GET A GRIP. IT’S NOT ABOUT BERNIE. IT’S ABOUT HISTORY
And you should make yourself aware of this history
Dear Bernie Supporters:
I feel you. But there are some things you are going to have to accept.
Bernie Sanders, as much as we like him, is not going to be the next President of the United States. I’m sorry. I’m not being defeatist. I’m not selling out. I’m making a statement of almost certain fact. Period.
Look, without a significant number of the Superdelegates, Bernie stands no chance of winning the primary. And he’s not going to get those Superdelegates. Delegates are Democratic insiders, and there is no way that this group is going to select a man who has been a Democrat for about a year over someone who has been a party insider for decades. It’s simply not going to happen. It sucks, but you simply have to believe in math and institutional processes over your own beliefs.
So there will be no President Bernie…and that’s okay.
If your sole purpose in politics is to send Bernie Sanders to the White House, your goals are misdirected. You see, the Sanders’ campaign was never about Bernie himself. There is a difference between movement politics and campaign politics, and you have expended your energies in a campaign when you should have been working on the movement. That’s not necessarily your fault. It’s easy to confuse the two when the movement becomes encapsulated in a single individual.
This personification of a movement can be very powerful, but it can also be very dangerous. It’s great having a popular and politically experienced personality like Sanders speaking out for left policies and gaining a following. There’s a great opportunity here to build on the existing movement and to educate more people, to spread our message. You may very well be one of those people who is looking into left policies for the first time, looking up “democratic socialism” and discovering that it has nothing to do with Stalin and dingy dictatorial statism. You are now reading In These Times, or Jacobin, and freaking out your Cold War era parents. Congratulations and, you’re welcome. We see the Bernie campaign as a constructive moment for movement building, not a breakout moment for Bernie himself.
The danger, however, is that this particular step in the movement can devolve into a Cult of Personality. Take heed on this. There is a fine line that one dare not cross. It is too easy to see the Sanders’ campaign as about Sanders himself. After all, he’s the centerpiece. But for those of us on the left, our focus must always remain the ideas and principles brought forth. We cannot allow the ideals and principles to get lost and forgotten in the personality of a candidate. What’s more, this incorporation of a movement into an individual personality can be just as seductive to the candidate at the center of the movement as it is to his or her supporters. This latter contingency is something of which those of us involved in movement politics must be acutely wary.
One symptom of this kind of Cult of Personality is something called closure, an unwillingness to interact with or to participate in anything that may contradict or challenge one’s faith in a particular personality. The only people or groups that are accepted are those who confirm established, preconceived notions. All others must be shut out. The only information that is valid is that information that reinforces one’s beliefs.
Notice my use of the words “faith” and “belief.” This is intentional. When we accept the position of a particular personality on faith, that is a particularly disabling kind of blindness. Such faith and belief is not subject to contradiction, not subject to substantiation, in philosophical terms, not subject to being falsified. It is, therefore, not premised in reason. It leads us to accepting that our chosen candidate is without flaws, incapable of mistakes–divine. This is not only a dangerous architecture, but it contradicts a foundational element of left principles.
Another symptom is ad hominem attacks. Instead of a reasoned debate, those who feel that their chosen leader has been maligned respond with insults and baseless innuendo. That those who disagree might have something to say, that they might have a valid argument or even a point in a questionable argument that might be of value, is never a consideration. Instead, those who disagree are bad, or stupid or, if they happen to be, say, a Nobel Prize winning economist, a shill for the opposition. This, of course, ties in with closure. It’s a convenient way to not have to listen those who challenge our notions.
This is flawed and dangerous thinking as well as terrible movement politics. That’s why it galls me when I see examples of this kind of closed mindedness demonstrated by members of this growing left movement. And I know better than to believe that this is behavior coming only from the nascent members, though I would wager that new participants are especially prone to this kind of behavior. You must be forever diligent. Left-wing ideas are no less prone to extremism and demagoguery than are those of the right. You might as well know this now.
That’s why it galls me when I hear that Sanders supporters, supposedly representing left liberalism, attacking those with whom they disagree with nothing more than shallow, meaningless and insulting vitriol. I’m saddened when I read comments from people who say that they will never read another post by a particular pundit again because they are supporting Hillary Clinton. I want to scream when I hear of people being blocked by Sanders supporters whenever they offer a criticism, no matter how slight.
This is not how we engage in the debate. Perhaps you are new to this brand of politics. If so, then say nothing until you’ve done your research. The left exists to challenge existing power structures. This is a precarious position. Those who cannot engage in a sustained and reasonable debate do nothing to advance the movement.
If you are a veteran of left politics, then it is your job educate, not to participate in unreasoned discourse even if you happen to agree with the underlying sentiments. It’s too easy to get caught up in the emotion. We cannot allow this to drive the discourse.
I believe a big part of this is an understanding and respect for left liberal history and philosophical development. If you are going to leave your mark on this history, even if it is only to tap out some Tweets, you might want to endear a respect for the movement as a whole. By participating in this debate, you are carrying on the argument that began with the Enlightenment principles of Reason, Rights, Tolerance and a Social Contract between the Elite and the Demos going back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These principles came of age during the French Revolution when the more radical republican (meaning anti-monarchy) elements sat on the left hand side of the National Assembly while conservative royalists sat on the right.
Principles of liberty and equality were then challenged by nineteenth century democratic movements, including suffrage movements for men and women, the abolitionist movement, unions and syndicalists, socialists, anarchists, communists/Marxists, and others as they debated exactly what it means to be free politically and economically. This debate was advanced in the twentieth century as subjugated groups organized and rose up for equal rights. Naturalists learned of the incredible damage being done to the planet by rampant industrialization, creating a conservation and environmental movement. Young people in the sixties expanded on concepts of political and economic freedom by challenging social and cultural constraints such as consumerism, gender, religious indoctrination and militarism.
The debate continues, and you are opting to be a part of it. Prepare yourself by studying the issues, examining the facts and drawing your own conclusions. You cannot do this by blocking out alternative and even contradictory arguments. You must engage with those with whom you disagree. After all, there is a very real possibility that you could be wrong. Left-wing philosophy is not and should not be one of faith, but rather grounded in evidence. In fact, this is even more true for the left than it is for the right. Conservatives can ground their arguments in tradition and established power structures. This is a huge advantage. Left liberals do not have this privilege. Our very existence is predicated on challenging tradition, including and especially those long cherished.
These are weighty issues requiring hefty thinking. weak and shallow argument does nothing to advance the movement, let alone advancing your chosen candidate. If you are a new and permanent member of this long and laudable struggle for liberty, equality and justice, that’s great! Welcome! Gird yourself with knowledge.
If your goal is to get Bernie elected, good luck. If you pull it off, I will congratulate you and apologize right here on this blog. Regardless, do yourself and your candidate the credit of offering a reasoned and well thought out argument based on data.
Regardless of your goals, when a Nobel Prize winning economist tells you that there is something wrong with your economic positions, it’s a good idea to listen and re-examine. They may not be right, but shutting them out does not make you stronger in your position. When people decide to embrace the opposition simply because you cannot engage in reasonable discourse, you lose in spite of your passion and commitment.