[Though this is a stand alone article, it is the spiritual successor (and part 2 of 3) of my last post about how people often say "They won't care" about Trump supporters when confronted with his latest behavior.]
“Dems are just as bad,” they say.
You’re going to hear this a lot more in the next two months.
You’re going to hear it from communists and anarchists and the very very far left (along with the occasional libertarian) because Democrats now have to focus on getting their message and the vote out, and the leftists who said, “Never shall I ever…” are now being ignored and worked around and struggling to stay politically relevant by going full saboteur on social media.
You’re going to hear it because, even though Biden’s current platform is more progressive than Obama’s in 2012, and even though Harris ranks in the top ten of progressive Senators (and usually the top five) no matter what medium is doing the scoring (or the top ten worst NOT-conservatives if it’s being scored from the other side), both have had histories that involve some harm to marginalized communities. And yes, people have legitimate axes to grind.
You’re also going to hear it because Russian psyops and right-wing “false flag” operations don’t just make shit up out of the aether to divide us, but instead gin up our existing fractures. And these bad actors will do ANYTHING to get us not to vote. They will be pushing this narrative through dank meme stashes and eloquent posts that somehow get picked up by left-wing communities and go viral.
The “Dems are just as bad” may take the form of a sophist bumper sticker “X is a Y!” or a very complicated analogy about good cops vs. bad cops all working for the same corrupt system. Or a point by a prominent intellectual pointing out that both parties are contrite to business interests making their differences illusory in some contexts. But regardless of what form it takes, you WILL hear it.
And no matter who is saying it, they are wrong.
I don’t want to sound unkind. I don’t want to shit on the opinion of those who I would most accurately describe as having a different philosophical pragmatism about getting that which we both want. I certainly am not being prescriptive about how folks should vote.
But they are objectively wrong.
It's true that our two parties share harmful assumptions, are all right of a global center, villainize any legitimately left views like redistribution of wealth, and have some real shitty overlap on things like colonialism and capitalism. The nature of our winner-take-all democracy requires an enormous umbrella to be able to counter the slavery-protecting rules of the Electoral College, and the fact that a Wyoming vote counts more than three times as much a California vote.
Twice in 16 years, a Republican who lost the popular vote has become president. (It’s only happened five times ever since we started recording the popular vote, but twice in the five most recent elections.) It means that instead of an actually progressive party that can lean left, Democrats need to project the image of a moderate party that can (hopefully) build a big enough coalition to counter the Electoral College––along with gerrymandering, voter ID laws, voter purges, poll closures (almost exclusively instigated by Republicans and almost always disenfranchising marginalized demographics [which happen to lean left]). And now we can add foreign interference, screwing with the Post Office because it’ll suppress mail-in ballots, and voter intimidation if Trump has his way. That “big umbrella” that is required to counter all this cheating means a lot of moderates on the national stage and a lot of marginalized communities getting pushed under the bus to go for the broader appeal. And that means a LOT of folks have absolutely legitimate grievances against Democrats.
That doesn’t make the Dems the “same” as Republicans. It just doesn’t.
To characterize the legislation and action Dems in the House have been trying to pass for 18 months (including an impeachment, FAR greater Covid stimulus, the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Climate Action Now Act, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, the Consumers First Act, and a host of democratic reforms), all of which either get voted down by the Senate (or are never brought to a vote by Mitch McConnell)……
**takes a deep breath**
To look at all of that, and conclude that Dems “aren't doing anything," or that both sides are “just the same” is the kind of reductive hasty generalization that is broad-brushstrokes enough for podium pounding at the communist’s club or the local anarchist’s meet-and-greet, but is outrageously inappropriate for a sophisticated, accurate, or precise read of our current political climate since the horrifying turn taken in 2016. We went from “not left wing enough for leftists” to the ADL jumping up and down and warning us that that the progression of Trump’s America was ALL TOO FAMILIAR. That is not “just the same.” The casual disregard for lives, health, prosperity (of anyone other than Wall Street), and the Grand-Canyon-sized chasm between parties in order to make a claim like “they’re all alike” has reached the point of its own deliberately obtuse brand of fanaticism. And I don’t say this to be invalidating to folks on the far left. (I am one.) I don’t say it because I don’t understand that capitalism as we know it is unsustainable. (I do.) I don’t say it without fully understanding that except for maybe “The Squad,” Dems too support oppressive institutions and share harmful assumptions. (They surely do.) What I’m pointing out is that folks who think this makes them “the same” completely invalidate some very real differences with very real consequences to very real lives. This isn’t just a matter of cosmetic differences––blues and reds and donkeys and elephants––and it's not just an intellectual exercise either, but in fact their differences are massive, affect real people’s real lives, real people’s prosperity, real people’s health and real people’s safety and security.
