Shouting at clouds about the Democrats

A friend posted Emmett Rensin’s “psychological” claim that liberals (Democrats) suck and it made me think of some of my favorite liberals, many of them in the Democratic Party. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Congressmen Lloyd Doggett and Beto O’Rourke, Senators Kamala Harris and Al Franken, Rev. William Barber, Randi Weingarten, and Hilda Solis — these are all admirable, brave, deeply moral, smart, hard working people. Rensin mentions none of them. I saw Lloyd Doggett facing down a mob of screaming Texas tea party opponents of Obamacare, waving their “get your government hands off medicare” and “Send Obama back to Kenya” posters. Yet, Mr. Rensin explains that:

liberalism has ceased to function as a political faction so much as a censorious regency for capital,

Cutting through the pompous phrasing, Mr. Rensin is simply retransmitting the marketing narrative of the right: Democrats/liberals are politically correct scolds, impotent, weak, unprincipled, disloyal, out of touch elitists. His story is not identical, but it is identifiable — like someone singing an advertising jingle slightly out of key. George Wallace was one of the pioneers of that line of propaganda but in our era it’s the constant refrain of every sleazy propagandist, wingnut con-artist, fake revolutionary, and gun loving racist from the Putin funded trolls to nuts on Infowars to the Fox chorus — to many self-proclaimed “leftists”.

The obvious absurdity of creeps like Donald Trump or Michael Flynn or Dan Savage (or Jill Stein for that matter) posing as champions of patriotism and morality or strength doesn’t matter: repetition and conviction works. All of us, even the super smart Mr. Rensin, will unconsciously incorporate propaganda if it is ubiquitous enough. There are two ways to combat propaganda. Some people are just morally strong and shrug off deception because it feels wrong. But some of us have to work at it — we have to kick at the walls to see if they are real or illusion. For example, consider Mr. Rensin’s argument:

Hillary Clinton emerges from the woods to blame Jim Comey, the DNC, and the Russians for her loss,

But:

“I take absolute personal responsibility,” Clinton said of her November defeat during a sit-down with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour at an event titled Women for Women International in New York. “I was the candidate, I was the person who was on the ballot. I am very aware of the challenges, the problems, the shortfalls that we had.”

How hard was that? But when you got a narrative, you can’t let mere facts stand in the way.

When John Kerry spoke out against the death penalty, his opposition was based in flawed application — the punishment just wasn’t smart.
Kerry: I know something about killing. I don’t like killing. And I don’t think a state honors life by turning around and sanctioning killing.

So 40 seconds of Google are enough to reveal Rensin as dishonest or careless. Here’s another:

The reaction of American liberals to even the moderate-left candidacy of Bernie Sanders reached its apex not in any argument about policy but in Hillary Clinton declaring that single-payer health care was “never, ever” going to happen.

This is right out of Bob Mercer’s playbook. Clinton is some soulless calculating bureaucrat. (I even heard that on Quantico, it’s got to be true.) In real-life, however, Clinton was making an urgent moral argument about saving and expanding the real, compelling benefits of the hard won ACA.

“I want you to understand why I am fighting so hard for the Affordable Care Act,” she said at Grand View University after hearing from a woman who spoke about her daughter receiving cancer treatment thanks to the health care law. “I don’t want it repealed, I don’t want us to be thrown back into a terrible, terrible national debate. I don’t want us to end up in gridlock. People can’t wait!”
She added, “People who have health emergencies can’t wait for us to have a theoretical debate about some better idea that will never, ever come to pass.”
Derry O’Connor of Des Moines told CBS News that he plans to caucus for Clinton in part because of her stance on health care. He echoed Clinton’s sentiments that a single-payer system is out of reach.
“I think if they ever got there, it would be very good,” O’Connor said. “I don’t see it happening. Look what happened when they tried to expand Medicaid to all the states in the country.”

Derry O’Connor, like I’m sure most of the audience, got Clinton’s point. If you are honest, you have to acknowledge that trying to preserve an advance that took 50 years of struggle and meant so much to so many millions is not a soulless political calculation. All politics implicates us in amoral tradeoffs. Even Martin Luther King, standing on Selma bridge knew he was condemning some of the people who followed him to brutal beatings, death, or jail and there was no guarantee there would be anything gained by it. He had to take the tradeoff because there are no easy answers except for people like Mr. Rensin who can airly claim that single payer just needed some gumption from Democrats to become the law of the land.

“Why, for example, do liberals who routinely insist they support more ambitious progressive programs in their hearts, only rejecting them for now on pragmatic grounds, nonetheless oppose any such leftward movement when it becomes a realistic possibility

Golly! Maybe after witnessing the destruction of her own plan, the failure of her prediction that single payer would become popular as a result, the desperately close passage of ACA, and the furious counterattack, or even reflecting on the history of health care defeats starting with Harry Truman, Clinton thought it might be good to, you know, help people now rather than bet it all on an unlikely prospect.

You don’t have to agree with Clinton’s analysis of the politics — any moment now, the vast masses of single-payer advocates may storm the Capitol and get the Republicans to replace Obamacare with Berniecare. How do I know? But disagreeing with Clinton’s analysis or her political values (I will never forgive her for supporting the Iraq War) is different from fitting her into a dishonest narrative you learned from cable TV or the New York Times Bob Mercer series.

The usual response to critiques like this is an angry demand to be allowed to criticize. But that’s evasion. The problem is a failure to exercise critical thinking. It is easier to pick up the ready made right wing framing than to think about how to build a real progressive majority. It’s easier to yell at clouds about anonymous “liberals” and some cliches than to think about how to overcome racism and hostile media and real problems. America needs a principled “left”, not some glib jeering from the sidelines.

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