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Margaret Sanger, Eugenics, and Abortion

[ 70 ] August 20, 2015 |


Imani Gandy has a very useful run down of Margaret Sanger’s complicated racial, sexual, and medical politics, politics that the right are simplifying and lying about in order to attack Planned Parenthood as a scheme to eliminate black people through abortion. It’s long but allow me to just quote a couple of choice parts:

It is true that Sanger was a proponent of eugenics, and pro-choice advocates do themselves no favors by attempting to whitewash this fact and paint Sanger as some infallible feminist hero. Sanger was passionate about contraception—perhaps to a fault—and her fervor about promoting her birth control agenda led her to align herself with eugenicists, along with racists and an assortment of people of questionable character.

But it is simply untrue that Margaret Sanger wanted to exterminate the Black race. This is a flat-out lie. Yet it is one that is repeated ad nauseum, both by anti-choice activists and the politicians who support them, most recently Ben Carson.

In propagating this lie, anti-choicers infantilize Black women and strip them of their agency: They portray Margaret Sanger’s birth control agenda as something that was done to Black women, rather than something in which Black women and much of the Black community as a whole enthusiastically participated.

W. E. B. Du Bois, who was one of the first Black leaders to publicly support birth control and who worked closely with Sanger to advocate for it, even serving on the board of a clinic that Sanger opened up in Harlem, criticized the wider birth control movement because of its failure to address Black people’s needs as well.

It was this failure that gave birth to the sinister-sounding Negro Project.

Due to segregation policies in the South, the birth control clinics that opened in the 1930s were for white women only. Sanger wanted to change that. She sought to open clinics in the South staffed by Black doctors and nurses, and to educate Black women about contraception. In 1939, after she had been named honorary chairman of the board of Birth Control Federation of America (the precursor to Planned Parenthood), Sanger launched the Negro Project. The Federation’s Division of Negro Services, a national advisory council, which included prominent Black leaders like Du Bois, Mary McLeod Bethune, E. Franklin Frazier, Walter White, and Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, worked to manage the Negro Project.

The Negro Project had nothing to do with some nefarious plot to exterminate Black people or to “sterilize unknowing Black women,” as claimed by—which is a widely read website seemingly dedicated to spreading false information about Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood. Rather, the Negro Project was a concerted effort by Sanger and Black community leaders to bring birth control to the South in a way that would assuage the deep-seated fears of Black birth control opponents like Marcus Garvey, who believed that the use of birth control in the Black community was tantamount to Black genocide.


Yes, she believed that the “reckless breeding” of the “feebleminded” was “the greatest biological menace to the future of civilization.” Yes, she believed that Americans were “paying for and even submitting to the dictates of an ever-increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all.” Yes she believed that “morons” should be forcibly sterilized to ensure that they could not breed. She also believed that these “morons” could not be trusted to properly use birth control. Frankly, Sanger was far more ableist than she was racist.

But she was also a product of her time. The terms “moron,” “imbecile,” and “idiot” were all medical classifications back then. And eugenics—the theory that intelligence and other traits are genetically predetermined—was very popular at the turn of the century. The concern that “inferior stock” was reproducing at a faster rate than “superior stock,” was widespread. Inferior stock included anyone not viewed as a descendant of good breeding: Black people, immigrants, mentally and physically disabled people, the poor, criminals, and the “feebleminded.”

It may seem bizarre and Orwellian to us now, but that was the United States in which Sanger lived. And given the enthusiasm with which ordinary Americans embraced eugenics, it is no surprise that Sanger eventually joined up with them.

Sanger didn’t begin her campaign for birth control as a eugenicist, though. She started out as a relatively hardcore feminist. She believed that women had the right to sexual gratification and the right to choose when to become mothers.

“No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” Those are Sanger’s own words.

But feminists at the time disapproved of Sanger’s insistence on women’s rights to sexual gratification. They largely believed that Sanger’s views were unchaste and immoral, and that a woman’s place was in the home, serving her husband and being virtuous. (Not unlike many anti-choicers today who believe that if you are unwilling to deal with an unplanned pregnancy, or as they like to call it “the consequences of sex,” then you should just abstain—forever, if necessary.)

