By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
I try not to write clickbait headlines (“This one reporter…”), but I didn’t quite manage to do that this time, in the sense that I am over-promising and under-delivering. But wait! I can explain why.
As readers know, I have priors, which — please bear with me — I am refining as I go: I’m of the opinion that the American political class is facing a legitimacy crisis, driven by what political scientist Walter Dean Burham would call “political realignment” (Walter Dean Burnham, “The Changing Shape of the American Political Universe,” The American Political Science Review, Vol. 59, No. 1, March 1965I’m studying up!), in turn driven by changes in “the electoral universe” culminating in “critical elections” (think 1860 or 1932). This is a process, by no means complete — i.e., 2016 was not a critical election, despite liberal yammering about the “Trump Era” — for two reasons I can think of at least: (1) although Republican electeds and the party apparatus will have reconstituted themselves, mostly through resignations by 2020, (2)(a) the Democrat electeds and party apparatus have not, and (2)(b) while what I crudely label the liberal Democrat (national) establishment is deeply committed to (i) not expanding their electorate (they prefer to appeal to alienated Republicans) and (ii) incremental tweaks that (iii) do not give their donor class agita, while (2)(c) what I crudely label left Democrats are committed to all three: They wish to expand the electorate, reform (even “non-reform” reforms), not tweaks, and they’d like to cut the cord to the donor class. (Notice how all three reinforce each other with a $27 donor policy-driven party model). But while all the creative policy work, all the principled institutional work, and all the interesting candidates I can think of — not shopworn, not mush-mouthed, not corrupt — are on the left, the center of gravity in the Democrats party has not shifted to in their direction — rather, the left has not had the power to shift it — and I don’t care what WaPo says.
And so we come to the Politico article: “Bernie’s army in disarray,” by Edward-Isaac Dovere, Politico’s chief Washington correspondent. Modeling Dovere as a hack instead of the dedicated reporter we in all fairness should assume he is, the message of his piece is that liberal Democrats don’t have to worry about the left in 2018, those losers. Fair enough, but — and here I’m starting the explanation part — I’m not sure that one year’s development work is all that significant. Standing up a left organization like Our Revolution (OR) in the face of near-universal opposition from the political class, and virulent (and in many cases well-paid) opposition from liberal Democrats, was never going to be easy. So I’m happy to file everything in Dovere’s piece under “growing pains.” Second, and more importantly, my guess is that political realignment — ruling out rapid descent into The Handmaid’s Tale, or On The Beach, or complete, top-to-bottom Third World-status — has a decade at least to run (because the, er, contradictions aren’t nearly as sharp as they were after, say, the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which led with extraordinary rapidity to the creation of the Republican Party). And Our Revolution is just one actor in that realignment, and there are other left actors, all new since 2016: DSA, Brand New Congress, Justice Democrats, and Great Slate (among others, I am sure). So, if Dovere had wanted to so some real reporting, instead of a hit piece, he would have needed to assess all those organizations, and put them in the context of re-alignment. But that’s not easy. For example, in respose to Dovere’s piece, this tweet:
So, I just saw some interesting facts about Our Revolution and what they accomplished just in the first year (Aug 16-Aug 17).
Note: There are now almost 600 Groups Worldwide including Puerto Rico, Canada, France & Austria. pic.twitter.com/QsFT10KFN1
— Lumpy Louise, Squasher of Donuts (@LumpyLouish) May 20, 2018
Very good (kudos to OR for the new logo; the Sanders “little bird” was one of the few moments of pure happiness in 2016; and I like the OR has had the discipline to use it consistently). But — and this is the final part of the explanation — this tweet is in essence a press release (and kudos to OR for being able to release one). How on earth would Dovere, if he had the inclination, go about verifying it? And how would this humble blogger? For example, I follow Twitter closely, and (though I say it) I have a well-curated list of accounts that I follow, including every DSA chapter I’ve been able to locate. But I missed DSA’s impending success in Pittsburgh! Multiply that single failure by whatever scope that OR + DSA + Brand New Congress + Justice Democrats + Great Slate and however many others, and you can see the problem: How on earth does anyone (me, Dovere, anyone) know what’s happening on the ground in this enormous country? The political class will be, literally, the last to know of any re-alignment that takes place; there’s nothing in their Rolodexes or their contact lists that will keep them informed. Plus, local news has been decimated, the political blogosphere is — in large part — either purchased (Kos) or dormant, and Google search is utterly crapified when it’s not being outright censored. (BallotPedia is not a solution, unfortunately, because although it’s exhaustive, it isn’t updated in near-real time, driven by the news flow.)
