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Losing Does Not Drive Democrats to the Left



For the most part, Kathleen Geier and Joshua Holland do an excellent job on the correct side of The Nation’s four-part debate about #BernieorBust, so I don’t have a lot to add. There are, however, a couple of odd arguments in Doug Henwood’s entry, one idiosyncratic and one reflecting a fundamental misunderstanding of the American political landscape. The former first:

…it’s likely [Clinton would] rip up the nuclear deal with Iran—more elegantly than Donald Trump, perhaps, but no less thoroughly

Um, what? There are plenty of good reasons to attack Clinton on foreign policy, but this is just nuts. It’s an excellent illustration of what obsessive personal hatred does to your political judgment. There really isn’t the slightest reason to believe that Clinton would rip up the Iran deal.

To get to the more common error:

I won’t argue with anyone who wants to vote for Clinton because the alternative is so horrible—though we’ve been hearing this for decades, without the least recognition that this lesser-evil habit lubricates the endless rightward shift of our politics.

This represents a collision between multiple erroneous assumptions:

  • There is of course no “endless rightward shift” in our politics. The federal status quo has shifted substantially to the left over the past 8 years — cf. health care policy, tax policy, environmental policy, financial and consumer regulation, LBGT rights, etc. etc. etc. The Democratic Party is well to the left of where it was not only in 1994 but in 1977. Only three presidents have complied an even arguably more impressive record of progressive achievement than Obama, and all 3 did so in substantially more favorable political circumstances.
  • It is true that the Republican Party continues to shift to the right. This is important, because the way this is happened is precisely the opposite of the rejection of lesser-evilism that Henwood implies is the path to political change. While #BernieorBusters tend to be obsessively focused on the presidency and challenges to the Democratic Party (whether through third party challenges or abstention), Republicans have 1)worked within the party and 2)focused more on Congress and statehouses.  While they have sometimes overreached, the right of the Republican Party has followed a very effective formula — try to get the most conservative viable candidate nominated and vote for the Republican win or lose in the primaries. It’s simple, but it works. Alas, the right has been much less susceptible to third party wankery, and their effective vote suppression efforts are appalling but also show that they understand that elections are important enterprises, not vehicles for individual consumer expression.
  • There’s an additional assumption here, which is that if the Democrats lose they will be forced to move to the left. But what is the basis for this assumption? They didn’t after 1968, they didn’t after 1972, they didn’t after 1984 (which produced the DLC), they didn’t after 1994. They have finally moved left now, but this was much more about the wins in 2006 and 2008 than the loss in 2000.

But, of course, most such arguments aren’t business; they’re personal.

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