So, over at Mano’s house there’s a thread that baffles me and makes me sad. The post itself details dynamics largely within the Democratic party (Sanders being the notable exception, we’ll get to that) and praises progressives at the expense of neoliberals.
The comments, however, take a very weird turn. Mano had made a simple (and common) error in the main post:
The progressive wing of the Democratic party, represented by people like Bernie Sanders
It’s not much of an error, but Bernie is apparently as of this moment an independent, not a registered Democrat. It would be more of an error if Mano had come right out and asserted Sanders’ registration, but instead he only asserted that Sanders “represented” progressive democrats. It is possible to represent a group to which you don’t actually belong, of course. So it’s a relatively small thing. But it was enough for Tabby Lavalamp to snark in the first comment:
Oh, that’s right. It’s primary season and he wants to be president so he’s a Democrat again.
Consciousness Razor responds, defending Sanders from Tabby Lavalamp’s brief statement largely through questions rather than rebutting what Tabby has said (since it can’t be rebutted that Sanders has changed his registration). So Tabby adds a few things, including:
I’m Canadian so I don’t have a horse in this race. But you’re mistaken if you don’t think there are Democratic voters who are also annoyed by this.
Well, I too follow the election from Canada, but having US citizenship I do have a horse in this race. I’m not registered as a Democrat and thus, importantly, don’t have a horse (or a vote) in the primary race, but I do have a stake and a vote in the general election after the nominations are decided. And I am annoyed by this. Since I’ve never once in my life had to decide to vote, or not, for Sanders, I don’t know a whole lot about him. I think I can say that this registration-switching thing is the only thing about him that I both know for sure and don’t like. But since the thread wasn’t a general let’s list all the pros and cons about Bernie thread, I spoke up merely to echo that part of Tabby’s statement (to the extent that a non-Democrat could):
Me, I like that he was independent. I don’t want the Democratic brand name forced on anyone. So why is Sanders pushing the Democratic brand name? No one forced him to leave behind his independent registration for the democratic party when he ran for the nomination 4 years ago, and no one is forcing him to leave behind his independent registration now.
All of this is, of course, indisputably true. There are political dynamics which make it vastly more likely for Sanders to win the presidency if he first runs for the Democratic nomination, but no one is forcing him. I went on:
What worries me is the inherent dishonesty of registering as an independent right up until the moment you want the power of the democratic party apparatus behind you. He’s run — successfully! — as an independent for Senator. He’s rejected the democratic party in hugely high-profile ways for decades. But when he wants more power, he slinks over to the democrats for their endorsement, nomination, and especially their money.
I later clarified this a bit, but ultimately I think it stands fairly well on its own as an explanation of why Sanders registration switching bothers me – and remember, this comes from someone who doesn’t like the Democratic national party and isn’t registered with them.
If you’re a democrat because you actually believe in the democratic party, there are problems with that. But if you’re a democrat only for a few months every four years because you want power and money more than you want to stick to your principles, there are also problems with that! … but the fact that [Sanders is] only a democrat when he wants money and power is of great concern to me.
There is apparently some confusion introduced later by some who think I’m saying he wants money for his personal bank account. This isn’t true – though my wording leaves open that interpretation. For clarity, I’m saying he wants the campaign cash from Democrats to be spent on ads and efforts that benefit his run.
This comment of mine is decidedly unflattering to Sanders, but I didn’t bring up the topic of conversation. I only said that, yes, this particular aspect of Sanders political career bothers me. And nothing in what I said is actually untrue or wrong. And that’s why the response was so baffling.
CR actually has a good point in the first response:
I know you understand why victim-blaming is problematic. Is Sanders responsible for the system we’re stuck with in the current political climate? No, he’s not.
And I didn’t respond at the time because this reasonable statement was overwhelmed with unreasonable ones. But it should be noted before we move on to the next comment, by Pierce R. Butler:
As if Sanders seeks the presidency only to become another palace-building tyrant, not to overthrow one. Do you expect him to follow the paths of Mobutu and Pol Pot and the Ceaușescus and Ríos_Montt and Stalin and Mao?
Now, I don’t know who Ríos_Montt is, but I know the rest of the names and can parse “palace building tyrant” just fine. But the entire tone is ridiculous and over the top. I said i don’t like something about Sanders. Did I say or remotely imply that I thought he was a tyrant? Of course not. This is the first indication that Sanders defenders are going to overreact, and quite badly. PRR continues:
If you disagree with particulars of Sanders’s agenda, pls specify. If you disbelieve him, disprove his claims.