In other words, all of this is extraordinarily complicated. Yes, there were black eugenicists. Yes, eugenics was widespread throughout basically all of American elite society during the early 20th century. Yes, that meant that scientific racism was popular and was shared by Sanger. No, it does not mean that Sanger was looking to exterminate the black race. No, it does not mean that Planned Parenthood is racist today. Yes, it means that history is really complex. No, it does not mean that conservatives will have any interest in telling the truth about this complexity.

This Day in Labor History: August 20, 1866

[ 8 ] August 20, 2015 |

On August 20, 1866, the National Labor Union, the first labor union federation in U.S. history, demanded Congress implement a national 8-hour day. It led to a partial and fleeting success, but the NLU story is an important moment in American labor history as it represents an early response to the onslaught of capitalism upon workers who suddenly found a class-based system developing in what was promised to be a white man’s democracy.

The trade union movement had roots early in American history but had never really taken off, in part because the system of American employment was still in the pre-Civil War years by and large artisan and farmer based. Where you did see large concentrations of industry, unions formed such as in the Lowell mills. But the nation was changing rapidly in 1866. The capitalist revolution of the Civil War was beginning to be felt by workers. Factories were growing and money was increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few. Long hours, low pay, and dangerous working conditions in factories, railroad yards, and mines were becoming part of the everyday experience for workers.

Unions began to develop in these industries, but there was no national federation to organize and guide them. That’s what the National Labor Union intended to do. Founded at a Baltimore conference in 1866, it was a precursor to the Knights of Labor and American Federation of Labor. It wanted to bring together all of the current unions in its umbrella and take a political and bargaining approach to solving problems, as opposed to striking which was quite controversial even among workers at this time. It favored arbitration as its preferred labor action. It also wanted a Labor Party to challenge both the Republicans and the Democrats.

The NLU’s leader William Sylvis was an interesting individual. In 1846, at the age of 18, Sylvis became an iron molder, which was someone who poured hot slag into wooden patterns to shape the final product. This was hard, tough, dangerous work. He soon became active in Philadelphia’s union movement and was elected secretary of his local in 1857. In 1859, Sylvis called for a convention of all the iron moulders locals around the nation. He was elected president of what became the National Union of Iron Molders. He spent the Civil War building the union where he instituted a number of innovations, including creating the first ever national strike fund, through mandatory dues payments by members. Sylvis was also a major supporter of unions of female workers, particularly Kate Mullaney’s Collar Laundry Union. Sylvis would later invite Mullaney into a leadership role within the NLU, making her the nation’s first female union executive.


William Sylvis

The NLU did invite all workers, including farmers into the organization. But as would be the case with the AFL, its core membership was the skilled building trades. Also like the rest of the labor movement of the time, the NLU held white supremacy as a central guiding point. It was segregated and while there was a black chapter, it was ineffective and small. Sylvis actually opposed this segregation; although he supported Stephen Douglas in the 1860 election, he believed that all workers had the same issues and would have preferred one integrated organization. It took years of fighting recalcitrant unionists to even allowed the Colored National Labor Union to exist alongside the NLU. The federation also called for the exclusion of Chinese workers from the United States, which would eventually be the first legislative victory for the American labor movement in history.

The major legislative aim for the NLU was the passage of the 8-hour day. As capitalism developed, the 8-hour day would become the ultimate goal for much of the American labor movement. It was the call to arms for the Knights of Labor in the 1880s, so much so that the Knights basically lost control of its exploding membership by 1886. Union after union would call for this over the next decades and it was not achieved nationally until the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, and even then only partially.

Amazingly the NLU actually achieved an early victory on the 8-hour day when in 1868, the government created the 8-hour day for federal employees. But this was a very limited win as most of the government agencies then reduced wages to go along with it, which was very much not what the NLU wanted. When President Grant ordered departments to stop reducing wages, most just ignored him and he did not press the issue. Ultimately, little concrete benefit came of the 8-hour day announcement.

