Hear Me Out

What if we just… took care of everybody? No, wait. Hear me out. What if we decided that nobody should go hungry, or be without a safe place to go? What if we decided everybody should have reliable lifelong health care, safe housing, opportunities for meaningful work, the chance to be part of a community, and all the education they wanted? What if we made that the birthright of every American, every human being ever born from here on out?

What would things be like if we decided to do that? If we decided to invest in a world worth living in and everyone living in it?

Would it be paradise? Utopia? Probably not. Humans gonna human. But it’d be a damnsight better than what we’ve got now. Think about it this way. What if all the economic stress in your life right now was gone? No worries how you’re going to pay the rent/mortgage. No stress where your next meal’s coming from, how you’re going to afford your meds, or your tuition, or clothes to wear. How you’re going to help out your parents or feed and clothe your kids or go see a doctor about that thing that’s been making you worry. Feels like a vacation, doesn’t it? Now imagine everyone else is on that same vacation. Oh, sure, there’s work to do. But there’s time to spend quality time with friends and family, time for the important things, the ones that make a life. The things you’ll look back on from your deathbed and be glad that you did them.

Crime would go way down, because without poverty and the misery and stress that go with it there will be less reason for it. Productivity would go up, because people who are rested and who choose to do the work they do get more done than desperate drones living paycheck to paycheck who know how disposable they are. The arts and sciences would thrive. Communities would thrive, too, yours and mine and everyone’s. We could finally turn our attention to climate change, and our crumbling national infrastructure.

The usual answer is that we can’t afford to do that. There’s not enough to go around as it is. But that’s a lie, and everyone knows it. A few hundred people have as much wealth as hundreds of millions. If that wealth were circulating in the economy instead of sitting offshore, everyone would be middle class.

The point is: we can afford it if we decide to. And that brings us to the real question, the one that doesn’t get asked enough.

The real question is: why don’t we decide to do that? 

Why don’t we decide to just take care of everybody, invest in every person and every community, put a floor under everyone, a foundation solid enough to build one hell of a high ceiling on? If we can — and we can — why shouldn’t we?

That’s a question everyone has to answer for themselves. To me, it seems obvious that we should. I’d think any person of conscience would say that. Wouldn’t you?

How will we do it? How will we pay for it? What is the plan? These are all good questions, with long, complex answers, the minutiae of which could occupy us for years, and will. But for now, for this moment in history, where we stand at a moment of grand possibility for both destruction and renewal, what’s important is to decide where you want to go. What kind of society you think we should build. Figure out what, and put how in the service of that. 

We can work out the details as we go. We’ll surely make mistakes. But the clock’s ticking down, and it’s time to get moving.

The Sanders Ceiling and the Dirtbag Left: Why Democratic Socialism Fails Without Social Justice

Friends, humans, socialists! Lend me your eyes. For I come to bury Bernie, and to praise him.

When the histories are written – if histories are written, and more on that later – I think Bernie Sanders, though he will almost surely not be President, will rank as a transformative figure in American politics. How can he not? Things that are mainstream now, things like Medicare For All, a $15 minimum wage, a Green New Deal, were politically unthinkable four and five years ago, and it is, for the most part, entirely thanks to Bernie Sanders.

Turns out that progressive policies are actually pretty popular. As many of us suspected they would be, if the media could be convinced to take them seriously (more on that, too). Bernie’s run in 2016, and the energy that manifested behind it, put those issues into both the Democratic Party platform and, more important, the marketplace of ideas, where they sell like hotcakes at a lumberjack convention. Because why wouldn’t they? They’re great fucking ideas that would make almost everyone’s life better.

So why can’t Bernie, and Democratic Socialism, seem to break through electorally? Or at least get past the dedicated core of supporters who have already joined his Political Revolution?

***

The answer is complicated. But it can be broken down into elements, some of which can be controlled, some of which can’t. For instance, one element that can’t be controlled is the cultural and historical weight of the word socialism, whether you modify it with the word democratic or not. Especially among Americans over the age of, say, forty. You know, the people who actually vote in meaningful numbers. I’m pushing fifty, myself, and remember the Cold War pall that hung over my childhood, where at any moment the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics might erupt into nuclear holocaust. That’s some heavy shit to lay on a kid. But more important, that early training (friend/enemy, good/bad) is hard to transcend even if you’re consciously trying.

