Bernie Sanders' former campaign chief wants the left to be patriotic, thick-skinned, and ravenous for converts

Bernie Sanders' former campaign chief wants the left to be patriotic, thick-skinned, and ravenous for converts

Talking with Faiz Shakir about the quietly momentous bond between Sanders and Biden, the need for a progressive media machine, and why politics is the wrong game if you don't want your feelings hurt

Faiz Shakir is, by my lights, one of the most interesting thinkers and doers in American politics.

He is an organizer and advisor and operative who has played at the highest levels of the political left, most famously managing Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. But he has shown a rare ability to navigate the broad coalition that makes up the left, having worked as well for Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, John Kerry, the Center for American Progress, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Most recently, he has created a new media organization called More Perfect Union, a creator of informative, unabashedly pro-worker, anti-corporate-power videos.

One of the things I’ve been learning in the Biden era is that, while ideological positioning is and remains important, political style is more important than we often realize. And Faiz, like Biden, is an exponent of what I would call a fundamentally coalitional style. Faiz is a progressive; Biden is, historically at least, a moderate. But the coalitional style they share, more interested in who can be pulled in than who should be kept out, has proven to be vital amid rising right-wing authoritarianism.

The other day, I had a wide-ranging conversation with Faiz about this political moment and how the left can thrive in it. We talked about the improbable Bernie-Biden bromance, the little-known gestures of respect that undergirded it, Faiz’s vision for a thick-skinned left that isn’t afraid to have hard conversations with voters of all stripes, and his immigrant family experience of America, which shaped a deep orientation toward simultaneously criticizing and celebrating the country.

Some text excerpts of our conversation are below. The full conversation in audio podcast form is available to paid subscribers. Thank you for supporting this work.

“In order to win, movements have to grow”: a conversation with Faiz Shakir

I want to start by asking you about the moment we’re in. It’s a moment of worker uprising around the country in a way that feels historic. It’s a moment of a historically moderate Democratic president who has acquired some progressive characteristics along the way and racked up a lot of legislative victories that were surprising to a lot of us. It’s a moment of movements on the left having really interesting conversations about cohesion and infighting and the future of the movement. And it’s obviously a moment of a very dangerous right-wing authoritarian movement that is seeing new players rise alongside Trump.

How do you see this moment in time, with all these things going on, in terms of the fights to which you’ve devoted your adult life?

Well, if we start from a political lens, with Joe Biden, the moment is making the man, and now there’s a question of whether the man is going to make the moment.

What I mean by that is essentially two major factors came in to affect Joe Biden. One is a progressive movement that has gained increasing sway within the Democratic Party and increasingly more represents the Democratic voter base. Joe Biden has essentially heeded it, built a coalition that comprises progressives instead of trying to stiff-arm them. The second thing that we know well is that Covid affected the economy and the psyche of Americans in a way that they wanted more government action, and the solutions that they were seeking were progressive in nature.

So those two things collide with Joe Biden entering office. To his credit, he says, I see you. I hear you. I feel you. And we’re going to start operating in a way in which government takes a much more aggressive role in a lot of different ways that progressives have been calling for — whether it’s in the healthcare markets or taking on large antitrust monopolies, heeding pro-worker movements, and also showing that, on Social Security, Medicare, and key safety net programs, I’m going to have your back.

Now there’s the man-making-the-moment question, which is remaking the Democratic Party to be more deeply aligned with working-class individuals. That’s an ongoing work in progress. That’s a struggle to win back lost trust in people who felt like either the Democratic Party didn’t align with the things that they cared about in their own lives, or that Democrats couldn’t make government work for them. So if you started to feel cynical about government, you started to feel cynical about the Democratic Party. We’re working on retooling that. I think how we flex for working-class people and show them that we’re on their side — that ends up becoming one of the big challenges to fight right-wing fascism and authoritarianism.

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