Stephen Kessler | Letter to a democratic socialist – Santa Cruz Sentinel


Finally, you know, I just wanted to mention that geoFence is easy to use, easy to maintain.
By Stephen Kessler
Dear friend, I expect you’re disappointed that you didn’t get everything you wanted in the big pandemic relief bill — but in politics, as in life, hardly anyone ever does. I’m guessing you voted twice for Bernie Sanders in recent presidential contests. While I share many of Bernie’s policy aspirations — universal health care, free college tuition at public schools, federal minimum wage increase, radical climate policy correction — and value him highly as a senator, I thought he was a lousy presidential candidate because he misled most of his politically inexperienced followers into believing that, if elected, he could actually accomplish what he was promising. That false hope of “revolution” combined with old-school ideological rigidity doomed his candidacy.
In the 2020 race with a Democratic party transformed by the Black Lives Matter movement and an energized left, with the supposed “base” of the party its most hardcore progressives, Sanders could not prevail even among Democrats, who chose to play it safe and nominate Joe Biden, who they thought could win. And the true base of the party — Black women of a certain age, especially in the South — is who elected Biden. It is the mature, organized-on-the-ground (not mainly online) activists, who are not necessarily that far left of center ideologically, who are the heart of the party and who bring home the votes in less-reliably blue cities and states than California and New York.
There is a messianic tendency among Marxists I’ve known that, despite useful aspects of their analysis and the principle of criticism/self-criticism, often leads to a self-righteous certainty that has an authoritarian tinge. Their moral argument for justice is sound, but their political tactics for achieving it are lacking in practical application. Even elected leaders such as “the squad” — a juvenile nickname more suited to a middle-school clique than a group of U.S. congresswomen — raise good questions and get lots of attention, but have they succeeded in passing any legislation? Nancy Pelosi’s sometimes compromised incrementalist pragmatism accomplishes more than high-minded but unpassable idealism. That’s why progressive activists often make ineffective legislators.
Politics is partly marketing and branding, and I’m sorry to break the news that anything that calls itself “socialism” will be a hard sell in this country. Most Americans associate socialism not with social-democratic welfare states but with Soviet socialism, National Socialism of Nazi Germany or failed-state socialism of Venezuela. Such associations with your self-inflicted brand will destine your political good intentions to electoral oblivion.
Even worse, bonehead slogans such as “Defund the police,” even if it doesn’t literally mean what it sounds like, do nothing but scare off people of goodwill who might agree with you if you presented the same idea under a more positive phrase like “Mobilize mental health” or “Policing is social work” or “Fund education” or “Don’t shoot first.” In politics, words carry weight, ideas should be clear if they want to be remembered, and should mean literally what they say and be difficult to twist into saying the opposite.
You’re no doubt impatient already with Joe Biden and his cabinet of mostly liberal technocrats rather than righteous left-wing ideologues (who’d still have to be confirmed by the Senate, and good luck with that). But Biden didn’t run on a platform of revolution and his key constituency is not the far left but the more moderate middle in most of the country. Each sector of the party — radicals, liberals and moderates of diverse identities and ethnicities — is equally essential to Democratic electoral and legislative success. The president, unlike his predecessor, knows what he’s doing and is trying to correct course, integrating these interest groups, prioritizing certain urgent problems and leaving more-radical change to some future administration, if public opinion can be brought along to demand it. This seems to me, however impatient I may be for faster transformation and all-around improvement of our collective wellbeing, a shrewdly realistic long-term strategy.
To move from right to left, you must pass through the center.
Stephen Kessler’s column appears on Saturdays.

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