Democratic Socialism Makes New York Times

As someone who views public deliberation as an essential feature of democracy, I am heartened to see left viewpoints finally being addressed on the op/ed page of The New York Times. This column by Mitchell Abidor mentions by name the fast-growing organization Democratic Socialists of America, the increasingly prominent journal Jacobin, and Bhaskar Sunkara, author of The Socialist Manifesto. I guess democratic socialism has finally returned to the public sphere! Having come of age during the Cold War, I find that delightfully shocking.

I am disheartened, however, by the lack of respect Abidor shows towards fellow citizens who hold political views that differ from his own, an attitude all too commonly expressed on social media by supporters of the Democratic Party. Support the party line – “blue no matter who” – or prepare to be blasted! I find that position problematic because democracy entails equals governing themselves through collaborative decision-making, so respecting the views of others, even when you disagree, constitutes an essential component of self-rule.

The column begins with condescension and insult: “These young socialists think they have courage. They don’t.” Really? Actually, that is not even true. If courage entails facing adversity despite the possibility of peril, then those who express unpopular views knowing they will be viciously attacked, most certainly act courageously. But even if they didn’t, maligning an opponent’s character is not a constructive way to engage in a conversation.

Like many people, Abidor seems to hold the idea that every organization on the left has to push the exact same line. He bemoans the fact that “Democratic Socialists of America has declined to back Biden.” Why in the world should a socialist organization be expected to back someone who denounces their entire worldview? What an absurd expectation. Obviously, every individual member of DSA will make their own decision on election day, but an organization should not be expected to endorse candidates that oppose its mission statement.

Even more strangely, Abidor does not seem to understand how the electoral college operates. He blasts Sunkara for saying he will vote for the Green Party candidate in 2020, even though the man lives in New York, a state that went 60% for Hillary in 2016. Who Sunkara votes for doesn’t matter because he does not live in a swing state. Is that absurd? Yes. That is why the electoral college needs to go.

Most annoyingly, however, and most commonly, the columnist fails to understand the reasons why people on the left might not vote for Biden for strategic purposes. It’s not simply a question of “purism,” or as I prefer to call it integrity, but also of strategy.

First, if progressives vote for the Democratic candidate no matter what, then the left has no leverage. Prior to the election is the time to exercise power. If Democratic candidates want our votes, then they need to support our issues. Let’s see how far to the left Biden goes.

Second, the Democratic Party needs to learn that kneecapping progressives in order to install establishment candidates will not work. In 2016, party operatives worked behind the scenes to rig the election against Bernie Sanders. In 2020, party leaders all circled the wagons to stop Bernie again. That needs to stop.

Third, if Biden wins then his VP will most likely become the next Democratic nominee for president. Personally, I want AOC to run in 2024.

Moreover, on a non-strategic note, having principles means there are lines you simply will not cross. For example, if you support torture, I will never vote for you. That is politically unforgivable in my book. Some people draw the line at sexual assault.

In my opinion, all of those points are sensible and valid and need to be considered by all thoughtful people of good will.

On the other hand, stopping fascism is also part of the progressive agenda, so voting against Trump, who I view as authoritarian, even quasi-fascist, should also be considered by everyone on the left.

In addition, utilitarianism — the greatest good for the greatest number, aka the lesser of two evils — is also a valid moral theory, as recently argued in “I believe Tara Reade.  I am voting for Joe Biden anyway.”

People of good will can hold divergent perspectives. Please don’t pretend there is no valid argument for refusing to “vote blue no matter who” in November. And if you stand opposed to authoritarianism, please refrain from trying to force people to fall in line by insulting and haranguing them. People who hold views that differ from your own are not toddlers having temper tantrums or a basket of deplorables. Moreover, taking that position is counterproductive to your goals, since studies show that arguing with people (rather than respectfully deliberating) just makes them dig in, and I am sure insults do the same.

I will make a judgment about how to vote after carefully weighing the trade-offs of each option, and that is how democracy is supposed to work.

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