Frustrations with the federal employee 8-hour day and loopholes in laws in New York and California that made similar statues unworkable combined with the growing concern in the post-Civil War period about monetary policy to turn the NLU in a starkly political direction. It focused its energy on electoral politics and monetary reform, specifically the issuance of greenbacks, as well as providing public land for settlers as opposed to the huge land grants given to railroads as an incentive to build transcontinental lines. This did not exactly excite workers. Many locals believed in “pure and simple unionism” that kept workers out of politics. Thus the NLU became increasingly divided as it prioritized politics over workers’ concerns. While Sylvis claimed the NLU had 600,000 members, he was exaggerating significantly. At its peak, it might have had 300,000. That number declined as the 1860s became the 1870s. Sylvis dying in 1869 at the age of 41 helped speed the decline as the federation lost its guiding light. The NLU dissolved in 1874 after its membership plummeted in the Panic of 1873.

So ultimately, we should see Sylvis and the NLU as an important ancestor of both the Knights of Labor and the AFL. The NLU was an early attempt for workers to collectively find ways out of the inequality arising during and after the Civil War and for all its limitations, was probably more successful than any other organization before the AFL.

This is the 155th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Upcoming Out of Sight Events!

[ 35 ] August 18, 2015 |


Two upcoming Out of Sight events for you all

First, my Brooklyn book talk with Sarah Jaffe will be aired on CSPAN2 at 7:45 pm Sunday evening. I warn you, I gesticulate a lot. Don’t get too close to your television set. If you don’t have cable, it should be on the CSPAN BookTV website after it airs. Plus now Lemieux can’t brag anymore that he was the only LGM writer on America’s most popular network.

Second, all you Yinzers out there should be coming out to see me next Wednesday afternoon. That’s right, I am visiting exciting Pittsburgh, where I am giving a talk at Big Idea Books at 1:30 pm. Weird time I know. But who in western Pennsylvania has jobs anymore anyway thanks to our good friend capital mobility? So come on out!

Third, and this is a ways off, but I will be appearing in Cambridge at Porter Square Books on Tuesday, October 6 with the one and only Laura Clawson from Daily Kos interviewing me. All you Massholes and whatever they call people from southern New Hampshire should be there.

Fourth, I will be giving a public lecture at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York on November 10. So if you are in the Hudson Valley, mark your calendars for an evening of fun happy times about joyful events going on in the world today. And perhaps a random dead horse reference.

Please note my east coast friends that I am basically willing to go anywhere I can drive to do an event if you can help me set up a venue.

Also, if any readers want to write a review of the book on Amazon, I would appreciate it. That stuff helps move a few copies. The press told me they are pretty happy with the sales but there’s only 3 reviews there which could be better.

Trucker Safety and You

[ 20 ] August 18, 2015 |


One of the points I make in Out of Sight is that the impact of industrial production is shouldered almost entirely by workers because when consumers get exposed to pesticides, for example, they are angry and empowered to demand changes. This is one reason why Cesar Chavez understood that motivating white consumers was more effective in creating the change he wanted than organizing the farmworkers themselves (which had its own problems). One way this has had a real effect was that the agricultural industry developed new pesticides that are intense but dissipate quickly. These nonpersistent chemicals thus intensely affect workers, but who cares about them, so long as my strawberries and apples are fine in the store. Once it doesn’t affect us, the burdens of pesticides are out of sight again.

This type of situation is pretty common throughout America, with companies far more concerned about angry consumers than their own workers. But there’s one area where there’s a surprising lack of consumer activism over the worker safety issues that can then affect them. And that’s the trucking industry. The pressure on truckers means tired drivers which mean crashes and death that can affect any of us any time we drive, as Tracy Morgan found out last year. I’m surprised that drivers–AAA to start with but other organizations as well–haven’t organized campaigns to make trucking safer.

Of course the busting of Teamsters locals and the move to nonunion companies where workers don’t have the voice to fight for themselves doesn’t help.

