Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Bernie movement and the rumbles of political realignment in the US and elsewhere

Ana Kasparian was part of a panel at Politicon on June 25 that focused on the Bernie Sanders campaign, Ana Kasparian's "Bernie" Panel At Politicon 2016 The Young Turks (video dated 06/28/2016)

Ana Kasparian recently did a panel about the Bernie Sanders campaign, moderated by Touré and featuring her and four guys: Bill Burton, a former White House press person; Hal Sparks, a comedian (especially dismissive), Eugene Robinson ("Go take over California"), and Paul Begala, former Bill Clinton Presidential adviser and currently a political consultant. The writer and TV personality Touré was the moderator.

Ana was the only panel member who was supportive of Bernie, though Touré also injected some similar progressive perspective.

What was especially striking to me was the still-dismissive, condescending tone of the other four panelists. Hal Sparks was downright sneering and express real contempt for Sanders and anyone who supported him. Paul Begala was probably next in his dismissive attitude, and generally stuck with the current positions of the Clinton campaign. Robinson was less hostile to Sanders but still distinctly condescending, speaking as though he thought Sanders supporters were jsut vague dreamers who needed a basic civics lesson. Somewhat surprisingly, Bill Burton was more reflective than those three, although at one point he made the odd comment that black voters have generally been less "progressive" than whites. (!?!)

Ana did well, especially considering she was basically outnumbered 4-to-1 on the panel. To me this panel was a dramatization of the Democratic version of the dominant neoliberal political thinking. If Cold War jokes aren't yet too obscure, we might say that they represent This Is No Alternative with a human face. TINA being the defining slogan of the neoliberal free-market idolaters.

The Hillaryites all used some version of the Hillary talking points that I would summarize this way:

  • Bernie had some good ideas (that I won't mention specifically)
  • Bernie's contributed a lot to the Presidential campaign (now can't he please just shut up and go away?)
  • Bernie has inspired a lot of young people (and isn't that cute?)
  • We want Bernie's fans voting Democratic (because unfortunately we have to put up with voters who want the Democrats to do more than comfort the comfortable)

It's difficult at this stage to separate an evaluation of what's happening and one's own aspirations for what might happen. It's a bit grandiose for this context, but one of my favorite Hegel quotes is relevant here, "When philosophy paints its gray on gray, then has a form of life grown old, and with gray on gray it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known; the Owl of Minerva first takes flight with twilight closing in." Which was his way of saying that we can't understand the totality of a historical process until it is reaching it's conclusion.

Bernie's campaign has definitely defined the differences between what I'm current calling the New Deal wing of the party and the corporate wing. Michael Lighty of the National Nurses United in the following video says, "Voting for Hillary Clinton is a defensive act against Trump." He offers a very helpful perspective on the inside/outside strategy of left movements that work both within the Democratic Party and outside it. The Conflict is Between Wall Street and Main Street within the Democratic Party The Real News 06/30/2016:

The Politicon "Bernie" panel is an illustration of how deeply fearful the corporate Democrats are of the New Deal wing.

Tom Sullivan is struggling to describe how the elite/people dichotomy overlays onto the conventional left/right spectrum in Enforcing norms of reciprocity Enforcing norms of reciprocity Hullabaloo 06/30/2016:

[Eric Beinhocker] explains, "People will sacrifice their own self-interest and harm themselves, even severely, to enforce norms of reciprocity." So the Leave voters have done in the U.K. So might Trump voters in the U.S. this fall, Beinhocker warns. (Or the Bernie-or-Bust crowd he leaves unmentioned.) The lack of accountability for Wall Street in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis coupled with unsustainable levels of economic inequality have created a vast, untapped market for enforcing norms of reciprocity.

From the time we are in the Terrible Twos (I want to do it myself!), people exhibit a need not just for cooperation, but some autonomy and control over their fates. Working people feel the economy and capitalism itself is failing them, that they are getting a raw deal and lack control their fates. ...

