Taking Stock of What We’re Fighting For.
For the last couple of months I have been continuously writing and frequently publishing thoughts, opinions, and arguments about what is happening in national politics. I make no pretensions of impartiality. My primary focus has been supporting Bernie Sanders by scrutinizing the Democratic establishment for its abandonment of progressivism over the last generation. Naturally, I feel obligated to weigh in on the Democratic National Convention. Lately though, I have been openly wondering what can I possibly say that hasn’t already been said? This electoral battle of attrition has worn down all sides to the point that every position has become tiresome to consider.
Sure, news keeps happening, I suppose those make for fresh sources of commentary, but it’s different shades of the same story. Seeing Donald Trump at the Republican convention reinforced this idea that we need to vote strategically to keep him out of the White House. Then, just as Bernie supporters were starting to soften to the idea of holding their noses and voting for Hillary, the DNC emails were leaked. Turns out the party was coordinating with the Clinton campaign. The betrayal narrative is back again.
The leak was important because suspecting something and actually proving it are qualitatively different places to be. Exposing those emails moved the entire conversation on that issue from the world of theory to the world of fact. There were real consequences as well. This was the proverbial “last straw” that finally forced the DNC remove Debbie Wasserman Schultz as committee chairperson.
Of course, the Clinton campaign provided Debbie with a comfortable landing spot amongst its ranks. The DNC then replaced her with a quick succession of “different name, same policy” place holders. So, within a week, the public has been given fresh information about how Bernie was betrayed by the DNC, and another piece of anecdotal proof of how corrupt and incestuous members of Democratic leadership are.
The problem is that this has been the operating theory of Bernie supporters for almost a year now. So of course we enter the week of the convention with another slew of stories about how Bernie supporters are protesting every step of the nominating process. As much as much as I detest the Democratic establishment and admire the defiance of Bernie supporters, I have to ask: is anyone else as tired as I am of these recycled narratives?
Apparently the answer to this question is that most Bernie supporters are tired of this. A powder keg appears to be brewing both at the convention and among his supporters on social media. Some of them believe Bernie is a sell out. Some were losing it for him when he endorsed Clinton and are now being pushed over the edge by his continued loyalty in the face of these new revelations. Some are resentfully going to hold their noses and vote for Hillary, but are sick of a lifetime of casting such votes.
Many still insist that he is playing a “long game.” They believe that he is nominally supporting Hillary, but tying her to his policy goals while consolidating progressive support (not necessarily around him, but generally into a cohesive voting block). To these people, he is giving himself both license and power to go back to Washington and pressure a future Clinton administration on a whole host of issues like college tuition and universal health care. They believe that their protests are part of establishing a political climate that will make these efforts bear fruit further down the road. To these people, the idea of voting for Hillary and then ceaselessly holding her administration’s feet to the fire is not unthinkable.
Regardless of where one is in this debate, even this relatively new conversation has been going on for months now. Yet, tiresome as it has grown, it is about to become overwhelming in the factional storm that is the Democratic National Convention. Expect bad attitudes on all sides, because almost everyone has had their fill of this process already.
I want to be clear that I don’t blame Bernie supporters for any of this. The DNC made its choices. If it wanted a smoother, less embarrassing process, then it shouldn’t have spent the last year playing the kind of dishonest, elitist, political games that alienated progressives in the first place while openly expressing contempt for people who had every right to have their voices heard.
I guess what bothers me lately is the way that this repetition of campaign issues has cast a haze over the political battlefield. A combination of general fatigue over how long this has gone on and the myopic minutiae of the modern news cycle can make a person lose sight of what this is all for.
It also occurs to me that this fatigue and this loss of focus are exactly what the ruling class and it’s collaborators in both political parties want. Republicans have an identity that appeals almost exclusively to the ignorant. The more noise, the better. Democrats like that election fatigue wears down the resistance of impassioned progressive protestors. The more of a slog this election feels like, the less enthusiasm these people enter the voting booth with, the more likely they are to play it safe, hold their noses, and vote for Hillary to prevent a Trump presidency.
It is critical to remember that before this process became so tiresome, politics as usual were not working for the American people. Like the Democrats who spent decades lowering expectations to the point that “center right” passed for “progressive,” there is a significant portion of the political class hoping that the exhausting electoral process will sap citizens of interest in pushing their discontent past November. They’re betting on an arduous “struggle in the trenches” changing our perspectives on what policy goals are “politically possible” (that age-old excuse that politicians use to justify not trying). They think we’ll learn to accept corporate-appeasing half-measures and maybe even drop some issues altogether.
It won’t work.
We won’t forget. The trees may be tall, but we’re not going to lose sight of the forest. So, as the Convention proceeds, I want to take a moment to rejuvenate my own enthusiasm for this process by reaffirming the policy ideas that I think unite most Bernie supporters.
So what are these ideas? What are the “social and economic justice” goals that we pursue? That’s actually pretty simple, and can be summed up with a single phrase: we want what “they” have.
That statement actually has three meanings that amount to essentially the same thing. We want what the rest of the developed world has; we want what the upper middle class in this country takes for granted; and we want what our parents and grand parents grew up with.
- We want as much paid time off as the Italians.
- We want a prison system like Norway’s that focuses on rehabilitation over callous punishment for its own sake.
- We want an education system like the Finns, where allowing kids to be kids is treated like part of the developmental process, not a liability that hurts a child’s “competitiveness” for a career that isn’t even there by the time he or she grows up.
- We want to face the ugly parts of our history the way the Germans do so that we don’t repeat our mistakes.
- We want a minimum wage as high as Denmark’s.
- We want the police force to understand its role as part of the community, not act like an invading army. If we work hard in this area, we might one day aspire to have a police force as effective as Portugal's (yes, that is sarcasm).
