Wednesday, February 10, 2016

new hampshire turned out against the political grown-ups...,

dissentmagazine |  Of course candidates have to deny that they listen to Wall Street, and flatter voters into thinking ordinary people’s opinions about high finance and economic fairness really matter. But of course most candidates also suppose that ordinary people don’t understand banking, that bankers do, and that part of their job as governing elites is to listen to the bankers. Which, of course, the bankers appreciate—appreciation that they express in the language of the super-rich gift economy: “We’re all responsible elites here; take some of my money.” Bernie Sanders’s bad manners and alleged demagoguery lie in his taking the part about flattering voters too seriously, and not accepting the delicate hypocrisy of grown-up politics.

This revealing little dispute is a microcosm of the impatience that a certain kind of elite feels for the Sanders campaign. Consider the two major lines of dismissal against Sanders, and the way they come together in more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger condescension toward democracy.

If you want to dismiss the Sanders campaign, you can choose between two lines of attack. You can join Paul Krugman at the New York Times, asserting that governing is too hard for an idealistic democratic socialist: Sanders doesn’t seem built for compromise, and his proposals lack detail. And governing, as opposed to campaigning, is all about compromise and detail. Endorsing Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, the Times editorial board marveled, “Mrs. Clinton has done her homework on pretty much any issue you care to name.” Homework, you see. That’s the ticket; not staying out after dark working up the ruffians and messing with other people’s property. Grow up! is the bottom line here: as Krugman puts it in High Adult tones, “politics, like life, involves trade-offs.”

If that seems a little dreary, you can take the line Alexandra Schwartz presses at theNew Yorker. Developing themes that have been in the air for months, Schwartz offer a cultural take on Sanders’s appeal to young voters (who are supporting him by margins of seventy points or more in early primaries and polling). It must be his air of “purity” and “nostalgia for an imaginary time of simpler, more straightforward politics.” Looking back on her own Wordsworthian “very heaven” of imagining young Barack Obama “entirely pure,” Schwartz urges Sanders’s enthusiasts to find a “passage into political adulthood,” where we give up our idle fantasies about candidates (and about time, since Bernie reminds her of “the nutty great-uncle at the Seder table,” pungent with “hokiness” and rhetorical “staleness,” and of the “false nostalgia for past purity, in fashion or food, for instance”). Away with this iceberg lettuce salad of a candidacy, this sweaty vintage dress, this itchy, unkempt lumbersexual beard of a Democratic primary hopeful! Let’s grow up, release our grip on childish things, and get back to business, which is to say, compromise.

Despite their very different tones and concerns, the two lines of dismissal come around to the same point: adults learn not to take campaigns, promises, or political hopes too seriously. They learn that the real work is tedious, often invisible to the public, and highly constrained. They do their homework. Whether the dismissal comes in an eye-roll or a Nobel prizewinner’s rank-pulling, the lesson is the same: either political campaigns are festivals of feeling, mosh pits of emotional projection and crude fantasizing—about utopias of free stuff, unblemished leaders, or, more darkly, throwing bankers into jail—or they are a chance to choose responsible elites who will always do their homework.

All of this is one version of the lessons of the Obama era. Obama’s post-partisan but unmistakably “progressive” speeches thrilled young voters and former idealists who thought they would never feel that way again. His campaign upended a Clinton game plan that was supposed to be unstoppable, as he promised ecstatic throngs, “We are the people we have been waiting for.” Upon winning, Obama began displaying enormous deference to the designated adults of the early millennium: economists, bankers, and generals, as well as vicious political professionals like Rahm Emanuel (who was known for his contempt for the idealists who put Obama in office). “Look… I know those guys,” President Obama said of the country’s leading bankers early in his first term. “They’re very savvy businessmen.” Associating himself with grown-up authority, he followed his party’s hawks into a disastrous intervention in Libya and dilatory engagement with the Syrian catastrophe.

Still, within the limits of official adulthood, Obama has been a good president: he has consistently presented a dignified and inclusive face—whether inviting Pete Seeger to his first inauguration or, this week, visiting a mosque—and he appointed many earnest, incorruptible officials who have been pressing forward compromised progress on climate change, criminal justice reform, labor standards, and nearly anything else the government touches. (I know these people; they’re very decent and effective public servants.)