And that right there stopped me cold. Imagine:
Random Person 1: I don’t like Bernie Sanders’ tie.
Me: Oh, hey, yeah. I didn’t like that tie either.
Bernie Defender: Oh yeah?? Why don’t you say exactly what you dislike about his health care policy.
Me: I said I didn’t like his tie. I didn’t say I don’t like his health care policy.
Bernie Defender: Well, if you don’t believe him, disprove him!
Me: I said I didn’t like his tie.
I didn’t say Sanders was evil in my comment. I said one thing concerns me. That one thing didn’t happen to be any of “the particulars of Sanders agenda”, and so PRR’s comment is a non-sequitur. It doesn’t address what I’ve said or acknowledge that it’s possible for someone to honestly dislike this one thing about Sanders’ political career. PRR adds:
His agenda in fact demands a takeover of the Democratic Party®. He seems to have better footing to do so than that of any of the “reform-it-from-inside” candidates
Which may in fact be true. That doesn’t mean I have to like switching party registration back and forth. I’d prefer that he either maintain a Democratic registration while executing that takeover or maintain an independent registration while executing that takeover. And while it’s theoretically possible that it might be strategically advantageous to switch back and forth in service of a good cause, that doesn’t mean that I think the registration-switching itself is a good thing or inspires confidence.
Rather, in the specific context where he only becomes a democrat when he wants their campaign cash, it weakens my confidence. Really, the argument is much like the argument about the reliability of any politician whose financial viability for campaigning relies too much on a single source. If he puts himself in debt to the Democratic party, then they have leverage over him. How much? I don’t really know. That’s not an easy mathematical calculation. I would imagine it’s somewhere between minuscule and moderate, but the worry comes not from quantifying the leverage at a high value, but rather from not being able to quantify it.
Holms jumps in to say that running as an independent
is all well and good for a Senate race, but is literally a campaign death sentence in a presidential. Where is the dishonesty?
But this confuses two concepts: campaign viability and honesty. It might be a campaign death sentence to be honest, but does that mean that dishonesty is now suddenly honesty because of political science? Of course not. Moreover, I’ve been clear that it’s switching back and forth only for the primaries which bothers me. If Sanders had switched once, in 2015 or 2016, when he realized that he had a chance to make a run for the presidency and do some good, then stayed a Democrat, I wouldn’t have my concern at all, and I certainly wouldn’t be making the argument I’m making.
Holms explicitly and Sanders implicitly are arguing that it is necessary to use the Democratic party to make a better country. That’s fine. With all its flaws, Holms and Sanders feel joining the Dems is a reasonable option. But if that’s the judgement, why not stay with the Dems? And if they’re so bad that you have to flee from your temporary membership by re-registering independent, why is it that you want their obviously corrupted cash in your next campaign?
CR answers Holms question, “Where is the dishonesty” by locating the dishonesty within me:
The dishonesty is where the Democratic party establishment is not obsessed with money and power, but Sanders is. Obviously.
Pfft. Where did I claim that the Dem establishment wasn’t obsessed with money and power? I’ve already said in this very thread that I dislike the Ds and won’t register with them. This isn’t necessarily dishonest on CR’s part, but if it’s not then CR clearly isn’t reading what I’m actually writing…
… and that’s actually my main problem with the Sanders supporters’ comments. They don’t seem to be replying to me at all. In addition to PRR’s weird statement suggesting that in order to defend my statement that I don’t like repeated party-switching I have to cite differences in political agenda, there’s no acknowledgement at all that I said that loyalty to the Democratic party is itself a source of distrust to me. Remember?
If you’re a democrat because you actually believe in the democratic party, there are problems with that.
Needless to say, I’ve been perfectly honest that I have one concern with Sanders and what that concern is, so it struck me as rather significant that CR would imply that I’m dishonestly implying that the D establishment isn’t interested in money or power – something that I’d clearly never asserted. My comment at #14 is largely redundant in this post given the way I’ve woven responses in between my quotes of the Bernie supporters, but it’s relevant that I did say in that comment:
when arguments are made that he’s been consistent in his politics for X years I have to wonder just how much he’d be willing to give up were he to be elected. He regularly gives up his opposition to the Dem party every 4 years. …
Personally I think he would be more independent and left-wing than most other dems we might elect, but I don’t buy the argument that he’s a sure bet, that there’s no risk, that his willingness to shuttle back and forth to the party registration of convenience says absolutely nothing about his willingness to compromise with the powerful status quo.
