“Let me explain something to you about Joe Biden and why some of the shit that he’s done in his past doesn’t matter. This old rich white man played second fiddle to a black man. Not just any black man, but a younger black man, a smart black man. Not just for a day. Not 1, not 2 but eight years.
He took his cues from this black man who had more power than him and was virtually unknown when he took the presidency, and Joe Biden had been around forever. He was willing and proud to be his wing man. Not once did he try to undermine him, this black man. Instead Joe walked in lockstep with him, he respected him, he loved and trusted him. He was led by him and he learned from him. And Joe did not have a problem with it.
You tell me what 40+ year “establishment” white politician has ever done that. Joe Biden is cut from a different cloth. And black folks understand that and for good reason. He has shown it. This is what showing up and being an ally looks like. When black people say they know Joe, this is how we know.”
– Laurie Goff”
“But as I watched her campaign, I saw something else, too. She wasn’t just running as a teacher or a wonk. Elizabeth Warren was running as a woman. She was unapologetic about it. It went beyond embracing her identity as a teacher, though an identity as a teacher is surely gendered itself. Her stump speech included her own personal story of being alone with her children in Texas, with no idea how she was going to take care of them and also have a career. (She only managed to have one because her aunt came to watch the kids while Warren went to law school.) Later on in the campaign, she expanded her story further backward, to include her experience being let go from her first teaching job—a job she loved—because she was visibly pregnant. It wasn’t necessarily a winning narrative for her—the press jumped all over it, suggesting she was lying about the discrimination and picking her story apart for discrepancies. But it did resonate with one group of voters—women who in turn shared their own stories of discrimination in their pregnancies.
Warren was teaching here too. She was trying to explain to people what, exactly, it is like to be a woman in America, still, today. Her lessons were not just drawn from her own life, either. Warren launched her campaign in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the site of 1912’s Bread and Roses strike, led by seamstresses. She told those seamstresses’ stories, and she told other stories of other working-class women, black women, who led labor movements decades ago. In Atlanta, she spoke of the washerwomen who went on strike in 1881; in New York she spoke of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy. At one of her last appearances before Super Tuesday in L.A., she told the story of 1990’s Justice for Janitors strike, an effort led by immigrant women.* I was not surprised to see attendees describe it as a “lecture” on Twitter afterward—Warren’s events were closer to lectures than rallies. She was trying to teach people their own history, a project she understood as essential for building a better future.”
Still, apparently, unacceptable in women seeking power:
“The campaigns of those who deviate from the traditional model of the American president—the campaign of anyone who is not white and Christian and male—will always carry more than their share of weight. But Warren had something about her, apparently: something that galled the pundits and the public in a way that led to assessments of her not just as “strident” and “shrill,” but also as “condescending.” The matter is not merely that the candidate is unlikable, these deployments of condescending imply. The matter is instead that her unlikability has a specific source, beyond bias and internalized misogyny. Warren knows a lot, and has accomplished a lot, and is extremely competent, condescending acknowledges, before twisting the knife: It is precisely because of those achievements that she represents a threat. Condescending attempts to rationalize an irrational prejudice. It suggests the lurchings of a zero-sum world—a physics in which the achievements of one person are insulting to everyone else. When I hear her talk, I want to slap her, even when I agree with her.
To run for president is to endure a series of controlled humiliations. It is to gnaw on bulky pork products, before an audience at the Iowa State Fair. It is to be asked about one’s skin-care routine, and to be prepared to defend the answer. The accusation of condescension, however, is less about enforced humiliation than it is about enforced humility. It cannot be disentangled from Warren’s gender. The paradox is subtle, but punishing all the same: The harder she works to prove to the public that she is worthy of power—the more evidence she offers of her competence—the more “condescending,” allegedly, she becomes.”
