I’ve been seeing a remarkably large number of people making the argument that because Bernie Sanders is a millionaire, he is somehow a hypocrite. This is a very strange claim. Here’s why.
Tonight I found myself looking over and old post–“Who is the Most Qualified Presidential Candidate Ever?“, from September 2016. It was shortly before the presidential election, and Americans were arguing about whether Hillary Clinton was the “most qualified” candidate in history, in the sense of “most experienced”. To answer that question, I devised a formula I thought was cute. So tonight I’ll score the 2020 Democratic nominees.
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.
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?
In the old days, when the New Deal Coalition was just beginning to fray, the right made a distinction between the “deserving poor” and the “undeserving poor”. Deserving poor people worked hard, while the undeserving poor were drug addicts, welfare queens, and all the rest of it. This language was used to reform welfare to make it crueller and stingier, and it induced many people to think of the poor as takers, as scroungers, as people they didn’t want in their political movements. Today, a new distinction of the same kind is made between those with college degrees and those without them. You’re just supposed to go to college now, and if you don’t there must be something wrong with you, and in the eyes of many you don’t deserve a good life or a good job or healthcare. No, they demand that you go back to school. The result is that the bar for being one of the virtuous, deserving workers has moved up. Now, if you are a hard worker who didn’t go to college, you get lumped in with the drug addicts and chronically unemployed. The professional class is the only remaining part of the working class entitled to social respect. It relishes in this prestigious perch, looking down its nose at the unwashed and uneducated. But those without college degrees can sense this contempt, and they reciprocate it. The result is a working class which has been split asunder, politically. This is unfortunate, because neither faction can prevail without the other. The professionals have money and organising power. The ordinary workers have manpower. But they each keep to their own candidates, and this division permits those who care little for either to prevail over both.