I’ve mentioned this before, but a lot of lefty intellectuals write about electoral and/or legislative politics without taking them nearly as seriously as they take their fields of core expertise. Consider, for example, Hamilton Nolan. I strongly recommend you read his account of the failed union drive at the Nissan plant in Mississippi. It’s a first-rate piece of reporting — well-researched, insightful, careful to put critiques of tactical decisions in the context of the brutally difficult structural conditions union organizers face in right-to-work states.
Then read this, which reads like the work of a different person entirely:
So pissed off people elected Donald Fucking Trump. [Well, an anachronistic 18th century institution designed to limit democracy and overrepresent southern white supremacists did, frustrating the will of the public, but anyway. –ed.] And here we are.
Within politics, there have been two distinct reactions to this anti-establishment upheaval. The establishment—particularly of the Democratic Party—has concluded that the solution is to run to the center, “moderating” (meaning changing) positions as necessary until a sufficient number of people are attracted to a muddled, something-tepid-for-everyone platform. And the left and right wings—where the anti-establishment sentiment originated in the first place—see this as an opportunity to double down and attract disaffected people to their sides. The mistake that the established political parties make is to think that if they run to the center, everyone is obligated to follow them. Why? There is a much more straightforward solution: Put a third party in the middle.
This is the biggest howler I’ve read in a long time, and I’ve read people arguing that America’s elites are unified in their opposition to Donald Trump. The ideas that the parties are moving to the center is just utterly wrong by any possible metric. Even before 2016, rapidly accelerating elite polarization was a well-established fact. Has 2016 compelled the Democrats to retreat back to the center? Obviously not. I’ve discussed this in the context of Kirsten Gillibrand’s political positioning, but the other senators with potential presidential ambitions like Booker and Harris are embracing the core elements of Bernie’s platform, which is to the left of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 platform, which it turn was well to the left of Obama’s platforms in 2008/12 and light years to the left of the platforms her husband ran on. Or consider this op-ed from noted left-wing bombthrower Chuck Schumer, which inter alia advocates for a trillion-dollar stimulus, a $15 minimum wage, paid family and sick leave, heightened antitrust enforcement, and re-writing trade agreements. (If your guess is that the Jacobin take on this op-ed would be to handwave all of these issues — none of which were considered trivial as recently as the 2016 primaries — and focus on a single graf where he argues for a minor job training tax credit, concluding that therefore the Democratic Party is a racket focused solely on advancing the interests of corporations that must be destroyed, you win a free lifetime subscription to LGM.)
To be clear, there are still many questions of judgment left open here. You can argue that mainstream Democrats still haven’t gone far enough. You can argue that you don’t trust them. You can argue that there are better messengers for the platform they’re converging on. All reasonable questions! But Nolan isn’t making any of these arguments. He’s arguing that the Democratic leadership has made a choice to move to the center in response to Trump. This is just flatly false, and he offers no evidence in support of it. (“Rich people tend to socialize with other rich people” is not evidence for his claim, FWIW.) And I think the implicit claim that Republicans are moving to the center is too self-refuting to require rebuttal.
And all of this is premised on a view of the American political spectrum that is just baffling:
The majority of powerful people in both current parties that like to refer to themselves as “mainstream” may haggle over minor issues, but the generally agree that the government must boost and protect private capital, that America must be a military powerhouse, and that the current state of affairs must only be tweaked very slowly, if at all.
Put all of these people in the same party. Let the people who actually have ideals have their own parties on each side.
True left wingers want a radical reordering of wealth and power. True right wingers want decentralization and a radical deconstruction of government as we know it. It is absurd to pretend that either of these groups should be satisfied with a political spectrum that ranges from Hillary Clinton to Mitch McConnell. Nowhere in that spectrum will you find full socialism, or full “deconstruction of the administrative state.” That is because the existing establishment is, quite naturally, focused most of all on the maintenance of existing power structures. Its ideological arguments are minor.
The idea that the differences between Clinton and McConnell are “minor” is…just staggeringly wrong. Increasing taxes on the wealthy and massively cutting them is a minor difference? Massively expanding Medicaid and cutting it 35% — ¯\_(ツ)_/¯? (Boy, were a lot of people deluded to put their bodies on the line as if this was important!) Using the EPA to restrict carbon emissions and using it to dismantle such regulations — same diff? Women being coerced by the state to carry pregnancies to term or being offered Medicaid funds for reproductive services — who cares, really? Should African-Americans have effective access to the ballot or not — hardly a question worth agitating over. Sam Alito and Sonia Sotomayor, not a dime’s worth of difference, amirite? And I could go on like this for a long time.
It is true that America’s large brokerage parties are only offering the considerable and accelerating differences between Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan and not a contest between “full socialism” and full “deconstruction of the administrative state” because neither of the latter two ideas has a substantial mass constituency in the United States. Most Democratic voters don’t favor a nationalization of the means of production. Most Republican voters like the federal welfare state just fine. And there’s an easy way to test this. Run in the Democratic primaries on a platform that Bernie’s left-liberalism is a hopeless capitulation to capital. If it turns out that this is what most Democratic voters want but haven’t gotten it because it isn’t being offered, I owe you a Coke.