Musings on Bernie

Musings on Bernie

Despite the cries of the Bernie Bros, the electoral math presents a convincing argument that the Democratic primaries are all but over and Hillary Rodham Clinton has won. It is time to begin reflecting upon what this primary says about the future of the Democratic Party

There are a few obvious reflections. That millennials are about as economically illiterate as we thought. That we aren't really creating a strawman when we call progressives socialist (OK, OK, democratic socialists). That accusations of sexism are blatantly politically motivated. But just how significant is the popularity Bernie to future of the Democratic Party?

Matthew Yglesias of Vox writes an interesting piece on why Clinton’s centrist economics rest on a much more shaky electoral foundation than one might expect. Mr. Yglesias points out that while Bernie has been losing to black voters against Clinton, Black democrats are actually economically left of white democrats. This implies that Clinton is capitalizing on the relationship she and her husband have with the Black community than on her policy positions. In the future, a far left insurgent candidate running against a moderate democrat may be substantially more successful with Black voters. Much of Clinton's support also comes for labor unions, despite Sander's platform aligning more closely with Unions desires. Union support here seems to be more transactional than ideological, and could quickly change as far left insurgents chances at nomination look better. Considering these political realities, someone like Elizabeth Warren being a Democratic nominee in the next few cycles seems very possible.

So what would a Progressive Democratic Party look like?

Democrats love calling the GOP anti-science in regards to climate change denial, but the Bernie campaign showed that Democrats have some problems with science of their own.  Despite being soft, economics is still a science. Of course, the "Bernie Sanders needs Econ 101" meme is tired, but it is still important to consider how major economists reacted to his plan, and how the campaign reacted to critiques of their plan. The Sanders campaign promoted a study done by Gerald Friedman (if only the unrelated great Milton Friedman was still here to chastise Bernie's economics) which made outrageous claims using extremely generous assumptions. So outrageous that the study was publicly condemned by four leading democratic economists, all former chairs on the Council of Economic Advisors, and Paul Krugman. Supporters largely responded that this was neo-Liberal garbage. A new Progressive left would be shamelessly deviating from Left economic consensus to a very heterodox direction, probably much more so than most people realize.

My biggest surprise with Bernie were the limits of his support for income equality. I am primarily concerned with extreme poverty, not income inequality, but, in a global sense, the two issues are the same. The largest income disparity is between western affluence and extreme poverty; this dwarfs the disparity within western societies, even America. I voluntarily redistribute my income through the Against Malaria Foundation, Givewell's top reccomended charity. So if someone proclaims to value income equality, I would suspect their primary concern would be, like mine, international. But Bernie seems to have no concern for income equality outside our borders. When asked if he supported Open Boarders in a Vox interview, Bernie called it a "Koch Brother proposal." In reality, some economists believe Open Boarders could do more good for the global poor than any other policy decision. I don't support equal boarders myself, because income equality isn't a primary value of mine, but if it was, I would be compelled to. Free Trade, which has also done miracles for global poverty and is something I do support, should also be a priority for someone who values income equality. But Bernie is also ardently against Free Trade. He went so far as to say he has never supported an American free trade agreement. If this is representative of Progressives, the Democrats might become a party who plays lip service to equality, but only really support a nationalist, populist economic platform. Until Democrats begin talking about income inequality in global terms, or explain why that is the incorrect way to frame the debate, I will have trouble seeing their concern as principled.

I also wonder whether a progressive Left would collapse on itself. They say those who live by the sword, die by the sword. If the sword of the Democrats becomes, "I am more progressive than you," it is easy to see Democratic politics becoming a race to the Left. We saw examples of this throughout the primary season. Take for example Black Lives Matter protestors interrupting a Bernie rally in Seattle last August, despite him probably having a better record on racial issues than Clinton. Or consider the controversy that arose when Bernie said that he didn't support reparations for African Americans, despite the fact that essentially no one supports reperations. And there were the attacks from Clinton supporters like Gloria Steinem and Madeline Alblight over Bernie Sanders not being a woman (or something?) Building a coalition while being constantly driven Left will prove very difficult.

If this is going to be future of the Democrats, all I know is that I will miss the Blue Dogs of the 90s with all my heart.


Photo Credit: AFGE via Flickr

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