Saturday, June 09, 2018

an older piece from this year by Jeet Heer about Cynthia Nixon's candidacy bid "The Democratics' Elitist Obsession with Qualifications"

In the age of you-know-who, there's been cyber ink spilled on the populist appeal of Trump, though a populist appealed considered specious and misleading.  But the rebuttal to Make America Great Again as some form of America Already Is Great merely shoves the question inherent in such a rebuttal back to "great for who?" When the GOP was gerrymandering the nation a few years back it seems improbable that they were all thinking that Trump would be the candidate who would land the nomination for the 2016 election.  But when the guy got the nomination the party did what a party would do when a national election with global implications and consequences was at stake, they rallied to the candidate.  Sanders' bid for the DNC candidacy foundered and there's been room for debate and discussion as to why.  Given the dynamics in place in the DNC it was probably optimistic to have hoped Sanders could pull off what Trump pulled off--i.e. grabbing the nomination over against the machine mainline.

The question of whether a populist insurgency could happen from whatever the American left is supposed to be has remained a live one, at least in some circles.  The trouble with a populist anything in politics is that in lieu of the political aristocracy what have our options historically been?  Celebrities.

The case against [Cynthia] Nixon rests on the figure The New York Daily News alluded to: Donald Trump. While the president is Exhibit A in the case against celebrity politicians, his victory in 2016 proves that many Americans reject the notion that politicians must be “qualified.” Candidates for most public offices need only meet certain citizenship, residency, and age requirements, and win the plurality of the vote (or sometimes, in the case of presidential elections like Trump’s, even a minority of the vote will do). [although that gets back to the distinction between the Electoral College and the popular vote, a distinction that Team Clinton changed its tune about in the 2008 election, dismissing the Electoral College as antiquated up to more or less the point at which delegates were the last chance of securing DNC candidacy for HRC rather than HO, if memory serves]
Many elite Democrats think of politics as a profession with a fixed career path. You’re supposed to work your way up the ladder, working on political campaigns and in legislative offices, running for local elections and then statewide elections, gaining experience along the way. In essence, it’s all about resume-building. Thus, Democratic elites tend to reject candidates who are seen as trying to cut the line before having paid their dues to the party.
These views were on full display during 2016 presidential campaign. “There has never been a man or a woman, not me, not Bill, nobody more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America,” President Barack Obama proclaimed during the Democratic National Convention. Meanwhile, one of the most common refrains against Bernie Sanders—as Clinton herself noted in her 2017 memoir—is that “he isn’t even a Democrat.”
 Credentialism has deep roots in the Democratic Party, which has a tropism toward technocratic wonks. “This election isn’t about ideology; it’s about competence,” Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis insisted during his party’s 1988 convention. But politics are inevitably ideological, because people want governments that reflect their values rather than just educated administrators. (And if the election really was about competence, then voters apparently thought Dukakis’s opponent, George H. W. Bush, was more qualified.)
The credentialism of the Democratic Party is not widely shared by the public at large. One of the towering political figures of the last half century was Ronald Reagan, a former actor whose political career started with being elected as Governor of California. Whatever political disputes one can have with Reagan, he was undeniably successful in winning elections and implementing his agenda.
Both major political parties in America have had success recruiting actors and other celebrities, particularly athletes. Celebrity politicians who have won high office include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sonny Bono, Fred Thompson, Al Franken, Jesse Ventura, Fred Grange, Ben Jones, Heath Shuler, Steve Largent, and Bill Bradley.


At this point it would seem that any kind of populist appeal might have trouble because blue state polemical responses to the election of Trump by the Electoral college seem to have translated into lambasting those parts of the popular vote considered to blame for the electoral shift (i.e rural voters, farmers, evangelicals, white evangelicals, etc) that the idea of a counter-populism seems remote.  The well has been poisoned by those who are set against populism in the case of Trump--how do you try to build a case for populism in some direction other than the right if populism itself has been rendered suspect?  Well, maybe a Russell Kirk style conservative would say it always WAS suspect but a Democrat or a Green can't really run like that. 

Not surprisingly, an author at Slate points out that the far left and far right can find it easy to work together when the situation calls for it.

Radical critique from the left or the right of the center can end up agreeing on a lot.  That's not even really news.  It does, however, remind me of Richard Taruskin's macabre observation about how in the history of Europe the far left and the far right somehow have a long history of agreeing that the way to solve the ills of Europe was killing Jews and that this got implemented in the Soviet Union as well as Germany.   Now advocates of critical theory have managed to no true Scotsman the Soviet Union out of actually being socialist and that's one of the conundrums of the last half century within the Anglo-Americna left.  If real socialism hasn't existed then there may be a left variation of a no true Scotsman fallacy that Austrian economist fans have tried with capitalism, i.e. there's never been a pure unregulated market so you can't criticize a form of capitalism that has never existed.  Right, so if there's never been pure capitalism or pure socialism the odds that there will be pure either would seem established as being zero for the future.  The debate is over what mixture of the two poles would be healthiest.  But that's a side trail.

If the alternative to the aristocracy of the political classes is still celebrities then we're arguably stuck with deciding between the caste of political figures and the caste of entertainers-turned-political figures.  It's not the least bit clear in the long run whether an Al Franken has been better for us thana Bill Clinton, for instance, or whether a Reagan has been a better alternative to Bush seeing as Bush got in through the path of Reagan anyway.  The aristocracies seem sufficiently intertwined ... .

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