Yesterday I wasted a lot of time engaging with a very bad article in support of a pretty good candidate. It was called “Kamala Harris Doesn't Have To Explain Her Kickass Self To Your Dumb Asses,” and the premise is that she’s too inspirational and awesome to need to explain her record as a prosecutor. That’s a bad idea because everyone who’s running for president needs to account for the things they’ve done, whether they’re good or bad, and some of what she did as DA and AG was bad because it hurt people even if other stuff she did was good. She’s not the only candidate running for president who has done bad things that have hurt people as well as good things that have helped people, and all of them need to explain the bad things, if they understand they’re bad, why they did them, and whether they’d continue to do them, and all of them get a chance to explain what good things they’d do to help people, and that’s how we decide who helps people most and hurts people least.
I know this, yet still I read this article and the commentary around it, for the sick entertainment I guess. I first saw it on my Twitter timeline being tweeted out by people who hated it and liked to make fun of it, and then I checked the accounts of some of her campaign staff and saw they were tweeting it out too. I checked the account of the person who wrote it – his Twitter handle is @SER1897, which looks to me like the initials and numbers of a union local, but apparently it’s just one guy – and I was on the same page with a lot of his commentary. He gave props to a few different candidates for doing things I generally agreed were good and criticized a few different candidates for doing things I generally agreed were bad.
There are a lot of different coalitions supporting a lot of different candidates in this campaign, and we’re going to push each other’s buttons at different points, and at times we’re going to see bad faith attacks and then bad faith framing of the bad faith attackers as being the entirety of the opposition. We saw this a little in the 2008 primary, and it got much worse in 2016. A lot of people showed a lot of ass. But most people who were involved on one side or another were later part of the same 2018 wave that brought more of the kind of progress both sides had wanted.
It’s important to remember these things; that the supporters, as well as the candidates, are necessary partners in the work ahead. We worry a lot about making sure that, no matter who wins, we have a strong candidate coming out of the primary. But we also need a strong base. It’s more important to build an effective coalition than to save our candidates, who come and go. By the middle of the 2016 primary, I was tired of both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, but I didn’t really care because I tend to think of politicians, whether I like them or not, as tools to get real work done, and they each had uses. What bothered me more was the way the rest of us we were talking to each other. The way the political conversation had turned into a screaming match, with people showing the worst of themselves and seeing the worst in others, stuck with me more than anything I felt about either of those two knuckleheads contending for the top of the ticket.
But even though the tone of the fight got rough, the criticism wasn’t all bad, and the tensions revealed by the meeting of two imperfect candidates at a deeply flawed time for our party and country actually got some attention. In 2018, we got more women and more socialists, more policy wonks and more grassroots outsiders, more future vision and more present victories. Sometimes we got all these things in the same people. And a lot of the work was done by grassroots groups that included people who were coming from all sorts of different places within the giving-a-shit-about-people sector of the political spectrum. Criticism can be uncomfortable, and can be damaging if we let it turn into straight invective, but it also can help us find the way. Candidates, individuals, and groups will have good things and bad things about them, and some of these things will raise hackles and some people will let loose when they feel or see things deeply wrong. Sometimes we can take the complaint to heart. Sometimes it’s not for us.
A friend of mine once asked me about the problem of trying to find out who was acting socially in good faith. He worried because he couldn’t trust people, couldn’t feel real or honest. But the things he was worried about weren’t going to put his life or livelihood or sense of self in danger. There wasn’t much cost to giving people a chance. I said I try to just to treat them in a way that, if they’re acting in good faith, there’s a way to get closer, but if they’re acting in bad faith it won’t be worth their time. It might be easier said than done, and not very specific, and I really don’t know what I’m talking about a lot of the time, but my friend found that advice to be useful and I’ve found it to be useful too.
Most people who are politically active around this primary (I’m not necessarily counting every candidate involved, since some don’t all seem that active) want to stop Trump, build a more just society, and ensure a livable planet. Very few people making any contribution won’t want all three of these things. To the extent that we’re on different pages about how to get there, we need to argue it out, figure it out, work it out. Talk shit if you’re feeling it. But we’re not dealing with demons here. Just people who could be better and aren’t all the way there yet, like ourselves.