Saturday, June 18. 2016
I wanted to write about this scurrilous piece [Paul Krugman: The Truth About the Sanders Movement] before my trip -- it was posted May 23 -- but never found the time (and my tools weren't much help). The problem isn't that Krugman claims the high ground of truth, although that's usually a tell of an impending bullshit dump. It starts with a quite from Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels charging that "Mr. Sanders's support is concentrated not among liberal ideologues but among disaffected white men." Rather than finding Sanders' support from "disaffected white men" a damning fault, I'd argue that it is a remarkable breakthrough: it shows that a demographic that has lamentably trended Republican in recent years -- indeed one that seems to be the not just the core but the limits of Trump's constituency -- is less monolithic and more open to a progressive candidate whose articulation of not just their interests is free of the Republicans' customary chauvinism. That sounds like a win to me -- one that Clinton should study and aspire to. As for Sanders' shortfall "among liberal ideologues," that may be because differences between pro-labor social democrats (leftists) and liberals run deep. The latter have always been pro-business individualists -- something partially bridged by the New Deal but which has come roaring back with the New Democrats' hook, line and sinker embrace of the chilling economic doctrines of neoliberalism.
Krugman goes on to observe that "Sandersism has been an assemblage of people with a variety of motives," and offers this taxonomy:
I suppose Krugman would consign me to the "purists." I did, after all, vote for Nader in 2000, and have been consistently critical of many of the policy choices made by the Clinton and Obama administrations: especially how they continued with little (Obama) or no (Clinton) critical thought the neocon establishment's imperialistic foreign policy, but also how they (again, Clinton more blatantly) have repeatedly slagged their voters to advance the interests of their financiers. But where Krugman sees me as merely "affirming personal identity," I see real and substantial policy differences, especially regarding war/peace and inequality -- easily the two most important political issues we face today. Implicit in Krugman's argument that we should make pragmatic choices is the assumption that policy options like peace and equality aren't possible, but his logic is circular: as long as we keep picking politicians (like the Clintons) who believe that war and inequality are inevitable, they will be. Sanders offered the first explicit challenge to this paradigm since Nader -- sure, Obama offered vague hope for change but that didn't amount to much -- so my view is that it would have been dishonest and cowardly not to vote for Sanders over Clinton when given the chance.
Krugman goes on to speculate that "Purists and CDSers won't back Clinton, but they were never going to anyway." Maybe I'm not such a purist after all, as I've been planning on voting for Clinton (assuming she is nominated) vs. the Republican nominee all along. Granted, I know and respect people who say they won't -- they don't want to feel responsible for the next war she blunders into, and I have to admit that the odds of that happening are scary high. But one lesson I learned from the Nader debacle in 2000 was that most of the people we realistically hope to support leftist candidates will in the end vote Democratic anyway. Sometimes you have to support them in order to get them to support you. Indeed, most of the people I know in Kansas who are planning on supporting third-party candidates will be watching the polls and voting for Clinton if it gets close. Clinton carrying Kansas won't make much difference in the electoral college, but a Democratic win would chip away at the myth of invincibility that helps the Republicans dominate (and ruin) the state. Even "purists" realize that electing lesser evils than Sam Brownback would help reduce the damages caused by Republican extremism.
I have less to say about Krugman's other categories, especially idealists and romantics, the sort of fuzzy terms use to dismiss people who haven't yet degraded into embittered cynics. I find it hard to believe that any Sanders supporters are as deluded as the self-described progressives who profess that Hillary is (perhaps secretly) one with them -- and I say that knowing a few that believe just that (including at least four old friends from my recent road trip).
Some while back Krugman argued that Obamacare was practically equivalent to single-payer, and I more/less bought his argument. The key equivalency there is that both aim at universal coverage, and my takeaway (which, by the way was also Bernie's) was that it was important to support Obamacare because it would establish universal coverage as basic public policy. Still, Obamacare wasn't as effective at realizing universal coverage as single-payer would have been, and it left every facet of the profit-seeking health care industry intact, in some cases slightly more regulated but in most respects as greedy as ever. And it also meant that Democrats were taking any prospect for a much better health care system off the table, out of their platform, and moving it into "pie in the sky" territory. Krugman seems to be arguing for a similar equivalency between Hillary and Bernie, saying that for all practical purposes neither will achieve more than the other, but at least Hillary is possible (and necessary given that the alternative is Trump), whereas Bernie is off limits, tempting us with more than we can possibly hope for. Some of my friends think the same thing, although Krugman is exceptional in that he claims the laws of economics disprove Bernie -- although few things are more deeply rooted in politics than the so-called laws of economics.
It might be amusing to work out a similar taxonomy of Clinton supporters, but it's likely to be equally misleading. There can't be all that many neocons or bank lobbyists, although their money speaks volumes. Mostly she leads the timid, promising them little and, if the past history of campaign populism from Wilson to Obama holds, delivering even less. The one thing you have to credit the Republicans with is that even in abject defeat after colossal failure they strut like they rule the world and cower the mainstream media into fawning cowardice. But part of the problem is that the Democrats have never been able to distinguish friends from foes. How else can you explain them blaming Nader for Gore's loss in 2000, as opposed to packing the Supreme Court, or the media's eagerness to treat the teetotaling GW Bush as America's favorite drinking buddy while never noticing Dick Cheney lurking behind the scenes. And could Bush have done so much damage had no Democrats joined in his tax cuts, deregulation, "no child left behind," Patriot Act, or invasion of Iraq? As with Clinton's NAFTA, "crime bill," "welfare reform," balanced budgets, and repeal of Glass-Steagall, often the most effective enemy of Democratic voters is their own leaders. It's not clear to me how Hillary, whose career is dogged by bad decisions, unreliable allies, and one stupid scandal after another, breaks that mold.
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