Bernie, Jeremy and the Social-Democratic comeback.

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If, like me, you are some combination of English, American and left-wing you may be noticing a strange phenomenon.  It manifests itself in think pieces from trendy blogs and news websites alike expressing a bemused interest in an aging white dude, first elected to office in the middle of neoliberalism’s rise to power from a constituency renowned for its population of gay communist radical marxist etc, surging forward into the polls ahead of his nearest rival:the clearly more competent half of a married couple that spent the 1990s pushing the idea that the only way for the political left to go was the middle. Whilst yes the British side of this equation is in the latter stages with leadership voting for the Labour party starting tomorrow, I do think the fact that these two ostensibly fringe candidates are in the running to lead their parties speaks to something broader; to wit, the breakdown of ‘the third way.’

A Quick aside: The phrase, ‘The Third Way’, was coined in the mid 1990s to describe the political re-orientation of the Democratic and Labour parties’ leadership to the political right at the end of the 1980s in response to being politically broken by forces of Reaganomics and Thatcherism. It’s generally characterized by viewing a deregulated, hedge-fund dominated, financially lopsided market as the natural state of industrialized societies; the two-generation-long post-war consensus in the western world about tripartite social democracy being an aberration brought on by feelings of comradery during the 1940s and amphetamines in the 1960s.

Because Social-Darwinism is the apparent natural state of society the best thing lefties can do is make sure as many poor people  as possible get to be predatory with the hopes that they will rise. To this end, rather than improving workplaces or giving workers more power, social democrats should push to make this unfair world at least meritocratic. To achieve this New Labourites/Democrats have pushed for  better education so more kinds of people can get into the economic and social elite, (this is why Tony Blair’s priorities where famously “education, education, education“) all this whilst subsidizing the inevitable underclass this creates until they adjust…. somehow.

BELFAST, -: (FILES) US President Bill Clinton (L) is introduced by British Prime Minister Tony Blair during a ground-breaking ceremony for Springvale Educational Village in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Blair was showered with praise and also a few brickbats 10 May 2007 as he announced his 10 years in power would end June 27, but even his opponents conceded he is a "formidable" politician. Blair was praised for his role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland but condemned for taking Britain into a divisive war in Iraq, while his domestic policies drew mixed feelings from both inside and outside his Labour Party. AFP PHOTO Joyce NALTCHAYAN (Photo credit should read JOYCE NALTCHAYAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Don’t blame me, I was never eligible to vote for either of them

I was born in 1989, meaning my generation grew up in a world where this was the norm: neoliberalism was not just ascendant, it was the only possible option. Unions, we were told, are historical entities, any left over will die with their members. So Called “left-wing” leaders like Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Gordon Brown and Barack Obama told us again and again, that they would love to create government work programs and widen social security nets or improve access to healthcare if only the semi-mythical super-majority of conservative voters would let them. Throughout the last 30 years the wisdom of left-wing politics has been that to win, Social democrats must trick Conservatives (who definitely outnumber everyone else and always will) into voting for left-wing parties by pretending to be them, bending to the rich and powerful whilst slipping social reforms into the package.

This is why the rise of Sanders and Corbyn is seen as a confusing aberration. As societies, the UK and US have drifted so far to the political right that Bernie and Jez managed to get to the positions they’re in because a series of political operators viewed their politics as simply impossible. Jeremy Corbyn made it into the leadership race, in part, by Blairites nominating him to be a left-wing foil for Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham to prove how sensible and electable they are. Bernie Sanders has never been seen as a political threat by anyone in D.C. so there is no serious anti-Sanders narrative; if he is talked of in a negative light, that light focuses on the fact that he’s an irrelevant curmudgeon. The liberal left along with the conservative right have spent so much time thinking of ‘Socialism’ as something aging miners sing about whilst actual, sensible political actors warn the rest of us about with poorly thought out signs.


This is mainstream…. apparently

 The crowds and genuine excitement surrounding both these old white dudes has to be the result of a nearly 3 decade long deprivation of an actual left-wing candidate being seen as even sort of viable in the English-speaking world. The fact that they’re both old WASP-y men speaks to the level of attrition women and people of colour face in the political arena, particularly when they’re left of center. Consider Barack Obama’s swing to the right on the military and healthcare policy all the while pretending he didn’t support gay marriage until 2012. Social democracy has been in the wilderness for so long that the only proponents of it left are the most milk-toast, white bread variety of social democrat. It’s hard to imagine Hillary Clinton have an event shut down by civil rights activists and, after consulting with those activists, hiring someone from the activists’ campaign and not have that reflected negatively on her gender. So far the only person to call Sanders out for doing this is Donald Trump, meaning “Bernie Sanders is weak” is on the same level as ‘all Mexicans are rapists’ and ‘putting your name on everything is something that well adjusted adults do.’

I don’t seriously think that Jeremy or Bernie will win their upcoming battles for leadership of the party. Even if Corbyn was to win this month, I doubt the popular power of the social democratic left would be enough to have red flags flying over both the White house and Downing Street by 2020. I do however think that the fact that these two figures are drawing huge crowds at the same time in similar political cultures does suggest if not a seismic change then the turning of a corner. My generation have spent our entire adult lives being beaten over the head with the negative consequences of neoliberalism and lopsided economics. My hope is not that President Sanders or Prime minister Corbyn will change the tax code a little bit to bring forth full communism. Rather, by fighting these elections and denting the twenty-first century consensus about the end of history and the natural state of unfettered capitalism these two survivors of the post-war consensus could remind us that one doesn’t necessarily have to be cynical to be successful.

For real though, they're slightly more right wing than these guys

They’re about as left wing as these guys, calm down