presidential candidates are not above criticism

social media slingshot. attachment: liberal. firing configuration: further left.

We have our ticket. Kamala Harris was officially nominated as Joe Biden’s VP pick, which has raised questions about the time for criticism and how votes are earned.

The announcement a few weeks ago set off something of a trend online, with committed Democrats demanding that progressives stop critiquing Kamala and her politics. In their defense, it’s just an extension of their insistence to treat Biden and his politics with similar inattention.

Flitting across a friend’s Instagram story was one such popular hot take from Tik Tok. Wayne Felton II was celebrating Kamala’s VP selection, and included a word of warning for progressives. Transcript provided below.

“If y’all act a fool like you did in 2016 and start being like, ‘She’s not perfect/not progressive enough’ Stop it! You stop it right now! That man in the White House is crazy. You get your act together, you get down to that polling place and you vote for Biden. Cause we not playing these games. Y’all played these games in 2016 and we ended up with Trump. And if we get Trump for four more years I’m blaming every white progressive because this is on y’all… [mocking] ‘But she’s not perfect!’ Neither is Bernie and neither is AOC. I SAID WHAT I SAID. Perfect is the enemy of good and this is a good pick.”

Wayne’s understandably on edge, probably because he wants to beat Trump so badly that pointing out any shortcomings of his preferred candidates just won’t do. Biden & Kamala are already ‘not Trump’ — that’s good enough.

In fact, being ‘not Trump’ is far and away the main reason people are supporting Biden (*according to Pew Research Center).

*for those keeping tally, that’s more backing for Biden being ‘not-Trump’ than supporting him for: his leadership, performance, personality, temperament, issue set, policy positions, being a Democrat, or not being a Republican — combined

This attitude extends to anyone Joe would’ve chosen for VP, not just Kamala. Her record, history, and policy opinions don’t matter to a subset of people allegiant to a Biden/[insert VP here] ticket. Stephen Colbert chimed in with timely evidence proving the point.

“Thank god it’s Kamala! I was worried Biden was going to pick someone else who would have made me absolutely still vote for h

However, with some determined to vote Trump out, there’s a dissonance between what they claim vs how they behave — a contradiction encapsulated by Wayne’s post. Sure, they want Trump gone, but they care more about their own self-righteous posturing.

It’s a posture where they imagine themselves as David battling Goliath. They purport to represent the little guy, the powerless upstart — a very self-serving view. Yet their performative version of David is hollow, appropriating righteousness from a working underclass they no longer serve.

It’s not enough to gesture towards doing the right thing without action reorienting power to the people they claim to represent.

Kneeling in Kente cloth stoles does not equate to demilitarizing the police. Painting the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the street while ignoring the policy demands of Black Lives Matter, the movement, is not justice. Refusing to fight for healthcare as a human right for all citizens during a global pandemic is not defending the marginalized.

Sticking up for the poor or disenfranchised means contesting established power and those who wield it, not just virtue signaling on Instagram. Truly confronting Goliath puts you at risk of losing something. You might even need to abandon your entitlement to bash unconvinced people whose vote you need to earn.

People who agree that perfect is the enemy of good, just as good enough is the enemy of better.

There’s this habit of declaring that Kamala and Joe aren’t perfect — not to honestly reckon with contentious parts of their records or bridge disagreement about future policy-making, but to ward off any criticism.

This line of defense is clear foolishness, but foolishness that apparently needs addressing. Correct — no one is perfect. A lack of perfection does not make a person immune from criticism, especially when they are candidates in a national election to represent the public as President and Vice President of the United States.

I don’t remember the bible verse where Goliath admits he’s not perfect, so David should back off already and let him proceed unquestioned and unchallenged.

Wayne argued that he’ll be “blaming every white progressive, because this is on y’all”. Setting aside his erasure of the diverse identities among progressive voters, it’s a strange logic to think people are won over by condemning and berating them.

His antagonism appoints allies as adversaries.

Wayne isn’t building a coalition based on solidarity and understanding. Instead, he’s demanding adherence to purity tests and refusing to engage with honest critique about constituents not feeling represented. Unity won’t last if it requires silencing all debate and squashing any difference of opinion.

Certainly, it’s much easier to paint all (white) progressives as the issue, than deal with the reality of ongoing voter suppression or the inertia of escalating economic inequality as a decades-long status quo. Unexciting candidates, lukewarm policy positions, and colossal voter disenfranchisement are tricky to single out as the problem— easier to blame a loudmouth college kid on twitter demanding student loan forgiveness.

For the record, progressives also want to win, they just have a competing theory of how to do so.

One mainstream Democratic theory says that Biden will get more votes if we stop criticizing him entirely at this point, and instead criticize voters who are criticizing him. A competing progressive theory says Biden will get more votes if he adopts popular policies to energize voters.

Some liberals expect that it’d be easier if everyone on the left shut up and fell in line so they can focus on convincing the center and the right to Vote Blue No Matter Who. But — isn’t it possible that center or right-leaning (non)voters might also want health care as much as any bleeding-heart liberal? Couldn’t it be that left, right, and center (non)voters are equally pissed off that in the past 5 months 16,300,000 million Americans have lost their jobs while 643 billionaires grew their wealth by $685,000,000,000?

Thinking linearly along a left-right axis misses that people scattered across the political landscape have something in common — a vague sense that the status quo is screwing them over. They have that sense because it’s true.

In 2016, 43% of eligible voters — nearly 100 million people — didn’t go to the ballot box. And these non-voters are not paragons of progressive privilege and elitism. “Compared with validated voters, nonvoters were more likely to be younger, less educated, less affluent and nonwhite”, Pew found. Ultimately, being not-Trump wasn’t good enough to get them out.

Disappointment from the last election can easily mutate over four long years into blaming fellow voters for articulating the change they need, or chastising non-voters for having no one to represent their interests. Yet it’s a shoddy David who picks up a slingshot only to hurl rocks at fellow soldiers suffering in the trenches.

Alternatively, we can hold our representatives accountable on where they could be better, more popular, and more humane.

Refusing to engage in disagreements about public policy, and how to best serve the public, ensnares us in a cynicism we easily recognize across the aisle. “Those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism. They know they can’t win you over with their policies.” President Obama said that at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

If we ignore policy and set being ‘not-Trump’ as the bar for a candidate, then criticizing anyone who isn’t Trump becomes divisive, and needlessly confrontational. If instead we raise the bar to a candidate committed to healthcare as a human right, then rejecting Medicare for All during a national healthcare crisis is not good enough (a policy currently supported by 67% of registered voters by the way).

Committing to democracy means accepting that people have their own voting criteria that doesn’t match yours. It requires meeting fellow citizens where they are without resentment and blame.

If Wayne feels represented by Joe Biden & Kamala Harris, then he might not find any value in critiquing them anymore. If others don’t feel currently represented by the ticket, self-righteously shaming them into silence will not win them over.

As well-established liberal icon Michelle Obama said: “When they go low, we go high.” She didn’t mean a high horse.

— Yours In Solidarity, a non-perfect voter



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