And yeah, socialism is much more agreeable to Millennials and Gen-Z and whatever we end up calling the ones who’ll come after them. We could have had it already, too, if they’d fucking turn out to vote in bigger numbers. Not that any generation ever has any moral high ground on that. So file that under ‘we’ll work on it, but don’t hold your breath.’

Also in that file is what I’ll call the Resistance of the Punditariat, who perform our national political discourse on TV and podcasts and radio, and from the pages of newspapers and magazines and political websites, and who are, for the most part, handsomely compensated for doing so. Their salary depends on their not understanding certain things, especially those that might upset the status quo. Not only are they invested in that status quo – as the successful will be in any situation or system – they have also been worked like sports refs for decades now by the folks on the right, who never miss an opportunity to accuse them of liberal bias. It’s to the point where a fair observer has to say they’ve overcompensated. Why else was every third question Elizabeth Warren was asked – back when she was the front-runner in national polling – whether or not she would raise taxes on the middle class? The question’s as loaded as an AR-15. Like in middle school when that kid thought the funniest thing in the world was to ask ‘Does your mom know you’re gay?’

So figure the punditariat – who are mostly fairly liberal in their personal attitudes; I do believe that – will continue to skew anti-liberal/progressive/socialist for the foreseeable future. You can’t control it, but you can take it into account and start working them yourself, calling out bias in framing and the focus on horse-race ephemera when lives and livelihoods are on the line. Like anything, if enough people do it for long enough, that tide can be turned, too. Evolution has a thousand mothers.

***

So what factors can we control? And what does this have to do with Bernie Sanders and his Political Revolution? I’m glad I asked, cuz I got a theory.

My theory is we have two problems, which are inter-related. The first is simply this: socialists, especially the core of Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution, are really shitty at being allies, and, as such, are even shittier at building coalitions. If you think I’m wrong, I’ll point you to all the people demanding Elizabeth Warren endorse Bernie Sanders because of their friendship and ideological similarities. People who, some of them, got in a flame war with Warren’s supporters back in January when her so-called friend and ally called her a liar on national TV, and who called the person who built the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (and was forced out of running it) a corporate stooge. Shit, Warren’s people reached out to Sanders weeks before Super Tuesday and her dropping out of the race, and were rebuffed.

Some of this is the Dirtbag Left, who not unlike the above-mentioned punditariat, have found a profitable sort of noise to make, and whose new salaries depend on their not understanding things like how being an exclusivist jerkwad pretty much guarantees nobody wants to join or even work with you. It’s somewhere between a faith tradition and a cool kidz club from what I can tell: you’re in or you’re out, and fuck you if you’re out, even a little. It works as entertainment, but it’s no way to build a governing coalition. Which is what you need if you want to enact policy to, like, change people’s lives and shit.

But there’s a whopping dollop of blame to put on Bernie Sanders’ fudge sundae, too. For some of his hires, definitely. But the man made some seriously flawed choices. For one thing, his insistence on running as much against the Democratic Party as the Republicans and the billionaire corporate oligarchy is just a really not good way to get Democrats to support you. It riles up the kids, but til they show up to vote that’s a human interest story at best.

But it was Bernie’s choice to dismiss social justice issues as ‘Identity Politics’ for so long that really doomed him.

Put it this way: the backbone of the Democratic party is not, as many white college-educated progressives believe, white college-educated progressives. The ‘Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party’ as folks used to put it. We think we are, and there’s a certain logic to it. But we aren’t the party’s backbone, nor its heart and soul, either.

Women of color are the backbone of the Democratic Party, its heart and soul and animating force. People of color generally, but women of color particularly, and African-American women particularly-particularly. They’re the ones who show up, no matter what. The ones who do the actual work that makes the party go.

Women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants. You can win without them. But only if you’re a Republican.

