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Month: January 2020 Page 1 of 4

Sanders vs. Warren Supporters

Bernie Sanders

Something I’ve been tracking for a while is who supports Sanders vs. Warren. This is anecdotal, though there’s some data to back it up. What I’ve noticed is that the people I know who prefer Warren are those who are doing OK or well in the current system, but understand it isn’t a fair system, and want to help those for whom the system hasn’t worked.

They don’t want radical change, they want the system fixed: They want it to be fair, and somewhat kinder to the poor. But they aren’t actually behind real Medicare 4 All, or full student debt cancellation.

These are people who are comfortable with Warren because she is like them–a member of the system who has done well by the system, knows how it works, and how it should work (like in the 80s, but a bit kinder), and want it put that way. She’s an insider, and they’ll go on about how she worked the system behind the scenes.

Sanders supporters tend to be either people the system has failed, who want radical change, or people who, despite doing OK, still want radical change: They see the system as rotten and evil, even if they are one of those able to make it work for them. To them, Sanders is an outsider, despite all his time in DC, and if it’s true he isn’t as adept at working within the current system to get shit done as Warren is, that’s OK, because they want the current system broken. Being an outsider is the point; insiders can’t be trusted.

Biden followers are people who think that things were great under Obama, who want a restoration to 2016 (as opposed to Warren’ 1982.) Buttigieg followers want the same, but to feel woke because Pete’s Gay.

Sanders basically wants to go back to the New Deal, add in help for minorities and the environment, then advance it somewhat further.

Voting preferences thus come down to a combination of identity (they’re like me), position (how am I doing), and belief (is the system good or bad and when was it last good?).

Biden and Buttigieg are about a restoration to 2016, ie., the problem is just Trump. Warren’s about a restoration to 1982 (just as Republicans are starting to chop up the New Deal). Sanders is about 1944, fix the racism and sexism, and advance the New Deal further.

Or, so it seems to me. If you see otherwise, let us know in the comments. (Yes, yes, this is Sanders week at the blog.)

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Does Bernie Sanders Know What He’s Doing?

Sanders-021507-18335- 0004

Sanders-021507-18335- 0004

This post by Pachacutec seems worth revisiting (originally published Feb 16, 2016)– Ian

Bernie Sanders is taking a lot of heat for making promises everyone agrees can’t be achieved in today’s Washington. However, Sanders is not just smoking free-love-sixties-dope when he talks about universal health care, free college tuition, stopping deportations, and drastically cutting the prison population.

I used to teach negotiation to MBA students and lawyers seeking CLE credit, and have included negotiation content in executive coaching and other consulting work I do. One of the things I’ve sometimes taught was how to use audience effects to gain leverage in negotiations. The best story I know to illustrate this comes from Gandhi, from his autobiography.

Gandhi Rides First Class

Gandhi’s early years as an activist led him to South Africa, where he advocated as a lawyer for the rights of Indians there. One discriminatory law required “coolie” Indians to ride third class on trains. Soon after arriving in South Africa, Gandhi himself had been thrown off a train for seating himself in first class.

Looking for a way to challenge the law, he dressed flawlessly and purchased a first class ticket face to face from an agent who turned out to be a sympathetic Hollander, not a Transvaaler. Boarding the train, Gandhi knew the conductor would try to throw him off, so he very consciously looked for and found a compartment where an English, upper class gentleman was seated, with no white South Africans around. He politely greeted his compartment mate and settled into his seat for the trip.

Sure enough, when the conductor came, he immediately told Gandhi to leave. Gandhi presented his ticket, and the conductor told him it didn’t matter, no coolies in first class. The law was on his side. But the English passenger intervened, “What do you mean troubling this gentleman? Don’t you see he has a first class ticket? I don’t mind in the least his traveling with me.” He turned to Gandhi and said, “You should make yourself comfortable where you are.”

The conductor backed down. “If you want to ride with a coolie, what do I care?”

And that, my friends, illustrates the strategic use of creating an audience effect to gain leverage in a negotiated conflict. The tactic can be applied in any negotiated conflict where an outside stakeholder party can be made aware of the conflict and subsequently influence its outcome.

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It’s the Conflict, Stupid

A couple of weeks ago, members of the neoliberal wonkosphere and others in the pundit class tut-tutted, fretted, and wearily explained to Sanders’ band of childish fools and hippies that his “theory of change” was wrong. Well, not merely wrong, but deceptive, deceitful, maybe even dangerous. False hopes, stakes are too high, and all that. This was Clinton campaign, and, more to the point, political establishment ideology pushback. When Ezra Klein starts voxsplaining how to catalyze a genuine social, cultural, and political movement, you know you’ve entered the land of unfettered bullshit.

