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Arguing About Sanders


Consider all those who would be elated if Sanders becomes the new President of the U.S. Among them, many positions contend. For example:
 
1. Openly support and also work for Sanders. Vote for him to get the nomination.
2. Openly support Sanders but do not work for him. Vote for him to get the nomination.
3. Praise Sanders but vote for Clinton to get the nomination.
 
People in Group 1 presumably favor Sanders’ policies over Clinton’s. They also feel that working for Sanders has enough chance of having positive effects to warrant giving their time. For some the positive effects are simply Sanders in office. For others the positive effects include building a lasting movement.
 
People in Group 2 presumably favor Sanders winning for the same reasons as those in Group 1, but they then look at all the things they can currently do with their time and decide that working for Sanders would accomplish too little to outweigh other priorities they have. 
 
People in group 3 presumably fear that Sanders would lose to Trump, Cruz, or Rubio, who they believe Clinton would beat. They hope Clinton gets the nomination to avoid that horrible result.
 
Now suppose you want to argue with someone in Group 1 that they should not support or work for Sanders. Given the reasons at play, you would need to show that Clinton’s merits outweigh Sanders’ merits or demonstrate that despite Sanders’ merits being greater, Trump, Cruz, or Rubio would beat him. Or, as to work allotment, you would need to show there are better things than working for Sanders for people to do.
 

Suppose you wanted to argue with someone in Group 2 that they should not only vote for but also work for Sanders. You would need to show their work could help Sanders win or help build a movement even if he loses.

Suppose you wanted to argue with someone in Group 3 that they should support Sanders. You would need to show that Sanders would beat Trump, Cruz, or Rubio, or claim that his losing would be better than Clinton winning, for what it would set in motion for later.
 
Despite how obvious the above is, it seems many serious writers in outlets reaching pretty much only the audience I am assessing are making very different arguments than these. They endlessly repeat that Sanders isn’t really what they mean by a socialist and that Sanders doesn’t have their views on international relations or some other focused concern. They warn that the Democratic Party and its elites will fight fiercely to prevent his nomination. They bemoan that the Democratic Party is corrupt and serves corporate interests. Elections are bought and sold, they tell us, and elections are diversionary. They write all this, however, in outlets where every reader knows it all and has read it all many times. Their repeating the familiar claims seems to me to add nothing for their audience. More graphically, it doesn’t refute or even acknowledge actual reasons for their readers’ views. So who is it meant to affect? These writers never say Sanders’ merits are less than Clinton’s. They say the opposite. They never offer options for activity that they think ought to replace relating to the election. They rarely address electability. So what is their point, and their motive? (And just to be clear, this same would apply, for example, if Clinton were running against Trump and left writers just repeated endlessly to left readers that Clinton serves corporate interests, etc. Everyone voting for her from a left constituency, would be doing so simply because they wanted to block Trump, and would be immune to such comments, so why spend endless time making such comments over and over, as many will, if it comes to that, I would wager.) 
 
So I find myself unable to discern the logic and motives of many essays about the election and candidates unless I assume that they are not concerned with convincing their audience of anything, but only seek to go on radical record, so to speak – regardless of the practical implications for the people they actually have any hope of being read by. 
 
Put more positively, do left writers hope to inspire Sander’s supporters to push Sanders toward adopting still better views? If so, which seems fine to me as a purpose, why do many of these writers disrespect Sanders’ supporters as being befuddled by media madness or otherwise misguided? Is that a good way to make a case that those supporters ought to seek more from Sanders? Wouldn’t it make more sense to offer positive positions one would love to see Sanders take, positions that would enhance his positive prospects, all in a way that respects his supporters?
 
Similarly, I don’t understand why those who repeatedly trumpet that elections are a waste of time that drains energy and distracts us from more important endeavors appear more vested than most others in writing repeatedly about elections, much less doing so without offering anything new, much less doing so in a way ill suited to accomplishing anything positive. Am I missing something? Is there  a positive agenda served by these writers, that I don’t see?
 
Do I think Sanders self-consciously favors revolutionary institutional changes toward a new society of a sort that I myself would favor? I don’t know Sanders’ deepest desires, but I doubt it. If he does, he has at the very least long kept it to himself. 
 
Do I think Sanders’ views on various matters could, when taken simply as views and not as policies in a campaign, be better? Yes. But, again, unless I were to think I had some better views to suggest to usefully pursue in the campaign, and a way for those to be heard, so what? 
 

To me, what matters is, Are Sanders’ views the best of those being offered? My answer is yes, by far. And I haven’t heard anyone on the left say otherwise.

