This morning’s rebuttal by Kevin Drum against Matt Taibbi’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders strikes a familiar note. A lot of the commentary on the Democratic contest has taken the form of policy differences between the two candidates don’t matter because nothing much can be enacted because of the Republicans/public opinion/supreme court/zeitgeist/etc. This is a politics that takes futility for granted.
Here are some phrases excerpted from Drum:
“But anyone who thinks Bernie could make a dent in this is dreaming.”
“....neither Hillary nor Bernie would be able to do much about it.”
“....neither one will accomplish much....”
“....there's virtually no chance of making progress on this....”
“....if you're disappointed by Obama, who's accomplished more than any Democratic president in decades, just wait until Bernie wins. By the end of four years, you'll be practically suicidal.”
The error in this way of thinking is that it’s all static, no dynamic. It’s a judgment of what is feasible under current political conditions. It assumes away even the possibility of changing those conditions. If you think about the Reagan presidency’s long run effect on America, for instance, how much of it was about specific policy victories versus the shift in agenda and discourse that has been with us ever since?
What rankles a lot of us about Obama is not that he compromised, but that he pre-compromised by watering down his proposals before they were challenged, compromised down from that, and then acted and spoke as if none of this had been a compromise at all—as if his deepest desire was to leave the political context as unruffled as possible. A lot of Bernie’s appeal is that he promises to do the opposite.