Chait on Bernie
Jon Chait lays out his case against Bernie Sanders as the primaries approach. His thesis appears to be a call for political realism:
Sanders offers the left-wing version of a hoary political fantasy: that a more pure candidate can rally the People into a righteous uprising that would unsettle the conventional laws of politics. Versions of this have circulated in both parties for years, having notably inspired the disastrous Goldwater and McGovern campaigns. The Republican Party may well fall for it again this year. Sanders’s version involves the mobilization of a mass grassroots volunteer army that can depose the special interests. “The major political, strategic difference I have with Obama is it’s too late to do anything inside the Beltway,” he told Andrew Prokop. “You gotta take your case to the American people, mobilize them, and organize them at the grassroots level in a way that we have never done before.” But Obama did organize passionate volunteers on a massive scale — far broader than anything Sanders has done — and tried to keep his volunteers engaged throughout his presidency. Why would Sanders’s grassroots campaign succeed where Obama’s far larger one failed?
1. As essays go, this one is not as snide and dismissive of the Sanders wing as essays by HRC supporters often are.
2. I am generally not that fond of the What is the alternative? and/or the We are the adults in the room! school of arguments, especially when it comes from people who represent the established elite or status quo.
We have been through this in several posts on OT over the past few months, as we have argued over what the rise of Sanders and Trump means to the changing American political landscape. The supporters of neo-liberalism, globalization, and staying the course often seem to take a tone of dismissal regarding others’ dissent and discontent instead of addressing their points. Maybe absolute free markets don’t lead to victories for everyone. Maybe globalization helps a few people exponentially more than it does others. I can sort of understand why the status quo crowd takes this rhetorical tactic. They are the established order. They have the money behind them, and acknowledging dissenters gives power to those who claim there is another way. Yet idealists are often the very people who bring about needed change — especially when it comes to workers’ rights and social liberty.
To his credit, Chait largely avoids falling into the trap of treating Sanders supporters like children. He acknowledges that Sanders’ worldview is “a serious critique based on ideas [Saunders] has developed over many years, and it bears at least some relation to the instincts shared by all liberals.”
3. That being said, Chait is largely on point. The thing I worry about when it comes to political idealists — especially those on my side of the aisle — is that they tend to burn out and become disillusioned quickly. They don’t understand “politics as the art of the possible.” They don’t want to vote for the least bad candidate, and they have a special-snowflake tendency to make politics be about nothing other than how pure and good they are.
There is something tiresome about young, white guys talking about how they just can’t vote for HRC. Often these guys lack the self-realization to see that they are not as likely to be as hurt by the GOP’s policies as others who are more at risk, because they are young, white, heterosexual guys with college and grad school educations. A lot of people don’t seem to understand Congress’s role in realizing a President’s agenda, or perhaps they simply don’t get that the opposition would not melt away overnight with a Saunders victory. 1 Change takes a long time. The road for Brown v. Board of Ed started decades before it was argued before the Supreme Court, with a legal strategy developed by the NAACP, back when Thurgood Marshall was a young lawyer. Similarly, unions fought for decades before the 8-hour workday was realized. The dream of universal healthcare existed with liberals for years before the ACA passed in 2009.
We still need idealists. I will probably vote for Sanders in the California Democratic Primary if he lasts until then. Idealists just need to understand that all of politics is basically trench warfare.
Image by DonkeyHotey