Bernie Sanders, like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter before him, wants to use mass appeal audience effects to renegotiate the country’s political and economic contract. The strategy, writ small in Gandhi’s train ride tale, is perfectly applicable–and has proven successful through history–in bringing about successful, peaceful, radical change.

These movements operate by forcing conflict out into the open, on favorable terms and on favorable ground. Make the malignancy of power show its face in daylight. Gandhi and the salt march. MLK and the Selma to Montgomery marches. FDR picking fights and catalyzing popular support throughout the New Deal era, starting with the first 100 days. OWS changed American language and political consciousness by cementing the frame of the 1% into the lexicon. BLM reminded America who it has been and still is on the streets of Ferguson.

One FDR snippet is instructive to consider in light all these discussions–and dismissals–of Sanders’ “theory of change.” As FDR watched progressive legislation be struck down by a majority conservative court, he famously proposed legislation that would have allowed him to add another justice. He failed, but:

In one sense, however, he succeeded: Justice Owen Roberts switched positions and began voting to uphold New Deal measures, effectively creating a liberal majority in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish and National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, thus departing from the Lochner v. New York era and giving the government more power in questions of economic policies. Journalists called this change “the switch in time that saved nine.”

This was a constitutional overreach by FDR, and it caused him political damage, but forcing the conflict created pressure on the Court, making its actions highly visible to the mass of people who wanted change, who voted for change, but did not always see or understand how the elite establishment acts to thwart change.

Your Mistakes are My Ladder

The paths to change for all of these movements are neither linear nor predictable. By nature, they act like guerilla movements. They force conflict and force an entrenched enemy into the open. Then, once exposed and vulnerable, the guerilla tactic is to attack opportunistically on strategically favorable ground. In peaceful social movements, “winning” means winning the hearts and minds of the majority of the society’s stakeholders to the point where they actively choose sides. First make them witnesses, then convert them into participants in the conflict. That’s exactly what Gandhi did with the Englishman in the first class compartment.

This is why calls from pundits and Camp Clinton for Bernie to lay out the fifteen point plan of how he gets from here to there are, at best, naïve. The social revolution playbook requires creating cycles of conflict and contrast, taking opportunistic advantage of your opponent’s mistakes. No one can predict with certainty where and how those opportunities will arise, though you can choose where to poke. If the Clinton campaign wants to know how Bernie can run that playbook in action, it need only review its own performance campaigning against him.

Does Sanders Have a Plan?

So, is Bernie Sanders the underpants gnome of political change? Is his theory: “1) Call for revolution; 2) ?????; 3) Profit!”? Or does he have something else–some other historical precedents–in mind? Everything I hear and see from the Sanders campaign suggests the latter.

Take a look at this ad from Sanders:

To me, this ad says that Sanders understands very clearly what kind of coalition and movement he needs to ignite to accomplish the vision he’s putting out in his campaign. It’s an aspirational vision, sure. And neither he nor any movement he helps create can or will accomplish all of it, just as FDR was unable to accomplish all he set out to achieve. Still, accomplishing as much as FDR did, relatively speaking, would be pretty damn good. Democrats used to say they liked that sort of thing.

Or how about this ad, where Sanders is introduced by Erica Garner explicitly as a “protestor,” invoking the lineage of MLK:

Yes, I’d say Sanders has a very clear, and historically grounded “theory of change.” What those who question it’s validity are really saying is either: 1) they lack imagination and can’t’ see beyond the status quo; 2) they lack knowledge of history, including American history, or; 3) they understand Sanders’ “theory of change” very well and want to choke it in the crib as quickly as they can.

They may succeed. Elites may beat Sanders himself but they will not beat the movement he’s invigorating but did not create. However, saying Sanders may fail is not the same as saying he doesn’t know what he’s doing, or that what he’s setting out to accomplish is impossible.

Because, if history shows us anything, it is, indeed, possible.

Identity, Politics


If you’re someone who thinks that The Thing Called “Identity Politics” (I’ll call it TTCIP for short, because I think the term “identity” has been thoroughly poisoned at this point) is simply a fabrication of intelligence agencies or at minimum only lives and dies at the behest of the neoliberal leviathan, then this post is not for you, because we simply cannot communicate. It’s very likely that nefarious actors do have a vested interest in manipulating leftist divisions (duh!), but if you think what they’re manipulating is all made up, then you dismiss a great deal of what I know are real life experiences and genuine political motivation based on the genuine interests of otherwise very ordinary people. We are very liberal about these things at Chez Ian, so of course you can continue to participate in the comments of this thread, but I suggest that there is no real point in doing so and no one to convince.

