Sunday, April 23, 2017

We Need Social Democracy, not Sanders Worship

I'll take Bayard Rustin over Bernie Sanders any day of the week

There's been a lot of discussion this week about Bernie Sanders campaigning for a Democratic candidate for mayor of Omaha who's sponsored mandatory ultrasound bills and other anti-choice measures associated with the most repressive conservatives. (This is different than maintaining a moral opposition to abortion a la Tim Kaine. If you think otherwise you are blinded by your adulation.)

I find this to be the most recent iteration of a deep problem I have with a lot of people on the left side of the spectrum who support Sanders. They are willing to compromise on or ignore the issues that matter very specifically to women and people of color. (Sanders is also soft on gun control, which is another issue.)  It is the same problem many self-described socialists I know have, whereby they think that if social class is addressed all other inequalities will somehow melt away. It is a narrow and dangerous way of thinking, and it is in fact quite insulting to the people whose grievances are going unheard.

I keep hearing people talk about the Democratic primaries last year as if the party apparatus itself stopped Sanders.


He lost primary votes because he failed to appeal to the specific concerns of many voters due to the narrowness of his message. Most obviously, he failed to get the support of African Americans, who are one of the absolute pillars of the Democratic Party and its most loyal constituents. Those voters clearly perceived Sanders' inability to see their specific concerns as separate from his general bromides about the 1%. While he made efforts to correct this, it was too little too late. His recent support for Mello in Omaha and his assertion that Trump voters "aren't racist" pretty much shows that he is still trapped in a vision of social democracy that is race and gender blind.

We deserve better than this. As loyal readers may note, I have written for both Jacobin and Liberal Currents. I do not see a contradiction, because I define myself as a social democrat, and that is an identity in this country that straddles the line between liberalism and the Left. It's also one that leaves me feeling like a man without a political country. Sanders' message is inherently social democratic, but the cult of personality around him has sucked the life out of any true social democratic movement. Instead, so many people are hung up on supporting Sanders, rather than leading a movement of their own.

That must change, because Sanders' vision of social democracy is wrong and outdated. I want a social democracy rooted in an uncompromising commitment to the rights and dignity of all people. That means treating issues around race, gender, and sexuality with as much seriousness as economic ones, or, for that matter, not treating them as if they are separate, rather than intertwined. (I am not going to say "intersectional" because I want a mass movement on the left that does not resort to grad student jargon.) I appreciate that Sanders has helped popularize a more social democratic politics, but it is time for others to step up and for him to take a step back. If not the current flowering of social democracy in this country will wither and die.

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