Jacobin - May 14, 2020
In the New York Times yesterday, Mitchell Abidor added his voice to the swelling chorus hectoring young leftists to support Joe Biden. Leaning on the bathetic open letter published by veterans of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Abidor chides the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) for not heeding their elders and endorsing a candidate whose career has been spent opposing everything they stand for.
Abidor’s letter is remarkable for the utter lack of effort it puts into making a single convincing argument. He scoffs at Daniel Finn’s argument in Jacobin that Donald Trump is no fascist, but he evidently doesn’t believe his reader requires any convincing on the point. (The irony involved in comparing Trump to fascists openly, in the pages of the country’s leading newspaper, is evidently lost on him.)
But Mr. Abidor’s op-ed isn’t actually about convincing socialists to vote for Joe Biden. Instead, it’s about reassuring liberals that socialists are bad and irresponsible.
Everyone knows that attacking leftists for abandoning decency will probably not convince them to vote for Biden. And if convincing people to vote for Biden is so important that it merits denouncing DSA in the New York Times for declining to do so, you’d think that such convincing is what Abidor would try to do. The fact that he himself declines to do so undermines his presentation of his position as the result of sober consideration, and DSA’s as driven by self-righteousness. Abidor attacks the Left for not wanting to elect Biden, but he himself cares more about attacking the Left than electing Biden.
The great irony of this is that many, many DSA members embrace a position that is not far distant from Abidor’s. As two New Jersey DSA members put it recently:
We believe swing state leftists should vote Biden, not because he deserves it but because a Democratic administration offers more fertile ground for the left than a Republican one, where we desperately scramble to fight for basic union, reproductive, immigrant, and queer/trans rights. For those seeking to build third-party power, we’ll do better under a Democrat as well, since Trump generates a false sense of “resistance” unity that obscures the deep divisions within the Dems.
Others in the organization disagree, of course, with some arguing DSA members should never vote Democrat, and others arguing that even in places like New York and California, DSA members should vote Biden. That’s what a big-tent organization looks like.
If Abidor (and his editors at the New York Times) were actually the cool-headed political realists they present themselves as, they might be focused on these debates in the organization, and they might take an interest in its activities and life beyond Twitter.
The fact that liberals pretend to be hardheaded realists while remaining as enthralled to the passions of their position as the wildest revolutionary goes a long way toward explaining the revulsion with which these kinds of arguments are received — even by people, like me, who are sympathetic to arguments for swing-state voting. We are accused of having abandoned decency by people practicing the rankest hypocrisy in their arguments. No wonder so many of us are contemptuous of contemporary liberalism.
Most socialists will undoubtedly react to Abidor’s argument in precisely the same manner he would react to us publishing a piece accusing him of betraying the international working class by voting for an imperialist party: by ignoring it. Abidor is free to use us as target practice so that he and other liberals can congratulate one another on how realistic and responsible they are, but he can hardly expect us to be interested in that exercise.
Meanwhile, if liberals think that Joe Biden needs DSA’s votes, they should try something new for a change and actually work on convincing us. They’ve put considerable time and effort into thinking about how to win over Republican voters, and it wasn’t by calling them racist lunatics. If liberals want socialists voting for their party, they can start by showing us the same level of courtesy.