So, if you want to, say, get the Democratic Party nomination for President, you’d best have a plan to win those voters over. Give them a reason to take a chance on you, Because as previously detailed, anything that can be labeled ‘socialism’ has a hard row to hoe in the US, and since those folks are the ones who catch the worst when Republicans and their coalition of White Christian Nationalists and the Actual Oligarchy are in charge, yeah, they tend not to want to take chances. I mean, put yourself in their shoes for a minute. If the house is on fire, you want to hear from the guy talking about how to put the fire out, not the guy talking about what kind of house you might build later.

And that brings me to the second prong of my theory, which has to do with the limits of a purely materialist critique of the status quo’s utility, not only as rhetorical but an analytical tool.

Like any reductive analysis, a purely materialist (the corporations and the 1% have captured the state and unofficially enslaved us all to an unsustainable economic system with disastrous and unjust real-world consequences) critique flattens the object of its critique, examines it through a lens that shrinks the spectrum in order to highlight certain wavelengths over others. All too often, issues of social justice are among those excluded wavelengths.

Those for whom social justice issues are of more than academic or conscientious interest aren’t thrilled to have their concerns so cavalierly excluded, it turns out. Nor are they thrilled when, as I’ve seen so often, they are blithely told how their issues will be magically solved through solely economic justice, and called names when they fail to achieve the expected moment of epiphany and join the faith tradition.

Remember, these are the natural, obvious allies any effective democratic socialist movement needs to achieve even a fraction of its goals. It’s time to stop asking why they aren’t joining us, and start asking how we can grow not only our tent but our worldview to include them.

***

I have a deep and abiding respect for Bernie Sanders and the movement he’s built. I think we all owe him a debt of gratitude for bringing the issues – and policy solutions – of economic justice and class war and democratic socialism into the American mainstream, where even a resistant punditariat has to take them seriously. But I think it’s safe to say we’ve reached the limits of not only a Sanders-style Political Revolution that demands adherence instead of building alliances and coalitions, but of a purely materialist socialist critique of late capitalism that filters out issues of social justice and asks those for whom social justice is lived reality to take it on faith that they’ll be included.

For what it’s worth, on a personal level, I still think that more actively fighting the class war and striving to establish economic justice will go a long way to righting social and historical injustice. Like the cereal commercials from when I was a kid used to say: it’s an important part of this nutritious breakfast.

We just have to remember there are other things on the table, which are just as important, some even more so.

***

If you want to change hearts and minds, you have to meet people where they are. You have to find out where they’re coming from, what they need, what they want. And you have to, you know, help them get it. Do the work for them. Don’t tell them how being your ally will benefit them. Show them how it does. It means reaching out, but it means stretching out, too. Becoming bigger yourself.

The most basic tenet of democratic socialism is that we’re all in it together. So let’s start acting like it. Let’s start acting like we understand the only socialism worth having is one that begins with social justice. Maybe then we can get some shit done.

Why I Donated to Elizabeth Warren Today

200125-elizabeth-warren-mn-1140_6de994e52181233ebf528c412dd6d726.fit-760wEver since the New Hampshire primary, the punditariat has written many a premature obituary for the campaign of Elizabeth Warren. And I get it. According to their narrative conventions — which they love to misname the ‘conventional wisdom’ —  Iowa and New Hampshire are supposed to winnow the field down to two or maybe three candidates. And even though there are supposedly only three tickets out of Iowa, one of which Elizabeth Warren won, her poor showing in the widely divided field in New Hampshire has supposedly ‘put a stench of death’ on her campaign, at least according to an unnamed campaign aide quoted by one of my favorite writers.

To which I say: All. My Bollocks.

Here is Dylan Matthews at Vox, giving up the game:

“The only reason to care about the early primaries is that they drive media narratives, perceptions of candidate viability, and thus later primaries in states that actually matter for delegate count. Iowa and New Hampshire just don’t award enough delegates to be important on their own (41 and 24, respectively) without that perception effect.”

Ninety-eight percent of delegates to the nominating convention (which is the metric, just or not, by which score is kept in this game) remain unpledged. Ninety-eight percent. That’s like, almost all of them. Never mind that virtually no people of color have had a chance to weigh in (which seems like it might change the dynamics for, say, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar). Nor have many union members, who might not like the current front-runner’s health care plan (FWIW, I do endorse it, myself, though I think Warren’s got a better plan for getting there). Hell, in New Hampshire, whose influence is even more outsized than usual thanks to Iowa’s self-immolation, the primary is open. Republicans and Independents can cast votes for the Democratic nominee. That may or may not be a good thing, but one thing is clear: it means New Hampshire — white-as-snow, soi disant libertarian New Hampshire — is even less representative of the Democratic party than Iowa.