There is a reason Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren excite crowds. They have given voice to the complaints of the masses and convinced their respective audiences that they have been heard, that they have an advocate. People who know Hillary Clinton tell us privately she is a good listener. This is her chance to prove it publicly.
The "Bernie-or-Bust" bogeyman has been a staple of Hillary supporters' rhetoric for a while now. Since I actually do prefer to see Clinton elected in November instead of Trump, I hope the Clinton campaign recognizes that constantly throwing out the meme that the "BernieBros" will be to blame if Electable Hillary loses in November is pretty obviously a preemptive alibi for a side (the establishment Democrats) who have gotten way too accustomed to losing elections. But it's up to the Clinton camp what kind of messages they send to the voters. "Stronger Together And It's Bernie's Fault If We Lose" isn't necessarily the optimal slogan.

Polls can tell us which party or candidate people are inclined to support. But it's hard to poll for an attitude like whether voters feel like they "are getting a raw deal and lack control their fates."

Part of the neoliberal political and economic philosophy is the conviction that The Market tells politicians and voters for which things There Is No Alternative. Which means that on those things, it doesn't matter what the voters want. There Is No Alternative. And if it's illegitimate for politics to address economic issues like unemployment, income inequality, pension rights and the minimum wage, it's only a small step to start assuming that economic conditions have no effect on political developments.

And that is assumption is part of what has driven the center-left parties in Europe and the United States to adopt economic policies that are largely the same as the grim austerity policies supported by the center-right parties.

The nasty effects of those policies was inevitably going to create some kind of ideological realignment. But while the left-right spectrum can help us understand new alternatives, the new alternatives don't necessarily split along familiar left-right assumptions. It doesn't make pure logical sense on the left-right axis for a significant number of French voters to have shifted over the last couple of decades from the Communist Party to the rightwing National Front. But that in fact happened. But that doesn't make the National Front any less rightwing.

The classical populist narrative of the people vs. the elites doesn't correspond exactly to the left-right schema. In Germany, for instance, the striking decline in the electoral support of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) should, in the conventional left-right logic, have led to a corresponding increase in the vote for the Left Party. But such a trend is yet to emerge.

Peter Birkenhead takes his own swipe at characterizing the appeal of the current Republican Party to less affluent whites in Democrats: The White Working Class Isn’t Voting for You, So Stop Pandering to Them Daily Beast 06/29/2016, to which Tom Sullivan also links. Birkenhead focuses on dismissing the idea that white racist voters, which he carelessly (or ideologically) implies is a group largely corresponding to the white "working class," can be won to a less racist or anti-racist voting position by economic issues.

He's not citing polls, which if used carefully greatly complicate the picture he conveys of the white working class. For one thing, political polls in the United States typically collect education information from their samples. Income and occupational data, not so much or so consistently. So in practice, pollsters and political commentators often cite opinions of people without a college degree as being the opinions of the "working class." There's a practically justification for the pollsters' methodology, and to a certain extent a more theoretical one. But caution and attention to definitions of the working class is always in order when talking about working class opinion or white working class opinion.

Also, political coalitions are just that, coalitions. They shift over time. Someone who is passionately in favor of abortion rights may be indifferent or even hostile to unions. An African-American civil rights activist might have conservative opinions on "lifestyle" issues. And so on. Even people with broad agreement on a wide range of political issues may have a very different set of which are their own individual priorities. All of this should caution us all to avoid making facile assumptions about what may appeal to swing voters, or about how major political realignments can shake out.

Even Birkenhead drops in this qualifier, "Economic insecurity is sometimes an ingredient in the stew from which it emanates. It is not a necessary one."

But quantity obviously matters in elections. In the American case he references, it makes a huge difference in practice the intensity of particular issues and concerns play out in the voting behavior of swing voters. They also make a significant difference in voter turnout, which especially critical for the Democrats in the United States in non-Presidential election years.

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