Jonathan Chait, Democratic Socialists, and Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders Photo: Getty Images

New York Magazine has just published a provocative article by Jonathan Chait critiquing recent criticism of Beto O’Rourke by left-wing intellectuals who support Bernie Sanders. Chait backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries and has argued that neoliberalism is a progressive bogey not a destructive ideology. He is admittedly unsympathetic to democratic socialism.

Nevertheless, in Why the Bernie Movement Must Crush Beto O’Rourke, Chait seems to grasp the ratiocinative superiority of the progressive left. At one point he writes, “O’Rourke [has the] ability to speak naturally and with apparent conviction — one never knows if a politician is expressing genuine conviction or just performing it well — without taking hard-left policy stances.” By contrast, he comments, “socialists — at least those who aren’t willing to settle for the incremental advances traditionally held out by liberal Democrats as their only option — see Sanders’s presidential candidacy as uniquely compelling.” Still later Chait notes, “[t]he response to O’Rourke’s leftist critics is tellingly devoid of ideological content.

So for Chait it is Sanders partisans, rather than traditional Democrats, whose politics are defined by both 1) an unwillingness to settle for incremental advances and 2) an insistence on meaningful policy prescriptions. Despite acknowledging these strengths, though, Chait refuses to evolve ideologically. “I have opinions about the parties involved in this conflict that are not difficult to guess,” he remarks. Chait is right. His views are easy to discern from previous writings.

He simply disagrees with the left on a variety of issues. Chait seems genuinely to believe that Americans are well-served by job-destroying trade deals, a requirement that they purchase health insurance from for-profit corporations, and endless war in the Middle East. As 2020 approaches, Democratic primary voters will have to decide whether they share Chait’s perspective no matter how smoothly politicians such as Beto O’Rourke try to hide their like-mindedness behind toothy smiles and Trump-bashing.

H/t Zach Wiita who brought Chait’s piece to my attention.

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