June 26, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Is Liberalism the New Center?
Expanding the franchise isn't so radical compared to extremists wanting to smash it.
I trust that you know that when I talk about Berniebros, I’m not talking about Bernie Sanders. I’m not talking about progressives, liberals, or socialists. I’m not even talking about democratic socialists or social democrats. I’m talking about the Very Loud Leftists (VLLs) who had more invested in the Vermont senator than advancing his candidacy.
They had a financial stake. Moreover, they believed even more money would follow what they thought in 2016 was Sanders’ rising star. That didn’t pan out, of course. Sanders honorably bowed out. He joined Joe Biden’s effort to unseat the incumbent. Most Sanderistas followed him. The policy, though not the spirit, of The Revolution has been assimilated. Thanks to Covid-19 pandemic and its attendant recession, Biden now sees the need for a presidency as bold, shrewd and forward-thinking as Franklin Roosevelt’s. In terms of political influence, the VLLs should be high-fiving each other.
Very Loud Leftists have come around to flirting with fascism.
They aren’t. They didn’t want to influence. They wanted to destroy. And now they are on the outside looking in. They no longer have the clout they once had. They no longer have the audience they once had. They might not even have the revenues. That’s a very long way to fall. People like Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Katie Halper and Nathan Robinson went to war only to see their hero side with the enemy. American history is chock full of betrayed extremists ping-ponging between ideological poles. There’s plenty of precedent for the VLLs now appearing to be open to the idea of the enemy of their enemy being their friend. Greenwald asked Thursday: “Should the Populist Left Work With the Populist Right Where They Have Common Ground, or Shun Them?”
I’ll leave it to others to discuss the finer points of populism and the rest of Greenwald’s piece. For my part, what I think needs saying seems obvious to me but baffling to Greenwald and his cadre of VLLs: class is not one-dimensional. Indeed, the working class, to anyone who has lived within its constraints, isn’t theoretical. It’s certainly not theoretical enough to be one-dimensional. To those withstanding the hidden injuries of class, a Biden presidency is a transparently obvious boon. Yet to hear Lee Fang, who works with Greenwald, tell it, the only things rising from the ashes of Sanders’ so-called “Revolution” are disappointment, bitterness and conspiracy. “The dream of a revived working class left built on mass economic redistribution is dead for now. In its place we have a chummy handshake between media, academia and corporations content with revolution in the form of diverse board rooms and toppled statues.” These people are primed and ready to find common cause with the enemies of their enemies.
I know it sounds strange. How can people fighting for the American working class not understand how class works in America? It’s simple really. They read about it, but didn’t experience it. The same people dedicating their lives to smashing the “dominant neoliberal ideology” understand that ideology better than they understand the working class, because they come from it directly. Taibbi, Halper and Robinson, for instance, are all products of elite college prep schools connected to the Ivy League. Hard work and playing by the rules—merit—had relatively little to do with their success, because they were born successful. They have spent their careers, in one fashion or another, trying to bust the myth of meritocracy. In that, the VLLs are righteous authorities.
And in that, they were born to misunderstand class. The working class—the real multi-hued working class—does not want to destroy the status quo. It wants to reform it. It wants to be let in. The “dream of a revived working class left” isn’t dead and the VLLs would know that if they bothered looking. Among other things, the George Floyd movement is a class-conscious effort wanting what every out-group in US history has wanted: equal opportunity, equal justice, greater peace, and greater liberty. This month’s protests have been an amazing demonstration of cross-racial solidarity and cross-class solidarity, the very things the VLLs went to war for but now can’t bring themselves to see. Merit must mean something. Merit must be made real if it isn’t currently. The VLLs think they are helping working-class Americans by removing the scales of illusion from their eyes. What they are really doing is pissing people off.
The VLLs are always wrong about the Democratic Party. It isn’t “neoliberal.” It isn’t conservative. (It isn’t as bad as the Republican Party.) But we might thank them for going all the way ’round the bend, from one extreme pole to the other, joining Republican fascists who long ago abandoned “movement conservatism.” Greenwald and his ilk are shifting the landscape so that liberalism looks safer, more acceptable, more central, so that working-class demands to expand the franchise don’t seem so radical compared to the true believers on the left and right who want to smash it.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.