 

Also, does the constituency he is reaching – and the fact that he is overwhelmingly disdainful and independent of big money – promise better results than the allegiances of any other candidate? Again, I think yes, by far, and I haven’t heard anyone on the left say otherwise. 
 
Do I think Sanders’ victory, especially compared to any other candidate, would be meaningfully valuable for large numbers of people both in short run policy terms and in longer run changes to American politics and, yes, activism? Of course it could turn out otherwise, but, yes, I certainly think so. Would anyone on the left say otherwise? 
 
Do I think Sanders could beat Trump, Cruz, or Rubio if he manages to beat Clinton? That, to me, is the only serious question I have heard raised by any leftist that actually bears on people’s practical choices. And, at the moment, yes, I think overcoming Clinton is the more difficult hurdle. It isn’t just that the polls say so, it is that even in context of endless attacks, I think he has far more likelihood of unraveling the right wing support base, while retaining and enlarging his own. So if we get closer to the convention and against the odds (which he has so far, indeed, been overcoming), Sanders is in a position to get the nomination over Clinton, then my current view is that if he did, he would then continue on to win the national election in what would likely be an incredibly involving, educating, and inspiring contest, breeding all kinds of continuing commitment. 

8 Comments

  1. Cliff Hutchins February 25, 2016 8:21 pm 

    Michael Albert declares that:

    “To me, what matters is, Are Sanders’ views the best of those being offered? My answer is yes, by far. And I haven’t heard anyone on the left say otherwise.”

    This amazing comment by Mr. Albert appears to be saying that the only views which one should take seriously are those which emanate from the corporate Democratic Party. This rigid opinion apparently does not say much for Dr. Jill Stein who recently noted in an interview with Paul Street that:

    ” … you don’t want to pledge allegiance to a Democratic Party that is at best, even under Sanders, pushing for a military budget that is bankrupting us financially and morally, a war on terror that is creating more terror, and treating the Saudis like they’re the solution rather than a cause of terrorism.”

    “Sanders has endorsed Obama’s disastrous, jihad-fueling drone war program and ‘doesn’t stand up to the [Orwellian national security] deep state,’ Stein notes.’Bernie treats Edward Snowden like a criminal rather than a hero.’ Sanders backed the F-35 fight jet boondoggle on the grounds that it would create jobs in his state, a striking expression of his commitment to military Keynesianism (employed to undermine social-democratic welfare-state Keynesianism after World War II). And Sanders ‘supports governments that commit egregious human rights abuses,’ including Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, the most reactionary government on Earth. which fuels terrorism across the world. Bernie’s ‘treatment of the Palestinians’ is horrific, Stein notes.”

    So despite Mr. Albert’s claim, there certainly is someone from the left who is willing to state that Sanders’ opinions, and especially his views on foreign policy, are, to put it charitably, less than admirable. Perhaps Mr. Albert agrees with the Commission on Presidential Debates that third party and independent candidates basically should not be allowed to be on the same stage with any member of the GOP and the Savage Mules as the last thing which that commission wants is for anyone to question and challenge the two major corporate, war-making parties. And it is no coincidence that a Jill Stein or a Ralph Nader is not going to do this since the CPD just so happens to be composed of former Democrats and Republicans.

    I happen to have this quaint notion that the American people should be able to hear from many different points of view when it comes time to elect their leader something which is rather commonplace in most democratic countries. Unfortunately Michael Albert does not help matters when he appears to believe that the only voices which count are those which belong to either the Democratic or Republican parties.

    It would be most helpful if Mr. Albert were to read The Democrats: A Critical History as leftist writer Lance Selfa does a terrific job in pointing out how, time after time, the Democrats, far from being the party of the people, have instead, as Selfa observes, “betrayed the aspirations of ordinary people while pursuing an agenda favorable to big business and U.S. imperial interests.” Writer Dennis Perrin informs the reader about that latter category in his slim but commendable book called The Savage Mules.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert February 28, 2016 3:59 pm 

      It is hard to understand the way these discussions occur – which was my point, by and large. And it is verified here again. Saying what other people mean – and getting it so self evidently wrong – is very odd. It would be bad enough if one extrapolated illogically from a single comment knowing nothing else – rather, than, say, inquiring if one encounters what seems to be such a weird reversal. But to do it when one has an incredible volume of evidence to the contrary of what one is saying, that just strikes me as amazing. We used to call it knee-jerk -meaning a stance, that is sometimes and in some cases applicable, would just be applied willy nilly despite their being no possible logic to doing so. Is that what happened here? I don’t know.

