Against Fortress Liberalism | Jacobin

Against Fortress LiberalismFor forty years, liberals have accepted defeat and called it “incremental progress.” Bernie Sanders offers a different way forward.by Matt KarpBernie Sanders in the South Bronx on March 31, 2016. Michael Vadon / Flickr628Our next issue, “Between the Risings,” is out this month. To celebrate its release, international subscriptions are $25 off.The primary campaign between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has produced the most direct ideological battle the Democratic Party has seen in a generation. It’s not just the policy differences that separate Sanders’s blunt social-democratic platform from Clinton’s neoliberal grab bag. The two candidates embody clashing theories of politics — alternative visions of how to achieve progressive goals within the American political system.The Bernie Sanders model of change has all the subtlety of an index finger raised high above a debate podium. Lay out a bold, unapologetic vision of reform that speaks directly to people’s basic needs. Connect that vision to existing popular struggles, while mobilizing a broad and passionate coalition to support it (#NotMeUs). Ride this wave of democratic energy to overwhelm right-wing opposition and enact major structural reforms.The Hillary Clinton model of change, on the other hand, begins not with policy or people but with a politician. Choose an experienced, practical leader who explicitly rejects unrealistic goals. Rally around that leader’s personal qualifications, while defending past achievements and stressing the value of party loyalty (#ImWithHer). Draw on the leader’s expertise to grind away at Congress and accumulate incremental victories that add up to significant reform.For most of the Left, Clinton-style “incrementalism” is just a code word to disguise what is effectively a right-wing retrenchment. Nevertheless many self-identified progressives have backed Clinton’s “theory of politics” as the most realistic path to achieve Sanders’s objectives.“As a temperamentally moderate figure,” the liberal Boston Globe argued, Clinton is best positioned to “take concrete steps to get relevant legislation enacted.”Other editorial boards, corporate legal bloggers, and billionaires in the back seats of limousines have likewise endorsed the Clinton model as the only serious form of politics in a polarized republic. But they struggle to identify a major progressive victory that Clinton-style incrementalism has won in the past half-century.Clinton’s eight-year term in the Senate produced bills to regulate video game violence and flag burning, both of which died in committee.Bill Clinton’s eight-year term in the White House gave us the Earned Income Tax Credit and a small children’s health insurance program — but also NAFTA, the 1994 crime bill, welfare reform, the Defense of Marriage Act, financial deregulation, and a grand bargain to gut Social Security that was only thwarted by a timely sex scandal.The pragmatic, piecemeal, and irreproachably moderate achievements of Jimmy Carter are still more dispiriting. Even judged by the charitable standards of American liberalism, the forty-year balance sheet of “incremental progress” is decidedly negative.Beltway pundits scoff at Sanders’s model of change, meanwhile, as if the Vermont senator thinks he can defeat a Republican Congress by getting a few hundred protestors to yell slogans outside Capitol Hill.They naturally fail to mention that as a matter of historical record, the Sanders model happened to produce Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, and Medicaid.The simple truth is that virtually every significant and lasting progressive achievement of the past hundred years was achieved not by patient, responsible gradualism, but through brief flurries of bold action. The Second New Deal in 1935–36 and Civil Rights and the Great Society in 1964–65 are the outstanding examples, but the more ambiguous victories of the Obama era fit the pattern, too.These reforms came in a larger political environment characterized by intense popular mobilization — the more intense the mobilization, the more meaningful the reform. And each of them was overseen by an unapologetically liberal president who hawked a sweeping agenda and rode it all the way to a landslide victory against a weakened right-wing opposition.All three bursts of reform, of course, were shaped by the need to deal with opponents in Congress — including conservative Democrats — who imposed their own conditions. And even the New Deal and the Great Society, of course, were profoundly compromised in ways that no one on the Left is likely to forget.Nevertheless these were real victories. None of them was won in the name of moderation, incrementalism, or the sober-minded rejection of ambitious goals.At the 1936 Democratic convention, Franklin Roosevelt famously called for a “rendezvous with destiny,” not a rendezvous with tax credits for small businesses. Roosevelt took it as hi

Source: Against Fortress Liberalism | Jacobin

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