Matt Bruenig Revisited

A couple days ago, I composed a short little write-up on the Matt Bruenig Situation.

The gist is that the left in the United States is divided. Any casual observer of American politics is probably thinking well, no shit. The left is terribly poor at mobilizing in the United States, and you can attribute it to a number of things: red baiting under McCarthyism, intellectual purging, the death of intellectual rigor altogether, and a number of other related developments.

The radical left isn’t portrayed well in this country, and it took Bernie Sanders for people to realize hey, maybe I am sympathetic to some, by American standards, rather lefty concepts. For the record, Bernie isn’t all that radical and he, himself, makes that point all the time. Put him in Europe and he’s a center left politician. I get that, and am not trying to argue otherwise. But by American standards, it’s okay to call him radical, and it’s okay to refer to him as such. Debating whether in fact Bernie is radical or not isn’t all that constructive in the present.

So the problem the left faces, guys such as Bruenig, is that their supposed allies on the left are often neoliberals sympathetic to the Democratic Party’s platform. From a leftist standpoint, they’ve been on the wrong sides of issues, consistently: Iraq, trade, surveillance, mass incarceration, corporate welfare, the list drags on. Yet the Democratic Party liberals are the ones that typically get air time, occupy high level jobs—in effect are the voice of the left’s politics in the United States.

Hence the centrist Dems pose as the voice of the American left in front of the American people, and the actual left is sitting there going  wait a second, these people don’t represent me or leftwing politics, they’re always wrong about everything.

Unsurprisingly, animosity builds up on both sides: true leftists believe they’re represented by frauds and the center left folks see the radicals as happy participants in righteous indignation. After all, the radical leftists are rarely involved in the policy negotiations, unaware of how difficult it is to make any progress at all in an inherently conservative style of democracy let alone alongside nutty Republicans themselves. Eventually they tire of the accusations of selling out from those on the left, and in particular, when the attacks get venomous they proceed to chastise the left for incivility. Sometimes the accusations may truly cross a line, at other times the calls for civility may be used as a political tool to silence those rambunctious commoners. Often, a little of both.

That’s how I see it anyway.

With regard to the Bruenig situation specifically, there is one more aspect of it I wanted to address before leaving it be. It is not the accusations of online harassment towards women or PoC as I think anyone who has paid attention to Bruenig over the years should acknowledge that he is an equal opportunist when it comes to criticizing those he deems to be hypocritical. I can’t speak for all of the people that follow him, but with regard to solely him, I think that’s an unfair take and one that undermines his contributions to leftist thought.

Rather, it is his GoFundMe campaign. As anyone following this probably knows, after Demos parted with him, Bruenig set up a GFM with an expressed goal of $10k and received $25k in a few hours before shutting it down. The obvious rationale behind it was to replace the income that he would’ve made through Demos while he and his wife take parental leave as they have a child on the way shortly.

He has received some backlash for this as it has been pointed out that he is also a lawyer. His wife is an assistant editor at The Washington Post. The immediate reaction that someone often has is that he probably didn’t need the money from Demos in the early months/years of childcare even though that is income he and his young family expected to have going forward.

It’s an unsettling final twist on the saga. Bruenig has every right to start the GFM, no one was obligated to contribute to it, and furthermore it did amount to what he would’ve earned if he wasn’t terminated by Demos. In other words, he had budgeted to raise a child with a certain amount of income coming in and now that wasn’t going to be the case. If you felt Bruenig was unjustly fired, as many including himself did, it made sense to donate to the cause.

It’s a slippery slope once you start talking about who deserves monetary assistance–whether it be through public or private means. It’s this sort of mindset that makes welfare and the poor in general so stigmatized. People feel the need to regulate how these people live their lives because it is their money that is being used to sustain it. This leads to assholes at Wal-Mart bitching about a poor person’s selection of steak or whatever. I don’t like where these kinds of judgments lead us, and in the grand scheme of things it’s a classic case of the plebs squabbling over crumbs while the rulers sit back and laugh.

This could be a false equivolence, however, people critical of the GFM will argue, insofar as we know that Bruenig isn’t poor. His level of need doesn’t warrant a GFM regardless of the circumstances that led to his firing.

But isn’t that his call to make? Isn’t that the call of the people who donate to him to make? Do people not think that he anticipated this kind of backlash for the decision to raise money in the aftermath of this? Can a family with modest income really have too much money to raise their first child? Isn’t this a guy that after all advocates so much of his income to go back into society’s communal pot anyway–to help its poor, its disabled, its young families with children.

People tend to enjoy judging other people’s choices. Monday Morning Quarterbacking is humanity’s past time. If I were in Matt Bruenig’s situation, would I have started a GoFundMe? A lot of people feel inclined to answer no, there are people in more dire situations.

If we used this rationale, it probably wouldn’t make sense to act on much of anything as there would always be a more significant problem to address. Should we be able to draw lines between a dire case, a moderately dire case, and a case that certainly isn’t dire? Well, that’s probably worth a conversation and philosophers have taken stances on that kind of approach for a while.

I guess in the end I don’t know. This is mostly just rambling now. Would I have started the GFM? I don’t know, I’m not Matt Bruenig, and I don’t know what it’s like to be Matt Bruenig or anyone else. Maybe I should take the plank out of my own eye before I even consider having a look at his.

Perhaps others might consider doing the same.

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