      But whatever the why of it is, how could anyone think that I think that all that anyone should take seriously is what comes from the democratic party and therefore that I think that the entire contents of Z, for decades has been been of no serious merit? Likewise, that I think my entire output, everything I write and support, is actually, not worth serious attention? I mean really – how does one say such a thing, and apparently think and even be sure it is accurate, when it is so transparently ridiculous?

      It seems to go like this, if you take seriously an election and candidates who are contending and have a chance because they can impact the quality of millions of lives, and if you think one potential candidate may do that in a manner that could have great benefits, relative to the others, in the short and the long term, and if you say so – then it must mean that you think nothing else matters – and certainly not views that are not emanating from within the Democratic party – despite, of course, that you apply your every breath to making such other views available and to actually creating them. It is really pretty amazing.

      The purpose of the article was to get people to think about how they are arguing – relating – to the on-going events, not just the election, but really all events. Is it logic and evidence we bring to bear? Or what?

      I haven’t read the particular piece you reference,, but even without doing so I would wager I have written, and published, a great many quite like it – at least in the respects you have in mind. So, if Lance Seifa were, tomorrow, to say, the Democratic Party is one wing of a corporate single party serving the interests of elites in the U.S., but, even though that is the case, the particular campaign of Bernie Sanders holds great promise for moving consciousness in the country, and, if he can win and perhaps even if not, if leftists and others can help the campaign generate lasting organization, also pressuring desirable outcomes, would you then say he can no longer think the Dem Party is a ruling class vehicle? Or, to take another case where there is no need to hypothesize, If it winds up Trump versus Clinton and Chomsky says he would vote and he hopes others would vote for Clinton, in a heartbeat, in any contested state, would you then say Chomsky too doesn’t understand how the U.S. election system operates, who it fundamentally serves, and thinks all that matters is electing Democrats?

  2. Kelly Gerling February 25, 2016 7:03 pm 

    Michael, you accept that in the short term the current electoral system, the Electoral College and its two party mandate, actually exists and will exist through this year. You accept that within that system, the choices are limited. You describe some of these limited choices. Your argument is pragmatic. For anyone who disagrees that Sanders would be a better president than Trump, another Republican or HRC, the argument against you, to be rooted in political reality, would need to describe, with evidence, that your conclusion is false, and/or describe a real alternative to work for/vote for that is a viable option within the limited options in the current Electoral College constitutionally mandated system for electing a president.

    I think there are viable options outside of those you describe. I think we can attempt to get Jill Stein and the Green Party (and Bernie Sanders) to use the election to campaign strongly on electoral and constitutional change using movement tactics, direct democracy at many levels, along with proposed constitutional amendments to democratize the system towards a multi-party system with public financing of elections.

    I’m not critiquing your article for not having more options, just pointing out that elections are times that make other options possible.

    I appreciate Jerry Fresia’s approach to this situation regarding additional parties. I’d like to know what others think of Fresia’s analysis:

    https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/third-parties-by-jerry-fresia/

    • avatar
      Michael Albert February 28, 2016 4:10 pm 

      Yes,, I do think the electoral system will exist through this year. And that in that context, the choices as far as who will wind up President, and, as well, what options will reach the largest audiences with valuable information and perhaps agendas, is limited.

      And yes, I think the reforms you mention, in the electoral system, would be desirable, as would many many others we can all think of, no doubt. Sure. And I also think, however, Sanders continuing, and amassing more support, it the campaign can, and of course developing mechanisms to continue pressure after the election, would benefit those possibilities greatly.

      I also agree elections sometimes make additional options possible – for example, the Sanders campaign has created a situation in which it is possible to talk about big money controlling elections, about socialism, about political restructuring, about the agenda of the Democratic Party, and on and on – not to small but to very very large audiences.

      If there was some evenremote likelihood that the Green Party could amass millions of votes and bring still better analysis and vision and options into households all over the country, then of course that would be my focus too. But that isn’t the case.

      I will try to get to a reread of Jerry’s article. He is a friend. Wrote a very good book years back. And I not only published but spent a lot of time typesetting that book, and published the article you reference – apparently, I am interested in communicating more than views espoused by mainstream party candidates….

  3. Peter Warner February 25, 2016 6:42 am 

    I suppose I fail to see any logic whatsoever to supporting any candidate entrenched, willfully so, in the prevailing corporate-dominated political paradigm: two “parties” united in their allegiance to the status quo. Bernie has already opted out of actually challenging that status quo, a sheep dog willingly participating in the charade of the undeniably corrupt and compromised electoral syndicate. I find it truly difficult to believe that anyone who entertains any notion of building an alternative society — hello, Michael Allbert! — would continue to support the status quo Democratic Party’s platform of endless American exceptionalism, imperialism, warfare, Zionism, plunder of cultures and planetary ecology, racism, economic and social injustice . . . on and on the wheel turns, and even so-called progressives debate which rat to stick in the cage.

