians to the degree I could be. And I still like the guy. If you've ever met him, you can't help liking the guy. He's so damn charming. And incredibly bright. At the beginning of his first term, I had such high hopes that he would return the Democrats to promoting the interests of the majority, who are not rich.

But Bill Clinton actually brought the Democratic Party back to power by compromising with the interests of Wall Street and the banks and the corporations. He was a significant player behind financial and corporate deregulation, and he promoted policies that have increased economic disparity in this country although I believe this was not his intention.

Of course Clinton wasn't alone; most Democrats marched right alongside him, and he provided a roadmap for recent Democratic candidates including Barack Obama. All of this from a man who grew up in relative poverty and who I know for a fact is very sympathetic to lower and middle class Americans. He truly is. That's why he has that special connection with "the people." But economically? I have to be honest and say he bears at least some responsibility for the Great Recession of 2008 as much as it pains me to admit it.

After Clinton, I stopped being involved with presidential politics and shifted my focus to senatorial and congressional races. I do miss the action, the illusion of power, the thrill of a presidential contest, but the national body politic has become hostage to big money interests with presidential campaigns costing billions of dollars. And if someone wants to run for the presidency, they have to raise big money through big money. The restraints imposed by federal campaign financing have been shattered by both parties, and no donors except big money can compete. As a result, it's clear to me that when candidates elected through this system then attempt to govern, they have to follow policies that favor the interests that got them elected.

What's more, our economic health has become dependent on consumerism, which is in turn supported by banks, financial corporations, Wall Street, and real estate. Since voters have all become voracious consumers, they tend to support policies that they perceive will help keep them buying. It's a vicious circle.

The Democratic slide down the slippery slope toward Wall Street picked up speed in the 1980s, when liberals still courted labor because they needed the money and the votes labor could bring, but they weren't really interested in arguing against the economic changes that were sweeping the country, nor were they proposing policies that could help working and middle class people. They certainly weren't raising barriers to stop the tide of Reaganomics being foisted upon the electorate. They weren't prepared to ask if giving up pensions for the risks of 401ks made sense in the long run. They weren't prepared to argue whether corporate salaries were getting out of line. They weren't prepared to argue the consequences of growing economic disparity. Those were the years when voodoo economics started to take hold, and the Democrats weren't fighting it. They were fighting with each other over cultural politics.

However, I haven't give up on electoral politics completely. In fact, Betty and I continue to hold community "salons" in our home, but we limit ourselves to those people and causes we believe can truly change the course of this tragic drift away from liberal, moral values about economic justice.

We believe that these events which have been happening at our house over the past 50 years are an important component of an involved people committed to being informed and participating in our fragile democracy. I use the term "fragile" intentionally because I believe that we have moved from an attitude that people who are privileged to have money and fame should be involved with their fellow citizens and work to make our country a better place, to an attitude by the privileged and famous who act as if they want to be separated from their community, to be private, individual, and at best, give money rather than getting involved. Personally, I believe that social media has only made this situation worse. Perhaps more people are in contact with each other, but they are simultaneously, paradoxically, less involved.

Now, I'm afraid that the salon-type events that Betty and I still host are becoming a thing of the past. I don't know, maybe they really were a product of the '60s when the politics we cared about seemed to start in people's living rooms over cookies, or at church gatherings or town meetings, at teach-ins on university campuses. People loved to talk to each other, to argue, to debate, to listen to opinions from men and women who had spent some time trying to understand and analyze where our society was headed and what we should and could do about it. I really shudder to think that the only remotely equivalent activity is now taking place on the right in the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party or out on the street with the different "Occupy" groups. I love the "occupiers" but I don't see how they are going to sway the electorate.

I know times change, and sometimes I must sound like a grouchy old man. Well, sometimes I am a grouchy old man. But if I am grouchy, it's because it seems so obvious to me that a functional democracy needs involved citizens and that these citizens need to care about each other rather than tear each other down. Even when I had some of my most bitter fights with extremely conservative members of the University of California Board of Regents or the Los Angeles Police Commission, I always found time to listen, to try and understand, to even forge friendships with my opponents that have lasted a lifetime. I don't know if that could happen now. It seems harder and harder to bring people together. I'm not certain that even if I were thirty years younger, a spry young guy in my early sixties, that I could do the job I seem to have been born to do. People have become so rigid.

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