Progressives Are Losing
I don’t know about you guys, but Bernie’s numbers, even with the race narrowed down to him and Biden, aren’t great. One would think, with 2016 at least serving as a head start for 2020 and his good sportsmanship despite that primary result, Bernie would be looking stronger right now. Biden has a lead in delegates, and while some of his best terrain (the South) is gone now, Bernie still needs to run a stellar campaign to prevail by the summer.
We know that Bernie was never going to win the establishment because part of that epiphany would involve them realizing how they incurred a self-inflicted wound by nominating Hillary Clinton and ignoring her baggage. That’s an enormous pill for a wounded ego to swallow, and at scale, it means that they just revert to voting for Joe Biden or someone arguably “fresh” like Buttigieg.
On the progressive side of the party, we saw not only Bernie this time but also Warren, Tulsi, and Yang. This what gets to the heart of the failure of progressives, because the establishment side was always going to do its thing, and we needed to conduct ourselves appropriately. What happened? Yang and Tulsi, however begrudgingly, have gone on to endorse Biden, and while Warren has not yet endorsed, her vicious attacks against Bernie in the debates are hardly forgotten. Why have the other progressives saw fit not to rally behind Bernie, even to the point of burning bridges? In some ways, I suspect the behavior of these leaders is a reaction to or reflective of the behavior of us, the voters.
I never saw any reason to rain on any of these candidates’ parades, but I have noticed that that makes me a rarity. Several of Bernie supporters have been quick to decry the other candidates and their followers as traitors and impediments, as if running for office because some kind of taboo in a democracy. I saw people belligerently attack Yang as some kind of a corporatist, but less than two months after his campaign ended and on the doorstep of a corona-recession, suddenly his UBI idea has some merit where it did not before. Where Tulsi has a strong stance against the military-industrial complex, and where Warren is tough on Wall St, there’s always something not quite good enough.
Of course, supporters of these other progressives have committed the same cardinal sin. Some of them have derided Bernie as a communist or too much of a white man. For whatever reason, if progressives see an opening to spite each other, they will take it. “Green New Deal be damned, I’d rather fuck around with someone.”
This is why I continue to think that progressivism, for all that is good about it, is dead as a political tradition. Progressives, if they can even be called that, continually drive wedges among themselves at a time when they should be organizing not only to win the presidency but win seats across the nation. Can I really say that Biden and his supporters, for their flaws, have that issue? The magic trick of the establishment is that they often do not come down on other Democrats. In fact, this is why Democrats like the Clintons are forgiven for crooked behavior, and while it might be annoying for good reasons, it also might explain why progressives see more potential for their policies with President Biden than President Sanders. Biden may not prioritize their specific stance, but he won’t ask for their heads either, and that’s an assurance that’s useful to have in politics.
I love Bernie. He’s my hero. Is a Bernie coalition one that will help me meet my goals to help working Americans? Are the people who support as much of team players as, well, Bernie himself is? I doubt it, and that observation, as I look at the party and my own future in politics, gives me an unsettling pause.