There are people with their own complicated reasons not to vote and not to vote for Biden, and I grudgingly respect many of them that don't smack of middle-class-white-cis-person-(who-doesn’t-do-much-activism-anyway)-wants-a-winged-unicorn-pony-in-one-election-cycle-or-will-post-guillotine-memes-instead-of-doing-harm-reduction. Also, lord knows there's salient criticism about both Biden and Harris. (Although, with that said and Triple Legit™ stamped, some of the talking points, I should mention, sure do sound an awful lot like they’re right out of that particularly rabid pro-Sanders camp in the primaries [who shall remain unnamed], and have a strange lack of downward drilling and nuance for ideas coming from folks who claim to actually care about both those things.) There will always be salient criticism about anyone with an actual political…you know….CAREER. Something that happened on their watch. Something that got added to a bill that had to be passed. Something that was politically popular at the time and now we have a greater understanding of its problems. And Biden in particular is a centrist Dem—a concession to that big umbrella, a particularly rabid right wing series of attacks that anyone left of Joe Manchin, and the fact that we can’t govern if we don’t win––and someone with a long career of calls that truly harmed people. I don't know what the political calculus of each decision was. I don't know what he would have risked to do otherwise. But I do know he has hurt people, and some of them have every valid and legitimate reason to be unable to participate in handing him even more power.
However, to say that the parties, their platforms, their offerings for POTUS, their SCOTUS nominees, their LOWER court nominees, their border policies, their international diplomacy, their tax policies, their social safety net concerns, their civil rights records, their policy initiatives, or even their Covid-19 responses are "just the same”….Well, it tells me only that the person saying so sees no difference in some of my friends’ deaths from from Covid-19 that a proper response could have prevented; it tells me that the laws passed (always by the right) against body autonomy or trans rights are meaningless to them; it tells me that a politicized Covid response that isn't "Fuck you. This mask is mildly uncomfortable and I want to go to Applebee’s again" isn't appreciably different so why bother; it tells me that MY being alive and healthy when the A.C.A. saved my life (or either dead or bankrupt and with a chronic medical condition) doesn't matter to them; it tells me that the death of one of my ex-partners to cancer rather than the A.C.A. saving her life would be "just the same"; it tells me that the party trying to raise the minimum wage and the party that blocks it at every turn are the same in their eyes; it tells me they don't care about the tens of thousands of regulations that were put into place over decades to protect people from predators, and that are now being gutted, are pretty much non-issues as far as they’re concerned; it tells me they have little or no sympathy for folks who feel like they have to flee the country because they and their children are no longer even base-level safe, from mass deportations, from the threat of nuclear exchange over Tweets, from a leader praising autocratic despots and alienating democracies, from stochastic terrorism, hate crimes, and ginned up alt-right mobs; it tells me that a border response where cruelty is literally spelled out in memos as The Point™ doesn't strike them as a moral imperative enough to even acknowledge that a difference exists (never mind to act upon it); it tells me that a six-figure death toll that every epidemiologist and most other countries responses told us didn’t have to happen is not a meaningful reason to delineate; it tells me that the difference between passing laws that disenfranchise marginalized populations and those who fight tooth and nail against such laws is considered a trivial difference; it tells me that the difference between not moving fast enough and STILL declaring something a hoax with regard to the greatest humanitarian threat of our age does not carry that much weight.
Also this might be a bitter pill, but ALL of that is exactly what a Russian psyop or “alt-right" false flag operation would WANT them to say. It is exactly the “stay home” message being crafted by everyone who finds liberal politics anathema.
I do not say this to shit on those lefter than me, though lord knows they’d seem like they’d rather come full force after the labor class that they see as too centrist than actually take on the right or the monied class. And lord ALSO knows that the idea that they are going to WIN OVER that labor class by telling them all their pragmatic concerns in the US political landscape are meaningless might need to at least take a tour of the swing states and talk to some people who don’t already agree with them.
I say this because I have skin in this game. Trans family members who have been openly, and with legislative violence, ATTACKED by this administration. Dear loved ones who I will lose to basically an evacuation for the sake of their children. Friends who haven't seen their family (who last communicated from the southern border) in months. Family who can't afford to skip over five states for an abortion. And the memory of how I and someone I love are literally alive today because of the "just the same" Dems forcing through some vestige of a health care plan against every measure of resistance….from the GOP.
“Both the same” is a useful metonymy when everyone in the room has a big-picture lens on anti-capitalism or anti-colonialism, or maybe passingly understood when Noam Chomsky is being quoted out of context in an 11-year-old interview (that he has since repeatedly clarified). It's much less useful when some 3edgy5me white male libertarian who thinks they have the world figured out because 95% of the differences in the parties never affect them decides to whip up some dank memes. But it's positively disastrous when brought into a robust discussion of current mainstream U.S. politics, harm reduction, or how dangerous ceding power is in a (regrettably) two-party country, it reeks of breathtaking solipsism that blows off six-figure body counts, a southern border policy designed to terrify people as a deterrent, and rising fascism as something too minor to “get distracted by” on the way to “more important things.”
They are not “just the same.” They demonstrably, objectively, are NOT.