One of my favorite documentaries is a gem from the late 1990s called Arguing the World. The documentary is about the New York Intellectuals while specifically focusing on four: Irving Howe, Daniel Bell, Iriving Kristol, and Nathan Glazer. All grew up poor in New York City and got college educations during the Great Depression at City College. They all were Communist sympathizers in their youths splitting their support between Trotsky and Stalin. In the 1960s, Kristal, Bell, and Glazer found themselves distraught by hippies and become the neo-conservatives. Bell and Glazer found their ways back to the left but still alienated from their younger counterparts. Bell described himself in the movie as being a “socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture.”
Irving Howe stayed on the left but also tangled with the hippies. He had a particular loathing of Tom Hayden. Howe believed that the hippies and new left made too many flirtations with anti-Democratic and authoritarian politics as a way of being anti-war and pacifist. According to the documentary, there was a confrontation between Howe and Hayden where Howe screamed at Hayden “Can you love a fascist?” and Hayden responded in the affirmative.
A similar outcry happened over the weekend at the Netroots this weekend with a dispute between Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter activists. Dara Lind has a good write up of the arguments at Vox. The issue is not policy. The policies advocated by Bernie Sanders and the Black Lives Matter crowd are basically identical as shown by Ms. Lind. The big issue seems to be the worldview and reasoning behind those policies.
Sanders is a Democratic Socialist. He sees racism as a symptom of economic injustice and the zero-sum game of wealth and income opportunity. If you end economic injustice and want, you end racism. The Black Lives Matter crowd sees racism as being a distinct and systematic evil that needs to be addressed on its own terms.
This comes down to worldview. Lind writes: “There is a legitimate disconnect between the way Sanders (and many of the economic progressives who support him) see the world, and the way many racial justice progressives see the world. To Bernie Sanders, as I’ve written, racial inequality is a symptom — but economic inequality is the disease. That’s why his responses to unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore have included specific calls for police accountability, but have focused on improving economic opportunity for young African Americans. Sanders presents fixing unemployment as the systemic solution to the problem.”
I am sympathetic to both worldviews because it is possible that both are correct. Jay Gould famously allegedly boasted that he could set one half of the working class against the other half. The modern day GOP has used this mantra very well. Look at the infamous Hands TV ad from Jesse Helm’s 1990 Senate reelection campaign (link is a video). Helms was expected to lose the election to Charlotte’s African-American mayor, Harvey Gantt. The Hands ad ran late in the campaign and featured a pair of white-hands and the cuffs of a flannel shirt crumpling up a rejection letter. The voiceover declares “You needed that job but they had to give it to a minority….” The message is clear. Working-class jobs are a zero-sum game and it is all the races against each other. This would support the Sander’s viewpoint.
But there is also plenty of evidence to support the viewpoint of the Black Lives matter crowd like the the murder spree done by the terrorist Dylann Roof and the almost likely murder of Sandra Bland. For those who don’t know, Sandra Bland was traveling from Chicago to take a new job at her alam mater, a historically black university in a very white-part of Texas. She was pulled over for failing to signal while changing lanes and arrested. The video shows the police brutalizing her. She was found dead in a jail cell three days later. This is good evidence for the Black Lives Matter argument.
There is a tendency that belongs to American politics or potentially to all politically active people around the world. It is not enough for a person or politician to support the right policies but they have to support the right policies for the correct reasons. People without the correct reasons are suspect and possibly open to argument from the other side. I think this way of thinking exists on the right and the left.
I don’t think that a confrontation and an argument at Netroots Nation is going to spill over to the Democratic National Convention. The party is much more disciplined than it was in 1968 and I can’t think of any old-school Richard Daley types in the Democratic Party who would use the police against demonstrators with relish. It should also be noted that likely Democrtatic nominee HRC declined to attend Netroots. This is a much smaller part of the Democratic Party apparatus than CPAC is to the Republican Party. The GOP also had their own dispute over the weekend with popular in the polls blowhard Trump unnecessarily antagonizing and attacking John
Yet I think the stakes are high for worldviews in 2016 especially because we have a lot of elderly Supreme Court justices. I can see the Presidential victors of 2016 and 2020 getting to remake the Judiciary in their worldview. The idea of a Walker Presidency frightens and depresses me and I hope that the Netroots fight does not blow up to be bigger.