- We want to go to college without taking on massive amounts of debt, like in Sweden.
- We want single payer health care as good as France’s. People should not have their need to live held against them as a means of extracting profit. We find that notion basic and obvious. Unfortunately, our income doesn’t rely on screwing sick people for profit, so maybe we don’t possess enough “expertise” to advise the Democrats on this issue the way the health insurance lobby does.
- We want regulators to be fired and crooked bankers to go to prison for tanking the global economy, like they did in Iceland.
- We want paid maternity leave, like practically every single other country (developed and developing) on the planet.
Most importantly, we want all of these things to come from a democratic government that is responsive to the needs of the people over the demands of the privileged.
We want these things to be universal. They ought to be rights, not privileges. Every man, woman and child who calls himself or herself an American should enjoy these benefits of citizenship, regardless of race, color, creed, or, most importantly, economic status. That’s what social and economic justice is. It’s a life of more than just toil for everyone. It’s making every member of the country feel like they’re part of the prosperity and part of society. No more making excuses for stratification and alienation.
That’s it. This is what we’re fighting for. We want a better society with a little less exploitation and a quite a bit more happiness.
As I alluded to before, we are well aware that these rights and privileges that Europeans enjoy are also — for all intents and purposes — enjoyed here by people who actually have political representation in this country: the upper classes. Which explains a lot of the resistance to Bernie’s ideas from inside the political establishment.
For instance, it’s proving impossible to get even the Democrats to unambiguously support real universal health care because the upper middle class that they represent already has great health care. All that people in that group need is to have their costs ever so slightly managed and to not be dropped from rolls for preexisting conditions. Obamacare was basically designed to primarily help them. Universal single-payer health care would take something that those people enjoy as a privilege and make it a right. That kind equality seems to just absolutely rub them the wrong way.
We are also aware that the type of programs we are demanding have not always been solely enjoyed by the upper classes. While some of the program’s we are demanding are unprecedented in this country, the foundational ideas are nothing new. We are fully aware that our parents grew up in an economy where the “working class” belonged to the “middle class.” We know that financial security and a healthy work-leisure balance used to be the norm for the majority of the population.
It galls us that we grew up watching these things being taken away from us; or worse, taken away from most of us while some of our friends had parents who were well-connected enough to save them from these trends. The latter speaks to the psychological component of our exploitation. Those of us exposed to affluent friends who “did just fine for themselves” in the last twenty years were left feeling alienated and blaming ourselves for “not making it,” which is actually a deeper, more internalized level of suffering. We watched ourselves get screwed for decades and we let it make us think less of who we were. Personally, I’ll never forgive our culture for that particular feature.
Bernie made us realize that we weren’t alone, that these problems were structural, and that we do have the power to change our system. Thanks to Bernie we have a new found sense of self-worth. We’re done humoring the political establishment and suffering in silence.
I think I speak for many when I say that this is why we support Bernie. He is about more than just himself or a single election. This election not about maintaining moral and intellectual purity, nor is it about “playing the game” within a system that has proven incapable of delivering meaningful policy from the top. The various sides of the Bernie debate are missing the point that it’s not really about Bernie. It’s about what kind of country we want to live in. Let Bernie decide what to do for himself, he has earned that much. Then make governing a stressful experience for the elected officials who oppose our ideas no matter who they are. This is the real endgame.
We understand that these things we want will not be free. We’re willing to make the necessary trade offs because we recognize the benefits for all.
We also understand that incrementalism will never bring us those things. For instance, we’re never going to set up a steady glide path that will “eventually” get us universal paid vacation in 50 — 100 years without ever challenging the establishment. That’s not how progress works, and even if it did, it would be pretty despicable of us to allow a century of unnecessary suffering and sub-optimal outcomes in people’s lives while waiting for these ideas to be implemented “on schedule.” We’re here to start pushing, and the time to start is now.
Furthermore, Bernie supporters fully understand that if we want those things we are going to have to be willing to act outside of the establishment to get them. We have tried a generation of letting the ruling class call the shots. We cooperated and capitulated. Not only did it not get us anywhere, it undid decades of hard fought rights and privileges for workers. With Bernie leading the way, we have decided that pressuring the system, disrupting the system, and acting outside of the system are the best way forward. At this point, it’s difficult to credibly say that either political party has given us any alternative.
The ruling class and its political establishment has proven absolutely untrustworthy. Well, no more Mr. Nice Working Class. From here on out the political system can expect the kind of consistent, uncomfortable, and highly public pressure that it deserves after decades of letting us down.
Word has reached our ears of how the average citizen in every other country with a comparable GDP per capita actually lives. We are sick of being forced to live with less than our counterparts in the rest of the developed world. We are tired of being fed ineffectual half measures based on dishonest arguments about what is “politically possible. Most importantly of all, we are done accepting those arguments as thinly veiled excuses for our leaders to simply not try.
If you’re one of those Democratic leaders watching what is happening in Philadelphia right now and wondering when these Bernie supporters are going to “stop being so disruptive” and “fall in line,” you should just fully capitulate and give us what we want now. It’s the only way you’re ever going to stop us.
We’re here to stay and even Bernie can’t dissuade us at this point. It’s time for Democratic leaders to start believing us when we say that this movement he started isn’t really about him. A part of me wonders if they’re so divorced from what actual “leadership” is that they will simply never understand that fact.
No amount of electoral haze or frustrating bickering will obfuscate the need for these policies, or derail our focus on them. We are here to hold our leaders and government to a higher standard. That starts with the political parties and includes making ourselves known at the Convention. It will continue long after the election. If they don’t respond, our leaders had better get used to being scrutinized, pressured, and generally uncomfortable. We’re in this for the long haul.
There, I feel better already.
I guess I did have something new to say.