So yeah, I’m pursuing this Rogan/Sanders thing yet again, or rather the issue that underlies that controversy, because the discussions on the point took an interesting turn that’s worth exploring. I thought that what would ensue was something quite predictable: “guns and butter” leftists would interpret/subsume TTCIP into class conflict and hold that once we had resolved the class conflict in favour of the working class and an economically egalitarian society, the main instigating factor for other TTCIP-based resentments would disappear. Thus, working to attract a constituency of somewhat socially reactionary working-class voters would be worth it to everyone in the long run, because allowing the left to gain power would give it the leverage to satisfy all demands at once. A candidate like Sanders could safely hold TTCIP positions alongside positions that attract everyone who lives on a precarious paycheque and while appealing separately to each subgroup.

But this is not what happened. Instead, I noticed that many people were not merely hostile to the intra-class division caused by TTCIP, but actually held that the content of all but the largest and most obvious of the claims (hard for most leftists to deny the negative effects of “classic” male chauvinism and sexual harassment, for example) were either inherently objectionable in themselves or were actually stated from a position of acquired power, even implying that they were now merely claims of the managerial class engaging in a form of totalitarian “psychological extortion,” as one commenter phrased it with what seemed a certain amount of unseemly relish. More or less explicit is the suggestion that these TTCIP claims are actually trivialities, and to sacrifice them without hope of later restitution in the pursuit of a class-conflict power coalition is actually a net positive overall.

In the not too distant past, I also used to take for granted the idea that some TTCIP claims were merely the result of neuroticism or privileged frivolity. But I don’t throw out implied claims to justice lightly, so upon deeper investigation and contact with some of the sorts of people making those “frivolous” claim, I realized that actually it was intellectually lazy to dismiss them and assume that they hadn’t thought about the consequences. I came to understand that actually, even for the “sillier-sounding” ones, there were real consequences for actual people, often in surprising and indirect ways. That some of the conflicts represented by the “petty” TTCIP claims actually have a long lineage, that what appears like inordinate power is for them a brief moment to emerge into the light of the sun, and the powerful appearance is merely that the rest of us are not used to having ever been confronted by them. And that, yes, only the ascension of some TTCIP claimants to the upper classes gave them any social capital by which to emerge into daylight, and that is why, to some extent, it looks like it is being driven by powerful people.

Furthermore, while these groups are individually quite small, together they are large enough and overlapping enough with the general population to change, e.g., electoral outcomes.

So when even very progressive politicians, left-wing both economically and socially, decide to try to embrace media figures and voting blocs that are indifferent at best or actively hostile at worst to the claims of TTCIP, it’s not irrational to worry that, in order to hold on to newfound political coalitions, they may attempt to jettison the old, inconvenient, frivolous-seeming ones. That is doubly true when it appears that some part of the online or real-life economic left does not really intend to use the opportunity to reconcile these newfound supporters with the old, now-unpopular TTCIP ones. And that for the Good of Humanity, they intend for people with TTCIP claims to, possibly forever, give up their moment in the sun and accept the consequences to themselves that they always had to do.

Perhaps this is necessary. Perhaps it is even overblown, and we’re all going to sit in the big tent, together. But this debate has shown, at the very least, that it’s not a made-up conflict, except for those of you who think TTCIP claims are only ever fabricated by intelligence agencies.

First, Elect Someone Who Wants to Do the Right Thing (Sanders Edition)

So, I wrote the simple argument for Sanders. He plans to help the most people, and more so than any of the candidates by a rather large margin .

Bernie Sanders

To me, that’s the role of government: To help the most people. There are things that only government can do or does best, and making healthcare universal (whether single payer or not), fixing student debt, and fighting climate change are three of those things. The private market isn’t going to do those things by itself, it needs the government to set things up so the private market can profit by doing them (for whatever pieces of health care or fighting climate change the private sector’s help makes sense).

Many argue, “But he may not be able to pass this stuff.”

Here’s the thing: A candidate who isn’t strongly committed to passing universal health care won’t pass it. A candidate who isn’t strongly committed to fighting climate change won’t.

And Presidents have a LOT of power that doesn’t go through Congress. Simply letting the Environmental Protection Agency do its job goes a long, long way. Deciding that conforming mortgages require energy-neutral, low-carbon houses goes a long way. Choosing who runs the Federal Reserve goes a long way. Treasury policy matters. Anti-trust policy against companies jacking up insulin prices is entirely possible, if desired.

