Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Voices: Why Do White Male Progressives Hear Things That No One Else Can?

Eight years ago, the Democratic presidential primaries had already begun. Hillary Clinton, the presumptive frontrunner, suffered an upset defeat in the Iowa caucuses. Clinton lost the caucuses because Obama had a very well organized operation. Clinton did not devote much attention to on-the-ground strategy.

Obama also prevailed in Iowa because he was able to electrify self-identified progressive voters. For months ahead of the Iowa caucuses, progressive media described Obama in the most glowing terms possible. Whatever Obama said during a stump speech, press conference, stadium-filled forums, or casual moments on-camera, progressives inevitably heard a commitment to radically transformative policies. By contrast, even if Clinton made the same or similar statements as Obama, progressives heard something completely different. To progressives Clinton always expressed conservative and backwards politics.

Although progressives invariably deemed Obama a leftist and Clinton a conservative, most other Democrats did not share these views (or if so, this was irrelevant to them). Take blacks—for example, the voting demographic that most faithfully supports progressive economic agendas. Blacks overwhelmingly voted for Obama during the primaries, but before he won the Iowa caucuses, a majority of black Democrats supported Clinton. Blacks rapidly shifted to Obama in order to support a viable black Democratic candidate—not because they viewed him as more progressive than Clinton.

Opinion polls of the 2016 primaries show a similar pattern and provide greater support for my analysis of black votes. Progressives (at this point, it should be clear that progressives means white progressives) have anointed Bernie Sanders as the leftist; Clinton is still a conservative. Although white progressives appear solidly behind Sanders, opinion polls show that Clinton has overwhelming support among Blacks and Latinos. Although white progressives tout Sanders as the best candidate for economic issues, the voting blocs that have the most at stake with respect to economic issues—people of color, the elderly, women, and poor people—support Clinton more than Sanders. By contrast, Sanders polls well with white college students, white college-graduates and graduate-degree holders, white professionals, and white men. In other words, Sanders supporters tend to have more social and economic privilege than Clinton supporters, despite white progressive depiction of Clinton as a conservative. Sanders’s revolutionaries, on average, are not socially subordinate.

Despite pegging Obama as a leftist, white progressives’ admiration for him plunged after he became president. This trend was especially true among young persons. Young white voters cast more votes for Romney in 2012 than they did for Obama, a dramatic turnaround from the 2008 election. For years, they had accused him of betraying his campaign promises. Few progressives, however, were willing to admit publicly that they heard something in Obama that never existed: a narrative of leftist heroism.  Obama campaigned as a moderate, and people who actually analyzed the substance of his proposals—such as Paul Krugman—wrote about this frequently. Progressives, however, argued that Krugman, the liberal Nobel Prize winning Princeton economist who writes a column for the New York Times, was a corrupt corporate media spokesperson. These same patterns have taken hold in the 2016 primaries. Persons who find little differences between Clinton and Sanders—or who find that Clinton has better policies—receive blistering criticism from white progressives, even though their misjudgment of Obama is very recent history.

On the other hand, Sanders perpetually makes illuminating and radical statements, or at least that is what the voices tell progressives. Progressives hear leftist radicalism in Sanders even when he says things that are arguably sexist and homophobic. Recently, for example, the Human Rights Campaign, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood endorsed Hillary Clinton. Rather than acting gracefully and diplomatic, Sanders dismissed the endorsements as coming from organizations that are “part of the establishment” that he is “fighting against.” While HRC, NARAL, and PP are among the most established and influential social movement organizations, no progressive movement has ever identified them as institutions to defeat. Sanders has, however. Rather than condemning or even questioning him for these comments, many of his progressive supporters have defended him. Some have even offered conspiracy theories to explain the endorsements. They contend that a very conservative, but powerful, Clinton coerced all three organization into endorsing her. The voices are screaming.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson

QUESTIONS

If white progressives were so blatantly wrong about Obama’s progressivism, why should we accept their analysis of Sanders?

Can a progressive revolution take place if it is led predominately by young white men—with women, people of color, and poor people looking elsewhere for solutions? Is such a movement actually progressive?

If a woman candidate says similar things as male candidates, but her comments are condemned, while the males’ comments are praised—largely by other men—when do we get to call this disparity sexism?

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