Sanders and Corbyn: blind leading the dumb
Author: Nicholas Giokas – Contributor
It’s an interesting time in politics. Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn have gone from politicians relegated to the sidelines, to household names in their respective countries (the US and the UK). While the political cultures of both countries, and therefore the politicians in question, are vastly different, both politicians have occupied a part of the political left that is worrisome to many: the populist left. Both politicians hold positions that appeal to voters that feel left out by the political system, capitalizing on their status as party outsiders to campaign for change in the political system. With Corbyn seizing one of the largest margins of victory in Labour Party leadership election history and Sanders being a much larger challenge for Clinton than expected the larger question is, why?
Jeremy Corbyn had 100:1 odds of winning the Labour Party leadership, and for good reason. It’s honestly difficult to discern whether the Mad Hatter wrote his foreign policy platform or if Corbyn is truly out of touch with reality. He advocates for pulling out of NATO and says that the West is to blame for the conflict in Ukraine, he calls for Netanyahu to be arrested while simultaneously stating that Hamas and Hezbollah are groups he’d be able to have a dialogue with, and worst of all, he states that the will of the people living in the Falklands should be completely ignored in favour of handing them over to Argentina in a power sharing agreement.
His vitriolic hatred for everything Western is a common trope for the contrarians in politics and is unfortunately a view that many others hold. Contrarianism is more often than not a staple of populism, whether it comes from the left or the right, where vague, general statements are held over actual facts or analysis. The foreign policy of Corbyn relies on heavy use of double-think where everything bad in countries directly opposed to the West are mitigated while everything bad in the West is aggravated. The truly worrisome thing is that a large majority of those in the Labour Party voted him into leadership.
Bernie Sanders had similar odds going into the Democratic nomination race. He also suffers from a policy platform that belongs almost exclusively in the trash bin. His level of vitriol towards the rich in America is almost entirely unmatched. He talks about reforming Wall Street by breaking up all the larger institutions because, hey, collective punishment always works in an economic context, right? Of course breaking up “too big to fail” companies only pertains to banks and not auto manufacturers, because all bankers are obviously evil, so who cares about them, right? He also likes to foam at the mouth when talking about the evils of free trade, foregoing all data and logic, because research is hard and free trade causing next to zero net loss or gains in the labour market just doesn’t feel right. The fact that he can get on a stage and hurl lies and misinformation that could be corrected by an Econ 100 textbook and get thunderous applause would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.
Both candidates are extremely popular amongst those that want to feel smarter than they really are, people who make up for lack of knowledge by acting like cold, hard cynics. The issue with cynicism is that cynics will turn towards an anti-intellectual slant, ignoring experts and relying on Wikipedia articles and half-baked blog posts, because of a misguided feeling of paranoia towards any authority in any context, including academic. The most frustrating thing about the supporters as well as the politicians is that the more you debate them using facts and expertise, the stronger their beliefs become. But, it’s the main pillar of populism that the general sentiments of the people take precedent over actual analysis, meaning that the oversimplified policies that play to the lowest common denominator will always win popular support. The most tragic thing about Sanders, Corbyn, and their supporters is that their stubborn, intellectual vacancy is fuelled not by malice, but by a desire for change. It’s just unfortunate that they have the facts all wrong.