Friday, January 17, 2020

Pixie Dust

The New York Times on Sunday will endorse someone for the Democratic nomination for President.  It has now published its interview of Bernie Sanders, self-described socialist and by far the preferred candidate of the avowedly socialist publication, Jacobin.

Responding to the interview by "the famously establishment-friendly New York Times editorial board," Jacobin asserts "In this era of resurgent left electoral activity, the conflation of left and right populism is one of the preferred tactics of the elite political center."

As it understands, not falling prey to this is B.S., who is "insistent upon" his "professed intention to use the presidency to inspire popular mobilizations." Conversely

None of the other Democratic presidential candidates are. In one way or another, they all reliably communicate the message, “Elect me and I’ll take it from there.” Bernie is alone in candidly saying that he will rely on the active participation of the masses to govern....

Bernie’s promise to encourage mass mobilizations is heartening: it means he understands the obstacles to reform he’ll face if he wins. If he does win, expect him to take every opportunity to impress upon ordinary people that they’ve been cast in the leading role.

Charlie Pierce recognizes:

And it's probably why Bernard Sanders leads Elizabeth Warren in polls of likely Democratic voters and nationwide.   This surely feels good and it flatters those masses, boosting egos. It makes them feel warm inside.

Nonetheless, among those things the presumably progressive masses don't understand is that if Senator Sanders is elected, it won't be exclusively protesters of the left who hit the streets.  The right would not be immune to the lure of the professed intention to use the presidency to inspire popular mobilization, nor will it be any more than the left be reticent to "tap into a powerful force outside the state that can bend it in the right direction."

But o.k. It at least sounds exciting and plays to the ego of those of us on the left. When Barack Obama, senator and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, intoned "We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek," his supporters cheered.  It was inspiring and empty rhetoric. The Tea Party, however, took him at his word and responded.

Yet that is not the major problem with placing faith in the hope of mass mobilization of the left. Rather, it is that it removes agency and accountability from (in this case) him: the elected public official.  Instead of assuming agency for his actions, a President Sanders (assuming he's not conning us) would be abdicating the responsibility that is his as a result of having stood for election, requested our votes, and given the powers of the job. It would be failing the test of leadership.

Some 75 years ago, a Missourian became a highly successful chief executive and commander-in-chief in part because he did not pass the buck, instead embracing the slogan "the buck stops here."  Accurately or otherwise, the presidency is often referred to as "the most powerful job in the world"- and he or she is not elected to follow. Democratic presidents should take their cue from Republican presidents, who treat the office as a way to impose their values and beliefs effectively upon American government. Do the damn job.

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