Bernie’s Progressive Daycare

So, Bernie Sanders has launched his post-candidacy organization. “Our Revolution” is having a troubled birth, what with half the staff quitting over the weekend after Sanders parachuted his campaign manager Jeff Weaver into the top spot. Apparently some people don’t like Weaver and, more importantly, question his older-school approach to organizing (and the group’s dark-money approach to fundraising).

This storm will quickly pass. But if the history of progressive politics is anything to judge by, it’s an example of the kind ot stuff Bernie will have to deal with, and it won’t be easy.

Because nobody’s more capable of generating destructive internal strife than the American left. Sooner or later, the Purity Wars break out. Everyone’s got a pet cause or bug in the bonnet. Axes abound, and they all seem to require grinding.

I’ve seen this repeatedly in my long and mostly disappointing life as a Political Observer, starting in the disastrous 1968 campaign. Divisions on the Left, sparked by the Democratic Party’s ham-fisted installation of Hubert Humphrey as its nominee*, bestowed upon a grateful nation the presidency of Richard Nixon and the transformation of the Sixties from authentic social movement to lucrative branding opportunity.

*The original Triple H is one of the saddest figures in our politics. He was an authentic progressive, a liberal champion, but he was thoroughly neutered as LBJ’s Vice President and forced to carry Lyndon’s toxic water on the Vietnam War. Humphrey could have been a great President; he certainly would have been a hell of a lot better than the Trickster. 

On a local level, I saw this phenomenon up close in the late 70s and early 80s, with the emergence of the Human Rights Party in Ann Arbor. The HRP swept in, grew quickly, and nearly became the number-two party in city politics — until it imploded in ungovernable fits of Purity Rage.

Sooner or later, this kind of fractiousness will break out in Our Revolution. Dydees will need changing, and sandbox squabbles broken up. And hey, maybe that’s why Bernie and Jane decided to put their favorite grownup in charge.  From his own long history in progressive politics, Bernie must be aware of the high potential for infighting.

It would be easy to see the choice of Weaver as a negative, but I’ve stopped underestimating Bernie’s political savvy. (The wisdom of financial secretiveness, that’s another thing.) He has deftly navigated seemingly impossible passages in his presidential campaign. Whenever I thought he was veering off course, it turned out he had a plan.

I don’t doubt that he’s capable of riding herd on his new organization. I do hope he stays alive and healthy long enough to be a guiding force for many years. And I do hope he identifies a specific purpose for Our Revolution, which enters a crowded field of similar progressive and liberal organizations.

And I honestly hope for the best. I didn’t support him for president, but he has worked wonders in staking out a plausible path to success for progressive candidates. That’s something his many forebears, the likes of Jesse Jackson and Dennis Kucinich, failed to accomplish.  (You might laugh at the Kucinich reference, but I remember when everybody thought Bernie would be the Kucinich of 2016 — a cute little progressive gasping for airtime and donations. Just look at him now.)

And a word of advice from your elder to you whippersnappers joining Our Revolution: Stick it out. Don’t quit at the first sign of trouble, or the first time a decision fails to meet your high ideals. Compromise a little. Listen to your fellows, especially those with different points of view.

Build a movement that will make the Left as coherent and impactful force as the Right was from Reagan through Bush. That is the shining goal of Bernie’s Revolution.

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9 thoughts on “Bernie’s Progressive Daycare

  1. Paula Schramm

    Yes ! It’s been a while since you written a commentary I so enthusiastically agree with…. thanks for putting it so well.

    Reply
    1. Judy harris

      Bernice needs to it his name on the ballot as an independent. He needs to stop Hilary from running.she is not fit to run our country. He has a following why not. Pick it up and continue on. Leave Hilary behind. Focus on himself.

      Reply
  2. chuck gregory

    I have always wondered what the difference was between Kucinich and Bernie, the former flailing at the bottom of the primaries, while Bernie fought to what would have been a win under fairer conduct.

    Reply
  3. Walter Carpenter

    “Because nobody’s more capable of generating destructive internal strife than the American left.”

    Good point, and one which those of us on the left should understand and try to stop before it stops us.

    Reply
  4. Dave Katz

    Yeah, sure, the reichwing built a party out of the ruins of Goldwater that looks more enduring than, say, SDS or the Yippies, at least as a political machine.(Nothing like billions of dollars from shadowy plutocrats to build a juggernaut, something lefties have never actually, y’know, had at their disposal) I’d argue the high-tide line was Reagan, and that gleaming robot of a thousand years’ lifespan has been crapping out for thirty years, forced to resort to outright criminality, phony outrage generation, and catering to the worst elements in the American polity to survive at all. From a cultural-movement standpoint, Braudel’s longue duree view of history would posit that the hippies, with their health-food, laissez faire hedonism and ecology, have actually changed current culture far more than mere political advantage would indicate. Of course, the dinosaurs aren’t giving up gracefully.

    Reply
  5. Faith King

    Not sure those quitting are quitting the movement, though. In fact I doubt they are. There is more then one show in town, after all.

    Reply
  6. John

    Look at your demographics. Many, many hippies became Reaganites and fueled the Reagan Era. The same for trade labor unions. The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

    Reply
  7. Michael Greyson

    There are fundamentalists on the left and the right. They are a destructive force, self-righteously serving their higher-than-doable causes. Willing to go down in self-righteous flames. They could never run anything, because running something means getting to yes and getting to yes means compromise. I grew up among fundamentalists, and they all think in black and white, in straight lines and 90 degree corners. They do not suffer ambiguity, because it challenges their certainty. Of course, it is also where most of life is lived for most people.

    Reply

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