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The socialist turn


My friend and fellow Michigan football fan Michael says that the tweet below reminds him of how Notre Dame fans — to be fair, the sort of unhinged Notre Dame fans who tend to dominate sports message board discussions — used to love to celebrate all the national championships Ty Willingham and then Charlie Weis were going to win, before those glorious triumphs had actually happened (spoiler: they didn’t).

As someone who very much wants almost all the political policies advocated by the leftward wing of the Democratic party to be enacted, I would love something resembling this prediction to come true. The evidence that it will, on the other hand, remains elusive.

For one thing, Democratic primary voters were just presented with the starkest possible choice between a left or centrist version of the party’s standard bearer, and the results weren’t encouraging for believers in Winant’s prospective history.

For another, even completely standard social democratic — let alone “socialist,” whatever that word is now supposed to mean — initiatives like a single payer health care system still struggle to obtain majoritarian support (which, given the minoritarian veto power wielded by the most reactionary elements of out political system, is a big problem):

The best empirical evidence on Medicare-for-all’s electoral chances comes from Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University. He ran through the 2018 House election results to analyze how candidates who endorsed the Sanders plan fared compared to more moderate candidates who did not.

Looking at competitive House elections, 45 percent of Democratic candidates who supported Medicare-for-all prevailed in their race, a much lower success rate than the 72 percent of Democrats who won their race without backing single-payer health care.

Abramowitz’s conclusion, written in a column for Sabato’s Crystal Ball, was unequivocal (emphasis mine):Democratic candidates who endorsed Medicare for All did significantly worse than those who did not. The estimated coefficient of -4.6 indicates that support for Medicare for All cost Democratic candidates in these competitive districts almost five points of vote margin — a substantial effect in a close election.

The Extremely Online left, of course, remains in a tightly sealed denialist bubble about all this. In that world, left wing political positions are overwhelmingly popular, which means that they’re very popular among the America electorate at large, or would be if everyone voted, or wasn’t suffering from false consciousness, or what have you.

As for the rest of us, the slow boring of hard boards remains as difficult and as essential as ever.

ETA: I should have added a caveat that centrist Democrats are far more to the left than they were in the 1990s, so on the most general level the claim that the electorate, or at least 58% of it, is moving leftward is certainly true. But that’s still a long, long ways from anything like broad scale support for social democracy, let alone the increasingly mysterious term “socialism.”

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