Their names are Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17. They were once soccer players in the West Bank. Now they are never going to play sports again. Jawhar and Adam were on their way home from a training session in the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium on January 31 when Israeli forces fired upon them as they approached a checkpoint. After being shot repeatedly, they were mauled by checkpoint dogs and then beaten. Ten bullets were put into Jawhar’s feet. Adam took one bullet in each foot. After being transferred from a hospital in Ramallah to King Hussein Medical Center in Amman, they received the news that soccer would no longer be a part of their futures. (Israel’s border patrol maintains that the two young men were about to throw a bomb.)
This is only the latest instance of the targeting of Palestinian soccer players by the Israeli army and security forces. Death, injury or imprisonment has been a reality for several members of the Palestinian national team over the last five years. Just imagine if members of Spain’s top-flight World Cup team had been jailed, shot or killed by another country and imagine the international media outrage that would ensue. Imagine if prospective youth players for Brazil were shot in the feet by the military of another nation. But, tragically, these events along the checkpoints have received little attention on the sports page or beyond.
Much has been written about the psychological effect this kind of targeting has on the occupied territories. Sports represent escape, joy and community, and the Palestinian national soccer team, for a people without a recognized nation, is a source of tremendous pride. To attack the players is to attack the hope that the national team will ever truly have a home.
The Palestinian national football team, which formed in 1998, is currently ranked 144th in the world by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). They have never been higher than 115th. As Chairman of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril al-Rajoub commented bluntly, the problems are rooted in “the occupation’s insistence on destroying Palestinian sport.”
Over the last year, in response to this systematic targeting of Palestinian soccer, al-Rajoub has attempted to assemble forces to give Israel the ultimate sanction and, as he said, “demand the expulsion of Israel from FIFA and the International Olympic Committee.” Al-Rajoub claims the support of Jordan, Qatar, Iran, Oman, Algiers and Tunisia in favor of this move, and promises more countries, with an opportunity at a regional March 14 meeting of Arab states, to organize more support. He has also pledged to make the resolution formal when all the member nations of FIFA meet in Brazil.
Qatar’s place in this, as host of the 2022 World Cup, deserves particular scrutiny. As the first Arab state to host the tournament, they are under fire for the hundreds of construction deaths of Nepalese workers occurring on their watch. As the volume on these concerns rises, Qatar needs all the support in FIFA that they can assemble. Whether they eventually see the path to that support as one that involves confronting or accommodating Israel, will be fascinating to see.
As for Sepp Blatter, he clearly recognizes that there is a problem in the treatment of Palestinian athletes by the Israeli state. Over the last year, he has sought to mediate this issue by convening a committee of Israeli and Palestinian authorities to see if they can come to some kind of agreement about easing the checkpoints and restrictions that keep Palestinian athletes from leaving (and trainers, consultants and coaches from entering) the West Bank and Gaza. Yet al-Rajoub sees no progress. As he said, “This is the way the Israelis are behaving and I see no sign that they have recharged their mental batteries. There is no change on the ground. We are a full FIFA member and have the same rights as all other members.”
The shooting into the feet of Jawhar and Adam has taken a delicate situation and made it an impossible one. Sporting institutions like FIFA and the IOC are always wary about drawing lines in the sand when it comes to the conduct of member nations. But the deliberate targeting of players is seen, even in the corridors of power, as impossible to ignore. As long as Israel subjects Palestinian athletes to detention and violence, their seat at the table of international sports will be never be short of precarious.
Read Next: The NFL must address violence against women.
Florida State Attorney Angela Corey will seek to triple Marissa Alexander’s original prison sentence from twenty to sixty years, effectively a life sentence for the 33-year-old woman, when her case is retried this July, The Florida Times-Union reports.
Alexander was convicted on three charges of aggravated assault in 2012 for firing warning shots in the direction of Rico Gray, her estranged husband, and his two children. No one was hurt. Alexander’s attorneys argued that she had the right to self-defense after Gray physically assaulted and threatned to kill her the day of the shooting. In a deposition, Gray confessed to a history of abusing women, including Alexander.
