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With two months until primary kick off, we Bernard supporters need to throw down with everything we’ve got. For most of us million-plus volunteers, that means calling, canvassing, texting, laying the foundation to make electoral and then legislative victory possible. No other campaign can match that. If we win, it will be the defining difference.

Get Antagonistic

That said, with the entire MSM aligned against Sanders, the ground game still needs discourse support from above. Those of us of with any position and ability to make impact must. Even a small platform like mine will hit people with larger platforms, and so forth up the spiral. In a war like this, every increment matters.

Yet many of us have yet to commit with the necessary fire. We have spent much of this year behaving as though we’re gambling with house money, that all of this Overton Window fairy dust means we can steer clear of antagonistic differentiation, play allies with adversaries, and if Sanders happens to miss out as a result… live to fight another day.

This is dangerous magical thinking. I’m sending this missive into the fray to help demystify the stakes, disabuse us of the idea that this moment is anything but make or break… And encourage the discipline, antagonism and laser-focused purpose we need, stat.

The Sanders campaign is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to break the shackles of forty years of hegemonic neoliberal disaster. If Bernard loses, there is no coherent democratic socialist leadership or movement ready to pick up the pieces.

The Sanders campaign is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to break the shackles of forty years of hegemonic neoliberal disaster. If Bernard loses, there is no coherent democratic socialist leadership or movement ready to pick up the pieces. Yes, we would be in a stronger position if we were powering Sanders via a bottom-up, extra-electoral movement. Yet that movement is at best nascent, at worst non-existent.

I obviously want to encourage and not in any way diminish our Bernard calling and canvassing army. But those troops are also explicitly a top-down campaign organization of political volunteers, and not yet a movement that can transcend this politician or election. Instead, the left is currently an inchoate hodge-podge of weakened unions, activist organizations and media that have somehow failed to cohere around a historic left presidential candidate.

The reasons for this incoherence are structural. The underlying forces that propelled the Working Families Party to endorse Warren, who just gave a shout-out to “the great Paul Volcker,” one of the founding architects of neoliberalism, are the same that compelled Jacobin, the leading socialist publication in the US, to wax about Liz not being a neoliberal just a few months back.

All of these organizations operate within and are subject to the disciplinary forces of markets. The WFP needs to compete for funding from donors. Jacobin needs to compete for readership among a set of customers. Despite the ideological dissonance, it’s not difficult to see how market influences can lead allegedly left orgs to misestimate or even align with a self-avowed “capitalist to my bones” like Warren.

We’ve witnessed those same pressures impacting left electoral organizations like Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, which have built their brands on M4A, yet failed to endorse the only presidential candidate actually committed to win M4A.

And they’ve no doubt played a role in left press failures over the course of the year to challenge Warren on her obvious lack of commitment to single payer. That reluctance allowed Liz to ride Bernard’s coattails into contention. Ironically, it took a basic neolib like Pete Buttigieg to catalyze Warren’s cave to a public option “transition plan” that sent her campaign reeling… As health insurance stocks soared to an all-time high. With M4A allies like Liz and blue checks willing to give her the benefit, who needs enemies.

The structural web that creates this maddening lack of left cohesion will not unwind itself. We will need to win power to begin reclaiming public goods like healthcare, education, housing and even media discourse from markets. And as unorthodox as it may seem, we will need leadership from above to teach us how to begin practicing the solidarity politics from below, which will enable us to win that power.

To that end, Sanders is quite literally a message in a bottle from the pre-neoliberal era, a political figure who could only have learned his solidaristic discipline and carved a political career within the Keynesian post-war. Is it unideal that we need to lean so heavily on one person, never mind a 78-year-old, who’s just recovered (remarkably well mind you) from a heart attack? Yes. Does it change the reality on the ground? No. If we do not ensure that Bernard wins now, there’s nobody on the left bench to replace him.

As indispensable as AOC and the Squad have already been in herding Professional Managerial Class types toward Sanders in the primary, they are not yet ready to build the universalist movement we need. AOC is a rock star, no doubt. But she’s also come of age with a heavy dose of progressive neoliberal chemotherapy that emphasizes divisive culture war politics over unifying material commitments.

While her recent refusal to go on Fox rings righteous to the woke set, it’s the same old impotent, divisive dodge. AOC’s boycott won’t impact the network’s bottom line and it won’t discourage it from broadcasting hateful shit. It will however miss an opportunity to win that audience over to universalist policies that would do transformative, real-world-good for the constituencies we and AOC are rightly most concerned about.

Sanders on the other hand understands that if we want to deliver the greatest guarantee of reproductive rights in US history, the way to do that is to build a big, cross-cultural coalition to win M4A. If we want to win serious criminal justice reform and guarantee living wages, we need to do the same. That means we can’t afford to write off entire segments of our populace, who we may disagree strongly with on other issues, but also have material stakes in working with us to win those transformative policies.

