The relatively rapid rise of Bernie Sanders has mystified political pundits in the United States, who were completely caught off guard by how quickly he gained in popularity to the point now where is a challenge for Hillary Clinton. Sanders, despite the fact that he has had limited coverage in the mainstream American media and what limited coverage there has been of him has often been very negative, has managed to rise extremely quickly.
Ordinary political pundits are left to denounce Sanders as a person that has been completely wrong. They have portrayed Sanders as being totally unelectable due to his low appeal to certain groups, most notably minorities, or the general public, comparing him to the failed McGovern election in 1972. Other factions, such as older feminists appear to have become angry at the younger generation, particularly younger women for not being more pro-Clinton.
Could the pundits be completely wrong about Sanders and his appeal to minorities?
At time of this writing, one week ago, Clinton was completely decimated in the New Hampshire primary. She lost by 22.4% (Sanders won 60.4% and Clinton just 38%). That is a major victory by Sanders no matter how anyone slices it.
When I look at which economists I take seriously, I look at the people who were right in the past. Certainly, past performance is no assurance of future performance, but would you rather support someone who was completely wrong about the past or someone who was completely right? One good test is to see back in 2007 and before, did the economists point out the full extent of the housing bubble in the United States? Likewise, did they pinpoint the correct causes of the 2008 Financial Crisis? Those are the economists that we should be looking most closely at. Amongst the economists I pay the most attention to, Dean Baker has stood out to me, as he has been right on far more issues than wrong.
Another example might be the Iraqi invasion back in 2003. Paul Wolfowitz once said that “we would be greeted as liberators”. The ridiculousness of the Bush administration’s statements becomes apparent with the rise of Iraqi insurgency in the aftermath of the ill-advised invasion of Iraq and ultimately, the rise of ISIS. As terrible and evil as a man like Saddam Hussein was, destroying him inevitably paved the way for something far more radical and dangerous, particularly combined with the mismanagement of the rebuilding of Iraq. I am simplifying a very complex issue, the ethnic tensions, and the rich history of the area, but the point is, those who advocated for the war were totally dis-proven by the aftermath. As far as their credibility on foreign policy goes, the neoconservatives along with other pro-war advocates should be totally discredited. The only other thing I will note is that Clinton supported the war in Iraq and continues to defend her decision.
The writer, Thomas Frank has an excellent article about this – Too Smart to Fail. Frank writes:
The real mistake was my own. I believed that our public intelligentsia had succumbed to an amazing series of cognitive failures; that time after time they had gotten the facts wrong, ignored the clanging bullshit detector, made the sort of mistakes that would disqualify them from publishing in The Baffler, let alone the Washington Post.
What I didn’t understand was that these were moral failures, mistakes that were hardwired into the belief systems of the organizations and professions and social classes in question. As such they were mistakes that—from the point of view of those organizations or professions or classes—shed no discredit on the individual chowderheads who made them. Holding them accountable was out of the question, and it remains off the table today. These people ignored every flashing red signal, refused to listen to the whistleblowers, blew off the obvious screaming indicators that something was going wrong in the boardrooms of the nation, even talked us into an unnecessary war, for chrissake, and the bailout apparatus still stands ready should they fuck things up again.
Let’s go back in time to this current election. None of the mainstream pundits who said that Sanders would not win at least a few primaries needs to be taken seriously. So far, they have been consistently wrong about everything. In fact, you would be far better off predicting the exact opposite of what they say. The same thing could be said on the GOP side – it would appear that many pundits vastly underestimated how popular Donald Trump would get.
Most of those pundits should be totally discredited, after being wrong about everything. Frank sadly has an answer to that too:
But what happens when the experts are fools? What happens when their professions are corrupted, their jargon has become a shield against outside scrutiny, their process of peer review has been transformed into a device by which a professional faction can commandeer the discipline, excommunicate rivals, and give members of the “us” group endless pardons for their endless failures?
A second lesson: if economists—and journalists, and bankers, and bond analysts, and accountants—don’t pay some price for egregious and repeated misrepresentations of reality, then markets aren’t efficient after all. Either the gentlemen of the consensus must go, or their cherished hypothesis must be abandoned. The world isn’t gullible enough to believe both of them any longer.
There is no penalty for failing for the mainstream “experts”. Mike Lofgren has written in the past about a Deep State that is entrenched itself. We will not be seeing any mea culpas from the people who have been wrong about everything.
