Today in the Left as Bernie Sanders Personality Cult
In my post yesterday about the “Obamacare was worthless neoliberal crap, and the Democrats are monsters for not using unspecified magic powers available to the House minority from stopping it” thing, my original draft had a line about how Jacobin would be publishing pieces about how Kirsten Gillbrand — who has not only been steadfast in resisting Trump and co-sponsored every bill proposed by Sanders since the election but supported Medicare For All running for a purple House district in 2006 — as a neoliberal sellout, but decided to take it out because I wasn’t sure it was fair. What I couldn’t know is that Jacobin had a piece in the pipeline…smearing Kirsten Gillibrand as a neoliberal sellout. Apparently, in Trump’s America everything gravitates towards self-parody.
The piece starts out acknowledging the obvious:
She racked up the best record on Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees, opposed Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination, railed against Trump’s immigration executive order, and grilled his appointees in widely shared videos. She was even singled out by the Trump team — along with Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and, of all people, New Jersey senator Cory Booker — as one of the “radical liberals” blocking his anti-Muslim travel ban.
Now her name is being floated as a progressive presidential candidate in 2020.
Gillibrand — who has consciously positioned herself as an elite face of “the Resistance” in the wake of Trump’s election — has some good spots on her record. She led efforts to curb sexual assault in the military, pushed to get the 9/11 first responders bill passed, campaigned to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, and has been advancing a paid family leave bill for years.
Sounds good! So why is Gillibrand a “suspect tribune for anti-Trump resistance”? Well:
- She interned for Al D’Amato, rather than…moving to another state that had better senators? I swear this is the opening argument. (I hope someone is also doing an investigation into her voting record in junior high student council elections.)
- Rather than moving to another state and running for office there, she worked with Chuck Schumer and — worst of all! — the neoliberalist neoliberal produced by neoliberalism since Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton.
- She has been responsive to pressure from the left, which is bad. (“…this shows that Gillibrand isn’t implacably opposed to taking more progressive stands” OK.) She was also considerably more left-wing as a statewide representative than when she represented a relatively conservative House district which, if you don’t really get how politics works, is highly disturbing. (Also, as a House member she somehow supported the tax cuts passed under Bush in 2001 and 2003 although she wasn’t elected until 2007. Her actual votes against extending the Bush tax cuts, of course, aren’t mentioned.)
- Rather than moving to another state and running for office there, she has completely orthodox Democratic positions on Israel.
- Rather than moving to another state and running for office there or refusing to raise money, she accepted money from local interests. This once caused her to put forward an amendment weakening a minor element of Dodd-Frank and then withdrawing it. And surely absolutely consistent support for the Lincoln Amendment has always been far more important to the left than trivia like, say, universal healthcare.
In addition to how ludicrously tendentious this hatchet job is, the theory of politics underlying it — that responding to pressure from the left is bad, making you “a garden variety ladder-climber” — is transparently wrong. It is, indeed, anti-politics. Responding to local interests is what all politicians — including Bernie — do. You can’t build an anti-Trump resistance solely out of people who have always agreed with you about everything. If I may be permitted to quote myself:
But worse than that is that the conception of politics here is absolutely ridiculous. Of course Hillary Clinton is in part “motivated by political concerns.” That’s what politics is. Trying to get people in positions of power to move in your direction is why ordinary people engage in politics. Drawing sharp distinctions between “principle” and “politics” when dealing with leaders of large brokerage parties is making a category error. Hillary Clinton will nominate judges who will restore Roe v. Wade, and she will veto any bad abortion regulations a Republican Congress would put on her desk. What mixture of principle and prudence motivates her is completely irrelevant.
Three presidents can be plausibly said to have greater records of progressive accomplishment than Barack Obama: LBJ, FDR, and Lincoln. Were these men, as deBoer suggests they must be, consistent left-wing ideologues, men who were committed to consistent left principles who did not concern themselves with practical politics and never had to be “pushed” from the left? Er, no. Good God, no. They were practical men. They were not ideologically consistent. They had progressive records in large part because of the organized pressures from the left placed on them. Lyndon Johnson had a voting record in the Senate that makes Hillary Clinton look like a Wobbly. Did civil rights and labor groups follow deBoer’s advice, refuse to work with him and support him, and seek to throw the election to Goldwater in the hopes that a REAL ally could eventually control the White House? No, they did not, because they understand politics as deBoer does not. And the result was arguably the most progressive domestic policy presidency ever. The Emancipation Proclamation was a compromise motivated in large measure by political expediency. So what? Who wants political leaders who disdain politics, who aren’t responsive to their constituents?
A politics founded on refusing to take yes for an answer isn’t a politics at all. It’s a pose from people more interested in congratulating themselves for being too good for politics than accomplishing anything.
…and, yes, wjts was a prophet:
If she runs in 2020, I expect the True Leftist Clinton Critique to be amended to, “Any political position that Gillibrand has ever taken that I disagree with is her real position. Any political position that I can imagine Gillibrand taking that I disagree with is her secret real position. Any political position that Gillibrand has taken that I agree with is insincere pandering.”