On the Democratic side, a perjorative canard that has risen is the notion of an “economic left”–leftists who apparently don’t care about racial or gender issues. As is often the case, there is a great deal of self-projection here by these critics, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Watching the ascendancy of movement conservatism*, I’ve learned a few things, one of which is that the disparate parts of a movement need solidarity. Typically, the various conservative interest groups require that most of their demands be met: it’s hard, though not impossible, to pick off one interest group, or divide and conquer.
Democrats, as I’ve noted before, don’t do this: one interest group will gladly jettison another once it gets what it wants (or even only part of what it would like). Democrats have forgotten Cruickshank’s Rule–No one in a coalition takes a backward step to advance another member’s cause (boldface mine):
Conservatives simply understand how coalitions work, and progressives don’t. Conservative communication discipline is enabled only by the fact that everyone in the coalition knows they will get something for their participation. A right-winger will repeat the same talking points even on an issue he or she doesn’t care about or even agree with because he or she knows that their turn will come soon, when the rest of the movement will do the same thing for them.
Progressives do not operate this way. We spend way too much time selling each other out, and way too little time having each other’s back. … But within our own movement, there is nothing stopping us from exhibiting the same kind of effective messaging – if we understood the value of coalitions….
The bigger problem is that it is very difficult to successfully maintain a coalition in today’s Democratic Party. Michael Gerson has identified something I have been arguing for some time – that the Democratic Party is actually two parties artificially melded together. I wrote about this in the California context last fall – today’s Democratic Party has two wings to it. One wing is progressive, anti-corporate, and distrusts the free market. The other wing is neoliberal, pro-corporate, and trusts the free market.… The only reason these two antithetical groups share a political party is because the Republicans won’t have either one.
If you want to understand Sanders’ rise, that last paragraph is key. Because those two groups do not have equal power within the Democratic Party; the neo-liberal wing is still dominant, in large part due to the Northern Strategy. When ‘lines in the sand’ are drawn, it’s usually over issues such as gay rights, gender equality, and civil rights. Long-time readers will know that I fully support these things. But what always seems to get lost in the quest for pragmatism are the economic issues, whether they be middle-class, such as union organizing (including card check and teachers unions), or the poor.
When you disparage “the economic left”, you are disparaging the poor, along with those who have gotten a raw deal economically. As Paul Perry puts it (boldface mine):
So when political leaders like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders echo this sentiment, this very accurate interpretation of a reality that I (and others) face daily, then why yes, as a matter of fact, I do Feel the Bern. So excuse me if I have a very hard time being told that I am “unrealistic” or “too idealistic” for supporting candidates who seek fundamental, rather than incremental, transformation of this reality. I can only come to the conclusion that these friends, colleagues and digital acquaintances live very different lives.
I can only guess that these people are simply freer than me. Freer to enjoy the sort of incremental “progress” that, if allowed to persist, would continue to endanger the future wellbeing of me and my family.
They do not experience nor do they seem to fully empathize with the lived realities of the many Americans yearning for the political revolution that Senator Sanders invokes. Yet they feel very free to respond rather fiercely when we challenge the edifice of their own success. The system that locks away over two million mostly black and brown bodies and tells these moderates that they are competing on a truly level playing field and that everything they have achieved in our Ownership Society is a product of their own rugged industriousness and soaring intellect, rather than, even in part, a questionable inheritance at familial, institutional and systemic levels.
…In this election cycle, I have been most alarmed by my white moderate friends. I have come to truly see how much of an enabling force they are for us to remain a center-right country. They nod their heads when Hillary says, “We are not Denmark. We are the United States,” as if there is some mark of pride in providing less for your people so that they might be more “free” to wallow in inequity…
I expect the crazies. The ones with ill will who offer outright rejection of human rights for others. But, like [Martin Luther] King, what burns my grits even more are those who know better but slow progress through paternalistic incrementalism and tokenism-as-progressivism without even realizing that they are doing the work of upholding racist and classist institutions alongside those conservatives that they haughtily claim to oppose.
You’re not being ‘intersectional’ if the economically disadvantaged are always being left behind in the name of pragmatism; instead, you are embracing the Privilege That Shall Not Be Named, class privilege. Issues like fifteen dollars/hour, no Social Security cuts (and increasing the payments), and single payer healthcare (with perhaps settling for a truly affordable, federally supported public option) should be every bit as essential as BLM, gay rights, voting rights, or the environment, but they’re not. Just always seem to fall off the agenda.
Put another way: if the compromise of civil unions is unacceptable (and to be clear, it was and is), then the compromise of $12/hour should also be unacceptable. Better than can still be insufficient when dealing with any existential issue–and the inability to buy food or pay rent surely counts as existential.
But for too many progressives, solidarity doesn’t seem to extend to the least fortunate, to those who have hit hard economic times. They are always told to compromise; their concerns are never the line in the sand. And if they complain, they are told they aren’t being pragmatic–they’re not even given the pseudo-decency of a bullshit excuse.
The “economic left” always gets left behind.
*Despite the clusterfuck that is the Republican primary, conservatives are slaughtering Democrats at the state and local levels, and without a major structural and ideological shift by Democrats, will most likely continue to do so in the forseeable future. The Democrats have become a ‘presidential’ party, not a legislative one.