Berning Down the House

I think I’m finally starting to feel really pessimistic about this years elections. This piece on the nomination fight between Clinton and Sanders from Corey Robin, which is not only supportive of Sanders, but fairly damning of Clinton. And it reflects how much of the left views Hillary as totally unacceptable. The closer we get to the Iowa Caucus the more intense the rhetoric attacking her as a crypto-Republican, an establishment hack, a soulless, calculating deal maker and horse trader, a cackling witch, and so on. Paul Krugman writes in his blog about how he and other policy wonks on the left, such as Ezra Klein, Jonathan Cohn, Jonathan Chait, and Mike Konczal – who wrote a whole piece defending his reputation as a serious advocate for financial reform – are being attacked by supporters of Bernie Sanders for being minions of Hillary Clinton.

And I am, at this point, unapologetic in my support of Hillary Clinton. I have plenty of friends who are unabashed supporters of Bernie Sanders, and I have stopped listening to them on the subject of politics. They all want politics without the politics. They want to just be able to do the right thing all the time without having to confront any challenge. And at this point I’m starting to think that maybe Sanders will get the nomination, and then the progressive push will turn to bitter mush when the the general election starts and they find out what politics really looks like.

Meanwhile, in the State of Illinois, the budget impasse continues to take a toll on public services. And what this is ultimately about is dissatisfaction with the political establishment. Exhibit A here is Michael Madigan, who has run the State from his position as House Speaker since the 1980s. He is a reviled figure among everyone but long time Democrats, who are all fiercely loyal to him. The broad dissatisfaction of the electorate is what brought Rauner to Governorship in the first place. In many ways Rauner is exactly the kind of reformer conservatives want: someone who will not back down in the face of having to do terrible things. And that’s what most conservatives have wanted for a long, long time now. They want those pensions destroyed, so that all those folks who spent their lives working for the State will have to suffer with the people abandoned by the private sector. It’s super messed up how people turn on each other.

And what are we fighting over? Money. We are fighting over money. The Black Youth Project 100, for example, in their Agenda to Build Black Futures, is literally up front in saying that what they want is money. Reparations, compensation. Money. They want cold, hard, cash in their pockets, on a regular basis, so they can live like normal people.

In the meantime, a major service organization in Illinois is cutting 30 programs and 750 positions due to the State budget impasse. And even though the Governor claims that he is frustrated, and just wants to be able to settle the budget and move forward, I think that the truth is closer to this: what conservatives want is to see public services cut, and pensions cut, and taxes cut. They don’t want to take food out of a hungry child’s mouth, or take jobs away from desperate parents, or turn seniors out of their homes and deprive them of medical care. The State just feels too big, and their taxes feel to high. But cutting pensions and the budget, in practice, means cutting services for people at the margins, and often causing enormous suffering in the process.

So where does that put us? Everybody wants more money for themselves, and less money for the State. Ah, the politics of austerity. This brings me to Simon Wren-Lewis, on the present state of the left in the UK. “Austerity is a trap for the left as long as they refuse to challenge it. You cannot say that you will spend more doing worthwhile things, and when (inevitably) asked how you will pay for it try and change the subject. Voters may not be experts on economics, but they can sense weakness and vulnerability. If instead you restrict yourself to changes at the margin, you appear to be ‘just the same’.”

This is not far from the situation here in the US. What I find most disturbing about the Sanders campaign is that it clearly does not care about policy, it cares about slogans. People want “single payer health care” and “Glass-Steagal” and they want them right the fuck now. They do not want to have a nuanced discussion of policy. They want to talk about how they feel and why they’re excited for the Revolution. What happens when Sanders is actually in the White House?

He’ll be stuck in the same damn austerity trap everyone else is. He wants to provide more services, but he won’t be able to raise taxes. But nobody wants to listen to that. They just want to get all blissed out and watch Bernie’s new ad.

Its the same thing in Illinois. Everyone wants more and better schools, and more and better services, but nobody wants to pay for it. And we resent the person who’s job it is to divvy up what money there is, because its never enough. Everyone thinks they know how to better spend the money, but usually it just amounts to having more for themselves, so they can get back to ignoring the world.

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