Echoes of 68?
Bernie Sanders was in Seattle this weekend. His original rally was supposed to be about Social Security and Medicare. However, it ended up getting shut down by protestors from Black Lives Matter. He was able to rebound with a second rally attended by 15,000 people.
This is the second time activists from Black Lives Matter interrupted and flummoxed Bernie Sanders. The first time was at Netroots Nation in Phoenix. I still think it is too early to say whether this is a continuing trend for the general election. Most people still don’t think Sanders has a snowball’s chance in hell to win the Democratic nomination even if Hillary Clinton were to drop out. However, I am starting to wonder what this is all about and whether it is going to be persistent in the general election. I’m a pragmatic liberal and partisan Democrat. I don’t want any of the Republicans to win and I don’t want to give them any fire. Incremental progress is always better than a gigantic loss at the hopes of heightening the contradictions.
The first thing I wonder about is why is Bernie Sanders seemingly being targeted by Black Lives Matter more. His response at Netroots Nation was lackluster. He could also be speaking at less controlled events as compared to Hillary Clinton and other candidates. Still Bernie Sanders is also the left-wing/liberal alternative to Clinton and there could be representational issues. Sanders is in his 70s and comes from a very different Brooklyn than one that exists now. He also spent the majority of his political life representing a majority white and very rural state. A lot of people live in counties that are more populous than Vermont. It could very well be that the Black Lives Matter crowd and other younger parts of the Democratic Party do not want the liberal voice to be represented by what they see as an old, white guy, Sanders’ Jewishness not withstanding. Even though many Jews see themselves as being Jewish above all, I think how we are seen by outsiders is a different and much more complicated story. Black Lives Matter activists might not consider Sanders’ Jewishness as being something that takes away his whiteness even if others would say it does. Cornell West opined that he thinks Jewish-Americans are duping themselves if they think they count as White. The majority of support for Sanders does seem to come from college-educated whites. I attended a Sanders event in San Francisco a few weeks ago. There was a lot of age diversity but there was not much racial diversity. The majority of attendees were white with some Asian-Americans as well. Sanders might speak to a kind of lefty who would rather argue economics with a Republican than critical theory with bell hooks.
There is also a clear philosophical split between Sanders and the Black Lives Matter activists. Sanders sees racism as a symptom of economic inequality. End economic inequality and you end racism. The Black Lives Matter crowd believes that racism is a separate structural issue that would still exist if America became a socialist paradise with zero economic inequality tomorrow.
I also wonder if these disruptive tactics is going to transfer to Hillary Clinton (or whoever else is the Democratic nomination) during the general election. That could be a disaster. 1968 was also a very chaotic year for the nation and the Democratic Party. The young boomers were able to vote in a Presidential election for the first time and they were angry about Vietnam, Civil Rights, and many other issues. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was murdered before the Democratic Convention. Eugene McCarthy did not win enough primaries to get the nod. The nomination went Hubert Humphrey. I think Hubert Humphrey was a very decent man and possibly the most liberal person ever to receive a major party nomination in the United States. Young people at the time thought he was tainted because of his tenure as Johnson’s Vice-President and Nixon narrowly won the popular vote and also perfected some of the first culture war victories by running ads about the rise in crime. The 1968 Democratic Convention was an infamous mess. Though I don’t expecting rioting in 2016, I do worry about disruptive demonstrations.
There are things I admire and dislike about my side of politics generally. I admire that many people on the left believe in the fierce urgency of now and will not behave or be quiet when they think something is very important and needs to be addressed. Freedom and liberty are not often advanced unless people are willing to fight for them and fight hard. We might be at the start of a new chapter in the civil rights movement and one that is very much needed. On the other hand, I’ve always admired that Republicans are often very good at doing single-issue demonstrations and they understand that an event about taxes is meant to stay as an event about taxes. The left often has a way of needing every important issue to be present at every demonstration, rally, or event. This generally makes liberal events a symphony of ideas that turns into an atonal mess. It also has a way of alienating potential allies and we end up shooting ourselves in the feet again and again. Sanders was set to speak about social security and medicare, I don’t see what is wrong about keeping events on the welfare state being about the welfare state.
I think the GOP is going through their own agony with Trump taking up all the energy in the room with his blowhard nature and inability to phrase things in a less than antagonistic manner. Right-Wing Pundits like Erikson and Goldberg are concerned over Trump even though Trump’s rhetoric is no different in tone and substance from their rhetoric. But I do wonder if Democratic disunity could open a door for the Republicans to replay from Nixon and Reagan over white flight and other anxieties.