The Big Sort in the Democratic Party
Bernie Sanders might be surging in New Hampshire, but many HRC supporters are still confident that he is in his “swan song.” Jamelle Bouie argues that HRC’s salvation comes from a mixture of African-Americans, Latinos, and the somewhat older base of the Democratic Party.
This is potentially perplexing, especially when considering this observation from Bouie:
This, in itself, raises a question. Why are black Americans loyal to Hillary Clinton? What has she, or her husband, done to earn support from black voters? After all, this is the era of Clinton critique, especially on questions of racial and economic justice. The Crime Bill of 1994 supercharged mass incarceration; the great economic boom of the 1990s didn’t reach millions of poor and working-class black men; and welfare reform couldn’t protect poor women in the recession that followed. And the lax regulation of the Clinton years helped fill a financial bubble that tanked the global economy and destroyed black wealth.
Bouie’s conclusion is that the Clinton’s symbolic embracing of black voters led to those voters liking and trusting Bill and Hilary, even if they don’t always agree with Clintonian policies. Rahm Emmanuel’s current troubles in Chicago show what happens when a Clinton-ite is not trusted or liked by an African-American candidate. Rahm lacks goodwill for his policies, and also lacks Bill Clinton’s charm and charisma.
This strikes me as exactly right. Sanders for better or for worse sticks to his guns and continues to analyze nearly everything from socio-economic and class angles.
The more interesting implications to this story revolve around the current Big Sort going on within the Democratic Party. The Big Sort is the idea that more people are choosing to live among like-minded people, which creates an unending cycle of political polarization, distrust, and hate. There does seem to be a lot of truth to this. The people I know in the Democratic Party with the most unforgiving view of the Clintons tend to be under-40, white, well-educated, often relatively to very economically privileged, almost always heterosexual, and to a lesser extent men. These Clinton-dislikers scream to the skies that they will never forgive Bill Clinton for signing DOMA, even as the LGBT community seems to have done just that. They will also post memes and videos of Bernie Sanders supporting gay rights in 1995 as Bill Clinton cowered. Why is this? Some thoughts and theories:
- Privilege. All the Sanders supporters I know and meet are somewhat to very well-off. This privilege allows them to make politics more about how pure and good they are. This includes flirtations with Democratic Socialism and the welfare state.
- Anti-Wall Street Rhetoric does not sell well with the African-American community at large. One of the potentially stranger things about many upper-middle class liberals is that they have a strong cultural dislike of ostentatious wealth in general and Wall Street in particular. This can be another form of privilege. Orwell wrote about it in The Road to Wigan Pier when he attacked wealthy lefties for their criticisms on the spending and eating habits of the poor. TNR summed the difference between HRC and Sanders as thus: “Reasonable people may consider Clinton’s the superior option, responding in the least disruptive way to maintain financial stability. But if you believe that our economy is too closely tied to the financial sector, that over-financialization creates too much unproductive activity, too much wealth inequality, and too much political power, you may believe in breaking that power as essential to a stronger society. That’s really the choice facing Democratic voters today.” I suspect that many Sanders supporters see it thus.
There also seems to be cultural reasons why upper-middle class, semi-Bohemian liberals dislike and distrust Wall Street. Wall Street is too anti-intellectual, too-Frat Boy, too Blingy, too ostentatious, too vulgar. Based largely on anecdotal evidence, I suspect that arty liberal types dislike Wall Street because Wall Street seems filled with the people who bullied them in school for being into books and art.
- So close, so far apart. My current neighborhood in San Francisco used to be the heart of one of the old African-American neighborhoods. Now the neighborhood is becoming more diverse, but the African-American members of the community live in different buildings than the rest of the community. When I lived in Brooklyn, my apartment was between two very different streets, Smith and Hoyt. Smith Street was filled with boutiques, restaurants, and one cool comic shop that catered to an upper-middle class, well-educated, largely white, secular, and semi-Bohemian crowd. Hoyt Street was filled with public housing and businesses that catered to those who lived in public housing. The elementary school in my old Brooklyn neighborhood was very diverse. These two groups were overwhelmingly Democratic, but voters but did not speak to each other as far as I can tell. They largely just keep to themselves.
An HRC victory in the primaries is not going to tear the Democratic Party apart, but it does show differences and contradictions in the goals and preferences within the Democratic Party. It also illustrates how hard coalition building can be when potential members lead separate lives and come together only symbolically at conventions and in the voting booth. It also could drive home just how small a part of the Democratic base white liberals really are.
[Image Credit: Sorting Hat at Harry Potter Exhibition on Paris, via Wiki Commons.]