For those who inevitably concern-troll universalists for catering to sexists or racists, that’s quite obviously not the case. Bernard won over a Fox News town hall with M4A, not bigotry. It also may surprise self-righteous DEMS to learn that discrimination isn’t the sole province of Trump supporters, not close. HRC and Sanders both had/have their fair share. This is America in 2019, after all… not pluralist paradise. The question is not what people believe, beautiful or loathsome, but can we enlist them to fight in solidarity to win life-improving material guarantees for everyone, particularly the most vulnerable.

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A Sanders presidency with a commitment to unifying public goods over divisive woke idealism, would not only improve the material conditions of everyday people of all kinds, it would do irreplaceable ideological work. His leadership and example would model something to young people that they have never experienced, effectively training our populace in how to be political. At the end of four years, we might even have a movement. Just as importantly, young reps like AOC would learn via Bernard and their own participation in our solidaristic struggle to become effective, universalist leaders.

Without Sanders, however, that window closes.

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre.
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…”
— William Butler Yeats

Since Trump’s election, my DEM friends have been in a constant fascism panic, conjuring images of a cartoon horror from the past marching us all away to camps. But the Donald is no fascist and the rough beast we face is far more familiar, if not less destructive. It’s not a sudden fascist discontinuity, but the seamless, slow motion persistence of neoliberal market failures in healthcare, education, housing and the biosphere that continue to yield escalating human alienation, loneliness, material precarity and ecological collapse.

Demographic shifts in the parties, with DEM district median incomes rising from $54K to $61K since 2008, while REPUBS have declined from $55K to $53K, will impact our partisan affect but not the result. REPUBS will lean into the faux populist nativism of Trump or Tucker Carlson to hold their fly-over coalition, while DEMS double down on the performative identity symbolism of Warren or AOC to hold coastal urban centers. Neither will offer up anything more than remixed craven neoliberalism in the end.

And just as we’ve adjusted to 43% unable to afford the basics, 10.3 million abusing opioids, and 550K people living, loving, defecating and dying on our streets… Shaking our helpless heads, as families call the kids in for dinner in a freeway underpass tent, we will adjust to the next phase, and the phase after that. Ten years will pass in a heartbeat, as we sleepwalk our way into climate catastrophe.

This is a singular opportunity to reverse that fate through a politics that embraces our diversity, as it brings us together. I want to incite those of us in the discourse to join our comrades on the ground and fight like the Sanders campaign is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, because it is.

That means exercising discipline. Every institution of power is aligned against Bernard and looking for fissures to exploit. When controversial issues arise, that Sanders must respond to, resist the urge to concern-troll and trust that he maybe knows a thing or two about how to run his campaign. Should we feel the temptation to “push Sanders left” remember that Bernard’s transformative reforms weren’t even imaginable five years ago. We won’t have another window to win them, if we don’t summon an unbreakable resolve and discipline to will Sanders to victory now.

It also means ruthlessly differentiating Bernard from the neoliberal pack. As illustrated above, there is no second-best option to help avert disaster. Warren’s ten months of lying about her support for M4A, only to cave at first sign of heat, should have taught us that. Yet 56% of Liz supporters still prefer M4A to a public option. Our failures to differentiate in the past continue to reverberate in the now.

To put a finer point to it, Warren is no longer a legit threat to win, but she is an ongoing threat to derail Bernard. Sanders cannot prevail with Warren mystifying the stakes and draining any measure of support, as he winds toward a clarifying showdown with Biden. We take NH, IA, NV and CA, simply by gathering Warren’s second-choice voters into Bernard’s fold. We seize those states and Biden’s electability claims collapse. If we let Liz draft on our momentum, we lose. If Liz plummets, we win… Hands down.

Sanders has to be careful about how he differentiates from Warren in particular. He needs to welcome, not alienate her supporters, as the inevitability of her defeat sinks in. Misogyny and other bad faith claims await in the MSM wings.

We on the other hand can be unflinching and clear. None of us should temper our fire for the necessity to win now, nor our disdain for those public figures who stand in our way. Be kind to voters. Be unforgiving to grifters. Let it all hang out.

Antagonism plays because it’s honest. It’s rooted in the reality that everyday people are sick of being trampled upon by power and lied to by its courtiers. It tells our enemies that we will take this fight to the matts. It tells our potential comrades that we will never abandon them. It makes it obvious to the wavering PMC, looking to bet on a winner, that we have the resolve to win.

Left blue checks in specific, this is the moment. It will not come again.

Get definite. Get loud. Get antagonistic.

jeremy toback 200

Bernie Sanders, You Bastards.

Jeremy Toback

Deep gratitude to Aimee Terese of What’s Left podcast for contributing conceptual and research work to this piece.