But at the very least, I hope that you, end reader, will aware of this. None of this means that Bernie Sanders will carry away the minorities that make up the Democratic base for sure, but it does mean that you should not take what the mainstream pundits say without considerable skepticism. It may be that Sanders, once more people are aware of him, will carry away the vote, the way that he has with white progressive Democratic voters.
Why I consider second generation feminists to be totally wrong about Sanders
To begin with, I am a big supporter of the ideals of feminism and gender equality (or the ideals that the feminist movement claims to uphold anyways – like every movement, I think that there is a difference between the ideals and the reality).
An unpleasant question
I have a question to the (mostly) older women who support Clinton. Imagine if this moment Sarah Palin won the Republican nomination. Now imagine if Bernie Sanders won the Democratic one. Would you support Sarah Palin over Bernie Sanders simply because she is a woman? I suspect that for many people, particularly Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright, the answer may very well be a firm yes.
The idea of someone like Palin winning is not as crazy as it sounds given the direction of the Republican Party, and the relative success that Trump (who Palin has endorsed) has enjoyed so far. I suspect that if someone like Trump does not win in 2016, then it is probable in 2020 or 2024. This will continue until the current generation that makes up the core of the GOP base begins to die off and a new generation takes over.
The same analogy can be applied to the Democratic Party. Based on her history, Clinton is far more likely to be like Margaret Thatcher (a figure whose policies most millennial women who Clinton is trying too woo would detest) than say, Eleanor Roosevelt. Most women want an Eleanor Roosevelt and will vote accordingly for one. Sanders has been, although not without his flaws, far more consistently progressive than Clinton.
Gender politics versus inequality
Ultimately, gender cannot be separate from race and class. Sanders was, to his credit, quite active in the US Civil Rights movement. Clinton, despite everything, has accepted huge contributions of cash from various sources that presents an inherent conflict of interest. Does she serve the public or her donors, along with her own ambitions? I think we know the answer. By contrast, Sanders has made inequality a centerpiece of everything that he hopes to address. When Clinton speaks, or tries to speak like a progressive, you can tell that there is a lack of authenticity in how she speaks. She does not mean it because she has accepted money from sources that will demand returns on their investment in her. She speaks because she can sense that the winds are moving to the political left, and because she is very power hungry, not because she wants to do good for the American people.
The reason why I cannot support second generation feminists on this is because I think that they have been blinded. In their desire to have a woman in power at all costs, they have blinded themselves to the very real differences between Clinton and Sanders. Clinton if elected will not be the great feminist that many second generation feminists hope for. There is no assurance that Clinton will pass the type of social policies found in say, a Nordic Social Democracy. Her voting history certainly doesn’t offer much confidence. For what it is worth, Sanders has drawn some light on this issue and has called the rising costs of childcare a disaster. I’d be far more willing to trust Sanders in terms of trying to pass affordable childcare, leveling the pay gaps, and addressing the other challenges that women face today because of the policies that he has stood for, both on his campaign and in his voting history.
Going back to the Palin analogy, let us use a second analogy. In many ways, I see second generation feminists kind of like Donald Trump supporters. It is a very fascinating example of political horseshoe theory. Trump, if elected does not have a miracle solution for the US economy. He is not nearly as successful as he claims to be, having inherited a lot of his wealth and having underperformed compared to an index Fund. He has also been bankrupt several times. Yet to his followers, he is this great man, that will “make America great again”, somehow. In many ways, he resembles Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, whose disastrous leadership helped worsen the challenges that Italy is facing. The ridiculousness of Trump’s other statements, such as building a wall along the US-Mexico border and forcing Mexico to pay for the construction costs is painfully obvious to the rest of us. Democrats might laugh (justifiably I might add) at the comical levels of gullibility in the Republican base, but there’s an inconvenient look in the mirror.
Clinton has not been the great progressive that she has tried to portray herself as to try to woo over Bernie Sanders supporters. To me, it is painfully obvious that Clinton will govern much like her husband, Obama, and other Establishment Democrats have. She will govern much like her voting history suggests. That is to say, they may differ in opinion on social issues with the Republican Party, but they will be alike when it comes to economical issues. She will also continue to enact policies oppose by the left wing base and will not fight the necessary fights in the US Congress to save the American middle class nor everyone else affected by the recession.
The divide between young women and older feminists
One of the things that has struck me in recently years is that fewer generation Y women view themselves as traditional feminists. That may be because of the economic and social challenges faced by our generation.
