The Facile Conflation

Ariella Barker was a Sanders supporter who tried and failed to get the Sanders campaign to take seriously her concerns about what she called the campaign’s “disability outreach failures,” and problems she saw with Sanders’ policies around disabled issues. In the process, she saw Sanders a little more clearly, and now supports Clinton. She writes:

His speeches never change for a reason. It isn’t because, as his supporters allege, he’s authentic and always on the right side of things. It’s because he doesn’t care to adapt, to research issues other than income inequality and the environment, follow up on his lofty ideas with solid policy initiatives or to make any compromises to achieve his goals. Rather, he just plays the blame game, pointing out everything that’s wrong with this country and proposing no specific plans to achieve his goals. He prides himself on being so honest and trustworthy while lying to the electorate about his concern for our well being and Hillary’s lack thereof. In reality, I see now that he doesn’t care about anyone’s well being but his own ability to rise to power.

I don’t actually believe that Sanders “doesn’t care about anyone’s well being,” but I think it’s clear he’s either lost sight of what’s important about this election, or perhaps never really understood it.

Sanders clearly doesn’t know how lucky he is to have been who he is, where he is; to have had Burlington, Vermont as his launchpad into electoral politics. There, he had the luxury of running as an insurgent, in a tiny state that is only rivaled by Texas in its sense of independence from national norms, complete with its own secessionist movement. It’s a place where, frankly, a batty old socialist with no party affiliation could become a U.S. Senator.

So this might be why Bernie thought he could ‘insurgent’ his way through the Democratic primaries, and then to the White House. It might be why he thinks he still can, even though he can’t. It might be why he thinks he’s been somehow robbed of the nomination by some chicanery or conspiracy, which he hasn’t.

(A side note to this: I don’t doubt for a second that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC are and have always been in the bag for Clinton, and they certainly scheduled the debates as they did in order to make this as easy a process as possible for her. But I also have no reason to believe that there’s been any malfeasance as is often asserted by Sanders supporters.)

His answer to how he will accomplish all of his goals is always the same: “political revolution.” That’s not a plan. It’s not politics. Freddie deBoer wrote a while ago what he says politics actually is:

Right now I just think there’s this fundamental problem where so many people who identify themselves as being part of the broad left define their coalition based on linguistic cues, cultural overlap, and social circles. The job of politics, at its most basic, is finding common cause with people who aren’t like you. But current incentives seem to point in the opposite direction — surveying the people who are just like you and trying to come up with ways in which that social connection is actually a political connection.

DeBoer is a Sanders supporter, and this was written in late 2015. But this critique I think nails the current state of the Sanders campaign, a campaign that reviles everything outside the moral circle of Sanders’ rhetoric. What the Sanders crusaders seem to be against in principle is “finding common cause with people who aren’t like” them. That not only means no compromise with Republicans, but with other progressives.

Andrew Sullivan, in his big New York Magazine piece about Trump and the threat of fascism, wrote:

Those still backing the demagogue of the left, Bernie Sanders, might want to reflect that their critique of Clinton’s experience and expertise — and their facile conflation of that with corruption — is only playing into Trump’s hands.

This facile conflation has dogged actual politicians since time immemorial. It’s what disappoints the left about Obama, and what made Republicans uneasy about Romney. If you actually practice politics, you run the risk of being labeled a shill by those who speak in short sentences made up of little words.

I have no reason to think that Sanders isn’t sincere. I believe he wants to make things better, and that he believes that what he’s doing — as well as how he’s doing it — is absolutely necessary. That doesn’t mean that he’s not also wrong. And now he’s just making things worse.