An essential first step

I am unlikely to endorse Bernie Sanders. He’s still too conservative for me, seeking to work within an economic and political system that rather than being part of the solution to humanity’s existential crisis, foundationally exists in contradiction to that solution.

That said, the dilemma Democratic Party primary voters face should now be excruciatingly familiar to progressives. An old but memorable Blue Texan post should jar the memory:

Just so we’re clear, here are a few examples of [Obama administration] messages [to progressives] that don’t appeal to me at all.

Wake up!”

Get over it.”

Get in gear, man.”

Right back at’cha. Right back at’cha.

That’s not reality.”

You know who you are.”[1]

Blue Texan was quoting Obama administration responses to progressive complaints that Barack Obama, whom they had enthusiastically supported, had betrayed progressivism.[2]

That tension burst out into the open when [Susan] Madrak directly asked [David] Axelrod: “Have you ever heard of hippie punching?” That prompted a long silence from Axelrod.

“You want us to help you, the first thing I would suggest is enough of the hippie punching,” Madrak added. “We’re the girl you’ll take under the bleachers but you won’t be seen with in the light of day.”[3]

That was in 2010, a little more than five years ago, when Democrats faced a contradiction between on one hand, their having taken progressive support for granted in governing and on the other, their electoral campaign pandering to progressives in a midterm election season. Now, “‘[s]ome candidates may be running to make a point,’ [Hillary] Clinton said in a pointed reference to her opponent [Bernie Sanders]. ‘I’m running to make a difference.’”[4]

There are at least two questions here: First, should Sanders be elected, can he deliver on his promises? Second, should Clinton be elected, can she be trusted to advance the progressive cause?

The answer to both questions is probably no. In the present political climate, no matter who wins, the loser feels subject to tyranny. Whether, for example, it’s social conservatives standing on claims of religious liberty in their objections to same-sex marriage or progressives standing on related (but, importantly, not equivalent) claims in their insistence on gay and lesbian rights to same-sex marriage, there is simply no middle ground. Either consenting adults have a right to marry each other or they don’t. And nearly no one argues that government should just get out of the marriage business entirely.

The problem here isn’t, by a very long shot, limited to just same-sex marriage. In my forthcoming dissertation, I make the point that conservatives—in addition to being authoritarian (yes, even capitalist libertarians)—work from different epistemological premises than other people. There is, in fact, a reason for the “well-known liberal bias of the facts.” Conservatives devalue empirical evidence, favoring other forms of knowledge that, by definition, positivists (including many progressives) don’t even respect as knowledge. Whether it’s traditionalist conservatives and their so-called “transcendental” knowledge, social conservatives and their own interpretation of the Bible, capitalist libertarians and their impoverished and impoverishing notions of (economic) “freedom,” paleoconservatives and their notion that people of different ethnic or racial backgrounds cannot live with each other, neoconservatives and their moralistic rationalizations for functionalist conservative policies, or functionalist conservatives and their simple presumption that they alone are entitled to the privileges they enjoy over everyone else, empirical support for conservative policies often depends on selected evidence.

Conflict resolution depends on shared premises, at least that we are talking about the same universe. But different epistemological assumptions fundamentally mean that even to the extent that we are actually talking about the same universe, we might as well not be. The difference over same-sex marriage, for example, is fundamentally about a difference between positive freedom and negative freedom: The positive right of same-sex couples to marry versus the negative right of social and traditionalist conservatives to be “free” from understandings of marriage that conflict with the Bible. Or, cast differently, the negative right of everyone else to be free from social and traditionalist conservative theocratic understandings of governance versus the positive right of social and traditionalist conservatives to live in under the government of their choosing—a theocracy. Epistemologically, this is about the value and the interpretations we assign to Biblical text in relation to empirical evidence. This epistemological disagreement is foundational, usually unexpressed, but prior to the premises which are expressed.

It is unreasonable to expect a political system—any political system—to resolve such differences. To live with them under a single government requires authoritarianism and the only question is which side the ruler will favor in each dispute. And to the extent that a political system offers even the pretense of representation, obstruction becomes inevitable. So if Sanders or Clinton are elected, progressives will still be disappointed. In my view, that Clinton appears to be pandering[5] when not outright disingenuous in her self-righteous claims to be progressive[6] tilts the balance between the two heavily in favor of Sanders. That Clinton runs more on a sense of entitlement than out of conviction[7] only makes this worse.

So while I’m dissatisfied with Sanders, I oppose Clinton. But the Democratic Party establishment, in the name of pragmatism when not outright ideological preference, is working hard to ensure that it is Clinton that gets the nomination, so much so that I’ve been far from alone in referring to her presumptive nomination as a “coronation.”[8] A political system that offers me a choice between Clinton and someone even more conservative is profoundly unsatisfactory. In such a system, no matter who gets elected next November, we will all have a war criminal as president, we will all have inadequate if not regressive action on climate change, and we will all face worsening social inequality. And the claim Democrats have been relying on pretty much continuously since the 1970s, that the other guy is worse, has worn vanishingly thin.

As an anarchist, I oppose nearly all exercise of power—including both political and economic power— over others. As a vegetarian ecofeminist, I understand such exercise to be part of a flawed mentality that also expresses itself in our relationships with the environment and with non-human animals.[9] This mentality, implemented as a system of social organization in the Neolithic, now threatens our survival.[10] In this context, the problem of choosing Clinton versus any Republican, even a possible fascist,[11] is really small beer.

