Poor Arguments, Wishful Thinking Edition

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The Democratic Party will run on a “Ponies for Everyone” platform in 2020 if we all wish hard enough. Friedrich von Amerling [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns & Money finds Freddie deBoer making a fascinating argument that if we punish the Democratic Party in 2016 we will all get ponies in 2020. Cool story, bro. Let’s just outsource the proper response to this to Lemieux, here, with the relevant excerpt (but read the whole thing):

He [deBoer] continues, in vain, in this vein:

  • I reject the insistence that it’s my responsibility to vote for Hillary Clinton out of support for the “lesser evil” because the lesser evil argument contains no coherent argument for how change occurs. The lesser evil is not good enough; lesser evilists never articulate a remotely compelling vision of how one proceeds from the lesser evil to the greater good. Politics is a form of negotiation. The lesser evil argument compels us to concede to our negotiation partner (the candidate we are meant to support) our only source of leverage (our vote) before receiving any concessions at all. You might try this in any other form of negotiation and see how well that works for you. Promising to vote Democrat no matter what ensures that Democrats have no reason whatsoever to actually improve as a party. And as long as Republicans are in a death spiral, “better than the Republicans” is a designation that simply gets worse and worse over time. Lesser evil thinking is a road that has no ending and inevitably leads to the bottom.”

deBoer attacking other people for lacking a “coherent argument for how change occurs” is…astounding. There’s a reason why this argument operates entirely at an abstract level, with no historical examples. This is because history has continually and decisively refuted deBoer. Voting for Johnson, as we’ve discussed, was a classic “lesser evil” vote in the sense that he means it. So was FDR, given the many compromises the New Deal had to make with the white supremacist faction of the party. So was Lincoln, an incrementalist on an issue of the utmost moral urgency. Major progressive reforms are almost always the result of lesser-evil voting and coalition-building, and are virtually never the result of dramatic flounces out of the coalition, as the same-sex marriage movement shows. Did movement conservatives take over the Republican Party by voting third party if they didn’t win? They did not. They try to get their candidates elected in the primaries, they won some and they lost some, but they kept pushing. It’s not complicated, but it works. As a theory of political change, it’s perfectly coherent. deBoer’s isn’t even a theory; it’s a retrospective justification for his belief that he’s too good to form any political association with people on the left he deems not left enough. Let’s say enough of the left agreed with deBoer to successfully throw the election to Trump. Do you think this would be good for the American left? That it would increase their influence? The whole idea is nuttier than a warehouse full of fruitcakes. It’s a ridiculous idea in theory that has an extensive record of failure in practice.

From his CV I gather that deBoer is about my age, which means he’s old enough to remember the last time leftists made this argument that progressive paradise is right around the corner if we just teach those Democrats a lesson. That was 2000, and the ponies we reaped for sowing Democratic Party candidate Al Gore’s defeat by sitting out the election or voting for Ralph Nader were huge tax cuts for the rich, soaring budget deficits, a recession, and oh yeah, the loveliest pony of them all, the Iraq War.

Hillary Clinton is running on a strong progressive platform. The deBoers of the world go on believing their lying eyes, concocting farcical stories about why they just can’t vote for her. As they continue to trot out such arguments and fail to respond adequately to criticism, one starts to wonder if their true motivation can be found by rearranging the letters in “my soy gin” to make a single word.

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