Too clever by half

Nobody knows who will win the Democratic Primary. Why can’t we admit that and move on?

The New York Times thinks it does know, and seems so content in their certainty that Bernie can not possibly beat Hillary, that they have been ignoring rather than attacking him. Most of the rest of the mainstream media have followed suit. But those media outlets and their resident pundits have clearly lost some of their stranglehold over the construction of “electability”: viz, Trump. National polls have consistently shown Hillary with a vast lead, but those polls are much less significant than state-based polls conducted a few weeks before a primary, and Bernie’s lead in New Hampshire and neck-and-neck status in Iowa also have been pretty steady — and the outcome of those two primaries traditionally have more effect on subsequent primaries than anything that has come before. But that only tells me: we don’t know.

Real small-d democracy necessitates living with uncertainty, and in a way embracing that uncertainty. The insider baseball that has dominated political journalism for the past half century is politically enervating at best, anti-democratic at worst. It’s too clever by half, speaking with certainty about things that aren’t certain, while avoiding obvious, if difficult truths. (OK, if you accurately predicted in 2014 that Donald Trump would be the Republican front-runner going into the 2016 primaries, then I want to hear from you. Otherwise, please talk about something else.)

I’ve been enjoying some of the debates between Bernie supporters and Hillary supporters (though I think the more interesting ones are between women). Though I’m a Bernie supporter, I think it’s true that it would be a major breakthrough to have a committed feminist in the Whitehouse, and that a future political landscape in which the problem is pushing President Hillary to the left does not seem a whole lot worse than a landscape in which the problem is trying to get any of Bernie’s progressive policy proposals enacted against enormous resistance. We live in interesting times.

But there’s a tendency in Hillary’s camp, and to some extent in Bernie’s as well, where the debate devolves into insider baseball, where people, with much self-certainty, throw around poll results and anecdotes about how the world “really works.” For example, Katha Pollitt, who I like a lot, wrote “Bernie Sanders isn’t going to win the nomination… can we at least be honest about that? And if he did, he wouldn’t win the general election.” That’s a guess, not hard knowledge, and rhetorically it works to shut down discussion, not open it up. Sanders supporters, understandably annoyed at the MSM’s inevitability assumption, respond with equally thin lists of reasons why Bernie will win, such as not-very-meaningful head-to-head matchup polls. I’m all for being pragmatic and realistic, but the only thing the last decade and a half has taught me is that the world of politics is less predictable than we imagine.

As progressives, I think we have to get out of the habit of second-guessing democracy. There’s so much else to talk about, to ponder, to debate; let’s focus on that. Enough of the prognostication, already.

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