Bad Faith? Good Faith? No Faith.

Bad Faith? Good Faith? No Faith.

Your political worldview invariably comes down to whether you think the point of politics is to be right, or to win.

Being right – winning the argument, taking the crown in the so-called marketplace of ideas – has long been the goal of the American center-left. The facts will prevail, the thinking goes. Truth will win out. Because, you see, people are rational and inherently good. They act in self interest. We'll call this Leslie Knope syndrome.

Then there's winning, long the goal of the American right wing. They're good at winning because they see politics as a means to an end. The right uses politics to grab power and wield it with total indifference for their enemies. The right consolidates power quickly and without apology. It's why some states, including Wisconsin, can no longer be considered democracies in any sense of the word. We'll call this Patrick Bateman syndrome.

And so we have this matchup, time and time and time again, in American political battles: Leslie Knope vs. Patrick Bateman. Knope's pristine good faith doesn't stand a chance against the revving chainsaw of Bateman's bad faith.

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Being right doesn't matter at all in politics. The left's positions on nearly everything – especially economic policy – is worlds more popular than the horrific, dastardly right-wing policy offerings (as much as Republican have policies anymore). Being correct, staking out the right positions on a range of issues, hasn't meant shit for the American left. The country's right wing has throttled its opponents for the past forty years, taking no prisoners, never compromising, jerry rigging the rules so much that they can no longer lose. Their No. 1 priority is to win. There is no second priority.

The right has always been wrong and they always win (you may say, but wait, we've had Democrats in the White House for 10 of the past 14 years, to which I'd say those Democrats were forced to govern like conservative Republicans). This is largely because no amount of good faith can defeat a political movement committed to bad faith. You can't even argue with someone deploying bad-faith arguments because they don't mean what they say. Add to that a national media poisoned by both-sidesism – going so far as to both-sides the story of a ten year old rape survivor – and the left has no reason to engage in good faith when battling with the right.

We know the formula. Media outlets report the Democratic candidate says we must curb greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change; their Republican opponent says climate change doesn't exist. The Democrat says people should have the right to terminate their pregnancies; the Republican claims that constitutes murder. The Democrat supports regulating guns; the Republican says he loves freedom and the Second Amendment, and that he would fuck the stars and stripes if the Betty Ross Museum would let him. Horserace political coverage includes no effort to point out lies and half truths because mainstream media outlets weren't designed to cover bad-faith politics. These newspapers and networks still cover politics as if both sides are operating in complete good faith. Consider that The New York Times wouldn't call Donald Trump a liar until two years into his term and you'll understand how ill-equipped corporate media is for this moment.

The American left may have recently stumbled upon a formula for side stepping Republican bad faith, however. John Fetterman, the one-time mayor of a small, working class Pennsylvania town and the state's former lieutenant governor, is now the Democratic candidate in a U.S. Senate race against facially reconstructed celebrity Mehmet Oz. Fetterman, who had a stroke this year and has had to campaign almost exclusively online, has relentlessly owned Dr. Oz on social media using tried and true posting techniques deployed the online broken brains the world over.

Fetterman has made a fool out of Oz over and over as the latter flails to land a punch – any punch – against his goateed opponent. Fetterman's posts have portrayed Oz (correctly) as a multi-millionaire Hollywood celebrity shockingly out of touch with the average Pennsylvanian. He's attacked Oz for living in New Jersey, going so far as to campaign for Oz to enter the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Fetterman is not engaging Oz on the issues because that has proven a losing formula, especially in high-profile races in which kitchen table issues become little more than background noise. Fetterman seems to understand issues are for good-faith losers.

Here's the thing about Fetterman's approach: It's working. Fetterman leads the TV doctor by ten points in recent polling. This doesn't mean Fetterman has locked up the race. Far from it. But it's a good start for a Senate candidate in what has become something close to a dreaded swing state in recent elections.

That Fetterman's side stepping of the Good Faith vs. Bad Faith paradigm doesn't seem to matter to some on the left. This extremely online approach to obliterating your far-right opponent is below the standards of a Good Leftist – one who sticks to the issues and hammers home a strong economic message at any cost.

Nathan J. Robinson, a Current Affairs writer, is less than enthused that Fetterman – an unapologetic progressive who would be a brawler in the Senate – has trolled his way to a sturdy lead against Oz.