In September of 2013 a District Appeals court threw out the conviction on grounds that Circuit Judge James Daniel erroneously placed the burden on Alexander to prove she acted in self-defense, when she only had to meet a “reasonable doubt concerning self-defense.”
Judge Daniel originally slapped Alexander with three twenty-year prison sentences, but ordered that they be served concurrently. If Alexander is convicted a second time in July, State Attorney Angela Corey will seek consecutive sentences, adding up to sixty years in prison.
Florida’s 10-20-Life law imposes a mandatory minimum of twenty years in prison for anyone who fires a gun while committing a felony. Angela Corey’s prosecution team says it is following a court ruling that multiple convictions for related charges under 10-20-Life should carry consecutive sentences.
The advocacy group Free Marissa Now released a statement calling Corey’s move a “stunning abuse of power.” Members of the group say Corey is pressing for a longer sentence to thwart attention from accusations of prosecutorial misconduct, as well as recent failures in high-profile trials. Corey failed to secure murder convictions for George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn, two men who fatally shot black teenagers.
“Remember that when Marissa Alexander fired her warning shot to save her own life, she caused no injuries. Now she’s facing the very real possibility of spending the rest of her life in prison for that act of self-defense,” said advocate Sumayya Fire in the statement. “That should send a chill down the back of every person in this country who believes that women who are attacked have the right to defend themselves.”
Read Next: Aviva Stahl explains why British citizens are languishing in American prisons.
This article was originally published in the student-run Daily Cal.
The hours burned by as Anuraag Kumar scurried around California Memorial Stadium with hot summer rays beating on his back. But instead of a football, the UC Berkeley sophomore was carrying medical supplies.For about thirty hours every week during the summer 2013 football training camp, Kumar set up equipment and assisted physicians as a Cal Athletics intern. It’s an invaluable experience for a premedical student, he said, but there was one catch: it was unpaid. “It’s pretty exhausting,” Kumar said. “It’s difficult to work so many hours a week unpaid and still find time for a paid opportunity.”
Combating competition and economic decline, college students are increasingly struggling to find work and take on unpaid internships. The ubiquity of the latter follows the economy’s shift in the past few decades toward more casual employment, said Katie Quan, the associate chair of UC Berkeley Labor Center.
“It’s very hard to find a paid internship that will also give you experience for med school,” Kumar said. “Not doing them puts you at a disadvantage.”
Despite their prevalence, unpaid interns are not protected in the same way as paid employees are, leaving room for potential exploitation. California State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, introduced a bill in January that would give unpaid interns the same protections from discrimination and sexual harassment as paid employees. The bill, currently in committee, came in response to a New York federal judge’s ruling last fall that a Syracuse University student could not sue the company where she was an unpaid intern for sexual harassment because she did not count as an employee. “The recession has forced young people to rely on these unpaid positions to build resumes and contacts,” Skinner said in a statement. “Employers owe them a safe and fair workplace.”
Unpaid internships dominated headlines last summer after unpaid interns sued a number of high-profile companies including NBC Universal, Sony and Condé Nast, claiming they suffered minimum wage violations from not being assigned different jobs than paid employees and not receiving training in an educational environment—two of the requirements for unpaid workers set by the US Department of Labor. The wave of suits provoked discussion not only about the lack of legal protection for interns but, more importantly, the value of unpaid internships.
Many students still see unpaid internships as necessary to break into certain industries, particularly nontechnical fields such as government and media, where paid opportunities can be scarce. Anna Shen, a UC Berkeley senior majoring in political science, started interning—unpaid—for a Berkeley City Council member last fall, bolstering her interest in working in the public sector. “Even in freshman year, everyone was getting internships,” Shen said. “The expectation was if you don’t get an internship by junior year, you have nothing to show when you graduate, and you won’t get hired.”
