The Future Liberals Want
Mine, admittedly, involves people who know what they're doing.
What I’m Writing
What I’m Reading
How to Survive a Vivisection. “I never could have predicted what happened: my OB performed a C-section on me without anesthesia. Go on, read it again. Because of the anesthesiologist’s mistake, and the OB’s desire to get it done, I had major abdominal surgery without anesthetic. In a hospital, in the United States, in 2016. It’s more common than you’d think.”
One Night at Mount Sinai. Aja Newman went to the emergency room for shoulder pain. Her doctor was a superstar. What’s the worst that could happen?
The View From Here
Well it’s been a minute, hasn’t it? I moved back to New York, I was traveling, and then the usual summer-into-fall busy kicked in, and the labor-of-love newsletter took a backseat. But I’m back! And happy to be reconnecting with you all again.
Did you all watch the Democratic debates last night? Bernie looked great — vibrant, healthy, and landing lots of punches — and I’d say he had the best performance of the night, and probably of the whole primary process. Biden was meandering and off, and I’m increasingly wondering how he stays in the race at all, let alone at the front of it. Yang was angry and obnoxious and tremendously unlikeable (and unable to answer most of the questions tossed his way). Tulsi was a terrifying Assad apologist parroting anti-abortion talking points. Warren owned the stage and pretty much acted like everyone else was an inconvenience at her event (and I was very here for it). Kamala has such potential and charisma but got hung up on ridiculous minor details and, like throughout her campaign, simply failed to bring any big vision to the stage (banning Trump from Twitter is not a vision). Booker came across as thoughtful and intelligent and kind. Mayor Pete seemed like a jerk whose vision is, more or less, “let’s just keep it all in the reasonable middle, whatever that may be.” Amy Klobuchar thought she was very funny (she wasn’t). Castro had a few great moments and was a standout overall (and clearly gunning to be Warren’s VP). Tom Steyer wore a notable tie.
It’s been an absolute thrill to see Elizabeth Warren work her way steadily to the front of the pack. Less thrilling is watching a predictable part of the left steadily try to undermine her. The latest iteration comes from Jacobin, which has unfortunately morphed into an all-Bernie all-the-time fan site, and correctly sees Warren as the biggest threat to Bernie. And so the specious attacks have begun. First, there was the claim that Warren made up pregnancy discrimination (she didn’t). Then came the claim that she doesn’t actually support Medicare for All (she does). After that it was that she used to be a Republican (she was, but she’s voted for Democrats since 1972, and most people adopt the politics of their parents / location. It should be a credit that Warren developed her own political views, not a demerit that she happened to be born to conservative people in a conservative place).
The latest critique is, no joke, that she’s too competent. There is a rising anti-expertise left that takes on a kind of funhouse mirror version of the anti-intellectual right. In this formation, Warren’s competence is a flaw, because we don’t need more technocrats / experts / experience / rule-makers in office; we need populist heroes who, on the force of social movements alone and without listening to “experts,” will completely transform American politics (to get here, you also have to ignore the fact that Sanders is a career politician).
Adjacent to this argument is the claim that Warren is Hillary Clinton in populist clothes (here, Warren is alternately a moderate or even conservative Democrat and therefore nothing like Bernie Sanders, or she’s copying everything Bernie Sanders does and is therefore a dime store version of the real thing). We know Bernie is the true candidate of the working class, this argument goes, because he enjoys greater support from low-income people. Also, the current Democratic coalition of educated whites and voters of color is bad, because the educated and relatively affluent won’t vote against their own interests — that is, they won’t vote to redistribute their own wealth (never mind that if they’re voting for Elizabeth Warren, that’s exactly what they’re voting for).
In reality, none of this holds up. Bernie supporters trend young, and it’s not surprising that college students have lower incomes than 40-somethings. Also, Warren is doing just as well among people who make less than $50k a year and people without college degrees as Bernie is (and Biden is doing better than both of them — an inconvenient challenge to the “true candidate of the working class” narrative). Warren is also doing better with more affluent people and those who are college-educated. In other words, she’s built a broader coalition. But Warren detractors from the left argue that this is actually a flaw: That people who make $100k or more a year are more likely to support her over Sanders demonstrates not that she has the kind of wide appeal that could beat Donald Trump, but that she’s the stealth candidate of the rich.
At the risk of sounding like a very uncool woman with insufficient reverence for working class white men, I want a competent, thoughtful president who will take expertise seriously, develop thoughtful, ambitious policy, and appoint people who have proven track records of knowing what they’re doing — not simply reward likeminded ideologues.
There’s a gender dynamic at play here, too. Women have never been able to stroll into any professional situation and succeed on charisma alone. In the workplace, young men are rewarded and promoted on their perceived promise and potential; women are rewarded and promoted on actual accomplishments. Warren is running on what she’s accomplished and on her detailed plans for the future, which she developed by relying on experts, research and proven best practices. This is the story of her professional success, and I suspect a lot of women can relate: You can’t rely on someone seeing what you could do; you go in and you prove yourself.
And so predictably, now that a woman is outperforming men in the Democratic primary by relying on expertise and experience, expertise and experience are a problem. When a female candidate shores up a broad and growing coalition, the breadth of that coalition is twisted into a weakness.
It’s worth noting here that Bernie Sanders himself isn’t taking this tack. It’s clear that he likes and respects Warren, that she feels the same about him, and that both of them are working to move the Democratic Party to the left. There are differences between them. But neither sees to see the other as an enemy or an opponent to be destroyed (even as both clearly see themselves as the best person for the job). It’s a relatively small but extremely loud cadre of Very Online Sanders supporters that have taken up Operation Destroy Warren. And it is worrying, because it poisons the pool if Warren wins the nomination, and makes a second Trump presidency all the more likely.
There are lots of great candidates in this race, including Bernie Sanders. Clearly I am leaning more and more toward Warren, but I don’t think she is the one and only person who could beat Donald Trump, nor do I think she’s the one and only person who could and should be president of the United States. Politicians aren’t Jesus. Support the candidate(s) you like, but twisting anyone who isn’t your chosen one into a symbol of all that is evil is ultimately self-defeating. That is, it’s self-defeating if the goal is putting a progressive in the White House, electing more liberal Democrats to Congress, moving the Democrats’ entire political agenda leftward, and radically expanding American social welfare. If the goal is to elevate one singular person who you are sure is the only one who can save us, well, you’re not in a political movement. You should go call your dad because you’re in a cult.