Likewise, the President has an effect on mid-terms. A popular President simply makes the case that the Senate is blocking him. If Sanders does popular things in the first two years, more people will come out for his candidates in 2022.

But the simpler point is just that someone who doesn’t want to do the right thing won’t even try for it. Obama didn’t. We now know he had completely written off the public option for his health care plan before negotiations even started, for example.

Sanders has been fighting for these causes for decades. We can trust he believes in them because he fought for them when he was nearly alone, and when it would have been easier for him to conform to the neoliberal consensus.

He’ll keep fighting. Maybe he won’t win, but a President who can be counted on to actually fight to do the right thing is a HUGE step towards the right things being done and makes a win far, far more likely. The power of the Presidency is huge, and people forget that because people like Clinton and Obama pretended weakness when trying to do left-wing things because they didn’t actually, ever, want to do them.

Elect Sanders. Support him. If he does good things in the first two years, he’ll gain support, and that will translate into seats in the Senate and House. That will mean more good things, and more support.

That’s how it works.

But to get the right things done, you first have to elect someone who wants to do the right things.

The democratic nominee who consistently wants to do the most important thing in the biggest way is Sanders.

So support him.

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The Ethics of Not Supporting Sanders

Bernie Sanders

I’m going to keep this one real short and simple.

Sanders has by far and away the best plans for healthcare, climate change, and student loans out of all the candidates. It is not close–even Warren is a distant second.

He will help the most people. Make the most people’s lives better. By a large margin.

If you do not support him, you want a lot more to people to suffer and die, or at least you’re willing to trade their deaths and suffering for something you think is more important.

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 26, 2020

by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Strategic Political Economy

Why the New Silk Roads are a ‘threat’ to US bloc
Pepe Escobar [Asia Times, via The Big Picture 1-23-20]

Asia and Europe have been trading goods and ideas since at least
3,500 BC. Historically, the flux may have suffered some occasional bumps
– for instance, with the irruption of 5th-century nomad horsemen in the
Eurasian plains. But it was essentially steady up to the end of the 15th century. We can essentially describe it as a millennium-old axis – from Greece to Persia, from the Roman empire to China.

A land route with myriad ramifications, through Central Asia,
Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, linking India and China to the Eastern
Mediterranean and the Black Sea, ended up coalescing into what we came
to know as the Ancient Silk Roads….

Rationalist hegemony in Europe progressively led to an incapacity to understand diversity – or The Other, as in Asia. Real Euro-Asia dialogue – the de facto true engine of history – had been dwindling for most of the past two centuries.

Europe owes its DNA not only to much-hailed Athens and Rome – but to Byzantium as well. But for too long not only the East but also the European East, heir to Byzantium, became incomprehensible, quasi incommunicado with Western Europe, or submerged by pathetic clichés.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as in the Chinese-led New Silk Roads, are a historical game-changer in infinite ways. Slowly and surely, we are evolving towards the configuration of an economically interlinked group of top Eurasian land powers, from Shanghai to the Ruhr valley, profiting in a coordinated manner from the huge technological know-how of Germany and China and the enormous energy resources of Russia. The Raging 2020s may signify the historical juncture when this bloc surpasses the current, hegemonic Atlanticist bloc.

Now compare it with the prime US strategic objective at all times,
for decades: to establish, via myriad forms of divide and rule, that
relations between Germany, Russia and China must be the worst possible.

No wonder strategic fear was glaringly visible at the NATO summit in
London last month, which called for ratcheting up pressure on
Russia-China. Call it the late Zbigniew “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski’s
ultimate, recurrent nightmare….

Moscow and Beijing have come to the conclusion that the
US trans-oceanic strategic ring can only be broken through the actions
of a concerted block: BRI, Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), Shanghai
Cooperation Organization (SCO), BRICS+ and the BRICS’ New Development
Bank (NDB), the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

The Lords and Ladies of Discipline: An Interview with Matt Stoller
[Naked Capitalism, January 21, 2020]

…Matt Stoller is referring to the contemporary incarnation of mainstream economics, which is neoclassical economics. It is worth remembering that neoclassical economics started being formalized in the late 19th century by thinkers like Leon Walras, Carl Menger, and William Jevons. One of the reasons their ideas took hold was first, that they aspired to establish that economics was a science that could be described in mathematical terms. Second, to do so, they had to assume ergodicity, which in layperson terms means that the system has a propensity to achieve a stable equilibrium. This typically hidden assumption produced results that were very useful in beating back idea promoted by Marx and other pro-labor forces, that modern economies were unjust and needed reforming. The counter-story was that if left alone, as in in the hands of businessmen, they were naturally self-correcting….