Nationwide, about 48 percent of internships taken by seniors graduating in 2013 were unpaid, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. But as no system exists at the state or federal level to specifically regulate unpaid internships, some students learn practical skills at their internship while others perform less meaningful labor.
“The purpose of unpaid internships should be to give young people a chance to sample certain kinds of work,” said Robert Reich, a UC Berkeley public policy professor and former US secretary of labor. “All too often, employers view unpaid interns as free help to do menial tasks.”
Unpaid internships are often infeasible for students who lack the luxury to forgo a paid opportunity to pursue an internship in their field of interest. “An unpaid internship can take away from time [students] need for studying, working and paying their expenses here at Cal,” said Julian Ledesma, interim director of the campus Educational Opportunity Program, citing the myriad challenges low-income and first-generation college students face. Still, Ledesma said while internships are important, students often gain professional skills through other activities such as research.
A 2013 NACE survey found that 37 percent of college seniors with unpaid internship experience received at least one job offer—only 1 percent higher than those with no experience. Students with no experience also had a higher median starting salary than those who took unpaid internships. In contrast, the study found that the percent of surveyed students who had taken paid internships and received at least one job offer was about 63 percent and their median starting salary was significantly higher, although the research did not take into account factors such as the types of jobs to which students applied.
To legitimize unpaid internships, many companies require students to receive academic credit for participating. At UC Berkeley, there is no campus-wide oversight of academic internships, although many departments follow Career Center guidelines. The center also recently said that it will approve a new option to receive internship credit through an online summer course via ISF 187. Typically, students can receive credit from their department if the internship directly relates to their major and they complete a project pertaining to it. “[Internships] allow students to explore a particular career option,” said Tyler Stovall, the dean of the undergraduate division at UC Berkeley’s College of Letters and Science.
For international students, the internship process is even tougher. To work legally, they must be authorized by special federal work permission—but only if their degree requires an internship, or if they’re taking a course or a project based on an internship. From last summer to this spring, UC Berkeley’s English and media studies departments each gave twenty-four undergraduate students academic credit for internships. Political science gave seven. In that period, 408 international students were authorized to take internships. The campus does not keep track of whether internships are paid or unpaid. In contrast, the majority of internships in electrical engineering and computer science are paid, said Christopher Hunn, an academic counselor for computer science.
Still working his unpaid internship on the field between classes, Kumar also has a paid job as a part-time tutor. It’s a balancing act, he says, to juggle an internship, a job and a full course load. But Kumar sees his internship as an investment towards his future. “I’d love to get a paid internship, but to gain that I need the right experience,” Kumar said. “I’m lucky my parents are willing to help out [financially]—a lot of people aren’t that fortunate.”
Read Next: check out this week’s Nation intern article picks.
As the crisis in Ukraine deepens, the Western media and political elites continue to debate the role that America should play. So what are America’s options? According to Nation contributing editor Stephen Cohen, they are absolutely “zero, unless we want to go to war.” Appearing on PBS NewsHour with Hari Sreenivasan, Cohen insisted that Putin’s mission is to restore Russian security and greatness at home. Because of the economic, political and military realities on the ground in Ukraine, “Putin holds all the cards, for better or worse.” All eyes are now on Putin as the specter of civil war looms over an ethnically, linguistically and politically divided Ukraine.
The crowds that marched on the White House Sunday in opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline project arrayed themselves behind a banner that read, “We did NOT vote for KXL.”
That was the most vital political message of a day that saw almost 400 Americans—the overwhelming majority of them young people—arrested as part of a dramatic protest against the oil pipeline project that has drawn outspoken opposition from environmental groups.
A lot of Washington politicians, pundits and professional strategists miss the political dynamic that goes with the pipeline debate. Polling shows that young people “get” the climate change issue, and that they see it as a high political and personal priority.
