Friday, March 13, 2020

Just Win, Baby

With the Democratic nominee race pretty much settled, it's time to turn our attention to the general election and the sacred, all-important task of defeating Donald Trump.. Predictably, from elements of the self-identified left--hardcore Bernie supporters, DSA types, magazines like Jacobin and Current Affairs--there is much rending of garments about Sanders' collapse and dark hints of corporate and establishment Democrat rigging of the process.
Missing is a sufficient amount of self-criticism about the failure of Sanders to win out and what that might say about the general stance and practices of many fervent leftists. This should, after all, be an auspicious time for left activism, given that public opinion is clearly moving to the left, with much of the public more open to left critiques of contemporary capitalism than it has been for many, many years.
And yet, the left as a political entity can't even capture a majority of Democrats, much less a majority of the country. So--what happened? Why does the left keep coming up short?
David Leonhardt has a very simple answer to this question and I believe he is correct:
"[T]he obvious questions for progressives is what went wrong and how they can do better in the future. I think there are some clear answers — empirical answers that anybody, regardless of ideology, should be able to see. I’d encourage the next generation of progressive leaders to think about these issues with an open mind.
The biggest lesson is simply this: The American left doesn’t care enough about winning.
It’s an old problem, one that has long undermined left-wing movements in this country. They have often prioritized purity over victory. They wouldn’t necessarily put it these terms, but they have chosen to lose on their terms rather than win with compromise.
You can see this pattern today in the ways that many progressive activists misread public opinion. Their answer to almost every question of political strategy is to insist that Americans are a profoundly progressive people who haven’t yet been inspired to vote the way they think. The way to win, these progressives claim, is to go left, always.
Immigration? Most Americans want more of it. Abortion? This is a pro-choice country. Fracking? People now understand its downsides. Strict gun control? Affirmative action? A wealth tax? Free college? Medicare for all? Widely available marijuana? Americans want it all, activists claim.
This belief helps explain why so many 2020 candidates hoping to win the progressive vote — including Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris — embraced ideas like a ban on fracking and the decriminalization of the border. The left persuaded itself that those policies were both morally righteous and politically savvy. To reject any one of them was to risk being labeled a neoliberal sellout.
The thing is, progressive activists are right about public opinion on some of these issues. Most Americans do favor higher taxes on the rich, marijuana legalization and additional gun control. But too many progressives aren’t doing an honest analysis of the politics. They are instead committing what the journalist Matthew Yglesias has called “the pundit fallacy.” They are conflating their own opinions with smart political advice. They are choosing to believe what they want to believe....
By designing campaign strategies for the America they want, rather than the one that exists, progressives have done a favor to their political opponents. They have refused to make tactical retreats, which is why they keep losing."
Exactly. Why should I take the left seriously if they don't take winning a majority of the actually-existing electorate more seriously? That's asking a lot of me--or anyone else for that matter. Put another way, if Biden is the nominee--and believe me, he will be--to the extent some on the left don't devote every ounce of their energy to making him the President, and Trump an ex-President, that will be a moral and political failing.
What could be the possible rationale for such behavior--for refusing to, once again, take winning seriously? Perhaps some are taking a page out of the old German Communist Party's book: "After Hitler, our turn".
"After Trump, our turn". No thank you, that is not serious politics. Time for the Bernie diehards and the rest to declare victory and support Biden to the hilt. Many of your issues have come to the fore and the country has moved to the left. Now it's time to focus on winning. Without which, may I remind you, nothing else progressive is possible.
Progressives need to care more about winning.

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