I’ll be honest: I think all of this is stupid and morally frivolous, and I wish John Fetterman would not do it. Even if it turns out that in 2022, you can “shitpost your way to the Senate,” you shouldn’t. A progressive senate candidate should force a discussion on things that matter, not get the media talking about how sick his Twitter burns are. I also think Fetterman is taking a big risk here by assuming that Pennsylvania voters can actually be influenced by memes. ... Democrats who want voters to come out for them really ought to emphasize their agenda rather than just mocking their opponent. What will you do in the Senate? I want to see progressive candidates get behind the Economic Bill of Rights. I want them to show that they’re not going to be do-nothing Democrats who think their job is finished when they beat the Republican.

What Robinson – who is clearly not chronically online – doesn't get about Fetterman's unorthodox campaign is that it neither uses good or bad faith, but no faith at all. Fetterman has been clear about where he stands on the issues. If anyone is unclear about his politics, they can log on and visit his campaign site, which spells out a range of progressive principles and goals. It's why Bernie Sanders, a paragon of good faith politics, has enthusiastically backed Fetterman in his Senate race. Our broken politics and the broken media model for covering politics makes an issues-based campaign a guaranteed loser. To demand that Fetterman stop attacking Oz on Twitter and start talking about inflation and minimum wage and whatever else Robinson is fixated on is a demand for Fetterman to tie both hands behind his back in an all-out war for a critical Senate seat.

Robinson pleads with Fetterman to be more like Bernie. It's Bernie, after all, who is never pushed off message, who never talks about himself, who lays out a socialist agenda without apology and in plain language designed to appeal to working class folks, not overeducated online leftists who read books by French revolutionaries in their spare time.

"This is an important source of Bernie’s appeal: people get the sense that he is not in politics because he enjoys it (he does not seem to enjoy it) but because he is devoted to improving the lives of others," Robinson writes.

It's here where I'd point out to Robinson that Bernie's almost militaristic messaging discipline was not enough to overcome the Democratic Party's machine politics in the 2016 and 2020 presidential primaries. Bernie did not launch blistering personal attacks against his primary opponents and he paid the price. He was so right and so incredibly popular on the issues that centrist candidates pretended to agree with his left-wing stances during the primaries. Bernie has shaped the Democratic discourse for years. And being right won Bernie absolutely fucking nothing.

If you have some other reason for why Bernie couldn't capture the nomination, ask Elizabeth Warren about the effectiveness of earnest good-faith, issues-based politics. She had a (good) plan for everything, from student debt forgiveness to healthcare to flushing right-wing operatives out of key federal government agencies. Warren did not, however, have a plan for winning, which happens to be the only thing that matters.

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It's a stunning concession to say aloud that a Senate candidate shouldn't "shit post" his way to victory even if he can. Robinson is saying a candidate should only win a certain way. He's saying in no uncertain terms that winning doesn't matter; only political purity matters, only being right matters. The opposite is true. Politics has nothing to do with truth. In the fragmented era of social media, reality doesn't even matter. There is no agreed-upon reality anymore (another reason mainstream media coverage cannot function in the current political landscape). Reality is what your social feed says it is.

Robinson and those on the left who turn up their noses at Fetterman's no-faith approach to taking down Mehmet Oz would rather lose a Senate seat to an idiot fascist celebrity who would green light every horrible Republican policy idea than to have Fetterman post his way into the Senate, where he probably won't share his Democratic colleagues' sickening reverence for the institution designed to make progress impossible. They would prefer to be right than to win.

An animating feature in the Age of Ascendant Fascism is the breaking of the (mostly) unspoken agreement that both sides would play by the same rules. George Bush and Al Gore engaged in all the empty fakery of good-faith presidential politics. So did Bush and John Kerry (for the most part). Even Barack Obama in his contests against John McCain and Mitt Romney had the advantage of opponents who would play the good faith game. That all went down the shitter in 2016. Trump's refusal to engage in good faith flummoxed both the old-school, inflexible Clinton Machine and media outlets who covered the race – perhaps an inflection point in history – like any other. Trump simply refused to play the game. The Clinton team was left pointing to the rulebook as Air Bud flew over their heads and dunked the basketball. Clinton's lament boiled down to this: Dogs can't play basketball!

Air Bud beat the rulebook followers and appointed three supremely dangerous Supreme Court justices who will seal our doomed fate barring drastic action by congressional Democrats. John Fetterman, meanwhile, is among the new breed of Democrats who have not been cowed by the learned helplessness of a previous generation of liberals, and might do what needs to be done in countering the far-right judicial coup that promises to quickly make the United States unrecognizable as a representative democracy. Fetterman will fight; he's made that clear.

On the verge of a permanent red-pilled congressional majority that will not recognize election results and will ignore all precedent in passing and upholding the most brazenly inhumane laws we've ever seen, the left has to win, and win now. If that requires relentless shit posting, so be it.

Follow Denny Carter on Twitter at @CDCarter13.