Nellie Brown, the director of Workplace Health and Safety Programs at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said drivers’ schedules are to blame. “A lot of their schedules are erratic, so people don’t truly have regular sleeping hours,” she said. “You end up with people who are horribly sleep deprived, and this kind of problem is a terribly nasty one.”

Chronically fatigued truck drivers present a danger not just to other people on the road. According to Brown, they are more likely to suffer from long-term health issues such as diabetes, cancer and various heart conditions. She said the proliferation of online ordering and just-in-time delivery practices must take a large share of the blame.

“We’re just asking more of the human body and brain than we can really do, and we’re creating the expectation that people can order things and have them by the next day,” she said.

Others have pointed the finger at declining union membership in the trucking industry. Labor membership has been on the decline across the U.S. for decades. From 1970 and 1990, the percentage of for-hire truck drivers who were union members dropped from 60 percent to 25 percent. As of 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that just 17.4 percent of workers in transportation and material moving occupations are represented by unions.

Art Wheaton, the director of western New York labor and environmental programs at Cornell University, said unions representing truck drivers tend to bargain for additional safety provisions to fight exhaustion and then see to it those provisions are enforced.

“Many of the nonunionized companies tend to try to reduce costs, and sometimes it is at the expense of reduced safety, not only for the driver but for the general public,” he said.

Given that this could kill you or me today or tomorrow, why don’t we talk about this more?

Republican Public Health Policy

[ 71 ] August 18, 2015 |


I’d like to remind the voters (non-voters really) of Maryland of what a good job they did last year by electing Larry Hogan governor. Because Alabama or Maryland, there’s no real difference among Republicans on issues like public health. Everywhere, they like to blame public health problems on the poor. Take Hogan’s Secretary of Housing, Community, and Development. He says that women intentionally expose their children to lead in order to obtain free housing from the state, the filthy leeches! Clearly, the only solution is eviscerating lead paint laws to protect those truly oppressed people in American society, landlords.

Kenneth C. Holt, secretary of Housing, Community and Development, told an audience at the Maryland Association of Counties summer convention here that a mother could just put a lead fishing weight in her child’s mouth, then take the child in for testing and a landlord would be liable for providing the child with housing until the age of 18.

Pressed afterward, Holt said he had no evidence of this happening but said a developer had told him it was possible. “This is an anecdotal story that was described to me as something that could possibly happen,” Holt said.

Holt, a Republican who once represented Baltimore County in the House of Delegates, said reviewing lead paint standards was part of a series of initiatives he planned that also include relaxing the state’s building codes and making it easier for people saddled with heavy student debts to buy homes. The secretary appeared on a panel discussing economic development strategies.

As critics protested Holt’s comments about mothers of lead paint victims, he declined through his office to call a reporter Friday afternoon to further explain his remarks. The housing department released a statement saying: “Secretary Holt and the department have the highest standards of safety when it comes to protecting children and Maryland families. The department will do nothing to jeopardize that.”

The highest standard of safety. For landlords’ bank accounts.

About that Teflon Skillet

[ 49 ] August 18, 2015 |


There was a time in U.S. history, maybe it’s today still, where we would respond in wonderment to new technological products without questioning what the downside of those products might be. Actually, yes, given that technological fetishism is the national religion we still are in that time. Now, obviously technological innovation can be good and questioning science can be really stupid (thanks Jenny McCarthy says all the kids with whooping cough!). But for the most part, a lot more questioning would be useful. Let’s take, oh I don’t know, a non-stick Teflon pan. What the heck is that non-stick stuff?

Well, it’s something called C8. And it’s, um, not good for you.

Several blockbuster discoveries, including nylon, Lycra, and Tyvek, helped transform the E. I. du Pont de Nemours company from a 19th-century gunpowder mill into “one of the most successful and sustained industrial enterprises in the world,” as its corporate website puts it. Indeed, in 2014, the company reaped more than $95 million in sales each day. Perhaps no product is as responsible for its dominance as Teflon, which was introduced in 1946, and for more than 60 years C8 was an essential ingredient of Teflon.

