But as a posture for negotiation, unilateral open-mindedness is a disaster. Facing an uncompromising opponent, it yields a predictable result: getting repeatedly defeated.
The Republican Party is, at the risk of understatement, no longer the party of H.W. Bush or McCain. It has little use for the pluralist tradition as represented by the founders and instead has come to celebrate and even glorify non-compromise through the politics of Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.
Within that context, the intuition that Democrats have been playing a sucker’s game for too long may be what is now making Democratic voters, especially younger ones, favor candidacies that welcome hardball politics and that aren’t afraid to call out villains.
It’s a dynamic that explains where the support for Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders is coming from and why Mr. Biden — who begins negotiations by trying to be reasonable, while expecting the same of others — seems like a man for a different time. It certainly explains why Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, arguably the future of the Democratic Party, suggested in a New York magazine profile that what she most admired about Mr. Sanders was his willingness over the years to be the lone vote for (or against) things he considered deeply important. It may even help explain the enthusiasm for the shamelessly lavish campaign spending and rough and tumble social media presence of Mike Bloomberg: He may not be an unyielding democratic socialist, but he’s no one’s idea of a sucker.
If the Democrats choose a starkly uncompromising candidate in 2020, it will probably reflect an exhaustion with playing the decent human being; weariness from unilaterally sticking up for the genteel norms of the Enlightenment and getting steamrollered in the process.
In that sense, the Democratic primaries may recall a scene from the 2019 film “Marriage Story”: In the midst of an increasingly hostile divorce, the husband fires his reasonable, thoughtful divorce attorney, played by Alan Alda, and replaces him with a brash, combative foil, played by Ray Liotta (of “Goodfellas” fame). “Why did you fire him?” his wife asks? He needed someone far less compromising, he says — employing a far more vulgar term than this polite reflection on suckerdom permits.
Tim Wu (@superwuster) is a law professor at Columbia, a contributing opinion writer and the author, most recently, of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.”
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