On Growing Up, Politically Speaking

Kevin Baker writes for a living and voted for Bernie Sanders in the New York primary. In today’s New York Times, he calls on us liberals (aka progressives) to get serious: “Let’s Grow Up, Liberals”.

First, as preamble, he offers a critical analysis of the way Sanders endorsed Clinton this week: 

Senator Sanders’s embrace of the presumptive Democratic nominee included all the inclinations that many of us have come to find, shall we say, a tad grating about the man: his interminable, self-congratulatory stump speech, wearingly bereft of humor, argument, story or anecdote, more a listing of all bad things in the world and how they must be put right, delivered in his usual droning shout. The need to make it all about the platform concessions he had wrangled out of Mrs. Clinton, and the historical magnitude of the Senator himself: “Together we have begun a political revolution to transform America and that revolution continues.” Followed by about as short and perfunctory an actual endorsement as possible.

At least it was done. If Achilles had sulked this long in his tent we would all be speaking Trojan, but never mind. Bernie Sanders did, clearly and unequivocally, say that Hillary Clinton had won the most elected delegates, that she “will make an outstanding President and I am proud to stand with her here today” …

Mr. Kramer then diagnoses a continuing problem with left-wing politics:

Polling shows that 85 percent of Sanders supporters are willing to vote for Mrs. Clinton in November… Most of the remainder will likely come around over the next four months… yet there is a lingering problem here…

With Bernie out of the battle, what remains is the left’s odd, outmoded doctrine of purity, of revolutionary posturing. This is a philosophy alien to the long legacy of pragmatic American liberalism. Its perpetuation speaks directly to the reasons today’s liberals seem to have such difficulty holding and wielding power in this country. “The worse, the better,” went the Leninist saw. There is no reforming the rotten old system. Best to “let the empire burn,” and have the fires purify the new society….

Change — lasting, democratic change, which is the only kind worth fighting for — is hard, slow, often exasperating. And yet the theatrics of revolution seem to mesmerize the left, over and over again. The concept, all too similar to the religious fundamentalist’s obsession with the end times, is that cataclysm will bring redemption. There is inherent in this a deep indifference to the historical recognition that one thing proceeds from another … and that when we start down an unknown trail we cannot be sure where we will end up….

The corrosive effects of a political philosophy devoted to waiting for the revolution can be heard in the oddly passive demands of those speeches by Mr. Sanders that lay out always what he wants, but not how we can get it. It is reflected in the left’s distraction over presidential elections while failing to build democracy on a state or local level….

He concludes by quoting Barry Goldwater’s call to action after Goldwater lost the Republican nomination to Richard Nixon in 1960:

This country is too important for anyone’s feelings,” Goldwater thundered at his delegates. “This country, and its majesty, is too great for any man, be he conservative or liberal, to stay home and not work just because he doesn’t agree. Let’s grow up, conservatives. We want to take this party back, and I think some day we can. Let’s go to work.”

Goldwater backed up his words by campaigning hard in support of Nixon — and not incidentally, building a foundation for the right wing around the country. Four years later, he would use it to gain the nomination himself, and by 1980, Ronald Reagan had taken not only the party but the country for conservatism.