I find it incredibly condescending, as do many other people in Generation Y, that women like Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright are telling my Generation how to vote or that women are voting in this manner because they want to “be with the boys” (Steinem’s words) or that there is a ‘“a special place in hell” for women who do not ‘help’ other women (Albright’s words). Steinem was later forced to apologize for her remarks, as was Albright, but the damage was done. If Steinem and Albright’s version of feminism is in decline, perhaps it is because their toxic brand of it deserves to decline. Women should not be “told” what to do or to “toe the party line”, which seems to be what is happening. I appreciate what older feminists have done and acknowledge the obstacles that they once faced, but from here-on my respect for them has taken a permanent decline.
I am certain that their statements did not endear very many women of my generation to Clinton and may have contributed to her defeat in New Hampshire. It is not that young women do not want to someday vote for a female candidate, it is that that they do not see Clinton as the right candidate. More importantly, the older generation of feminists are attempting to falsely accuse young women of misogyny, while remaining willfully ignorant of Clinton’s other shortcomings as a candidate. I would argue that Clinton has been trying to lean on her gender as a shield, particularly when there is such a large inter-generational gap.
Insisting that gender is the sole issue also overlooks other serous questions, such as whether or not Clinton can even be trusted to keep her word compare to Bernie Sanders, or who is funding her campaign.
The defining question of this election, I think is corruption. Does government serve society or special interests? As the article I just linked notes, “It’s the corruption, stupid!”. Although I view Donald Trump to be a racist and a narcissists, he understands the challenges better than most other people. What is most alarming about Clinton’s actions is that she does not seem to think that what she did was morally wrong and that as a public servant, her job is to prioritize the needs of society over everything else.
We, Generation Y, are growing up in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression and possibly even worse (I do not believe the official employment statistics, as they do not account for underemployment and discouraged job seekers). That will be our defining challenge. Finding a well paying job is difficult and underemployment has become widespread. Many are heavily indebted due to the rising costs of education, while facing other rising living costs, along with much lower real wages than their parents did.
None of this was by chance. This was the result of the failed Establishment policies of the existing candidates. Generation Y is increasingly aware of this. Elsewhere, it has lead to other movements like the rise of Occupy Wall Street. Left unchecked, there will be more angry people who feel the economy is not working for them.
This should not however be something about generations. Everyone is suffering from the state of the economy. Senior citizens often cannot retire, and those looking for work suffer from the very real age discrimination that affects us today. Others are finding themselves falling between the cracks that they never felt that they should fall.
When people of all generations vote for Sanders, they are saying that they reject the policies that have been the status quo for generations. They are saying that the Establishment has failed the American people. It has failed to bring about the promised prosperity.
Some realistic expectations
Despite everything, I am aware that Sanders is still facing some very real challenges. The deck is still stacked against him. The Democratic Super Delegates have overwhelmingly pledged their support for Clinton and the media has been largely negative in how they have covered him, where they have covered him at all. It is still very much an uphill battle. There is still a very high probability that Clinton will win this – greater than 50% I would guess.
The other big consideration that has been left largely untouched is whether or not Clinton is electable. All too often, the attacks are on Sanders being more left-wing than most Americans, yet we do not hear any serious discussions about Clinton’s ability to win. She does not have her husband’s ability to warm people up, nor does she have any extremely passionate supporters (save perhaps older second generation feminists as previously noted). There is also the matter that if she does beat Sanders, she will have to contend with an angry and disenfranchised Generation Y base, along with much of Generation X. The article notes that Trump would have a field day with that. Given how badly so many pundits have underestimated Donald Trump, his odds are a lot better and he has ample ammunition with Clinton’s history.
Yet even if Sanders wins the Presidency, it will be a tough fight. Sanders will likely have to fight against the Republican Congress (unless he has a solid super-majority), which will block his every move. If he is to get anything done, he will need a solid majority of Democrats in the US Congress. He will also have to wage a war against many entrenched Establishment Democrats too. His capacity to pass the types of laws that I am sure he would like to pass are far more limited than I would like to admit. He has a difficult job ahead of him. I do not see him as flawless, and in many ways, I am sure he will let Progressives down.
I do not view this as a single election’s project, but a project to begin decades of Progressive policies and to change the fundamental political direction of the Western world. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Earlier I said that the economic issues were the toughest issues of our generation. Perhaps not. Global warming for one, threatens to unleash the worst mass extinction on earth, save may be the end-Permian mass extinction. Yet even there, I trust Sanders to try to solve the problem more than, say Clinton, who will likely do nothing more than continue the policies that Obama began.
In the end, the reason why I support Sanders is because at heart, I believe that he does have the best interests of society in mind when he runs. Clinton does not and serves nobody but her own political ambitions.