Called a “surfactant” because it reduces the surface tension of water, the slippery, stable compound was eventually used in hundreds of products, including Gore-Tex and other waterproof clothing; coatings for eye glasses and tennis rackets; stain-proof coatings for carpets and furniture; fire-fighting foam; fast food wrappers; microwave popcorn bags; bicycle lubricants; satellite components; ski wax; communications cables; and pizza boxes.

Concerns about the safety of Teflon, C8, and other long-chain perfluorinated chemicals first came to wide public attention more than a decade ago, but the story of DuPont’s long involvement with C8 has never been fully told. Over the past 15 years, as lawyers have been waging an epic legal battle — culminating as the first of approximately 3,500 personal injury claims comes to trial in September — a long trail of documents has emerged that casts new light on C8, DuPont, and the fitful attempts of the Environmental Protection Agency to deal with a threat to public health.

Two years after DuPont learned of the monkey study, in 1981, 3M shared the results of another study it had done, this one on pregnant rats, whose unborn pups were more likely to have eye defects after they were exposed to C8. The EPA was also informed of the results. After 3M’s rat study came out, DuPont transferred all women out of work assignments with potential for exposure to C8. DuPont doctors then began tracking a small group of women who had been exposed to C8 and had recently been pregnant. If even one in five women gave birth to children who had craniofacial deformities, a DuPont epidemiologist named Fayerweather warned, the results should be considered significant enough to suggest that C8 exposure caused the problems.

As it turned out, at least one of eight babies born to women who worked in the Teflon division did have birth defects. A little boy named Bucky Bailey, whose mother, Sue, had worked in Teflon early in her pregnancy, was born with tear duct deformities, only one nostril, an eyelid that started down by his nose, and a condition known as “keyhole pupil,” which looked like a tear in his iris. Another child, who was two years old when the rat study was published in 1981, had an “unconfirmed eye and tear duct defect,” according to a DuPont document that was marked confidential.

Like Wamsley, Sue Bailey, one of the plaintiffs whose personal injury suits are scheduled to come to trial in the fall, remembers having plenty of contact with C8. When she started at DuPont in 1978, she worked first in the Nylon division and then in Lucite, she told me in an interview. But in 1980, when she was in the first trimester of her pregnancy with Bucky, she moved to Teflon, where she often sat watch over a large pipe that periodically filled up with liquid, which she had to pump to a pond in back of the plant. Occasionally some of the bubbly stuff would overflow from a nearby holding tank, and her supervisor taught her how to squeegee the excess into a drain.

Soon after Bucky was born, Bailey received a call from a DuPont doctor. “I thought it was just a compassion call, you know: can we do anything or do you need anything?” Bailey recalled. “Shoot. I should have known better.” In fact, the doctor didn’t express his sympathies, Bailey said, and instead asked her whether her child had any birth defects, explaining that it was standard to record such problems in employees’ newborns.

Oh well, that’s nice. See also part 2 of the story.

And like basically every other awful thing corporations produce, 3M and Dupont delayed and delayed and delayed in admitting fault or taking precautions, sending workers to horrible deaths in order to make a few more dollars. It’s the same strategy taken by tobacco companies and that the oil companies use today in order to undermine action on climate change. All these industries have full knowledge of what their products do to people and the planet. And they don’t care. I don’t even really know what to say that’s all that useful here except to point out the story. These companies are tremendously evil. But we accept their products as advancements when really, in this case, we could have just continued using the pans we were using that work fine with some oil. But the combination of our technological futurist fetishism, belief in capitalism, and weak regulatory system created a system where a lot of people have suffered for no good reason and the companies involved (and especially the individuals involved) haven’t been held to account.

And the same thing will happen tomorrow with other companies so long as we continue to believe these myths about technology and capitalism.