But even if a lot of people who are very worried about the imminence of a point of no return on climate change are wrong, hope requires a resuscitation of a now deeply devalued liberal education and of the values especially of critical thinking it teaches,[12] an “unpragmatic” goal as long as conservatives exercise influence in government.[13] Which is again to say that for me, even a very limited hope lies in what conservatives will view as tyranny.

I might well be accused of deeply wishful thinking in hoping (no, I don’t actually think it will happen) the United States will break up, allowing conservatives their own fiefdoms and all of us to live peaceably under much more local government. But for me, it is an essential first step against a likelihood that we have very little if any time at all left to save ourselves.

  1. [1]Blue Texan [pseud.], “Stop Whining, Liberals!” Firedoglake, September 27, 2010,
  2. [2]Blue Texan [pseud.], “Stop Whining, Liberals!” Firedoglake, September 27, 2010,
  3. [3]Greg Sargent, “Liberal blogger directly confronts David Axelrod, accuses White House of ‘hippie punching’,” Washington Post, September 23, 2010,
  4. [4]Abby Phillip, “Bernie Sanders makes it clear: He’s playing this game to win,” Washington Post, November 30, 2015,
  5. [5]Ezra Klein, “Why Clinton’s TPP opposition unnerves me,” Vox, October 8, 2015,; Kelly Riddell, “Hillary Clinton flip-flops from 2008 positions in bid for liberal voters’ support,” Washington Times, October 13, 2015,; Robert Scheer, “Go Ahead, Back Hillary Clinton and Forget All About Her Record,” Truthdig, October 9, 2015,; Stephen Stromberg, “How Hillary Clinton panders,” Washington Post, October 11, 2015,
  6. [6]Medea Benjamin, “Hillary Clinton Hasn’t Learned a Thing From the Iraq Experience,” Truthdig, October 29, 2015,; James Downie, “Hillary Clinton’s unbelievable defense of Wall Street contributions,” Washington Post, November 15, 2015,; Andrea Germanos, “Latest Snub of Progressive Base as Clinton Ditches MoveOn Forum,” Common Dreams, November 25, 2015,; Jesse Hamilton and Cheyenne Hopkins, “Hillary Clinton Lets Big Banks Off the Hook for Financial Crisis,” Bloomberg, October 2, 2015,; Patrick Healy, “Wall St. Ties Linger as Image Issue for Hillary Clinton,” New York Times, November 21, 2015,; Ben Kamisar, “Clinton skips MoveOn candidate forum,” Hill, November 24, 2015,; New York Times, “Hillary Clinton Botches Wall Street Questions,” November 15, 2015,; Todd S. Purdum, “Hillary’s Double Game,” Politico, November 14, 2015,; Janell Ross, “Hillary Clinton invoked 9/11 to defend her ties to Wall Street. What?” Washington Post, November 15, 2015,; Niall Stanage and Amie Parnes, “Edging right, Clinton seeks distance from Obama on ISIS,” Hill, November 24, 2015,
  7. [7]Bradford Richardson, “Hillary: Who’s more of an outsider than a woman?” Hill, September 20, 2015,; Niall Stanage and Amie Parnes, “Clinton searches for theme,” Hill, October 6, 2015,
  8. [8]Bill Curry, “Hillary’s in danger, Trump is sunk: The hard truths America is ignoring this election season,” Salon, August 17, 2015,; Patrick Healy, “Democrats Find That Anti-Establishment Isn’t Just a G.O.P. Theme,” New York Times, October 3, 2015,; Lauren McCauley, “Viewers Tune Out, Voters Lose Out as Democratic National Committee Buries Second Debate,” Truthdig, November 16, 2015,; Robert Reich, “The Revolt Against the Ruling Class,” August 2, 2015,; Eli Yokley, “Anti-Establishment Mood Doesn’t Stop ‘Invisible Primary’,” Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, October 8, 2015,
  9. [9]Greta Gaard, “Vegetarian Ecofeminism: A Review Essay,” Frontiers 23, no. 3 (2002): 117-146.
  10. [10]David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013,
  11. [11]Peter Grier, “Is Donald Trump really a ‘fascist?'” Christian Science Monitor, November 25, 2015,
  12. [12]Steven Conn, “How the Crisis of the Humanities Is Like the Greek Economy,” Chronicle of Higher Education, November 15, 2015,; Alexander I. Jacobs, “The Humanities at the End of the World,” Chronicle of Higher Education, September 28, 2015,; Scott Jaschik, “Obama becomes latest politician to criticize a liberal arts discipline,” Inside Higher Ed, January 31, 2014,; Mark Keierleber, “Obama Ramps Up Federal Focus on Job Training,” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 31, 2014,; Beckie Supiano, “No Laughing Matter: President’s Quip About Art History Pricks Some Ears,” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 31, 2014,
  13. [13]Thom Hartmann, “Why the right hates American history,” Salon, February 26, 2015,; Tom Kludt, “Marco Rubio Thinks It’s ‘Pathetic’ That Obama Apologized To Art History Majors,” Talking Points Memo, February 19, 2014,; Edwin Lyngar, “The right’s fear of education: What I learned as a (former) conservative military man,” Salon, February 26, 2015,

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