Indeed, they care about it so much that they marched on the White House to urge the Obama administration not to approve the Keystone proposal. Hundreds were willing to be arrested. They recognize, as notes Smith College student Aly Johnson-Kurts, an organizer of Sunday’s protest, that “the traditional methods of creating change are not sufficient…so we needed to escalate.”
This notion that traditional methods of creating change are not sufficient is significant, especially for Obama and his party.
The Democrats have relied in recent presidential election years on overwhelming support from voters under the age of 30. And they have suffered as enthusiasm among young voters has declined in off-year congressional elections.
In 2008, exit polls suggested, voters aged 18–29 accounted for 18 percent of the 131,313,820 Americans who turned out. Obama won their votes by a striking 66-31 margin over Republican John McCain. Obama’s winning margin was roughly 10 million votes, of which more than 7 million came from young people.
In 2012, according to exit polling, younger voters increased as a percentage of the overall electorate, with 18–29-year-olds making up 19 percent of the 129,085,403 who turned out. They favored Obama by a 60-36 margin. That translates to an advantage of more than 5 million votes for Obama. Notably, Obama won the national popular vote by 4,982,296 votes.
There are analyses that suggest an even more significant youth-vote benefit for Obama and the Democrats in battleground states. But the national numbers should establish the importance of the youth vote.
Unfortunately, turnout among young people tends to slide in off-year congressional elections—like the critical one that the US faces in 2014. In 2010, when Democrats suffered serious setbacks at the federal and state levels, voters under 30 made up just 11 percent of the overall electorate. They still backed Democrats—indeed, they were the only age demographic to do so—but their ability to influence election results was reduced by the sharp reduction in numbers.
The Obama administration must make its call regarding Keystone based on science and sound long-term thinking regarding energy, environmental and agricultural policy.
But those who talk about the political ramifications of this decision should keep in mind that sign that read “We did NOT vote for KXL.”
A 2013 poll found that more than 60 percent of young Americans felt that, were the administration to approve the pipeline, Obama would be breaking a campaign promise. And a significant percentage of those surveyed said they would feel betrayed by a decision to let the Keystone project go forward.
If young voters get a signal that they are not being heard, if they feel disappointed and disenfranchised, there is every reason to believe it will be harder for Democrats to mobilize them in 2014.
That does not mean that all young voters will stay home. Younger voters are not single-issue voters. Millions will still go to the polls in 2014, including, undoubtedly, the vast majority of those who marched on Washington Sunday. But if their percentage of the overall electorate is low, and if a portion of those who do turn out opt out of frustration or hope for a Green alternative, an already tough election season could get dramatically tougher for the Democrats.
Read Next: Keystone XL might be making you sick, literally.
As others at The Nation and elsewhere have observed over the past two weeks, the Ukraine political conflict (not to mention history) is complex, and one should be wary of black and white portrayals in the American media and via US officials and members of Congress. This applies as well to RT (formerly Russia Today) television and RT.com, which have a following among some on the US left and many others.
RT, of course, is funded by the federal budget of Russia through the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation. According to its Wikipedia page, it currently reaches the homes of 85 million in the United States, making it the foreign channel with the second-highest penetration here (after the BBC). It also goes out to over 600 million in 100 other countries, they say.
Just for fun, here are all of the Ukraine-related headlines on their site at present:
And, on the op-ed page:
The West organized the coup in Ukraine and they can make this very ugly, but there is no chance of Russia being able to back down, Danny Welch, blogger and anti-war activist, told RT.
Read Next: Nicolai N. Petro’s take on the situation in Ukraine.
There’s an old joke about presidential primary politics involving Mo Udall, a Democratic member of Congress from Arizona back in the 1970’s, who tried and failed to make it as a candidate for president. It goes like this:
Shortly after I announced my candidacy in New Hampshire, I walked into a local barbershop and began introducing myself:
“Hi, I’m Mo Udall and I’m running for President.”
“Yeah, we know,” says one of the hangers-on. “We were laughing about that yesterday.”
Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, might not be laughing if he heard that joke. With Chris Christie in deep and growing trouble over the set of scandals that surround him, there’s increasing talk that one of the other governors waiting in the wings might step in to take over the front-runner’s position—and Jindal, a very, very conservative Republican whose platform is centered on slicing and dicing “entitlements,” including Medicare and Social Security, wants to be that governor. For the past two years, he’s been assembling the rudiments of a presidential campaign team. There’s only one problem: in poll after poll of Republican voters, Jindal comes in dead last—or the pollsters don’t even bother including his name among the choices.
But don’t tell Jindal. He’s building a campaign machine, and he’s out to grab headlines. Last month, during a meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington, Jindal easily eclipsed Christie, who stayed in the background, and it was Jindal who appeared as the Republican spokesman on Face the Nation on February 23 and who went to the White House for a dinner with President Obama. Christie skipped that dinner, and coming out of the White House Jindal took the microphone to denounce Obama is no uncertain terms, breaking the polite protocol that usually marks such events.
And on March 14, the New Hampshire Republican party is hosting “An Evening with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.”
His campaign is already taking shape. Last year, Jindal founded what looks like a pre-presidential organizing committee called America Next. In its mission statement, Jindal says:
There is a great sense in this country that the leftwing Obama experiment has been a failure…. A rebellion is brewing outside the Washington Beltway.
According to The Weekly Standard, Jindal is putting together seasoned political operatives for America Next:
Jindal will serve as America Next’s honorary chairman, while the day-to-day operations will be run by Jill Neunaber, a veteran of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign… Curt Anderson, a spokesman for America Next, says the group will have “experts all over the country, including Governor Jindal, working on policy plans.”
Curt Anderson helps run On Message Inc., a high-powered (and Louisiana-connected) political strategy and media firm. Anderson has worked for Steve Forbes and for the Bush/Cheney election team, and he helped elect Jindal governor. According to his On Message bio, “In 2010 Curt co-authored Governor Jindal’s new book, Leadership and Crisis.” Other professionals at On Message include Wes Anderson, Jindal’s pollster, and Timmy Teepell, Jindal’s top political strategist. His On Message bio says:
[Teepell] served as Chief Strategist on Governor Jindal’s re-election campaign and won it by a historic margin. Teepell directed Governor Jindal’s transition successfully and later advised multiple new Governors on their transitions. In his job as Jindal’s Chief of Staff, Teepell helped implement historic reforms that have turned his home state of Louisiana around. In recent years, Teepell served as a campaign consultant to the Republican Governors Association assisting in winning multiple races around the country.
The governor’s longtime political adviser Curt Anderson, of OnMessage Inc., confirmed Monday that Chris Jacobs is joining the nonprofit’s staff as a policy director…. Jacobs worked for Jim DeMint, a U.S. senator from South Carolina who now runs The Heritage Foundation.
And National Review says that Jindal has tapped Spencer Zwick, a top fundraiser for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, “for an assist with introductions to some of the Romney campaign’s top givers.”
Is Jindal running? It sure sounds like it. To Politico, he gave the usual demurral:
Of course, there’s no satisfying the press’s appetite for all this 2016 speculation, and that’s fine—none of it matters in real life. The whole thing is ridiculous and we are getting way ahead of ourselves.
Of course, by any standard measure, Jindal is indeed way ahead of himself. Still, the New Orleans Times-Picayune put his chances this way:
Jindal’s move may have been savvy. Among the probable Republican presidential candidates, Jindal is often ignored or dismissed. In the wake of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s downfall, a stunt at the White House, well timed and expertly executed, could expose him to conservative primary voters who might find much to admire in a politician with the courage to confront Obama.