Why the Confederate Memorials Matter

[ 52 ] August 17, 2015 |


Unveiling ceremony of Confederate monument, Salisbury, North Carolina, 1909

Sometimes people wonder why the Confederate monuments matter? As if getting rid of them will end racism! No one argued that, but they matter a lot because there is a war over public memory of the Civil War that is central to race. Despite what a lot of people think, the Confederate memorials were not erected immediately after the Civil War. Largely they went up between the 1890s and 1910s and were central public statements of the triumph of white supremacy over both the ex-slaves and the southern whites who had allied with the Republican Party, which was a lot more people than you think. The civil rights historian Timothy Tyson discusses this in the context of his home state of North Carolina, where the wingnut state legislature has passed a bill that the governor signed called the Mandatory Confederate Monuments Act that would require the state legislature to approve the removal of these statues, which of course in full right-wing extremist North Carolina is not going to happen.


White North Carolinians erected the vast majority of our Confederate monuments – 82 out of 98 – after 1898, decades after the Civil War ended. More importantly, they built the monuments after the white supremacy campaigns had seized power by force and taken the vote from black North Carolinians. The monuments reflected that moment of white supremacist ascendency as much as they did the Confederate legacy.

Take the Confederate monument on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, better known as “Silent Sam.” The speaker at its dedication in 1913, industrialist Julian S. Carr, bragged that he had “horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because … she had publicly insulted … a Southern lady.” Carr’s speech heralded the “Anglo-Saxon race in the South” reunited with white supremacy as the glue.

In the 1890s, white Populists and black Republicans forged an interracial “Fusion” alliance in North Carolina that won both houses of the legislature, two U.S. Senate seats and the governorship. These homegrown Fusionists launched the most daring and democratic experiment in Southern political history.

The interracial Fusion coalition never lost at the polls in an honest election. But in the 1898 election, its enemies turned to violence, intimidation and fraud to steal the election outright. Former Confederate Alfred Waddell declared: “If you find the Negro out voting, tell him to leave the polls, and if he refuses, kill him, shoot him down in his tracks.” White mobs in the streets of Wilmington beat and killed black citizens and overthrew the city government at gunpoint. This coup was the capstone of the 1898 “white supremacy campaign.”

Two years later, the white supremacy campaign again resorted to extralegal measures and elected Gov. Charles B. Aycock. Aycock said afterward, “We have ruled by force, we have ruled by fraud, but we want to rule by law.” They passed a constitutional amendment that took the vote away from black North Carolinians. Afterward they built a one-party, whites-only apartheid regime. This was the Jim Crow social order that persisted for six decades, until the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s gave birth to a better South.

Tyson goes onto to discuss his own ancestor who avoided the Confederate draft, yet the Confederate heritage group keep festooning his grave with Confederate flags. I’m sure they just assume that someone of his generation supported the Confederacy, but this man was a unionist. That’s part of the battle. North Carolina conservatives are fighting a quiet race war that has many facets that include finding ways to stop black people from voting, creating myths around white solidarity in the past and present, and preserving monuments erected as symbols of white supremacy. Because these people still believe in that white supremacy, they don’t want them taken down today, no matter how offensive.

NLRB Reverses Athlete Unionization Decision

[ 33 ] August 17, 2015 |


The full National Labor Relations Board rejected the initial ruling that Northwestern football players could unionize. They used some strange logic to do so, effectively using a competitive balance argument that since the ruling could only cover private schools, it might give those schools a competitive advantage since they could offer benefits that public schools couldn’t. Or wouldn’t since of course they could if they wanted to create a model that was not rank exploitation.

Even if the scholarship players were statutory employees (which, again, is an issue we do not decide), it would not effectuate the policies of the Act to assert jurisdiction.

Because of the nature of sports leagues (namely the control exercised by the leagues over the individual teams) and the composition and structure of FBS football (in which the overwhelming majority of competitors are public colleges and universities over which the Board cannot assert jurisdiction), it would not promote stability in labor relations to assert jurisdiction.

But I don’t see what business it is of the NLRB to worry about competitive balance in college football. How is that part of its mandate? It’s not. Stephen Greenhouse on Twitter speculated the NLRB was worried deciding in favor of the players might enrage conservative politicians but I am skeptical since they already hate the agency.

Disappointing decision from a usually good group of people at the NLRB.

