Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Why Bernie Sanders Matters More Than People Think

Every time I find a way to say that there is no one like Bernie Sanders, there are people who don’t believe me. Aren’t there other candidates who support the same policies he supports now? Some of them are younger. Some of them aren’t old white guys. Why can’t it be one of them, why can’t it be someone new? Over and over, I have tried to find ways to explain that there is a real difference between Bernie Sanders and everyone else. Today, as Sanders announces his candidacy for the presidency, I’m going to try one more time.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Seems Confused About Race

I have been increasingly concerned by the way Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) talks about race. I see two principal ways people discuss racism:

  1. The Citizenship Model–people who face racial discrimination are being treated as second class citizens on arbitrary grounds, and they are entitled to the same status as other people in our society. On this model, racial oppression is a failure to recognise that citizens are entitled to equal political standing. It denies the citizenship of people of color. People with this view often speak in a universalist language, because their emphasis is on what we all have in common as citizens. It’s a critique which erodes racial distinctions, emphasising common political standing across group categories.
  2. The Group Fetishist Model–people who face racial discrimination are subject peoples who are entitled to group self-determination and therefore to their own political arrangements, separate and distinct from whites and Europeans. On this model, racial oppression is the attempt to wrongfully subject distinct groups to the same institutions. People with this view speak in a particularist language, because their emphasis is on what is different about various groups of people. It’s a critique which reinforces racial distinctions, emphasising separateness.

These two models in turn proceed from different ways of understanding what politics is. For those on the citizenship model, it is our political status as citizens which unites us. The state structures our self-conception as a people. You see this in America in the commitment to the constitution–we think of ourselves as American insofar as we are all committed to a common political project. But for those on the group fetishist model, ethnic and racial groups are primordial and pre-exist political associations. We are united not by political standing but by cultural commitments–language, cuisine, religion, ideology, ethnicity, race, you name it. So whenever two or more distinct cultural groups exist under one political framework, the group fetishist alleges that one of those groups isn’t “independent” or “self-determining”, that there’s a subjugation relationship.

Ultimately, only the citizenship model can provide the conditions under which diverse people can live together. If we recognise each other as equal citizens, we don’t have to fuss about whether we speak the same language, worship the same gods, or look the same color. We can instead work together to ensure every person enjoys equal status and the distributive benefits that go along with that. Group fetishism kills unity. It breaks us up into ever smaller factions, and it makes it difficult for those factions to collaborate.

Initially, AOC appeared to be operating on the citizen model, but increasingly she’s been moving in the group fetishist direction. The result is a confused position on race. Let me show you what I mean…

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The Press is Helping Howard Schultz Blackmail the Democratic Party

Howard Schultz, the billionaire Starbucks executive, is not very good at politics. His independent campaign for the presidency has produced some of the lowest favorability ratings in American political history. Just 4% of respondents in a recent Change Research poll view him positively while a whopping 40% view him negatively. Schultz clearly will never win the presidency. The purpose of his campaign is to blackmail Democratic primary voters into nominating a centrist. This was obvious from the start, but Schultz has now made it explicit, offering to drop out of the race if the Democrats nominate someone he considers acceptable:

I would reassess the situation if the numbers change as a result of a centrist Democrat winning the nomination.

So we have a billionaire everyone hates who is attempting to use his wealth to fund a presidential campaign no one wants so that he can intimidate ordinary Democratic primary voters into voting for his preferred candidate. Most billionaires intervene in primaries by donating to the candidates they like–Schultz is threatening to depress Democrats’ general election vote counts to get his way. Initial polling shows he might take two to four points from a Democratic nominee. This billionaire is helping Donald Trump because he is mad at primary voters. And yet, despite this, he continues to receive an immense amount of free publicity from American journalists. Just this week, CNN gifted Schultz with a televised town hall, and piles and piles of media outlets elected to cover the things Schultz said. Much of this coverage was negative, but as we’ve seen with Donald Trump, giving someone free press–even negative free press–helps them build name recognition. 56% of people still don’t know who Schultz is. Based on the early polling, for every 10 new voters who become familiar with Schultz, one of them might become a Schultz supporter. Telling people he exists is unhelpful. Even this post, insofar as it introduces new people to Schultz, is counterproductive. But I do want to make a wider point about the media’s relationship with wealth, and hopefully that wider point is worth the cost of mentioning this cretin. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Evaluate a US Presidential Candidate

I see a lot of people making claims about how left wing or progressive various Democratic candidates or potential candidates are. Most of the time, I think these claims are flimsy. Commentators like to judge candidates on three core metrics:

  1. The rhetoric they use–whether the candidate talks in a way that makes the commentator feel good.
  2. The policies they claim to support–whether the candidate has gotten behind particular policies, like Medicare For All, Green New Deal, Abolish ICE, or whatever floats your boat.
  3. Their identity–whether the candidate is a person of color and/or a woman and/or LGBTQIA+

I want to argue that these metrics are largely useless. Instead, I want to give you a much better toolkit for assessing candidates–one that most journalists don’t know how to use.

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Beware Arrogant Candidates Who Can’t Win But Will Split the Vote

As I look at the 2020 Democratic primary field, I’m reminded of the 2017 French presidential election. Do you remember? In the first round, the Left Party’s candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, got 19.6% of the vote, failing to secure the 21.3% he needed to beat Marine Le Pen and advance to the second round. Mélenchon just narrowly missed the boat because he didn’t command the whole left block. 6.4% of French voters instead picked the Socialist Party’s candidate, Benoît Hamon. A further 1.7% of French voters chose the candidates of the Communist Union or New Anticapitalist Party. The left could have commanded as much as 27.7%. It only needed about a fifth of these additional left-leaning voters to slip past Le Pen. But these left wing candidates refused to drop out of the race, and the result was a depressing second round, in which the only alternative to France’s status quo was right nationalism. So when I look at the Democratic Party’s field, I ask myself–who is the Mélenchon, and who are the Hamons?

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