On Bernie Sanders And The Black Vote

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 12.06% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So Bernie Sanders – my personal fave for the Democratic Presidential candidate – has been taking some heat for not addressing black issues well.
My response: good.  Even if I disagree with his critics.
Every candidate has this moment where they charge onto the stage with their priorities, and discover the voters have different priorities.  And they either a) ignore those voters, and don’t get elected, or b) change up to address those voters’ issues, and potentially get elected.
Now me? For me, Bernie is like a walking Overton Window of progressive politics; we’ve spent the last forty years watching Reagan and his successors nudge the frame of our viewpoint further and further right until Obama – a moderate candidate at best – looks like a frothing socialist to many.  Having Bernie Sanders in the race, even if he doesn’t win, will serve the same function that the Occupy movement did: to raise questions as to what’s reasonable, and start a dialogue about issues that conservatives have long buried under that 1950s McCarthy imminent-apocalypse vibe of “You don’t want a socialist in office, do you?”
(I’d be happy with either Hillary or Bernie if elected, but since I think neither’s likely to get a lot of laws passed in the face of Republican Congressional resistance, I’d rather go with the guy who’s going to be more ambitious than Hillary’s warmed-over, half-hearted gestures towards worker fairness.  Hillary’s always been more Wall Street when it comes to equality politics.)
And what Bernie says to me makes a lot of sense to me as a white guy.  I think if he got his way, black people everywhere would be better off, because I think focusing on economic reform and cheap education would lift all boats for everyone poor – and since black people are disproportionately poor, they would benefit disproportionately.
Note that this is White Dude expressing his opinion.
Black Dude, and Black Dame, need to be convinced.  And they may feel what I said is a tide of horseshit they’ve heard a thousand times before, and they want actual focus on restitution and specific reforms aimed at helping the black community.
Which is fine! One of the things I fucking loathe about the “be a good ally” mentality is that sense that “If you have a different approach to fixing this problem, you are evil and don’t want the problem fixed!”  No; the world is fucking complicated, and there’s room for reasonable disagreement on the “best” way to do things.  I have my own opinions on what might help, shaped by my experiences, and others have theirs, and the best we can do is to fully acknowledge that hey, either of us might turn out to be wrong over the course of time, and to encourage a healthy exchange of opinions.  I acknowledge I might be wrong, and I hope anyone disagreeing with me on “the best way to address the economic inequalities that black people suffer” also acknowledges that they do not have perfect knowledge on how to fix all those ills.
(In other words, I believe fully that as a white dude, I cannot fully understand the black experience no matter how I try, but I also believe that “experiencing the pain of a bad system” is a very different thing from “knowing how to fix that bad system” – and as such, there’s room for debate from all sides on what the best approaches are.)
And what Bernie Sanders is getting right now is a bunch of angry people going, “I think what you’re proposing is horseshit.”
When you get accused of fomenting equine excrement, what good people do is to stop, take in that feedback, analyze it, and see whether that new information changes things.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes it does.
And we’ve seen Bernie Sanders maneuvering to change his message to address “Black Lives Matter” more explicitly – clumsily, yes, but everyone’s clumsy when they first change their message.  And that’s good.  It shows he’s taking the issue seriously, and he’ll either put more effort into explaining how he thinks his economic equality policies will affect those issues, or he’ll start addressing black issues more directly.  Either of which is awesome.
Sort of! Because what we’re seeing now is the inevitable leftward bend of the primaries, where we get candidates who appeal to the leftiest of lefties – and like the conservative primaries, we may see an effect where we select candidates who are RAH RAH LIBERAL and then it turns out that our candidates can only thrive in the rarified air of the liberal oxygenator, and wilt and die when exposed to actual moderate Americans.
But that’s the best process we have now, alas.  And Bernie Sanders?  I think he’s got good ideas.  But I’m not the person he needs to convince to win the damn election.  And I think it’s a good thing that he’s getting battered a little by Black Twitter – because I think it’s good for people to get battered, to be forced to justify their beliefs before a group of skeptical people.
My belief is that decisions without debate are like trying to build an impregnable fortress in the absence of warfare.  You can go, “Oh, yeah, this thing we built? Nobody could get in.” But you don’t know where the weak points are until you have a bunch of very motivated people looking to break into your building – and when that happens, you’ll find all sorts of flaws you hadn’t considered.
Which is why I’m against anything that squashes polite debate.  I think we only come up with the best solutions when we take on as many comers as we humanly can, comers who are all asking “What’s wrong with this?”  Some of them are asking in bad faith, and after answering their questions to the best of our ability, we move on.  But the folks who point out flaws in good faith should be considered, and discussed, and eventually addressed when possible.
Bernie Sanders – my hope for the 2016 flagbearer – either will do that well, or he’ll become an also-ran.  He’s more likely to be an also-ran at this point thanks to Hillary’s momentum, so my hope is that he becomes so adroit at addressing these issues that it becomes such a strength of his that it winds up being a factor Hillary doesn’t have.
Or he won’t.  And if he doesn’t, well, I hope whoever gets the nod does find a way to make the black communities feel like their issues are being addressed, because God damn this past year has shown the need for someone in power to do something to stop all the killings and abuse and economic injustice.



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