Rogan Joshing

MaNdOs PoSt

I have even less truck with political YouTube than ordinary TV. But it has come to my attention that there is someone named “Joe Rogan” who has achieved a certain level of fame and popularity by doing independent online interviews of politicians, so much so that Democratic primary candidates feel the need to appear on his show.  Another thing I have learned is that this Rogan person appeals to a particular demographic that is, at present, not considered a reliable source of votes for the Democratic Party–or indeed any party that is perceived by television media as being accommodating to any concern considered “left-of-centre” by the prevailing dispensation.

But what brought this Rogan person to my attention was the fact that the current left-wing Democratic primary star, Bernie Sanders, gave an interview on Rogan’s show and obtained some kind of positive review (endorsement?) from him, and this has led to a certain degree of consternation and argument in the online left that has broken down on the usual lines: roughly speaking, “guns-and-butter” leftists vs. “woke” identitarians. I haven’t seen the interview and probably never will. So I guess I can’t really take a side, as I’m not willing to do the basic research of watching Rogan’s show. However, watching the meta-show, so to speak, has proven moderately illustrative about the meta-issues that divide the online left.

The conflict is basically this: As Sanders is the nominally “socialist” candidate in the US presidential elections, and circumstances have (like Corbyn?) coalesced to give him at least a plausible shot at the Oval Office, his appearance on Rogan’s show as well as apparent endorsement can be seen as a necessary step at accessing support from demographics that, as I mentioned above, are not seen as easily accessible to left-wing candidates. Without increased support from this group, left-wing Democrats are forever doomed to failure as an identity-purist bastion representing marginalized groups, who, alas, can never form a political majority that takes power. Consequently, if Sanders is serious about taking power, he has no choice, and in some sense, it would be practically immoral to refuse to appear on this widely-viewed show when the platform is being offered to him under friendly conditions.

At this point, we must examine why someone may expect Sanders to refuse an appearance on a show like Rogan’s. Again, from discourse that surrounds it, I gather that not only does Rogan appeal to demographics deemed to have generally retrograde views, he does so by publicly sharing some of those discriminatory opinions. (I haven’t bothered to figure out what those are but I’m guessing stuff like a little light racism, and transphobia, and so on.) Consequently, Sanders’ presence on the show may be construed as prima facie evidence of complicity with these oppressive discourses. The counterargument is obvious: Sanders is being given a friendly opportunity to draw in support from groups who live in a media environment that predisposes them to retrograde views, and thereby eventually mitigate (by winning power) the harm done by those viewpoints.

But this counterargument does not satisfy the critics of Sanders’ actions. Some of them are motivated by sheer hypocrisy, because their own preferred candidates often participated in the stigmatization of minority groups or associated with those who do. Other critics, however, have more sincere personal motivations motivated by experience or feeling towards Rogan’s target demographic. That is, they see Rogan fans as representative of a group that has collectively made their lives more difficult or acted in a manner harmful to them. The association of the principal left-wing candidate with Joe Rogan awakens an old fear: that this is the point at which they and their concerns are dismissed as inconvenient, unhelpful, or corrosive to the holy grail of a power-taking electoral politics motivated by class interest.

This is not an empty fear. Quite a lot of “economic” leftists have a lot of difficulty taking the justice claims of (for example) gender identity seriously, as opposed to subsuming them into a general concept of economic well-being and ignoring the bits that don’t fit:

This and other reactions are precisely what many people who object to Sanders’ participation in Rogan’s show fear is already happening — that once again, the claims to justice that they finally felt were being recognized were again going to be sidelined or dismissed as frivolous or luxurious*, faced with the pressing need of recruiting the “down-to-earth,” “alienated” Real People.

I don’t know if this is true. It’s possible that a sort of political contagion will take hold, such that the stereotypical Rogan listener will start to care about women’s pay equity or cultural appropriation by increased affiliation with Sanders’ politics. I suppose it largely depends on how Sanders ends up running his campaign, should he win the primary. But I do know that this is an instance of a larger issue that cannot easily be swept under the carpet of unity.

* For example, pronouns and the like. Once upon a time, I myself might have seen English gendered pronoun issues as frivolous until I actually discussed the matter with some of their proponents and found that to them, these and related issues of recognition have tangible consequences.

Open Thread

Please use the comments to this post to discuss topics unrelated to recent posts.

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