I realize that Senator Bernie Sanders’ appearance on the Joe Rogan show is like eight Twitter things and three Trump outrages ago, but the whole episode suggests too many Democratic activists still don’t understand a significant fraction of Democratic voters.
For those who aren’t aware of who Joe Rogan is, he’s a YouTube interviewer whose guests typically range from oddballs to reactionaries–he is definitely not of the left. Yet, Sanders’ interview, at last count, had broached five million views (greater than any Fox News personality for comparison). By all accounts, he did very well: Sanders didn’t compromise his message, and exposed a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t hear it to a defense of progressive programs and values. From a theater criticism perspective, this shouldn’t be too surprising, one of Sanders’ political gifts (he also has weaknesses) is he is very good at taking control of one-on-one interviews; he rarely gets pushed around by interviewers. So if there’s a Democratic candidate who could go on Rogan and do well, it would be Sanders.
But the reaction from certain parts of the progressive firmament was less than enthusiastic. After all, Rogan plays footsie with conspiracists and has invited real assholes onto to his show. Why would you try to reach his audience? What that reaction tells us is that too many Democrats still haven’t internalized the meaning of this figure (from 2016):
In other words (boldface added):
Democrats dwelled on the most obvious–and politically convenient–part–which indicates that Trump supporters are a lot more racist than anyone else. But this figure also contains an inconvenient truth (to use a phrase)… I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that one in four [non-black] Democrats is racist–which admittedly is better than Republicans, especially once the Trumpists are factored in. We, too, have our deplorables.
As Kweku notes, however, these racists are still willing to vote for Democrats in spite of and in opposition to their racism. Figure out why they do so, and then do more of that.
…I’m not going Full Metal Ron Fournier and claiming ‘both sides do it’: clearly, one side does it much more than the other. Moreover, the Republican Party is dog whistling, not to mention air-raid sirening, to racists, while the Democratic Party openly espouses anti-racist policies (always could do more, but there is a difference in kind here).
If the Democratic racists stayed home, Democrats would be hard pressed to win 100 House seats (out of 435), and maybe control governorships in five states (no way Democrats reach ten). Of course, if all racists stayed home, Democrats would run the table on Republicans. The point is not to pander to the racists, but figure out why they are voting Democratic in spite of their racism.
…While much of the discussion often revolves around presidential dynamics (I’m guilty of this too), it’s the states where often the most retrograde policies are enacted. To win back states and thereby help Democratic strongholds, Democrats have no choice but to convince these voters to show up (or at least not vote Republican).
Finally, one more point: often the argument is phrased as ‘appealing to racists’, as if this doesn’t happen. Democrats already do appeal to some racists, in spite of their racism. Yes, I would like the scourge of racism to be eradicated, but that’s kind of a long-term project–think pulpits, not politics, for that. In the meantime, the question is do we want racists to vote for or against their racism?
The question pretty much answers itself.
Making better people is really hard, but convincing somewhat, erm, deplorable people to enter into a coalition with you, not so much.
If Sanders can convince people who otherwise would vote Republican (or sit out because ‘it’s all rigged’ or what have you) to vote Democratic, all power to him. Because we already have weirdos and bigots voting Democratic–which is vastly superior to the alternative.
Disclosure: Were I voting today, I would support Warren, not Sanders.