Based on his record in Louisiana, his past as a politician and Washington policy geek, and his hiring of folks from outfits such as the Heritage Foundation, is seems clear that Jindal will present himself as an authentic far-right governor who’s committed to dismantling the social safety net. He has experience in Washington trying to do exactly that. Back in the late 1990s, in a little-known part of his career but one that gets a mention on his official Republican Governors Association bio, Jindal was the executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. As such, Jindal was part of the group that laid the plans, only partially successful, to privatize and voucherize Medicare.
In Louisiana, he tried and failed to enact a sweeping tax reform plan that would have eliminated the state’s income tax and replaced it with a far more regressive sales tax. The idea was intensely unpopular in Louisiana, and the governor’s popularity went into a steep dive as a result. As The New York Times, reporting on Jindal’s defeat on the issue, said:
Then he announced he was shelving it. “Governor, you’re moving too fast, and we aren’t sure that your plan is the best way to do it,” Mr. Jindal said, describing what he had heard from legislators and citizens alike. “Here is my response,” he said. “O.K., I hear you.”
The plan, to get rid of the state income and corporate taxes and replace the lost revenue with higher and broader sales taxes, was not dropped altogether. Mr. Jindal emphasized that he was still committed to losing the income tax, but that he would defer to the Legislature to suggest how exactly to make that work.
But Jindal isn’t giving up on the idea. Said Teepell, “You go through temporary rough patches. But that’s not going to slow him down.”
Like Christie, Jindal supports charter schools and vouchers and getting rid of teacher tenure. Unlike Christie, Jindal refused to accept the expansion of Medicaid under Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Down in Lousiana, everyone knows he’s running. Said Bob Mann, a former aide to the state’s Democrats and a professor at Louisiana State University:
You don’t get any argument from anybody down here that Jindal’s running for president—it’s just an accepted fact, like the sun rising in the East. There’s an overriding sense among insiders here…that most of the higher-profile initiatives that he’s embarking on here are all with the national audience in mind. He’s totally devoted to building relationships outside of Louisiana. Louisiana is no longer in his focus—he’s looking way beyond us.”
As for whether or not Jindal’s tax initiative was really meant to pass or whether it was designed to win favor among national Republicans, Mann says: “I question whether he really wants to do something or if he just wants the headline that he tried to do it, worked really hard and these nasty tax-raising Democrats foiled him.”
Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on electoral nihilism
In a story that ran in Saturday’s edition headlined “De Blasio Picks More Liberal Activists Than Managers for City Posts,” The New York Times declares that “In Bill de Blasio’s City Hall, it seems more and more, there is only a left wing.” It points to recent appointments of Steven Banks, “a longtime critic of city policies affecting low-income residents” to be HRA commissioner as evidence that the mayor “has built a team filled with former activists—figures more accustomed to picketing administrations or taking potshots from the outside than working from within.” The list of lefties reads as follows:
Carmen Fariña, his schools chancellor, had quit the Bloomberg administration in protest over its emphasis on standardized test scores. The mayor’s top political strategist, Emma Wolfe, rose from campus activist to organizer for the advocacy group Acorn, the health care union 1199 SEIU and the Working Families Party before helping Mr. de Blasio get elected public advocate in 2009. His wife’s new chief of staff, Rachel Noerdlinger, was the longtime gatekeeper for the Rev. Al Sharpton. And his new counsel, Maya Wiley, was most recently in the running to lead the N.A.A.C.P. Laura Santucci, his chief of staff, is a former acting executive director of the Democratic National Committee and a former political aide at 1199 SEIU. Zachary W. Carter, his corporation counsel, was an appointee of President Bill Clinton as the United States attorney in Brooklyn and led the prosecution of police officers in the beating of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant.
The article goes on to say that “at least a few appointees have been less ideological and more managerial,” naming Deputy Mayor Anthony E. Shorris and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.
Oddly, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton—one of de Blasio’s first and most important appointments and the one that earned him raised eyebrows from some leftists and street protests from others—is not mentioned. Maybe that’s because Bratton was an outspoken critic of his predecessor Ray Kelly and therefore, while no left-wing nut, not sufficiently managerial.