And so, dear readers, I turn to you: What sourcing would you suggest for tracking electoral work on the left? Especially sourcing that isn’t liberal Democrat? And sourcing that doesn’t make stuff up, no matter how important “the cause”? Is everything — heaven forfend — on Facebook or YouTube or podcasts? Maybe dedicated State House reporters doing round-ups, if there are any left? Are there still political blogs, just low-circulation ones I don’t know about? Help!
And now, I turn to Politico’s hit piece, “Bernie’s army in disarray.” After donning my yellow waders — and putting a clothespin on my nose — I looked at the piece, and two issues leap to the eye. The first is the assumption that OR owes the Democrat Party deference and support. For example:
Last week, Our Revolution endorsed actress Cynthia Nixon in the primary for New York governor after she filled out a questionnaire and did an interview with a local affiliate. But an aide to her opponent, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who last year was joined by Sanders at an event promoting a state initiative on the senator’s signature issue of free college, said his campaign knew nothing of the process and learned of the endorsement from a press release.
Good. Great! I couldn’t be happier.
Board members and Sanders presidential delegates from 2016 have raised questions about whether the group’s president, Nina Turner, is using her position… to settle scores with the Democratic National Committee from 2016.
Good. You say “settle scores,” I say “hold accountable.”
[OR] also sat out Doug Jones’ upset Senate win in Alabama last year, and Conor Lamb’s triumph in a Western Pennsylvania congressional district that Trump carried by 20 points.
Good. Did either candidate support OR’s policies?
Our Revolution has frustrated Democrats by staying on the sidelines of so many races.
First, good. When liberal Democrats produce candidates OR can support, it will support them. These Democrats seem to think that OR is an arm — or rather, tentacle — of the DNC. Second, great! OR is also supporting many candidates at the state and local level. That’s a good strategy, and will pay off. It’s how the religious right started its march to power: With local school boards.
And what Devere seems to think is the most damning indictment of all:
Our Revolution has shown no ability to tip a major Democratic election in its favor
In 2018, after less than two years of existence? (And, harking back to the long-winded introduction to this piece, contradictions not fully sharpened?) Let’s talk in 2020 and 2022.
The second is regarding the OR glass as half-empty when it is, in fact, half-full:
Kleeb, who also serves as the Nebraska Democratic Party chairwoman, argued, “We have about a 50 percent win record, which I think is a miracle given the fact that we usually endorse the underdog, or a woman, or a person who comes from a community of color.” (The win record is closer to 40 percent.)
Holy moly. This is like that WaPo dude who thought he had an enormous gotcha with Sanders because Sander’s average donation was a little more than $27. I mean, come on. Also, retail campaigning and politics are a skill, and they’re learned; they probably cannot be taught. So ~45% of OR endorsements won. 100% of them ran, and some percentage will go on to win their next race, or their next. In other words, the left is building a bench.
A second example:
Monthly online fundraising totals have plummeted to just one-third of the group’s take a year ago, based on an analysis of processing fees reported to the IRS by Act Blue, the tool Our Revolution uses, and verified by several people familiar with its finances. Our Revolution maintains that it’s still running a surplus and that repeat donations are steady.
Maybe those totals would be higher if OR had endorsed Conor Lamb or Doug Jones. But then it wouldn’t be OR, would it? If repeat donations are indeed steady, then OR is a going concern, which is what matters.
