Bernie and the short and long range future of the Democratic party

First, Matt Yglesias (who has generally been quite positive about Bernie) makes a compelling case for why he is substantially less electable than Hillary Clinton:

But what worries the Democratic Party professionals who’ve rallied to Clinton’s side — not just her inner circle, but the vast majority of the party’s elected officials and interest group leaders, including people who are more ideologically in-sync with Bernie — isn’t Sanders’ personal standing.

 It’s his ideas and, especially, his approach to politics.

Sanders’ appeal in the primary is based largely on the idea that he, unlike Hillary Clinton, full-throatedly embraces the liberal agenda and always had…

But it’s no great mystery why Clinton’s record is different from Sanders’ in this regard. She’s a careful, opportunistic politician who is more likely to follow public opinion and lead it. That’s what makes her a less-inspiring candidate. Someone who’s less likely to attract a vast crowd to her rallies, and less likely to inspire an ordinary person to take $15 or $50 out of her wallet and hand it over to Clinton. But it’s also, in the view of most professionals, what makes her the more electable candidate. Careful opportunists win and the establishment worries that Sanders won’t be careful or opportunistic enough… [emphases mine]

An exchange in the most recent Democratic debate illustrates, beyond polling, exactly what has professional political operatives worries about Sanders. Things that he brings to the table as his primary virtue in a nominating contest — primarily a willingness to take tough stances regardless of the political consequences — are likely to be weaknesses as a nominee…

If it were just carbon taxes, Sander’s issue positions probably wouldn’t be enough to outweigh his poll numbers in the eyes of most political insiders.

But Sanders — quite proudly and openly — takes these kind of stances on a wide range of issues. He markets himself in the primary, accurately, as the bolder, more politically courageous candidate.

Yep.  And plenty more good stuff in this article.  Even if Bernie is better for the long-term future of the Democratic party, short-term, he is more likely to lose them the 2016 election (personally, that’s a risk I’m unwilling to take).

As for Bernie and the long term, Yglesias had another good post on that:

The votes of old people count just as much, of course, but any young and ambitious Democrat looking at the demographics of the party and the demographics of Sanders supporters has to conclude that his brand of politics is extremely promising for the future. There are racial and demographic gaps between Clinton and Sanders supporters, but the overwhelming reality is that for all groups, the young people are feeling the Bern…

Hillary Clinton’s campaign — and, frankly, many DC journalists — has been repeatedly taken by surprise by the potency of some of Sanders’s attacks, because they apply to such a broad swath of the party. But this is precisely the point. Sanders and his youthful supporters want the Democrats to be a different kind of party: a more ideological, more left-wing one…

But though Democrats are certainly the more left-wing of the two parties — the party of labor unions and environment groups and feminist organizations and the civil rights movement — they’re not an ideologically left-wing party in the same way that Republicans are an ideological conservative one. Instead, they behave more like a centrist, interest group brokerage party that seeks to mediate between the claims and concerns of left-wing activists groups and those of important members of the business community — especially industries like finance, Hollywood, and tech that are based in liberal coastal states and whose executives generally espouse a progressive outlook on cultural change.

Sanders’s core proposition, separate from the details of the political revolution, is that for progressives to win they need to first organize and dominate an ideologically left-wing political party that is counterpoised to the ideological right-wing Republican Party.

I’m not sure of Sanders is right or wrong on this.  He may be right.  But I hope he’s not, because it’s bad enough having one ideologically-driven party that is largely impervious to facts.  I’d hate for their to be two in a two-party system.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

5 Responses to Bernie and the short and long range future of the Democratic party

  1. ohwilleke says:

    I think a left-right analysis misses the point here, particularly when Sanders is doing better in general election polling and with independents than he is with Democratic party affiliated primary voters. Anyone trying to explain the Sanders-Clinton race in left-right terms doesn’t get it.

    If Sanders was truly moving the party to the left, the reverse would be true. Sanders would do better in closed primaries, and Clinton would do better with independents and in general election polling. This is not a left-right fight.

    Sanders pitch, and it is a unifying one that reshuffles the coalition, is to be much more economically liberal, which is to say pro-regulation, skeptical of trade and redistributive, and to place less emphasis on social issues even if he’s middle of the road for Democrats on those issues (which is obviously left of center). The Democratic party elites have been drifting in the libertarian direction and he is tugging it back towards the liberal to populist direction. He is returning the Democrats to a core message of class struggle, on the theory that there are a lot more working class and middle class voters out there to be the target of his message than there are upper middle class and wealthy voters. That’s how he has won large bipartisan majorities in Vermont for years (and even though Vermont leans left, he is capturing essentially all independent and even some moderate Republican voters as well in Vermont).

