On Personality Politics, Fandom and the Sheepdogs of 2016


A commenter posting on this Facebook discussion is wary of describing me as a fan of Ocasio-Cortez about whom I have been frequently posting.

He thinks he might take it as an insult.

He’s right. I would and here’s the reason:

Being a fan implies an emotional investment in a politician. To personalize politics is a recipe for disaster since it fundamentally misconceives how politics works and the role of politicians within the process.

That is, they are to be regarded not as personalities, as “friends” or “enemies” but as tools to achieve concrete goals. Insofar as they are useful to achieving them, they should be supported. Insofar as they are not, they need to be dropped. One’s personal feelings about them as individuals have nothing to do with this and are in fact a distraction from the kind of objective, cold blooded determination which needs to be made.

To prevent that from happening is, of course, why millions are invested in political campaigns. The billionaire donors behind George W. Bush knew that they could never sell his policies to a public certain to be overwhelmingly disadvantaged by them. What they relied on was enough votes being acquired from those who (famously) thought he would be a great guy to have a beer with.

An identical logic applied to Barack Obama his award winning branding exercise (masquerading as a campaign) targeting a urban, college educated demographic who no doubt imagined themselves discussing Beyoncé, basketball or Urdu poetry over single malt scotch with our first African American president.

To capitulate to either marketing strategy-to become a fan of any politician-is to become a chump or a fool. I would like to think I am neither, and I’m glad that he didn’t insult me by suggesting that I am.


That said, there are plenty on the left who believe that we should relate to politicians and politics as fans. In fact, as it turns out, the commenter himself is one of these. We know this because, in his capacity as Georgia Green Party co-chair he has routinely promoted Green Party candidates, this despite, as Michelle Goldberg recently observed, the decades of evidence “that the Green Party’s habit of running doomed third-party campaigns has (never) done anything to further its ostensible values.”

In short, he meets the precise definition for a “fan” advanced in the above.

This awareness casts a different light on his suggestion that I might be one. Specifically it is an instance of what is referred to as projection-defined as denying the existence of tendencies in one’s self while attributing them to others.

Furthermore, the commenter, in his capacity as a Green is perhaps best known for his having created a viral meme, namely, the characterization of Bernie Sanders as a “sheepdog” candidate, one who would lead activists into the “graveyard of social movements” which is, so the story goes, the Democratic Party.

But, as we can now see, this is projection too. For it was Sanders who, in demonstrating that a major national campaign could be run without financing from corporate sources, was the most promising story of  2016 campaign and probably of the decade. And it is the Sanders campaign and its successor organizations providing the foundation for the current mobilization, one which, for the first time, is showing real potential to seriously challenge the dominance of neoliberal elites.

Conversely, it was the Greens in alliance with an equally cynical and opportunistic ultra left  who recognized the viable, functional left which the Sanders campaign represented as an existential threat to what remains of their dysfunctional sects. The sheepdog meme is probably the most effective smear which has emerged from them. But by now it has become clear to whom it should be applied. For in attempting to lead activists down the dead end of national third party politics, precisely at the moment when victories within Democratic Party primaries were being fought for and won that it was Sanders’s opponents on the left who were the sheepdogs of 2016.

And it was the Sanders successor organizations which are tangibly and unmistakeably “advancing the left and its values” through candidacies like that of the extraordinarily charismatic, photogenic and personable Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, not to mention Sanders himself who is none of these.

They have their fans, but their core supporters are those who know that their success means our success, which is to say major improvements in the quality of life of the 99% and in the future viability of the planet. The commenter, whose work, I should say, I have admired over the years and favorably discussed on more than a few ocassions in the past probably knows this is so.

Now is the time to admit he put his money on the wrong horse and find a way to invest his impressive talents in building up the movement rather than tearing it down.

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