Saturday, April 11, 2020

Note on ideology

A little outdoor Joe.

I like this insightful piece by Zack Beauchamp/Vox, though at first sight it's just validating something I've been trying to say for years:
Sen. Bernie Sanders’s theory of victory was simple: An unapologetically socialist politics centering Medicare-for-all and welfare state expansions would unite the working class and turn out young people at unprecedented rates, creating a multiracial, multigenerational coalition that could lead Sanders to the Democratic nomination and the White House.
“When we bring millions of working people, people of color and young people in the political process, there is nothing we cannot accomplish,” Sanders wrote in a February 2 Facebook post....
In the end, this approach failed. It was former Vice President Joe Biden, not Bernie Sanders, who assembled a multiracial working-class coalition in key states like Michigan — where Biden won every single county, regardless of income levels or racial demographics. Sanders had strong support among younger voters, but they did not turn out in overwhelming numbers. In at least some key states, they made up smaller portion of the primary electorate than in 2016.
But where I'd just have said Sanders was misled by his fear of alienating the "white working class" into putting economic issues up in front of race and gender, and ended up courting a working class that didn't exist, Beauchamp brings out some other thoughts that might lead to some more positively helpful conclusions, starting with bringing Marx into it:

A basic premise of Marxist political strategy is that people should behave according to their material self-interest as assessed by Marxists — which is to say, their class interests. Proposing policies like Medicare-for-all, which would plausibly alleviate the suffering of the working class, should be effective at galvanizing working-class voters to turn out for left parties.
It strikes me that this has always been wrong, whether Marx said it or not. The interesting aspect of Marx's theory of ideology doesn't even refer to the working class, but to the capitalist class, the owners of industry, whose house intellectuals create a bogus theory ("false consciousness") of their good intentions (for instance, support of the beneficent Market showering everyone with prosperity and pleasure if it's allowed to do its magic instead of getting meddled with by annoying social justice warriors) to mask their real intentions of taking all the wealth.

This is demonstrated as a real phenomenon by all kinds of historical evidence in the 1846 manuscripts known as The German Ideology, but its working-class mirror image, the idea of a revolutionary ideology countering the ruling-class ideology, remains speculative. Marx and Engels recognize, in fact, that most workers are not interested in revolution, and  don't even try to be very nice about it, dismissively calling them "Lumpenproletarier", social scum; they can only hope that some day we leftist intellectuals will succeed in working up some ideology that will grab the workers, but decades later they were still working on it in vain.

But as we've learned from a couple of centuries of democratic practice, that's just not how people outside the ruling class vote.
this isn’t really how politics works, at least in the contemporary United States. Political scientists have found that, as a general rule, the specifics of policy positions and campaign rhetoric play little role in mobilizing turnout for a campaign.
No matter how many times Sanders repeated his passionate defense of universal health care, no matter how often his volunteers went door to door arguing for social democratic policies, the content of the policy messages wasn’t going to convince young people and economically disaffected non-voters to show up in the way he needed.
Rather, voters are largely moved by motives of identity, solidarity with the groups one belongs to and hostility against others—including partisan identity, which is not necessarily a less intelligent way of making a choice (the intellectual part of the African American affiliation with Democrats isn't based on attentive listening to campaign promises that may or may not be kept, but on a correct analysis of American history since World War II; and the white racist predilection for Republicans is well founded too, not on the false consciousness of the party's protestations but the real evidence of the last decades).

The Sanders campaign in 2016 was buffaloed by its unexpected primary successes in the wild west, in deeply conservative prairie states like Nebraska, in rust-belt states like Michigan, into thinking it had acquired some secret sauce for appealing to the Lumpen, to less educated white men who had hitherto been unable to understand their own economic interests, but they were wrong, says Beauchamp:
“The white working-class voters that Sanders won were mostly anti-Clinton voters,” [Sean] McElwee tells me.
A regression analysis by FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver finds support for this theory. Silver’s data shows that Clinton-skeptical Bernie supporters in 2016 were not progressives who opposed Clinton from the left, but from moderate or conservative Democrats who tended to have right-leaning views on racial issues and were more likely to support repealing Obamacare. These #NeverHillary voters also tended to be rural, lower-class, and white.
They weren't voting for Sanders's policy ideas or even necessarily aware of them! They were voting for this entertaining old white guy in opposition to the bossy white lady telling them she knew what was best for them, and they'd end up voting in November for the even more entertaining old white guy with no policy ideas whatsoever, for the same reason.

While four years later, running against Biden in a state like Michigan, Sanders couldn't get any traction at all; undistracted by gender anxiety or whatever else had terrified them about Clinton (I believe in the effectiveness of the Russian-backed propaganda effort), they voted for the candidate of unquestionable, warm and fuzzy Democrat-hood. And the main element of the Sanders strategy, the young, didn't show up, as they generally don't. We can't rely on them, even in the landslide of 2018, and we need to stop hoping for a socialist movement those fantasy "white working class" voters as well:
a significant chunk of rural and non-college whites are, in the Trump era, Republican voters. Which is the point: Partisan identification overrides and swamps class identity, causing them to think about the world less as members of a class who could benefit from state intervention and more as members of a party that’s generally skeptical of the welfare state.
On the other hand, there is a pool of voters that could be better tapped:
working with the electorate as it actually exists rather than the one you eventually hope to create. The YouGov/Data for Progress poll found surprisingly high levels of support for certain progressive priorities and policies like a wealth tax among suburban whites, who had in the past favored Republicans. This suggests that progressives need to figure out a way to galvanize this group for their candidates rather than try to build a 20th-century-style working-class movement from scratch.
I'll add to that that one way might be through the environmental movement, not so much in the form  of a list of policy proposals as that of an emotional commitment, which is widespread among those same suburban whites, if always a little vague, and always associated with Democrats even when Democratic candidates have shied away from talking about it, just as the emotional commitment to civil rights is recognized by black voters even when the candidates understate it.

As a weapon in the campaign against the furiously anti-environmental Trump, who is realizing every dream of the industrialist despoilers, it's pretty potent, especially right now in the Covid crisis, when freaked-out nature seems to be screaming in agony, and the conservatives don't yet know it, at all, as witness our old friend Dinesh:
The Biden campaign can certainly go there and go big, with blessings from everybody from old President Carter to young Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,
Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face. It powerfully captures two basic truths, which are at the core of his plan: (1) the United States urgently needs to embrace greater ambition on an epic scale to meet the scope of this challenge, and (2) our environment and our economy are completely and totally connected.
 and certainly should.

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