    Sanders can propose policies that would be considered economically extreme in the American political context because he can defuse the parade of horribles that opponents claim will accompany his proposals, by showing that they are widely implemented elsewhere in the world and they work there and can be financed. He is chasing the low hanging fruit of policies where American policies are extreme on the world stage.

    It has been a long time since anyone so prominent in the Democratic party has really made a point of showing that he cares about working class and middle class people, even though the Democratic party is supposed to represent them, and that message is getting through and overshadowing other considerations with lots of voters who theoretically are “moderates” who should prefer “centerist” Hillary Clinton. Clinton is failing at communicating the message the she cares about the average Joe that the Democratic party in theory represents in myriad unconscious habits of how she does business eery day.

    Of course, the other dimension is pure personality. Bernie is a genuinely nice, honest, consistent salt of the Earth guy who can disagree with you without being disagreeable (who despite his “far left” policies has gotten a lot of legislation passed over the years). Hillary Clinton, by comparison, just isn’t and doesn’t have a lot of tangible legislative accomplishments from her short tenures in the U.S. Senate and the cabinet.

    • ohwilleke says:

      Just want to call out this highlighted passage as dead wrong: “Sanders and his youthful supporters want the Democrats to be a different kind of party: a more ideological, more left-wing one.”

      Sanders and his supports want a less ideological policy that is more focused on bread and butter economic issues for the working and middle class. This is a movement to make the tent bigger, not more extreme, based on the judgment that economic issues have broader appeal than social ones, and so should be the focus of the campaign.

      Clinton’s campaign is about abortion and the Supreme Court that are highly ideological. Sanders campaign is about pocketbook issues.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Whoa… “Sanders can propose policies that would be considered economically extreme in the American political context because he can defuse the parade of horribles that opponents claim will accompany his proposals, by showing that they are widely implemented elsewhere in the world and they work there and can be financed. He is chasing the low hanging fruit of policies where American policies are extreme on the world stage.” Really?! The American public will respond to cries of “socialist” and “higher taxes” with a thoughtful, reasoned response to successful policies in Western Europe. Damn would I like to live in that America.

  2. Jon K says:

    Mario Vargas Llosa points out astutely “Ideology is fiction that doesn’t realize it’s fiction”

    This passage from the book Sapiens has strongly influenced my thinking on ideologies:

    The modern age has witnessed the rise of a number of new natural-law religions, such as liberalism, Communism, capitalism, nationalism and Nazism. These creeds do not like to be called religions, and refer to themselves as ideologies. But this is just a semantic exercise. If a religion is a system of human norms and values that is founded on belief in a superhuman order, then Soviet Communism was no less a religion than Islam.

    Islam is of course different from Communism, because Islam sees the superhuman order governing the world as the edict of an omnipotent creator god, whereas Soviet Communism did not believe in gods. But Buddhism too gives short shrift to gods, and yet we commonly classify it as a religion. Like Buddhists, Communists believed in a superhuman order of natural and immutable laws that should guide human actions. Whereas Buddhists believe that the law of nature was discovered by Siddhartha Gautama, Communists believed that the law of nature was discovered by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The similarity does not end there. Like other religions, Communism too has its holy scripts and prophetic books, such as Marx’s Das Kapital, which foretold that history would soon end with the inevitable victory of the proletariat. Communism had its holidays and festivals, such as the First of May and the anniversary of the October Revolution. It had theologians adept at Marxist dialectics, and every unit in the Soviet army had a chaplain, called a commissar, who monitored the piety of soldiers and officers. Communism had martyrs, holy wars and heresies, such as Trotskyism. Soviet Communism was a fanatical and missionary religion. A devout Communist could not be a Christian or a Buddhist, and was expected to spread the gospel of Marx and Lenin even at the price of his or her life.

    Religion is a system of human norms and values that is founded on belief in a superhuman order. The theory of relativity is not a religion, because (at least so far) there are no human norms and values that are founded on it. Football is not a religion because nobody argues that its rules reflect superhuman edicts. Islam, Buddhism and Communism are all religions, because all are systems of human norms and values that are founded on belief in a superhuman order. (Note the difference between ‘superhuman’ and ‘supernatural’. The Buddhist law of nature and the Marxist laws of history are superhuman, since they were not legislated by humans. Yet they are not supernatural.)

Leave a Reply to Jon K Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: