Magical Realism, and other neoliberal delusions


At Vox, Dylan Matthews offers a sharp analysis of last night’s debate, which I didn’t watch or listen to. His verdict is that the three big losers of the night were Hillary Clinton, the New Democrats, and liberal technocrats. (The two winners were Bernie Sanders and Fight for $15 movement.) As Matthews writes:

But just going through the issues at tonight’s debate, it’s striking to imagine a DLCer from the ’90s watching and wondering what his party had come to. Sanders was asked not if he was sufficiently tough on crime, but if his plans to let millions of convicted criminals out of prison would actually free as many felons as promised. Clinton was criticized not for being insufficiently pro-Israel, but for being insufficiently willing to assail the killing of Palestinian civilians. Twenty years after Clinton named former Goldman Sachs chief Robert Rubin as his Treasury secretary, so much as consorting with Goldman Sachs had become toxic.

Though I’m obviously pleased if Sanders beat Clinton in the debate, it’s the other two victories that are most important to me. For those of us who are Sanders supporters, the issue has never really been Hillary Clinton but always the politics that she stands for. Even if Sanders ultimately loses the nomination, the fact that this may be the last one or two election cycles in which Clinton-style politics stands a chance: that for us is the real point of this whole thing.

I‘m always uncertain whether Clinton supporters have a comparable view. While there are some, like Jonathan Chait or Paul Starr, for whom that kind of politics is substantively attractive, and who will genuinely mourn its disappearance, most of Clinton’s supporters seem to be more in synch with Sanders’s politics. They say they like Bernie and agree with his politics; it’s just not realistic, they say, to think that the American electorate will support that.

Which makes these liberals’ attraction to Clinton all the more puzzling. If it’s all pure pragmatism for you—despite your personal support for Bernie’s positions, you think only her style of politics can win in the United States—what are you going to do, the next election cycle, when there’s no one, certainly no one of her talent or skills and level of organizational support, who’s able to articulate that kind of politics?


If she could turn back time:

Cher has been a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton during this presidential election year, but now she may be changing her mind.

The singer took to Twitter on Wednesday to talk about the internal conflict she feels over which Democratic candidate to support for the presidency. In the past, Cher has criticized Bernie Sanders and his campaign staff….

However, on Wednesday, Cher said that after blocking people on Twitter she started to “feel uneasy” and went into “marathon research mode” with an open mind. She said that “in the quiet of the night,” she discovered that Sanders’ beliefs “mirrored” her own more than she had realized. The singer said she was “shaken to [her] core” by this revelation.

Cher went on to talk about how much she liked and respected Clinton, whom she spent time with when Clinton was running for the Senate. Cher said that she hopes the woman she fought hard for is still there, but that now she’s faced with a difficult decision.

“Realize now that I have MUCH common ground and new respect for [Bernie Sanders],” said Cher, adding that she’s torn up.

And don’t you dare say anything against Cher. I won’t have it.


Until last night, I’d been seeing lots of Facebook posts and tweets from Clinton supporters citing Sanders’s appointment of Simone Zimmerman, who’s a critic of Israel, as his Jewish outreach coordinator, as an example of Sanders’s insufficient realism and political immaturity. Like the millennials he represents, goes the argument, Sanders is a starry-eyed dreamer who just doesn’t get it, who just doesn’t understand how the game is played.

Well, now we know that he does.

See how much skill, maturity, and sophistication it requires to fire someone just because she once called Netanyahu an asshole? See how quickly a candidate can get educated to do the kind of thuggish politics you Clinton folks think it takes years of experience and qualifications for a politician to learn? And doesn’t it just give you a Jean Arthur-like thrill to see the impractical idealist forced to play politics like the most practiced of pols? Aren’t you excited, gratified, that he’s shown you he’s got what it takes? I hope so.

I can be as Machiavellian or Weberian as the best of them. I just have this cockeyed optimist belief that if the ruthlessness you’re supposed to learn in politics really requires the kind of realism and skill and experience that people who pride themselves on their realism, skill, and experience think that it requires, then that ruthlessness should involve a slightly higher order of business than whether or not a campaign staffer once called a head of state an asshole.


The men and women who drive and maintain New York City’s subways and buses think it’s more important that Sanders supports them and other workers than that he imagines we still use tokens. They’re unrealistic.


By his own admission, President “I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars” made the same mistake in Libya that President “Mission Accomplished” made in Iraq. It’s almost as if that Best and the Brightest thing doesn’t always work out.

Obama’s admission that his failure to plan for a post-reconstruction Libya was his greatest mistake—and his concomitant refusal to say that the intervention was a mistake—makes me wonder how many times a government gets to make the same “mistake” before we get to say that the mistake is no mistake but how the policy works.

I mean when you have a former University of Chicago Law School professor/former Harvard Law Review editor doing the exact same thing that his alleged ignoramus of a predecessor did in Iraq, when you see that the failure to plan for a post-intervention reconstruction is not a contingency but a bipartisan practice, don’t you start wondering about the ideology of intervention itself?

I wrote about a version of this question in a piece I did in the London Review of Books on the ideology of national security after the revelations of Abu Ghraib:

The 20th century, it’s said, taught us a simple lesson about politics: of all the motivations for political action, none is as lethal as ideology. The lust for money may be distasteful, the desire for power ignoble, but neither will drive its devotees to the criminal excess of an idea on the march. Whether the idea is the triumph of the working class or of a master race, ideology leads to the graveyard.

Although liberal-minded intellectuals have repeatedly mobilised some version of this argument against the isms of right and left, they have seldom mustered a comparable scepticism about that other idée fixe of the 20th century: national security. Some liberals will criticise this war, others that one, but no one has ever written a book entitled ‘The End of National Security’. This despite the millions killed in the name of security, and even though Stalin and Hitler claimed to be protecting their populations from mortal threats.

There are fewer than six degrees of separation between the idea of national security and the lurid crimes of Abu Ghraib. First, each of the reasons the Bush administration gave for going to war against Iraq – the threat of WMD, Saddam’s alleged links to al-Qaida, even the promotion of democracy in the Middle East – referred in some way to protecting America. Second, everyone agrees that getting good intelligence from Iraqi informers is a critical element in defeating the insurgency. Third, US military intelligence believes that sexual humiliation is an especially forceful instrument for extracting information from recalcitrant Muslim prisoners.

Many critics have protested against Abu Ghraib, but none has traced it back to the idea of national security. Perhaps they believe such an investigation is unnecessary. After all, many of them opposed the war on the grounds that US security was not threatened by Iraq. And some of national security’s most accomplished practitioners, such as Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, as well as theoreticians like Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer, even claimed that a genuine consideration of US interests militated against the war. The mere fact that some politicians misused or abused the principle of national security need not call that principle into question. But when an idea routinely accompanies, if not induces, atrocities – Abu Ghraib was certainly not the first instance of the United States committing or sponsoring torture in the name of security – second thoughts would seem to be in order. Unless, of course, defenders of the idea wish to join that company of ideologues they so roundly condemn, affirming their commitment to an ideal version of national security while disowning its ‘actually existing’ variant.


What was it Jonathan Chait said last month? “Reminder: liberalism is working.”

Thought of that reading this headline from last year.

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 12.45.02 PM





I’m always amused by the way that non-experts in the media and politics insist that on every issue, our presidential candidates should have the expertise of a university professor.

Any university professor will tell you that you can only have that kind of expertise in one, maybe two, areas.

In the wake of the controversy over Sanders’s interview with the Daily News, where ill-informed journalists made ill-informed judgments about Sanders’s lack of expertise, Charli Carpenter, a genuine academic expert on international relations, makes the necessary points:

Yes, he’s still vague on details. But if Sanders doesn’t know enough about foreign policy (yet) at least he’s willing to say so. Ultimately Sanders is taking most heat because he refused to bullshit his way through places where he felt out of his depth. But as a foreign policy expert, I was heartened by his willingness to say, ‘I haven’t thought enough about that yet,’ and his comfort in acknowledging and correcting mistakes of fact or semantics. I see this as a strength, not a weakness – in my students, in my colleagues, in people generally and certainly in a Presidential candidate. The world is a complex place and none of us are or can be experts on everything. Indeed, as someone who lived under the rule of George W. Bush – a President who also knew precious little about the world but acted as if he didn’t need guidance from experts – this foreign policy ‘pro’ finds the humility of Sanders’ stance, coupled with the sensibility and morality of his vision, not a little reassuring.


I’m seeing a lot of folks posting this piece, attributing the election victory of a right-wing Republican judge in Wisconsin to the failure of Bernie supporters in Wisconsin to vote in that down-ballot election or to vote the right way, and more generally going after Bernie for not doing enough for down-ballot Democratic candidates. (And there have been many other pieces like that in Mother Jones and elsewhere.)

I find this a peculiar line of attack, particularly for people who say that it’s what leading them not to support Sanders and to vote for Clinton instead.

Many of these folks voted twice for Obama, and would vote for him again, despite the fact that he presided over the greatest loss of down-ballot seats of any two-term president since Truman. Under Obama, Democrats lost 11 governorships, 13 Senate seats, 69 House seats, and 913 state legislative seats and 30 state legislative chambers. According to various analysts, that’s about twice the average of postwar presidents. Yet somehow we live with it. But Bernie’s failure to get a judge elected in Wisconsin? That’s crossing a line.

Oh, and by the way, in 2008, there was another election of a Republican State Supreme Court judge in Wisconsin in tandem with the state primary. The Democratic incumbent lost that judicial election—despite the victory in that primary a certain Senator by the name of Barack Obama.

I don’t mind good solid critiques of Bernie, but I find these kinds of concerns to be little more than a performance of hard-headed civic realism, replete with that usual combination of requisite journo-speak (“down ballot”) and faux wonkery.


Dateline for this headline: August 11, 2015.

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 3.34.11 PM






Fathers and Sons…

Arthur Goldhammer is one of the most brilliant and acclaimed translators of our time. He’s also firmly in Clinton’s camp. Zack Goldhammer is a radio producer/ freelance writer and Art’s son. He’s also firmly in Bernie’s camp. They disagree, and argued it out here.

Their exchange brings out the generational divide so clearly, between the Boomers who, in this case, voted for Eldridge Cleaver as a write-in candidate in 1968—and as I’ve argued before, have been repenting for their sins ever since—and the millennials who, well, have other memories and experiences.

What I particularly like about Zack’s response is this:

For me, this distinction between incremental versus revolutionary change is a false dualism.

Nothing sets my teeth on edge more than these earnest droning lectures we get—not from Art, whose earnest droning lectures I love (seriously, he’s a good guy)—about the need for realism and moderation against our youthful penchant for revolution and idealism.

In part because at the age of 48, this is hardly my first time at the rodeo. (Nothing like being lectured to by journalists who are half my age about the need to grow up.)

But more important because the distinction is itself so surreal, so much the idée fixe of the Luftmensch, so much an artifact of academic seminars and common room debates. When I hear these lectures, I don’t hear someone who’s had real political experience, someone who’s been around the block; I hear someone who’s a college freshman and has just read this really exciting text—it could be Reinhold Niebuhr, Czesław Miłosz, or the latest squib in Vox—and decided, maybe after a bad encounter with an annoying campus activist, that he’s discovered the secret of the universe.

And who then slips into a lifetime of enchantment, periodically emitting, in an incantatory mode, words like “moderate” or “slow” or “nuance” or “subtle.”

Now that’s what I call Magical Realism.


  1. Roquentin April 15, 2016 at 1:50 pm | #

    Re: #1 I would make the case that those who are backing Clinton but give lip service to Sanders ideas while calling them “unrealistic” or some other such canard don’t really want them to happen at all. It’s like when you ask your friend if he or she wants to get a drink at the local bar and the response is “Yeah, I really want to, but I have clean out the tub.” They don’t want to at all, and any excuse no matter how fabricated or flimsy is good enough. What they’d really hate is of there to be no plausible excuse. Then they’d have to admit what everyone knows. They never supported any of this in the first place.

  2. Daniel Mandell April 15, 2016 at 2:15 pm | #

    Re: #2, the Sander campaign blundered by appointing Zimmerman as “Jewish outreach coordinator” because her experience (somewhat limited), public positions, and rhetoric clearly placed her towards one end of the spectrum of the American Jewish community. It simply doesn’t make sense to get someone to reach out to a community if they’ve already placed themselves outside its majority.

  3. Will G-R April 15, 2016 at 2:19 pm | #

    When I hear these lectures, I don’t hear someone who’s had real political experience, someone who’s been around the block; I hear someone who’s a college freshman and has just read this really exciting text—it could be Reinhold Niebuhr, Czesław Miłosz, or the latest squib in Vox—and decided, maybe after a bad encounter with an annoying campus activist, that he’s discovered the secret of the universe.

    It’s honestly amazing how reflexive and monotonous this worldview is, and that its most successful target audience is precisely the people whose chief claim to ideological legitimacy is their alleged intellectual tolerance and open-mindedness. If the proscribed path for a generic middle-class liberal yuppie is a spurt of immature radicalism in college followed by sudden disenchantment and creeping moderation as one enters the “real world” and grows old, that’s not a path of gradually flowering intellectual development; it’s a path of intellectual development systematically nipped in the bud, tossed on the ground, and left to decay.

    Also re: point 6, I still can’t get over the way Chait in recent months has repeatedly pulled down his liberal pants to reveal his McCarthyist underwear and gratuitously pissed on everybody to his left where one might expect some sort of genuine engagement with political philosophy. If you want some supporting examples for all of that techno-utopian ideological stuff about the Internet spreading free exchange of ideas and overcoming audience atomization and whatnot, it’s embodied pretty well in how riled up someone like Chait can get that a reader of his screeds has the option of typing “” instead of just taking his word for it.

    • YourPalGarrett April 17, 2016 at 2:54 pm | #

      I’ve always thought that perspective was not about maturity, which is what its advocates would like to believe, but rather about resignation. It’s really difficult for me to respect a person who ardently defends something so insipid.

  4. jonnybutter April 15, 2016 at 3:22 pm | #

    If Netanyahu is not an asshole, no one is! Of course he’s so much more than that.

  5. Kallan Greybe April 15, 2016 at 6:54 pm | #

    For those of us who are Sanders supporters, the issue has never really been Hillary Clinton but always the politics that she stands for. Even if Sanders ultimately loses the nomination, the fact that this may be the last one or two election cycles in which Clinton-style politics stands a chance: that for us is the real point of this whole thing.

    Without a shadow of a doubt this. Hell, as someone living in the UK, the only real reason I have any interest in Sanders’ campaign is that it so closely shadows Corbyn’s rise here in the UK. The change in the economic debate while still pretty slow (the BBC’s economics coverage remains appallingly right wing) is palpable and I can’t shake the feeling that we have actually reached an important turning point.

    That said there’s no escaping the fact that the realism trolls are really getting on my nerves, though Cher is an amusing ray of sunshine in that regard.

  6. Rob April 15, 2016 at 8:21 pm | #

    OK, I’m for Hillary but I like Bernie’s positions (generally). I don’t see this as a matter of ideology, or even “revolutionism vs. incrementalism” or some such. Frankly, I think that debate is stupid. From what I can judge given the choice I have, Clinton would be a better president. Who really knows? Bernie could turn out to Lincoln, FDR, and Eleanor Roosevelt all rolled into one. There are certainly I things I like about Hillary, but she seems pretty ham fisted to me. My “ideology” is to take the safer bet, given the world I would like to live in. Why bet on Bernie? What’s his big distinction after 20 years in congress? According to Barney Frank he didn’t do anything to move the ball down the field in terms of financial reform. Oh yeah, I know Dodd-Frank sucks; still we’re better off with it than without it. Bernie didn’t want to get dirty with legislative compromise or something. Has a nice seat on the side lines, etc. So he remains a virgin-pure revolutionary. And when he is in the White House, his experience will certainly serve him well when his choices are: sucks, really really sucks, and total effing disaster. As far as I can tell, most of being president gets down to temperament in the face of repeated frustration (I mean if you’re a Democrat; Republicans not so much because they want government to fail). Clinton has at least been through the mill and at knows what’s going to come her way in office.
    The main point to me is that there has been progress under Obama and there’s a broad move to the left. But that’s not locked in by any means. Reactionary America will not stop in its efforts to drive us back to some fascist version of the middle ages. Yeah, I get it, single payor is better than Obamacare. But Obamacare counts as big step forward (B.F.D.). I know that sounds like “incrementalism,” I don’t care, I want Obamacare defended from the Republican congress. (oops, there I go again with that security ideology stuff.)

    Sorry for being such a hoser troll here, but lots of stuff on the line and Bernie (as much as I like him) doesn’t reassure me. Mileage may vary.

    • Dallas April 16, 2016 at 8:30 am | #

      I agree with this.
      And I would add about being a realist: your party needs to win if you want to implement anything like your policies. If Bernie can’t win a majority of the Democratic Party voters, why does that give me confidence that he can win the general? I’m glad Bernie’s in the race to help bring up issues that are important to the party, and if he doesn’t win then to get the nominee to make commitments. Getting the party to evolve and winning elections helps make change that helps people’s lives, whether that’s incremental or revolutionary.

      • Laura Rubalcaba April 16, 2016 at 12:43 pm | #

        There are actually two responses to this. Hillary Clinton loses in the general election because many Bernie supporters will not vote for her. Bernie doesn’t have this problem in the general, I don’t hear Clinton supporters saying they will not vote for Bernie. Most of them (like you) like Bernie’s position but just don’t think he’s realistic. That says to me they will vote for him.
        Secondly there’s the independent voters, many of whom are not allowed to participate and closed Democratic primaries. Those independent voters are actually larger than either the Democrats or the Republicans and are the deciding factor in general elections. Those voters prefer Sanders, and may not vote for Clinton at all.
        The enthusiasm for Bernie also has another advantage, that being the damn ticket races. The Democrats need a candidate who will bring people out to vote, Clinton will not do that and Bernie will. Please investigate my claims for yourself and make and informed decision. Neither of us want a republican in the White House.

    • Kallan Greybe April 16, 2016 at 11:08 am | #

      The problem really is ideological. We live in an age where neoliberalism exists as the background to pretty much all political debate: for example the degree to which you think the deficit is something worth worrying about is exactly the degree to which you assume that private industry generates wealth and public services do not. The fact that there isn’t an economic metric which distinguishes between public goods and private goods, they’re all just wealth, doesn’t even get looked at and this is entirely because neoliberalism is always assumed, never argued for.

      Some of us happen to be tired of the fact that highly political claims about the nature of wealth are treated as unobjectionable and that’s what Sanders (and Jeremy Corbyn) represents, a way to challenge this intellectual status quo.

      • Rob April 16, 2016 at 1:41 pm | #

        OK, there is an ideological problem, and Bernie’s good at ideology. But winning an ideological battle and losing the political one doesn’t get you far. The battle I’m keeping in mind is not the general election — it’s the presidential term. Obamacare is the strongest counter to neo-liberalism, even though it’s politically centrist. It’s important because it puts the lie to a main underlying contention of conservatism and neo-liberalism — that government is necessarily less effective at achieving common good. Obamacare is now a fact on the ground that is a direct threat to years conservative ideological dominance. I’m sure it sounds excessively cautious to say this, but now is not the time to screw up the achievements of Obama’s presidency. To put things differently, if we want ideological change, we need to show that our kung fu is better than theirs. There is a vast right wing conspiracy (albeit in broad daylight now) that still wants to gut social security. There is a natural advantage to the conservative agenda — tearing down is easier than building. So, yes, I’m a pragmatic, cautious incrementalist — though that’s not ideological on my part. I just assess it as the best way forward. I’m still glad Bernie’s in the race but I’m gonna for Hillary on Tuesday. I don’t find that contradictory or puzzling.

    • Roqeuntin April 16, 2016 at 8:57 pm | #

      See my post above about being desperate for any plausible excuse so as to feign opposing the current political/economic system while 100% supporting it. What do you really think Hillary “getting things done” means? Gutting Social Security through a “Grand Bargain? (something Obama was angling for, I might add), starting more wars where the plan stops 5 minutes after the leader is taken out? The TPP (which Hillary fully supported until after it failed in congress, then she pretended she hadn’t)? What kind of “realism” is it that considers things like this “progress” or “moving things to the left.”

      • Kallan Greybe April 17, 2016 at 5:57 am | #

        I can only say that we in the UK provide an object lesson for how “realism” doesn’t work.

        Turn of the crisis Labour was in charge and managed to actually make a pretty strong showing of starting to kick off the recovery; the start of the Great Recession was comparatively mild here because Government was prepared to be pretty robust in its response. Going into the 2010 general election though, the Conservatives took a deeply neoliberal line, the problem was government spending, and the right-leaning public consensus on the economy means they were able to fatally erode Labour’s support pretty much solely on questions of the economy.

        Fast forward five years to the next general election and what you’ve got is a leadership made of “first you’ve got to win elections” types who believe that this means being right wing on economic questions. We’ve had five years of stagnant growth where every single one of Labour’s economic prescription at the last electoral cycle about spending have been adopted by the current Conservative government, who very quickly discovered that being fully neoliberal is incredibly painful and, surprise, completely guts economies.

        What’s the dominant polling consensus on Labour at this point? “I like their social priorities, but I can’t trust them on the economy”.

        We’ve had electoralism here across the pond. It fails, and it fails spectacularly when it comes to this question. Despite every advantage, and despite getting a “We will never work with the Tories” party claiming pretty much the whole of Scotland, Labour lost the majority.

        Until this damaging narrative gets changed, Labour isn’t going anywhere near the government, and the one thing that has managed to change this perception in the broader narrative has been Corbyn’s election to the Labour leadership. We’re seeing this in the strong support Corbyn receives inside the party, the only people who don’t support him are the MPs in parliament, and last I checked improving poll numbers. Anecdotally I’m also seeing this in the fact that while we’ve still a way to go, the BBC’s economics department is a right wing embarrassment, a lot of the debate in the media really does seem to be more sympathetic to economic alternatives.

        So electoral realism shows me that in the UK, the electoral strategy that works, is to challenge the nonsense.

      • Rob April 17, 2016 at 11:27 am | #

        Hey, I gotta go clean the bathtub. But seriously, don’t know what you’re on about. Yeah, things could get better — Bernie wins and everybody gets a pony. Or, we all go to hell in a handbasket. I’m beginning to understand why Bernie Bros are annoying. Things can be worse too. I say I don’t have much confidence in Sanders because other than vague aspirations for a better world, I don’t see that much to him as a politician. Ergo, I secretly long for the neoliberal order. What???? Does he sweat the policy details? Not that I can see. Has he accomplished anything other than get elected to congress from a small northeastern state? What’s the best argument that he would be a good/successful president? Well…. Hillary sucks, that’s it. Here’s what’s annoying: the accusation that supposing Hillary would be a better president than Bernie is a) desperately dishonest trolling for the status quo; b) magical realism. I’ll have to conclude we see politics differently and probably live in separate universes. I think Bernie could get elected. That is in realm of reality. How about we discuss probability. Senators with little executive experience from Vermont don’t have great track records as president. So I will go with the devil I know. I understand that I am passing up “changing the narrative” and making some great ideological point about socialism or something. But I will leave the magical thinking to you.

        • Kallan Greybe April 17, 2016 at 11:42 am | #

          Seriously? Giving evidence for the failures of electoralism here in the UK, we had the major left wing opposition party try it for five years while in principle having every intellectual advantage (including having the right adopt their economic programme) and failing, is magical thinking? Worse, having the temerity to actually argue this warrants outright abuse?

          Yep, exactly the reason I despise realism trolls. Keep it classy Rob, you’re really selling it for your side.

          • Rob April 17, 2016 at 12:26 pm | #

            Kallan, I wasn’t responding to you. I was responding to Roquentin and his accusation about “being desperate for any plausible excuse so as to feign opposing the current political/economic system while 100% supporting it”. I’m not a realism troll — I would just like an argument for Bernie as president that isn’t argumentum ad hominem of the sort: “you’re only against Bernie because you’re some kind of magical realist.” Is there an affirmative argument for Bernie?

          • Kallan Greybe April 17, 2016 at 6:26 pm | #

            Of course you have a side. So do I. The biggest problem generally is precisely that some people on the right have managed to pretend that they don’t have a side, they’re “realists” or “centrists” or “moderates” of some kind. If I’m quite honest, the first step to really solving the problems our political debate has probably involves banning anyone ascribing any of those terms to themselves, because they’re either so mendacious, or so lacking in self-awareness that they don’t care that they’re spouting purest bull. But, when I’m dictator all sorts of things will be different.

            As for a positive argument in favour of Bernie, for one thing he’s actually managed to get the fact that some people have dressed up their ideology into the presidential primaries: do you honestly think Hillary would be publicly anywhere near as left leaning as she is without him? For another, it turns out that looking across the pond to the startlingly similar situation in the UK, the evidence is that challenging that ideological orthodoxy actually looks like a successful electoral strategy for the left, especially compared to the failures of supposedly populist “centre-left” electoralism, and this is despite absolutely epic amounts of vitriol being thrown by supposed left-wing commentators, the realist (or moderate, or centrist, or electoralist) trolls which somehow dominate the media discussion of these figures.

            In fact, I believe I’ve already told this to you, so I’m not sure what more it is you’re expecting when you ask “all I want is a positive reason to support Bernie”.

          • Rob April 17, 2016 at 12:31 pm | #

            And Kallan, I don’t have a “side.” I don’t understand arguments from “realism”, for “realism” or any of that. Now, how’s that for temerity.

          • Rob April 17, 2016 at 7:16 pm | #

            Responding to Kallan — I agree, Bernie has made Hillary much more responsive to the left. Good for him. That’s why I am glad he is running. The Hillary coronation scenario totally sucked. I’m glad she’s challenged. What I disagree with is the assertion that I can’t like Bernie but still vote for Hillary without being dishonest, or as you say mendacious. I don’t classify myself as “realist”, “centrist” or “moderate”. The question I ask myself is: who would be a better president? You say Bernie’s “actually managed to get the fact that some people have dressed up their ideology into the presidential primaries..”. That is a very good reason for him to be a candidate. The conundrum is that I want him to be a candidate, but I’m really not sure about him being president. I agree with what you say about challenging ideological orthodoxy. There is challenging ideological orthodoxy and there is running the country. Professor Robin and others can’t wrap their heads around liking Bernie but voting for Hillary. I can’t wrap my head voting for someone who I don’t think would make the better president. I gave my reasons for thinking he wouldn’t be. Not about the election (he could win the general) — about governance.

            I grant that there are trolls of the concern variety out there that wrap themselves in “realism.” That’s where I don’t have a side (don’t even know how to discuss it) — yes I think Hillary would make a better president; I could be wrong. Now maybe I’m lying right now — to myself and the world — and I really am a neoliberal. I gave my arguments for Hillary as clearly as I could, not because I wished to bring anybody to my “side”, but merely to show that that my preference did have some reasons behind it. Sorry I sound so abusive and all. But geez, as I said, I think the most important characteristic of a president (of the US; prime ministers in England may be different) is temperament. I have tried also to be clear about what I see is at stake. Obamacare is imperfect, as is Dodd-Frank. But they are actually big steps forward. There is nothing in Bernie’s campaign about the details of improving on them. Good on broad ideology, but not a policy wonk. I think that is true, as in reality. So do you accuse me of some of false “realism” here? I honestly don’t understand that discussion. What are we supposed to make decisions on?

          • Kallan Greybe April 18, 2016 at 2:22 am | #

            I’ve always found the conceits of presidential elections a bit weird. The idea that this one person is supposedly so important stretches belief. The fact is that presidents, and politicians of all stripes, exist inside a system which all together makes up the political landscape. I can only say this feels like it’s due to the conceit that only the really big things matter, which is sad, because local politics probably has a bigger effect on your life. At the very least we should remember that the big stuff only works with a background of little stuff. To that regard, that’s why Prof. Robin mentioned the foreign policy expert who likes the fact that Sanders is happy to admit he doesn’t know everything and is therefore willing to actually use the advice of people who know better. I’d have to say, being smart enough to look for and recognise good advice sounds pretty presidential to me.

            And then there’s the fact that we have a word for when someone sees a nonsense status quo and does something to change it.

            It’s called leadership.

            That sounds like a pretty important word to me don’t you think?

  7. jonnybutter April 16, 2016 at 11:27 am | #

    I was assuming Dallas was not in the US and didn’t know how American elections work nor reads American political news, because it’s fairly common knowledge that Sanders consistently does better in national polling against every Republican than does Clinton, particularly among the non-party-affiliated voters (called ‘independents’) who hold the key to national elections here.

    Then I saw that he is indeed not only in the US, but is an academic! Wow.

    • Dallas April 18, 2016 at 1:16 am | #
      If you’re making the argument that Hillary loses the general, I find that to be disconnected from reality.
      Also, if Bernie wins the nomination, I will vote for him for president. If Hillary wins the nomination, I will vote for her for president. What I do not understand is someone who thinks that Bernie being president will be a great improvement in the United States but who thinks that if he is not the nominee that the US is better off with whatever sociopath the GOP nominates as president instead of Hillary. The mechanisms that have been offered for how a GOP presidency leads in the immediate, near, or even longish future to better lives for people are truly magical thinking.

      • jonnybutter April 18, 2016 at 9:46 pm | #

        I’m not making the argument that HRC loses the general, although we don’t yet know who either Dem would be running against. HRC could lose to a relatively moderate Repub, like Kasich. Whatever her other qualities, she is a very poor candidate. Yes, she would beat Donald Trump – not a big endorsement of her political skills.

        It was *you* who was implying that *Sanders* would lose, that HRC is more ‘electable’. Care to make a coherent argument to back that up?

        BTW, it’s not news that most so called ‘independents’ usually lean one way or the other. But a.) this is not a normal election, to put it mildly, and b.) they are not nominal members of a party for a reason, no? Sanders does better than HRC with nominal independents. Nothing surprising about it. That’s why HRC will, and is already, tacking right. She needs actual Republican voters.

        • Dallas April 24, 2016 at 7:07 pm | #

          Elections are about getting your voters to the polls. Bernie has not yet shown that he can get more of his voters to the polls than Hillary, but yet I constantly hear that he’s more electable than Hillary because of polls, or independents, or whatever excuse happens to be the one for that week. Even though he can’t seem to get more pledged delegates than her. As a dry run for an election, it’s not giving me a lot of excitement.
          I like Bernie. He has gotten a lot of people excited. Those people need to be excited and stay engaged for this election and pat it if this is going to be a real movement. They’re going to have to do that even if he’s not the nominee. Getting Hillary to make promises now is great. Keeping people engaged is absolutely necessary. If that doesn’t happen without Bernie, it’s not much of a revolution.
          I was excited for Barack in 2008 because (in part) he showed that he had a team that could win an election. Hillary in 2008 had a team that was almost comically inept at that same task. Now, Hillary has a team that is aware of what it takes to win. i think when June is over, we will see that Bernie was not able to get more pledged delegates–more democratic voters–to the polls than Hillary. And I’m sure will hear an assortment of reasons why that was, but it won’t matter. Much like in the general if you don’t get more voters at the polls, all the polling data in the world won’t amount to a hill of beans. And then any revolution is well and truly fucked.