All of which is to say that while the punditariat may indeed prefer a two- or three-person race (and put a thumb on the coverage scale to make it happen), we the voters are in no way obliged to oblige them. Quite the contrary. There are enough primaries left, enough voices yet to be heard, I think all the viable candidates should keep running.

There’s a lot at stake come the general election. But there’s a lot at stake, too, in the Democratic primary. Not only do we need a champion to face Donald Trump come November, we need to flip the Senate and bolster our House majority. The person who can lead that wave might be any of the top contenders.

Me, I think that person is Elizabeth Warren. I think she’s got the intellect, temperament, experience, and plans to carry us forward into the interesting times ahead, and I’m not the only one. Even most people for whom she’s not the top choice put her as their second choice. Far as I can tell, her only negatives are among billionaires and the Extremely Online folks who think she doesn’t go far enough on M4A. She’s got a thousand staffers and millions in the bank, and she’s in the fight for all the right reasons. So things going badly isn’t going to slow her down, nor should it.

Put it another way: Nevertheless, she’ll persist.

And so will I in supporting her as she continues to run. And if, come June, there’s no clear winner, and we have a contested convention, well, then even if she doesn’t get the nomination, I want Elizabeth Warren at the table, with as many delegates as she can get in her pocket, to make sure the people and policies she’s fighting for get their fair share.

Some Quick Reminders for the Iowa Conspiracy Theorists

First and foremost: There’s a paper trail — for the first time, btw, so put that in your pipe and (retrospectively) smoke it — so the results will come in, and probably be reasonably accurate. That they will be muddled because of how many ways the totals are gonna be split, and because — for some reason — they are reporting not one, not two, but three metrics by which a winner might be declared would have been the case even if things went smooth like butter.

Second, and I can’t stress this enough: Iowa doesn’t really matter! The state accounts for a whopping 1% of convention delegates, which is how the party decides who gets the nomination. In fact, the first four states (IA, NH, NV, and SC) only account for about 5% of delegates (the latter two were moved up to help counterbalance the, ahem, whiteness of the traditional first two). The media likes to pretend they matter more than they actually do, because it gives them fodder to create narratives (and winnow the field). But really, we’re not going to have a good idea who’s ahead, behind, or viable going forward til Super Tuesday, when about half the delegates will be allotted in one big day of primary voting.

Third: Of course the app went wrong. It’s a brand new piece of bespoke tech — developed for a complex, idiosyncratic process — that couldn’t be field-tested beforehand because how would you even do that? Add to that that rules were changed in the way the caucuses work (because this ain’t the first time they’ve had problems calling a winner the night or even the week of), and remember that the vast majority of poll workers are retiree volunteers who don’t know a whole lot about the cyber, and the likeliest — even inevitable — outcome is what happened.

Fourth, and really more of an aside: The changes that are fucking this all up were implemented after complaints from Sanders supporters in 2016, who wanted a more transparent process with a paper trail and yadda yadda yadda (instead of, you know, getting rid of these arcane, uninclusive, undemocratic rituals in favor of the simplicity of a primary vote). That these selfsame people — and the bots who love them — are making the biggest stink about what’s going down is both extremely on-brand and perfectly in tune with the tragilarious irony that has characterized this blighted timeline since the Large Hadron Collider was turned on and everyone lost their goddam minds.

Fifth: While the various conspiracies — Russian/Republican ratfucking, DNC scale-tipping against Bernie/Joe/Pete/whoevs — are not unplausible, I urge you recall Hanlon’s Razor, which says, simply:

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So, deep breaths, everybody. Relax. For once, we’ve woken up the day after Iowa without a handy narrative to shape perceptions about the race going forward. The voting’s just started, the race is still tight. Which, you know, accurately reflects the reality.

This is a good thing.