Indeed, you could enter into evidence many names that run counter to the idea that de Blasio has stacked his administration with progressive activists. His deputy mayor for human services, Economic Development Corporation head, NYCHA general manager, homeless services commissioner and youth services commissioner all come directly from the Bloomberg administration. His deputy mayor for economic development comes from Goldman Sachs, and his deputy mayor for strategic initiatives comes from an organization that gave Mayor Bloomberg an award for his anti-poverty crusade. The planning chief has deep roots in the midtown business community, the budget boss is a career adviser to the state legislature and the child welfare chief is moving from the Cuomo administration. A developer heads the Housing Development Corporation. I could go on. You can bet your favorite pair of Sansabelt slacks that none of these people have The Anarchist’s Cookbook on their bookshelves.
Now, it is true that some of de Blasio’s more recent appointments, namely Banks and Wiley, are very vocal advocates for a very different way of governing than Bloomberg practiced. And, yes, some appointments are more important and influential than others, so lefties could be outnumbered in de Blasio’s cabinet without being outgunned. I’ll also admit that some lefty handwringing about the composition of the de Blasio team—in which I have been a sweaty-palmed participant—missed the forest for the trees. And the questions about de Blasio’s ability to communicate and to manage the city (as long as they are questions and not, two months into his term, conclusions) are fair game.
But what is definitely off-target is the notion, which the Times repeated Saturday but certainly didn’t invent, that “more managerial” appointees are somehow ideologically neutral.
This misconception underlay a lot of the skewed analysis of the Bloomberg administration, which was seen as apolitical, as merely interested in unimpeachable goals like efficiency and transparency. Observers were apparently thrown by the fact that Bloomberg combined liberal social beliefs with a devotion to market forces, and wed a comfort with activist policy to a $26 billion-wide blind-spot to the perils of plutocracy. It was a complex ideology—and hard to categorize because we have so few classic liberal Republicans these days—but it was an ideology nonetheless. Calling it otherwise gave many of Bloomberg’s ideas a nonpartisan sheen they didn’t deserve. (“What’s wrong, man: Are you against efficiency?”) Ideology is not like a beard, that some people have and some people don’t. It’s like skin color: even white guys have it.
This misconception threatens to get de Blasio compared to Bloomberg not as a progressive taking over from a centrist but as an ideologue seizing power from a technocrat. And that means that de Blasio’s policies could be debated not on their merits or the critique behind them but merely on the fact that they reflect a strong belief. That’s something de Blasio’s cabinet will have to resist, even if “working from within” is new to some of them.
Read Next: Jarrett Murphy on de Blasio’s latest appointment—a liberal veteran of the Legal Aid Society.
So it’s beginning already.
It was probably inevitable, given widespread left-wing disappointment with Obama and longstanding reservations about Hillary Clinton, that we’d see another outbreak of electoral nihilism: the conviction that it doesn’t really matter which of the two parties holds the presidency. This myth has tempted radicals for a long time. In 1960, back when Commentary was still a liberal magazine, Dwight McDonald took to its pages to declare the outcome of the Nixon/Kennedy election a matter of indifference, as “the effect of one as against another built-up-torn-down candidate is in the realm of metaphysics and so of little interest to sensible people.” Fourteen years ago, this belief led otherwise smart people to declare that there was no meaningful difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush.
The shock of the Bush presidency cured this delusion, for a while—there was remarkable acceptance of John Kerry in 2004, despite his nakedly militaristic convention, and progressives twice mobilized for Obama. Yet here, with the 2016 primaries not yet begun, comes an essay on the cover of Harper’s Magazine arguing that liberals are too focused on winning elections for Democrats.
