Following onto last week’s Politico article about Deval Patrick, and discussion of Kamala Harris and Corey Booker’s presidential prospects, there was some resistance from certain well-known lefty writers, notably The Week’s Ryan Cooper. Cooper’s column made some fair if unremarkable points, but illuminated some unfortunate habits of mind in the very distinct culture of the left.
(I don’t want points of agreement to be lost: Stipulated that any public figure who is qualified to President et al will have a record which is up for scrutiny. We air concerns, and find some candidates lacking. Stipulated also is the notion that the pursuit of money in politics — particularly post-Citizens-United — creates a distance between a party that is supposed to represent the concerns of those who can’t afford to donate big money. This is, of course, nothing new within the Democratic Party.)
Cooper gets off to a bad start (my emphasis):
The latest battleground is over a handful of minority Democrats being groomed by the centrist establishment …
If the center wants to win over a suspicious left, they can start by clearly explaining their policy orientation, particularly in areas where they might have fallen short by the supposed standards of the modern Democratic Party — which all three of the above candidates have done in various ways. If they want to deepen divisions, they can use cynical accusations of bigotry to try to beat back any leftist challenger.
At any rate, if I had to guess, I’d say we’re in for a rather bitter fight for supremacy over the Democratic Party between big money elites on one side and Sanders Democrats on the other.
So much here … Cooper clumsily attempts to inoculate himself from accusations of racism, as if the left were immune to it. (Are any of us?) In case it wasn’t clear enough from the post, Cooper doubled down on Twitter:
anyway, I argued that it would be wise for folks like Harris to avoid the perception that they are stalking horses for the neolib Dem elite
— ryan cooper (@ryanlcooper) August 4, 2017
because the elite will probably try to stand up some minority candidate and cast policy disagreement as bigotry of some form
— ryan cooper (@ryanlcooper) August 4, 2017
“Some minority candidate” … oof. This is an unlovely, sharply patronizing suggestion that these African-American pols — each with a complexity, backstory, résumé, and constituency — are mere puppets, performers to be repped by well-heeled impresarios on the Hamptons, and foisted as political entertainment to a gullible public. I can’t even caricature the “stalking horse for the neolib Dem elite” phrase. That’s just ugly stuff. It’s tinged with racist condescension, but also with a brittle, academic-Marxist compulsion to categorize and stereotype.
Furthermore, Cooper’s false dichotomy between “big money elites” and “Sanders Democrats” literally erases all of the rank-and-file Democrats who did not vote for Sanders. Do people choose candidates based on whom the “establishment” (whoever that is) foists upon them? E.g.: Did Dem primary voters choose a first-term senator as their standard-bearer in 2008 because they are lemmings who did what they were told by “elites”? History is littered with well-funded candidates who got very little traction. Voters come to their own conclusions — even those that Cooper would not prefer.
Cooper claims that success will come only with the blessing of the left, as if to say, “You’d better run it by us.” Leftists assert that in the wake of the Democratic party’s manifest and deep electoral failures, leftism will prove broadly appealing. There is some evidence suggestive of this, but it is by no means a comfortable conclusion. We need demonstration cases. Neither the late and unlamented 2016 Dem primary, nor the subsequent special elections, have provided satisfying answers to that for anyone. Frankly it seems like we’re all hanging, together or separately.
Rather than look inward and say well, the left has some work to do, gardens to tend, bridges to build, room to grow, coalitions to manage with the broader Democratic coalition … Cooper invokes a with-us-or-against-us false dilemma. This is tiresome. Politicians are a lagging indicator, and if there is sufficient appeal among rank and file primary voters for left ideas, the politicians will follow. But that would put the onus on Cooper’s left to broaden their appeal, not on the candidates themselves — a harder but ultimately more valuable task.
The only thing I’m pretty sure I know about politics, is taking power and sharing power through coalition. The left is going to have to find those voters who heretofore identify with neither the “moneyed elite” nor yet their own segment. This likely includes, if I may be so bold, those African-American voters for whom the electoral achievements of Harris, Booker, Patrick — and Obama — represents something other than a smoke-show on behalf of wealthy donors.
Cooper sees the left as the kingmaker faction. But we are all kingmakers. No one’s going to “bend the knee.” More persuasion, fewer power fantasies, please.