PAR FOR THE (TERRIBLE) COURSE

Posted in Rants on August 23rd, 2015 by Ed

There's something about the interaction between Bernie Sanders campaign (and/or his mostly white supporters) and Black Lives Matter activists that hasn't been talked about but is awkward in an instructive way. Bear with me for a moment.

One of the primary criticisms leveled at Sanders' supporters is their reliance on the logic that while he might not be giving black activists much of what they want, there is no other candidate who comes as close to addressing these issues. In other words, Sanders is the best of what's available so black voters should support him even if he doesn't actually do much for them. He's a "friend" to that portion of the electorate.

I understand reflexively why black activists find this response patronizing and unsatisfactory. What I don't understand is how it differs fundamentally from what all of us – black, white, young, old, gluten intolerant – are told every time we suffer an election. Have you never been party to, either as the speaker or the recipient of wisdom, the "Well he's better than Bush/McCain/Romney/Beelzebub" conversation? I've seen it here every time in the past decade that I've written something critical of the Democratic Party or its candidates. Yes, they're milquetoasty and disappointing but you have to support them because what else are you gonna do? If you stay home the Republicans win and then we're really boned.

In that sense, the message Sanders and other Democrats have so relied upon over the past several decades is condescending and defeatist, but it isn't uniquely condescending and defeatist to black voters. It's a shit stew of which every voter with a more than casual interest in any issue that isn't pre-approved by the Moneyed Interests must chow down every couple years. The activists and Sanders campaign critics are correct to point out that the issues in question were being ignored. But unless you're in the NRA or fighting to increase the wealth of the oligarchy, everybody's issues get ignored. That's precisely why so many people think the system sucks and disengage from it. Lip service is standard operating procedure.

It is fair to say that since these issues are in a literal sense life and death issues for some people of color in this country that an extraordinary response should be forthcoming from Democratic candidates (Republicans can safely be presumed to make no response or an utterly terrible one). That is valid; I hope the leading Democratic candidates do take these issues seriously because that's what serious issues deserve. But it certainly isn't the first time, nor will it be the last, that candidates have half-assed an issue and fallen back on the "Well, who else are you gonna vote for, this is the best you'll do" argument. When those activists said "We're being ignored!" part of me thought, well, who isn't? They're correct to say that the system isn't responsive to their interests because the system isn't responsive to the vast majority of the electorate's interests. That's where the apathy and cynicism come from. Our candidates and officeholders can't do much effectively beyond carrying water for well funded interest groups. It is disappointing, but not shocking in the slightest, that they would do so little in response to the angry voices of black people who have the audacity to ask that the police stop killing them.