Benjamin Studebaker

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

Electorally, the Left is Already Behind Schedule

One of the tasks for the left is to reshape the Democratic Party into the kind of political party which can be used to chip away at material disparities of wealth and power. This means making it into a party which can actually pass policies like single payer, tuition free college, $15 minimum wage, stronger union rights, and so on. The thing is, many Democrats in congress don’t support these policies. Some of them admit they don’t support them, while others are pretending to support them but have no intention of following through should they get into power. This is the same position the right found itself in after Obama’s election–they wanted a Republican Party which would repeal Obamacare and take a stand on immigration. But the Republicans they had were either openly uninterested in doing those things or clearly lying about it. So under the banner of the Tea Party these right wingers began working to reshape the Republican Party through the primary mechanism. They made significant gains–the Tea Party helped create senators like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Jerry Moran, Bill Cassidy, Tim Scott, and Mike Lee. These people are much more right wing than their predecessors 20 or 30 years ago would have been. Over time, their efforts also helped make it possible for an anti-establishment anti-immigration nationalist to win the presidency. But despite all of this the Tea Party has come up short. It was unable to repeal Obamacare because of opposition from John McCain and Lisa Murkowski, two senators it had tried and failed to remove through primaries. It has, to this point, been unable to get its wall built. The Tea Party got a lot done, and it still wasn’t enough. When Trump leaves office, most of what he will have been able to pass will be legislation which George W. Bush could have passed 20 years ago with the Republicans of that period. I’m telling you all of this because, by the looks of it, the left is going to be markedly less successful in these primaries than the Tea Party was two years into the Obama administration, in 2010.

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Three Failing Movements and the One that Can Succeed

One of the key things I always like to remember about politics is that there are no political systems or political organizations which are wholly elitist or wholly populist. All regimes and all organizations are mixed. Autocracies and aristocracies still need their peoples to recognise them as legitimate and cooperate with their decisions. If they ignore legitimacy, their peoples will destroy them. Democracies still rely on elite professional civil servants, politicians, lawyers, and economists to design and implement policies that address the interests of the people and the subgroups which comprise it. If they ignore those elites, they won’t be able to govern effectively and they’ll disappoint the people they set out to help.  It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? And yet, despite this, there are always political movements which operate dogmatically from an elitist or populist standpoint, ignoring the need to find the right mix of both. I want to describe three such movements, and the alternative path we can take to avoid their mistakes.

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The Overground Hell Road: The Similarities Between Kanye and Gandhi Are Scary

Today Kanye West said:

When you hear about slavery for 400 years…For 400 years? That sounds like a choice. You were there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all. It’s like we’re mentally imprisoned…right now we’re choosing to be enslaved. [T]o make myself clear. Of course I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a boat by free will. My point is for us to have stayed in that position even though the numbers were on our side means that we were mentally enslaved. [T]he reason why I brought up the 400 years point is because we can’t be mentally imprisoned for another 400 years. We need free thought now. Even the statement was an example of free thought. It was just an idea. [O]nce again I am being attacked for presenting new ideas.

Lots of people have attacked Kanye, accusing him of various bad isms. I’m going to do something different. I’m going to compare him to Gandhi.

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The Church Left is Proving My Point

A couple days ago, I wrote a piece about the tendency for left wing organizations to behave like church communities rather than strategic political organizations. I told a story about an upcoming election at the East Bay DSA branch in California, criticising one of slates for taking unstrategic positions and using church tactics–shunning, shaming, perhaps expulsion–to target those who publicly do not embrace their platform in every detail. Anxious to prove everything I said correct, this slate and its supporters have immediately begun coming after me in precisely the ways I anticipated. They have begun personally targeting me, attempting to depict me as some kind of heretic or sinner. If I am not a true lefty (a heretic) or if I am someone who sometimes takes wrong positions or says wrong things (a sinner) then I am bad and should be shunned, shamed, and drive out of left-wing discourse.  The trouble is, I’m a lone wolf on the internet. I don’t tend to join organizations–my influence, such as it is, has always come from the ability of my writing and arguments to draw attention and support. I don’t rely emotionally or psychologically on the acceptance and approval of a church community which they can turn against me. This limits their leverage over my behavior. Churches can try to shun and shame the people who don’t go to church, but it doesn’t work so well.

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The Left is Not a Church

I want to talk about the DSA. If you haven’t heard, the DSA is the Democratic Socialists of America. It’s a left-wing organization that’s been around since 1982, but it’s become politically more significant over the last couple years. Inspired by Bernie Sanders, DSA’s membership has expanded from 6,000 to about 35,000 over the last couple years. The DSA is committed to lots of nice things, like a Medicare-for-All Single Payer system. I heard a story about two DSA branches this week–the San Francisco DSA and the East Bay DSA. It’s a local story. A small story. But it tells us a lot about the condition of left-wing organizing today.

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