    Get a clue, ethically destitute apologists for empire and tradition — Bernie Sanders, let alone the murderess Machiavellian Hillary, will not be the epicenter of the necessary revolution. I’m surrounded by idiots!

    • avatar
      Michael Albert February 25, 2016 2:49 pm 

      Hello Peter,

      Okay, you can see no logical reason to ever support anyone operating inside the electoral system, muchn less inside the Democratic Party – but how do you then explain logical people, very well informed people, even people who may have helped you move from not having a critcial understanding of the electoral process or parties and so on, to having that insight, doing so?

      Do you really think you can legitimately deduce that I am illogical, or delusional, or just ignorant? I ask this seriously because if you want to communicate with someone in group one, say, on what grounds do you think you can successfully do so? And if you don’t, then who are you interested in communicating with? Why are you writi9ng the words you are writing?

      You say Sanders won’t be the epicenter of the necessary revolution – which is overwhelmingly likely true enough – okay, ignoring that we don’t need and shouldn’t want, optimally, an epicenter – is the only thing you are prepared to support in life, or even in politics, not in the abstract as some univerals allegiance but in current context, something that could be that epicenter?

      If so, can you see that means that you cannot support anti war movements, anti racist movements, labor movements, actual campaigns, unless they literally are, well, the epicenter you mention?

      Just as it is hard for you to imagine someone who really believes in a new type of soceity, and who endlessly seeks it, supporting something less than that epicenter you have in mind, against something disastrously worse, or even positively as part of a process – I cannot understand someone who says they favor justice, equity, self management perhaps, even, classlessness, whatever list you would offer, confronting a complex context and mechanically laying down a rule that precludes relating to that context in anything but an irrelevant and incredibly dismissive and sectarian fashion.

      You, like many, seem to think if one supports, say, Sanders, in a positive way, or even Clinton, if it comes to that, against say Trump or Cruz – one thereby reveals fealty to present relations. I, in contrast, think, if one disavows taking sides for anything but revolution now, one disavows opportunities to improve people’s lives in the present, as well as openings and options that could lead to much more in the future. In short one disavows a humane concern for others and also options to further longer term revolutionary possibilities in favor of simply pronouncing one’s self proclaimed perfect but also perfectly inflexible politics.

      I wouldn’t call you an idiot, like you do me, or ethically destitute, and so on, but I would advise that you consider just how accurately you are reflecting even your own views.

      Suppose you worked and your union, which was beholden to the democratic party, with bad views in many many areas, was fighting for a significant gain in wages (not even anything beyond that, for instance, not even asserting the need for continued grassroots activism, etc.) Do you tell your fellow workers who support the demand and campaign that doing so makes them, duped or sell outs, idiots or morally destitute?

      It is as if, at least in this brief comment about the election, you think there can be no nuance at all. None. I and ever leftist has to either scream revolution now, and only scream that – or I must have no interest in that, at all. The missing logic is evident there, not in the assertion’s truth, but in its falsehood.

      Ask yourself, do you really really think that I, for being in group one of those I demarcated, say, thereby reveal that I don’t really want participatory economics instead of capitalism? Can you not conceive that one could favor the latter, unreservedly, and also feel that Sanders doing well not only would benefit deserving constituencies, but open possibilities for far more to follow? OR even, if it comes to it, that Clinton beating Trump, say, would ward off even worse dangers, far worse, than her presidency would impose on us?

      I should tell you though, I do appreciate your replying. Most people with your view, or even less dramatically at odds with the views in the article, are highly unlikely to enter into actual debate about the issues, preferring simply to expound, but not engage.

  4. John Vincent February 24, 2016 5:08 pm 

    I agree Michael. If we are find ourselves stuck in a speeding car being driven rapidly toward an approaching cliff, our immediate concern should be hitting the brakes, not arguing incessantly why we should have been traveling in the opposite direction from the very beginning. While the latter is true, it doesn’t address the immediate concern or the reality of the situation. Given current constraints of our existing institutions I think Sanders offers the best opportunity to at least slow down existing trends so that others have the space and the opportunity to build movements for revolutionary change.

    I think Sanders would beat his Republican opponent if he got the nomination and the power elite within the Democratic machine backed him. But they may not and would rather urge someone like Michael Bloomberg to run as an independent. Then there would be a real battle that could further ignite those rallying for Sanders and fighting to put an end to the power of the billionaire class, which definitely doesn’t want a Sanders presidency.

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