  8. editor_u April 16, 2016 at 12:28 pm | #

    Great piece. Thank you.

  9. LRG April 17, 2016 at 1:48 pm | #

    I want either Clinton or Sanders to be president. I think that Clinton supporters will vote for Sanders if he secures the nomination, and I think that the converse is true as well. It would be a shame if this isn’t the case, as the other options are horrifying.
    That said, I’m backing Clinton for the simplest of reasons– age. Clinton is too old for the job. Sanders is her elder. We’ve all seen how the rigors of the presidency deteriorate those who are crazy enough to want and win the job. Sanders will be 75 years old in September. I know a lot of people in both of their age groups, the difference between 69, which she will be in October, and 75 is significant. Using your experience, how many people do you know who are 75 that you think could handle the pressures of the presidency? I think 69 is pushing it.

  10. Samuel April 19, 2016 at 7:36 pm | #

    Bernie Sanders is an arm-waving, finger-wagging, sanctimonious blowhard, who’s self-righteousness is disingenuous, and failing to win the popular vote, or enough pledged delegates, so far, has resorted to character assassination as his preferred campaign tactic.
    In any case, the odds of electing a 75 year old Jewish “Democratic Socialist” from Vermont to be President of these United States are slim; especially, once the attack dogs have been unleashed on him.
    If he were to be elected, it is difficult to imagine him being anything but devoured by the very “establishment” against which he rails in the most one-dimensional, simplistic, policy-free sloganeering.
    By comparison, Hillary Clinton is a calm, cool, collected policy wonk with a portfolio full of progressive policy proposals, if anyone stops the carping and reads them. Her range and depth of experience is virtually unmatched by anyone in any election for President, and, if she is elected, we get the first woman President, a radical result in and of itself.

  11. NM April 24, 2016 at 11:46 am | #

    haven’t had time to read through your entire post — much as it deserves it — but just a quick note for the moment. You write that many Clinton supporters seem to support Clinton because although they prefer Sanders’ policies/positions, they believe HRC is the safer choice, in terms of actually winning the presidency and preventing Trump or Cruz (equally bad in my books, just different). This is true (at least for myself), but I’d add another, equally important point. Speaking just for myself, I support Clinton despite strong sympathy for Sanders’ general mass-mobilization project and despite feeling that HRC tends to be rather further on the right than I’d like her to be. I do so not just because I think she’s more electable and that winning is absolutely crucial (I’d vote for the Devil, provided he was a Democrat & promised liberal Supreme Court justices). I also support Clinton over Sanders because I trust her on the policy detail, and after reading Krugman’s critiques, I don’t trust Sanders on this. Put another way, I’d like policies that are further to the left than we are likely to get from Clinton, but I’d rather have centrist-but-effective policy making than left policies that end up blowing up in our faces and doing long-term project to the left. Speaking just for myself, that is my biggest concern with Sanders, besides him handing the election to Trump or Cruz.

  12. Carl Weetabix April 24, 2016 at 9:19 pm | #

    People don’t realize that you don’t have to be to the far left or the far right to be an “ideologue”. The ideological hewing to the middle can be just as dogmatic as either pole. Inflexibility is the issue, not gravitating to one side or the other, is the sign of an ideological zealot. Paul Krugman, who I have great appreciation for and has otherwise done many positive things for the left is a good recent example. He has decided Hillary is the right candidate and is actively executing a “scortched earth” policy in regards to anyone who doesn’t tow the line. He would say he’s being “realistic” as compared to the unrealistic Bernie supporters who demand ideological purity, however the irony is he is at least equally as unwilling to entertain a differences of viewpoint than the most vofercierous Bernie supporter.

    Registry is rigidity. Insisting that the middle way is the only way is no more enlightened that insisting that the left or the right are correct. A truly enlightened position takes choosing the best argument (path) regardless of where it came from. It’s not an ideological insistence on taking both sides, averaging, and taking the middle – that’s just a different form of partisanship. Instead it is being open to any possibility and picking and choosing the best arguments regardless of source. The beltway press that insists that anything that is on a pole is wrong is no better than someone who insists that anything that isn’t on their pole is wrong.

    • Carl Weetabix April 24, 2016 at 9:22 pm | #

      Few errors there – sorry. In particular, “Registry is rigidity” is supposed to be “Regidity is regidity”.

Leave a Reply