I was interested to read this article by Sydney Ember In the New York Times on “Bernie Sanders Predicted Revolution, Just Not This One“. It wasn’t a particularly good article but it had some interesting material in it on the views of left activists now that the Sanders campaign is over. it included this paragraph:
“Progressives at both the national and grass-roots level are still trying to push Mr. Biden to the left even as he has begun to adopt the language of systemic disruption. His willingness to satisfy their demands — on policing perhaps most urgently but also on issues like climate change and health care — could help determine whether he is successful in the general election.”
Of course, this has it exactly backwards. The extent to which Biden satisfies their demands could determine whether he fails this November, not whether he succeeds. There is absolutely no reason for him to adopt these groups’ demands, which are generally far less popular than the positions Biden has already adopted. He should remember to ask the question, paraphrasing a 20th century dictator’s query about the Pope, “How many armies do these groups have?” The answer is clear; he doesn’t need these groups, he needs the people he already has.
What is just as bad is that these groups are stepping on the chances for success of the very causes they espouse. Sheri Berman lucidly explains in this must-read article on Social Europe:
“Just as the Trump presidency has made crystal-clear the role played by the politically polarising, racially-inflammatory tendencies built into the Republican party since the era of Richard Nixon, the left needs to recognise that denigrating compromises and coalitions and shouting down opponents, rather than engaging with and trying to convince them, are incompatible with democracy.
We have seen these tendencies over the last days, as defences and rationalisations of rioting have abounded in sections of the left. And in a widely-reported scene in Minneapolis the mayor, Jacob Frey, a civil-rights lawyer, progressive and second-youngest mayor in the city’s history, gave an impassioned speech in favour of ‘deep seated, structural reform’—only to be surrounded by protesters telling him, inter alia, to ‘get the f*** out of here’, having refused to commit to fully defunding and abolishing the city’s police department.
The demand to ‘defund the police’, which has been central to the protests, is designed to mobilise the already committed and express anger, rather than attract a broad array of citizens to the cause. The goal, of course, is to create a new model of policing—less violent and aggressive, more deeply and organically embedded in communities, more integrally paired with expanded social-service organisations to deal with mental health and poverty-related issues with which cops are not trained to deal.
There is broad support for such reforms, yet if couched as ‘defunding’ or abolishing the police majorities are consistently opposed. If the goal is to win elections and institutionalise major structural reforms, emphasising confusing and confrontational slogans such as ‘defund the police’ is counter-productive. Unless, of course, the real goal is not to win elections and power but rather to ‘make a point’ or mobilise the already discontented—tendencies towards which parts of the left are all too prone and have left it consistently vulnerable to being overwhelmed by a more strategic and focused right.
Now is the time the American left has been waiting for. The protests over recent weeks have been a remarkable manifestation of the power of democracy—citizens from every state and every background have made their voices heard and forced American society to confront problems which it ignored for too long. The protests have also helped turn the tide against a president who represents the greatest threat to progress and democracy our country has experienced in modern times.
But to seize this opportunity the left needs to recognise that in a democracy there are only two ways of achieving your goals: you can compromise with those who disagree with your views or you can convince them that your views are correct. Illiberal behaviour, purity tests and name-calling are antithetical to both. The US is indeed at a critical juncture—the democratic left must recognise this and act accordingly.”
In short: don’t blow it.