Thursday, January 16, 2020

'You Called Me a Liar:' The 2020 He-Said-She-Said that Wasn't

The last three days of 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate horse-trading has been goddamned looney-tunes. From the Neo-Keynesian dynamic duo of the first debates, suddenly Sanders and Warren are mortal enemies, betrayed and betrayer? It is ludicrous. If the CIA hadn't conceived of it they'll be studying it to deploy against social democrats the world over. The privately owned media have interjected strife between the world's two leading voices for left-liberal to social-democratic Keynesian political economic theory. It is a salacious, nonsense, reality TV gaffe trainwreck which has, unfortunately, world-historic significance. There are plenty of disingenuous smear tactics that weaponize identity politics against this or that politician who espouses class politics. Let me tell you why I believe this is different: what is disturbing is the lack of empathy for Warren's position, which is hypocritical with respect to the entire ontology of belief espoused by Sanders.

We believe women, but when a woman expresses that she thought something a male friend said to her was sexist then suddenly she is a liar turncoat who conspires with CNN to stab Bernie in the back? This is sub-comic-book level Manicheaen myopia, and the willingness to cast Warren into the ninth circle of hell for having not denied the allegation made that Senator Sanders said to her something which basically amounted to 'a woman can't win,' or 'is less likely to win,' or something effectively similar.

We know essentially what was said: The two spoke; both noted how Trump was a bigot and misogynist who would weaponize Senator Warren's gender against her. And maybe, just maybe, the good Saint Bernard, guiding light, lapsed Trot from Vermont, noted how Warren's gender would be weaponized against her so much, and emphasized how that cynical weaponization could, and would, be combated and overcome so little, that he inadvertently hurt and wounded a close friend and ally. The total inability to conceive that Bernie, human, fallible old man that he is, may err, may be in the wrong in a situation, is deeply disturbing, and belies Sanders essential message: that it is up to the whole of society to be critical.

Everything is explicable from the hot-mic meeting after the debate:

'I think you called me a liar on National TV.'


'I think you called me a liar on National TV.'

'Let's not do this right now. You want to have that conversation, we can have that conversation.'


'You called me a liar. . . alright, lets not do this right now.'

Neither of them understands what the other is talking about. Both are absolutely certain that they are correct. Both of them are correct and neither of them are. It is not a case of 'he said, she said' from which we can divine no sense of the truth of the matter. Rather we can get a picture of exactly what the truth of the matter is, and it is right in the middle, at the border of 'noting Trump will do x' and actually being critical with respect to that, and being willing to challenge that. Senator Sanders maintains, quite rightly, that he would never ever say that a woman can't win the presidency, and I believe him. But did he follow up 'noting' how Trump would weaponize Warren's gender with an equally fulsome analysis of how the two could beat Trump nonetheless, or did he bootstrap off from that as a postulate to imply that he invariably ought to be the nominee? Senator Warren maintains, quite rightly, that she disagreed with Senator Sanders about whether a woman could win the presidency (importantly irrespective of whether Senator Sanders said as much and in those terms), and I believe her. But is she now allowing Senator Sanders to be suspected of saying 'a woman can't win' when in fact he simply didn't state positively 'a woman can win' in that particular conversation? Is this an important distinction? If you fail to positively state, in each and every instance, 'a woman can win,' are you therein contributing to and reproducing 'a woman can't win,' even if you don't say it in those terms?

Ultimately the situation is very sad. Two close friends are inscrutably fighting and being sharp with one another in front of a general audience. The gods clashing. Nobody is coming off well from this conflict, and how could they? Its one thing to be slandered by one's enemies and to slough them off, but it is quite another to be misunderstood by one's closest friends. It is unnerving and anxiety producing that these titans of policy and thought could be laid low by the kind of inexplicable family meltdown which punctuates the holidays. Acquiescing to this Sanders v Warren fight, to their supporters being acrimonious with one another, is boneheaded, self-indulgent pouting and catharsis. The most malign influences are ecstatic about the rift.

The non-aggression pact gave them both legitimacy and room for maneouver, now they have neither. 'She's a liar,' 'she's a traitor,' 'she's a snake,' these are really gross, knee-jerk oversimplifications, and they reflect really really badly on Sanders' support base. Hardcore Sanders fans don't seem to appreciate how tenuous and fledgling their little class-consciousness bloom actually is. In the short term the beneficiary is Biden, insofar as Sanders and Warren voters becoming inimical to one another cuts them off from each other's 15% to 20% of primary voters and caucus goers. In the long term the beneficiary is Trump insofar as what Trump requires to be elected, as in 2016, is a catastrophic rift between the Liberal Democratic and Social Democratic wings of the Democratic Party.

At the same time, Warren had an opportunity to push back against CNN's salacious framing of the conflict, and demurred from doing so. I don't want to endorse Senator Warren, or say that her political and economic plans are sufficient to the present moment, or that her baggage with Native American ancestry claimancy was legitimate or culturally sensitive, but just to say that it is okay to say that you don't think a friend was supportive enough, which is all she did. I don't want to detract from absolutely endorsing Senator Sanders by saying that the man is not god, that he is right politically and economically only in the very modest reformist context of the United States, and that I can very easily believe that in a conversation about how Trump would weaponize Senator Warren's gender, that Senator Sanders may have not emphasized that this could be overcome enough so as to not hurt and wound his friend. What we are looking at in this inscrutable upside-down through-the-looking-glass last three days is an open wound between two long-time friends and allies. On the one hand we ought not stare at that wound. We should let Senator Warren and Senator Sanders talk about what is evidently a strong disagreement between themselves. On the other hand we should acknowledge that the truth isn't binary, that what amounts to saying 'a woman can't be president' is not necessarily self-same with saying 'a woman can't be president.' Or is it? That's what this ought to be about, whether the distinction matters, not who is lying or telling the truth, but shades of what was emphasized, and how, and for what purposes?

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