A Partial Victory

[ 46 ] August 16, 2015 |


The University of Texas did a good thing by deciding to remove the Jefferson Davis statue from public display on campus and move it into its US history museum. But the decision to keep up the Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston statues makes no sense. Johnston did move there so at least that’s a plausible claim I guess. But Lee did not have “deep ties to Texas.” He, along with Johnston, was stationed there in the 1850s fighting the Comanche. For both of them, the 1850s has absolutely nothing to do with why they have statues at the UT campus. We all know why those statues are there and it insults our intelligence to claim they should remain if the Davis statue goes.

Bernie and His Fans

[ 311 ] August 16, 2015 |


Good take on the problem with Bernie Sanders: the cult of personality his fans are erecting around him that make any criticism an attack on their hero.

It’s time for Sanders supporters to relax a little. It’s great that we’re fired up. But fired up to the point of alienating potential allies with our unwavering and, to be frank, ever so slightly cultish support of Sanders? That’s harmful, and it needs to stop.

The thing is, we’ve been through this once before, back in 2008. Everyone got all fired up and excited for Barack Obama and he was going to magically make everything better and then he was elected and the air went out of the room. Now, I’m not saying a hypothetical Sanders would follow the same path. Obama was always too fond of bipartisanship and compromise, even when it had become painfully evident that those who he was seeking compromise with hadn’t managed to stay awake in class. Sanders is of a different mold, and I very much doubt he will seek compromise for the sake of compromise. At the same time, a hypothetical president Sanders will not be able to do all the wonderful things his supporters think he can. Beyond that, Sanders isn’t perfect. Sorry, but it’s true. On Israel, while he’s less hawkish than most, he is still too far to the right for my tastes. Some of his statements on gun control are a little questionable. He’s a human being, and I don’t expect to agree with him 100% of the time. And there is nothing wrong with that, save when his supporters deify him as the best candidate in the history of everything. That a) sets yourself up for disappointment and b) creates a weirdly cultish atmosphere that doesn’t exactly welcome new recruits.

This course is counterproductive and, if something is not done to change it, downright harmful. I like Sanders. As far as I’m concerned he’s easily the best candidate out there. But he’s not the messiah. He’s not perfect. It is long past time for those of us who support Sanders to come to grips with that. If every criticism of Sanders, every action that his fans deem harmful, every question about his polices is met with an unthinking and reflexive attack, his campaign is in serious trouble. Maybe not now, but in the long term. No one wants to join a cult of personality. If we want the Sanders campaign to succeed it is time we stopped acting like one.

It continues to be striking to me how much liberals want to believe in That One Candidate Who Will Change Everything. Like Obama in 2008 (who admittedly stoked these fires for himself), many liberals are turning to the next Great Man to solve our problems. They would have preferred the first Great Woman, i.e., Elizabeth Warren to do this for them, but with her refusing to run, Bernie is good enough. The problems here are manifold, but far more so if Bernie was actually elected. Were that to happen, he’d face the exact same structural problems Obama does with Congress and the courts, the same corporate lobbying system, and the same inability to change the system on his own. It’s true that he would not have some of Obama’s weaknesses, like the believe in bipartisanship and the terrible education and trade policies. But then again, Bernie’s gun and Israel policies are bad. So progressives would quickly see their hero thrown against the rocks of the system and make some mistakes of his own. They’d call him a sellout and look for the next Great Man to solve all their problems.

The inability of so many liberals to think structurally is really exasperating.

World Record in Posing as Anti-Union Image

[ 17 ] August 16, 2015 |


Above: The actual Rosie the Riveter image, which did not seek to fight unions

I know I will never win this fight, but if we are going to try and set world records in women dressing up as “Rosie the Riveter” can it a) at least be the real one and b) not copy what was in fact an anti-union poster. Remember, the “We” in “We Can Do It” does not mean women. It means Westinghouse.

I get that the image has been appropriated for good. It doesn’t mean that we should forget about its history or pretend that it is what it isn’t. Historical mythology should always be corrected.

Julian Bond, RIP

[ 7 ] August 16, 2015 |


Julian Bond has died at the age of 75.

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