I wish I had the time to do a really detailed takedown of Dover’s piece, but I don’t have to, because Common Dreams did, with “The False Narratives Used to Try to Derail Bernie’s Army,” which makes this critical point:
The most damning criticisms of Our Revolution in the Politico piece are unquoted and unsourced.
Quite right. In the lead-in to a series of damning bullet point, we get this:
Among the findings of POLITICO’s examination of Our Revolution, based on interviews with two dozen sources inside and outside the organization
Well, of the two dozen, were 23 outside and 1 inside? How are we to know? Shouldn’t each claim be attributed to a particular source? For example:
The result has left disillusioned, feeling that the group that was supposed to harness the senator’s grass-roots movement is failing in its mission.
But not one with a name? Or a title? Or this:
Some Sanders worry that Our Revolution’s performance could have a harmful spillover effect if he runs again: Though Sanders himself continues to reshape Democratic politics, with many presidential contenders signing on to his “Medicare for All” bill and primaries across the country being fought further on the left’s turf than in decades, warn that the senator himself will suffer if the group formed in his name is seen as weak and floundering.
What the heck is a “stalwart”? Is that some kind of staffing position I’ve never heard of? And these “supporters”? Are they kinda like Job’s comforters? Hard to know.
Concluding, Devere has, in essence, written a “Democrats in Disarray” piece — a well-known genre in the Beltway — repurposed for Our Revolution. However, I should be more fair to Devere than I have been, sloppy though his sourcing is and tendentious as his views may be; I think it’s clear to anyone who pays attention that organizing at scale is not Sanders’ strong suit. That’s not to say that Sanders is sloppy: Clearly, as Mayor of Burlington he governed effectively; as a Representative and then a Senator he served his constituents well; and not only is Sanders’ message discipline enormous, he’s very strategic about how and when to deploy it. Those skills are not the same as the skills needed to stand up a completely new electoral institution, outside the current party system, designed — I would urge — to secure and focus the on-going “political realignment.” I don’t think that Sanders is the person to do that (nor is any other politician I can think of). Perhaps Nina Turner is not; time will tell. Put this another way: There remains enormous opportunity on the left.
 Fundamental driver: “Organic damage” to the (non-owner, non-professional) working class that began with the neoliberal turn in the mid-1970s, and has now reached absurdly degrading, indeed lethal levels evident to anybody who cares to look out the Acela window, as most Acela riders do not, being too busy with their cell phones.
 This was Clinton’s plan for 2016 (with an admixture of gaslighting and warmongering. The plan has not changed. That’s why liberals purged the left from the DNC Rules and Bylaws Commitee, the DCCC (or donors directly) are assaulting left candidates, and so on.
 Here we bracket in the inside/outside strategy debate. Assuming your most minimal of goals is giving working people a New Deal, and you’re a strong believer in an outside, third party, I think you still want oppositional forces (“not team players”) inside the Democrat Party. You can’t just go around it! The South Carolina fire eaters, loathesome though their goals were, didn’t do that.
 Yes, DSA wasn’t founded in 2016, but it only became a player because of the Sanders campaign of 2016. I’m leaving out the various institutions inspired by the Dean insurgency in 2004; DFA, and so forth.
 For example, PoliticsPA
censored failed to mention that the four Pittsburgh winners were DSA-supported, so, sadly for a source seemingly so exhaustive, they aren’t trustworthy.
 Note that the headline implies that OR and a Sanders campaign would co-ordinate, which is neither true nor legal (despite workarounds).
 The ellipsis, I chopped out: “to prepare for a presidential run of her own.” Turner has to know she’s not seasoned enough; Shirley Chisholm, for example, served in the House for seven terms. The wording of the paragraph makes it impossible to link source to claim, and my guess this comes from a disgruntled individual. The New Republic has a spin-off from the Politico piece, which includes this little gem: “Questioned directly by Politico [gotcha!], she would not confirm or deny that she plans a presidential run in 2020 if Sanders sits the race out. If she did, she would use the invaluable voter database that the Sanders campaign built.” And so what? Turner can purchase the list, presumably.