“Instead, and accepting that sexism and misogyny were marbled throughout everything about the campaign, I think what did her in was her ideas. She committed herself to a campaign specifically to fight political corruption, both the legal and illegal kind. As an adjunct to that, she marshaled her long fight against the power of money in our politics and monopoly in our economy. And, opposed to Bernie Sanders, whose answer to how to wage the fight is always the power of his “movement,” which so far hasn’t been able to break through against Joe Biden, she put out detailed plans on how to do it. That made her much more of a threat to the money power than Sanders, who is easily dismissed as a fringe socialist by the people who buy elections and own the country.”
In 2003 or so, in the height of the Bush II era, when you were ‘with us or with the terrorists’ and the Iraq War was in its first Friedman Unit, I went with my friend Jonny to an event called Drinking Liberally. As you might expect, it was held at a bar, and the idea was for liberals and progressives and so on to gather together and drink, bond, commiserate, and strategize. George W Bush was at the height of his power and popularity, and the various candidacies to replace him were in their beginning stages. I remember we all sat around a big table, with another rank of folks standing behind us. At one end of the table were these two dudes in sweaters doing their absolute best to hijack the conversation, talking over people and extolling their liberal-than-thou bona fides.
Their main point, aside from smug self-satisfaction? That the key to the Democratic party getting back into power was to get rid of all these centrists and DINOs, so the ‘Democratic wing of the Democratic Party’, i.e. its most liberal faction, could ascend to power. By some sort of Underpants Gnomes calculus, this was supposed to lead us to victory in 2004.
Let me say that again: shrinking the party to its hardest hard core of (let’s be honest, white, mostly male) progressives would somehow lead to electoral victory, where the key is to convince the most people to vote for you.
I believe the technical term for that is magical thinking.
I’d love to forget those two smug assholes. Hell, I’d love to forget the whole Bush II era, when conservatives started trying on their brown shirts and jackboots in earnest, and fucked shit up so bad these racist-ass United States actually elected a black man President. And it seems I’m not alone in that. To be honest, it seems like half the damn left forgot the lessons we should have learned back then, which is a big part of what made Donald Trump possible.
Which brings me, sigh, to Bernie Sanders and his ‘political revolution’.
In 2016, I was a Sanders guy, right up til it became mathematically impossible for him to win the nomination. I was thrilled to see someone bring the kind of deep progressive policy and political goals and rhetoric I, a lifelong progressive, had been wanting to see in mainstream discourse ever since I was old enough to vote and engaged enough to pay attention. Even when he didn’t win, I was thrilled when his rhetoric and platform did indeed cross over into the mainstream. I was less thrilled than the candidate himself, who crossed the line somewhere from someone whose goals and interest were driven by principle to someone whose principles were driven by his goals and his self-interest. But that seems to be most politicians, so it’s if not forgivable then not a deal-breaker on its own.
But Bernie Sanders political revolution’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: it’s an insurgency defined as much by its opposition to the institutional Democratic Party as it is by its positive political and policy ambitions. Which, if you’re running for the Democratic Party’s nomination to be President, with the institutional backing that comes with it for a general election, is kind of a problem.
Yes, the party leadership has probably coordinated in response to Sanders’ rise. Which is, you know, their job and all that, conspiracy theories aside. But so, apparently, have the voters, who yesterday — and much to this Warren supporter’s chagrin — coalesced around Joe Biden, FSM help us all, as the last man standing/consensus choice.
Turns out snake emojis and sneering contempt for people you’re going to need later on isn’t the best strategy for building coalitions.
Look, temperamentally and policy-wise, I’m firmly aligned with Bernie Sanders (I’m even more so with Elizabeth Warren; the misogyny and deliberate erasure that handicapped her campaign will have to be a whole other post, though). We do in fact need radical change, even radical-er than Bernie himself calls for (ain’t a goddam thing gonna pass as long as there’s a filibuster in the Senate). But you know what we need to get that radical change passed into law? A great big fucking coalition, not all of whom are going to be hard core progressives who only identify as Democrats in Presidential election years.
I told those two guys all those years ago that much as I agreed with them on policy, you can’t get shit done if you don’t have a majority, and you don’t get a majority by telling people they’re sellouts or assholes if they don’t believe just as you believe, just as hard as you believe it. Almost twenty years on, looks like I’m still over here in the corner, saying the same goddam thing.