“Each election now becomes a moment of life-or-death urgency that precludes dissent or even reflection,” writes Adolph Reed, the University of Pennsylvania political scientist, in “Nothing Left: The long, slow surrender of American liberals.” He continues, “For liberals, there is only one option in an election year, and that is to elect, at whatever cost, whichever Democrat is running…. True, the last Democrat was really unsatisfying, but this one is better; true, the last Republican didn’t bring destruction on the universe, but this one certainly will. And, of course, each of the ‘pivotal’ Supreme Court justices is four years older than he or she was last time.”
Reed has been making a version of this argument for many years in many different elections. In 2000, he voted for Nader and dismissed the importance of the Bush vs. Gore election. During the primary in 2007, he wrote a column titled “Sitting This One Out,” saying, “This time, I’m not going to acquiesce in the fiction that the Presidential charade has any credibility whatsoever.” But the placement of this essay on the cover of Harper’s, and the enthusiastic reception it’s been given by people like Bill Moyers, suggests that the case has renewed resonance.
There are a number of things to argue with in Reed’s piece, among them the strange idea that Bush wasn’t really that bad. (He may not have destroyed the universe, but he presided over the destruction of Iraq, New Orleans, the American economy and a Supreme Court remotely sympathetic to organized labor, among other things.) Other people, I’m sure, will take on his argument that Obama has continued Bill Clinton’s work of moving the Democratic Party rightward. (Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it,” while Obama enacted the biggest expansion of the welfare state since LBJ.) What I want to highlight is an internal contradiction in the case Reed makes against what he calls “electoralitis.”
“Nothing Left” has some very incisive things to say about the broad collapse of the left as a political force. He’s right about how the absence of a positive, fully articulated vision of the future has been paralyzing; as Slavoj Žižek has said numerous times, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Without a clear program, writes Reed, “the left careens from this oppressed group or crisis moment to that one, from one magical or morally pristine constituency or source of political agency…to another. It lacks focus and stability; its métier is bearing witness, demonstrating solidarity, and the event or the gesture. Its reflex is to ‘send messages’ to those in power, to make statements, and to stand with or for the oppressed.”
Reed argues, persuasively, that a vibrant left can only be grounded in a rebuilt labor movement: “Pretending some other option exists is worse than useless…. We need to reject the fantasy that some spark will ignite the People to move as a mass.”
But here’s the thing: arguments for ignoring electoral realities, for backing some quixotic third-party candidate or imagining that leftists can sway the system through ultimatums, are based on precisely this fantasy. Movements lead politicians, not the other way around, and simply deciding that the politicians we have aren’t good enough won’t will a movement into being. A left that absented itself from the dirty work of electing a president would be indulging in the very reflex Reed decries: trying to send a message to those in power rather than contending for power itself.
The right understands this; it has simultaneously, over decades, systematically taken over the GOP from the bottom up, built a huge network of interlocking intellectual, legal and political institutions and mobilized every four years to try to elect a Republican president.
Occasionally, over the years, conservatives disgusted by the inevitable compromises of electoral politics have threatened to turn their backs on Republican presidential candidates. When Reagan was in office, the right complained about him in language strikingly similar to left-wing denunciations of Obama. In 1983, Richard Viguerie even suggested that Reagan shouldn’t run for re-election. Think of how much better off we’d all be if right-wingers had refused to support what they saw as the lesser of two evils. Instead, they spent decades organizing within the party until it had no choice but to do their bidding.
And despite Reed’s pessimism, similar work is finally happening in the Democratic Party. Consider the new left-leaning mayors in New York, Seattle, Boston and Minneapolis, and the major initiatives to raise wages in metropolitan areas across the country. A new New York Times story is headlined, “De Blasio Picks More Liberal Activists Than Managers for City Posts.” Some of these people will, with enough work, become tomorrow’s national leaders. This is a bizarre moment to assert that there’s no significant difference between Democrats and Republicans.
So yes, for liberals, there is only one option in an election year, and that is to elect, at whatever cost, whichever Democrat is running. The rest of the time, those who find the current choices intolerable should join in the long, slow groundwork that would allow for better ones.
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