Holms #15 merely repeats the argument Holms had previously made, that doing what it takes to win absolves concerns with integrity:
What then is untrustworthy or worrying about registering as D for presidential elections when this is literally the only way he could possibly have a shot at winning?
[emphasis in the original]
CR chimes in again to make the previous intimations that I, personally, am being dishonest into explicit accusations:
I don’t see anything worrying. I’d like to believe you’re being honest and fair-minded, but I strongly doubt it, unfortunately.
This was very weird to me. Why would I lie about having a concern? Why would I lie about what that concern is? I’ve made it very clear that it’s not some outsized, Sanders-as-tyrant concern. I’ve made it very clear that I have parallel concerns with other candidates for different reasons that are nonetheless relevant to this conversation (e.g. being “loyal” to the party when the party has terrible leadership). What could I possibly be dishonest about?
Apparently it’s my statement earlier in comment #7 that
[Sanders has] rejected the democratic party in hugely high-profile ways for decades. But when he wants more power, he slinks over to the democrats for their endorsement, nomination, and especially their money.
CR provided information after I made that statement that Sanders had previously run for the Democratic nomination for senator in Vermont before running as an independent in the general. Here’s CR’s #17, quoting wikipedia then continuing on in CR’s own words:
Sanders represented Vermont’s at-large House district as an independent, won the Democratic primary and then dropped out to run as an independent. Many Democratic politicians across the country endorsed Sanders, and no Democrat was on the ballot. The state committee of the Vermont Democratic Party voted unanimously to endorse Sanders.
A couple of things to note:
1) He was replacing another Independent Vermont Senator. This is apparently a feature of Vermont politics. Maybe they happen to like their “independent” politicians in Vermont. Nothing wrong with that, and there’s no need for that to be true of the country as a whole.
2) He was backed by Democrats in this race, locally and nationally.
CR is apparently confused about the chronological order of these statements, thinking that I knew the information about Vermont senate races when I wrote that, even though CR provided the information later. To that end, CR asks,
Do you think [what you wrote in #7] is consistent with the facts I mentioned in #17?
I could note that I was talking about the presidential election, but I won’t even try. His history in Vermont does place his presidential race choices in a different context than I had thought, but remember the context isn’t that CR is arguing that I was wrong about some specific thing. It’s that I was lying about some specific thing. Providing evidence that I was given information in 2019 is no proof that I was being deliberately dishonest when I failed to reference that information while talking about the subject in 2009.
Really, the whole thread is full of these things, where people seem to entirely lose track of what they’re saying. Holms labels me “pissy” (apparently labeling me “shrill” would be too obvious) for objecting to the non-sequitur of demanding disagreements on points of Sanders’ political agenda without ever noting that my concerns had nothing to do with any disagreements on points of Sanders’ political agenda. CR thinks that a mismatch between what I said in #7 and information provided in #17 is some kind of gotcha. PRR tells me,
We don’t get to get politicians who never have to compromise. You continue to assert an implied premise that Sanders seeks power for his own aggrandizement and profit, rather than for the agenda he has explicitly pursued for all his adult life: citation desperately needed.
I mean, wow. So much wrong! By fucking definition* going from senator to president is an aggrandizement and the bit about “profit” is not at all synonymous with seeking campaign cash, which was always my statement and is indisputably true. But that first point, “we don’t get to get politicians who never have to compromise” is also bizarre, since I’d said several times in the conversation that other candidates also have problems. I’ve not been comparing Sanders to some other candidate. I’ve been comparing Sanders to a hypothetical Sanders who stuck with one political registration either for an entire career or, just as reasonably, stuck with one registration up until deciding to run for president and then changed once. I’ve certainly never asserted that no other candidates would compromise.
More than anything, I’m extremely disappointed because these people who probably know some good things about Sanders didn’t bother to provide any. The arguments were bizarre, were non-sequiturs, and were hostile to me personally for suggesting that compromising for campaign cash has unknown but non-positive implications for how a candidate will respond to the pressures of holding office.
If we can’t agree that money corrupts US politics and the things that candidates do to get that money – yes, including manipulating the political party system – are a reasonable basis for worry, then we are much farther apart than I ever imagined.
*aggrandizement, n. an increase in the power or importance of a person or country