Brittney Cooper is Right: Warren’s Gender Matters

This Time article is worth quoting at length:

“But as we watch – and I with growing dread – the winnowing down of the Democratic field potentially to three white men, Sanders, Biden and Buttigieg, we are faced again with the problem of gender. I have, thus far, been disappointed watching progressive white feminists and feminists of color alike continue to argue for a socialist revolution on the grounds that gender would be covered. They make this same case about race, and that, too, is dubious.

Sanders is the most progressive and revolutionary candidate on the merits, these folks argue, so the fact that Warren is a woman – and similarly progressive – can’t matter. The insistence that an elderly white man’s socialist revolution will better address my 21st-century black feminist gender concerns is textbook white liberal paternalism. How will Sanders white masculinity affect and inform how he governs? This is a question that we should get to ask. Being progressive doesn’t mean that one’s race or gender ceases to matter in one’s leadership style and prerogatives, especially not in a world where gender and race are always presumed to matter for how women and people of color will govern.

[…]

There are two other broad strands of argument on the left from those who insist that they aren’t compelled to proffer the vagina vote. There are those on the black left, who have convinced themselves that there’s no reason to vote for a white woman, because white women are simply water-carriers for a white-supremacist project. As a black feminist, I stand in a long tradition of black women thinkers who have critiqued white women’s gender and racial politics and have called them out for their collusion with white supremacy. And as a regular black chick, I have more than a few stories of white women who inspire my resentment. But a patriarchal analysis reminds us that gender still matters, and it still determines access to structural leadership. In a world where white women voters skewed toward Trump and will likely skew toward him again, it’s fine to distrust white women. It’s not fine to shunt gender to the side when an actual progressive female candidate is running for office.

The second group judges candidates based on how they stack up on the merits with regard to progressive policy. So if you are a member of the radical anti-capitalist left, and Warren insists, as she did in Tuesday’s debate, in talking about how “to make markets work,” then on the merits you have to vote for Sanders the Socialist. Or so the argument goes. But because the analysis of gender here is ancillary, these folks never have to think about whether the first woman to win the presidency can do so as a socialist, given the ways that the concept of the “bleeding heart liberal” carries underneath it a misogynist edge about namby-pamby femme people. It is remarkable that Warren has fared as well as she has running as far to the left as she has. America carries big-stick energy around the world, a phallic project that places female leaders in the position of trying to replicate these behaviors in order to appear tough or reject them at the risk of appearing soft. (Hillary Clinton couldn’t crack this code, and Warren will have to figure it out if she manages to face Trump in the general.)

These voters also choose never to think about the ways that merit-based arguments of the same sort are deployed by corporate America or the halls of academia to wall women and racial minorities out of access to great jobs and organizational leadership opportunities. Anyone who has ever served on a committee charged with hiring candidates who bring some diversity to a place understands how things go when the white guy who meets all the criteria (because he has had structural access to all the privileges that would help him meet all the criteria) is up against a promising woman or person of color who is very good but falls down in a few categories. Or conversely she’s the best, but the standards as written and understood make hiring her seem like too much of a risk. Hiring committees often struggle with what feels to them like the fundamental unfairness of allowing a candidate’s diversity to put them over the top. Many (white) members of these committees see this as a sullying of (a mythic) meritocracy in a way that disadvantages white men. But first, they have to believe that the man in question received all his qualifications on the merits and not because of structural privileges. I expect people on the progressive and radical left, those who claim to understand how intersectionality works, to know better, but they aren’t acting like they do.

[…]

Wanting a woman to rise to the top of an almost all-male pack is not a position that needs defending. What should be defended is the uncritical desire to elect yet another man to a position that 45 men and zero women have held. That choice, to choose another man for President, should be held up to the strictest scrutiny and the highest standard. Gender alone is not a sufficient qualification to be President (though I can think of a few recent Presidents for which this seems to be the only qualification they had). But I am convinced that it should offer an edge in a situation where no cisgender women, trans people or gender nonbinary people have ever had a position. I think race should work similarly. The experiences one gains from being marginalized because of racism and sexism offer invaluable perspectives that often make candidates inclined to be more egalitarian and inclusive, precisely because they know intimately what exclusion feels like. We have another opportunity in this election to make clear that gender is not the stepchild of radical politics, and it is long past time that we take it.”

 

https://time.com/5765888/elizabeth-warren-gender-2020-election/