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The Concept of the “Useful Idiot”

The term “useful idiot” is attributed to Lenin, referring to those who were against the rise of Communism, or the Communist Party, but who actually were helping them achieve their aims; either because they favored Socialism , and thought that supporting the Communists would help Socialism prevail, or because they simply did not comprehend the nature of political reality.

There is some question as to whether Lenin actually used the term, but it seems to have derived from that era, and it certainly has been used by other Russians in the era 1917-1950. And it is still used today, because it is so evocative and fitting, describing people who think they are doing something noble or even democratic, but who are actually doing the work of the totalitarians.

So many could fit into that category. I think of all the media figures who spent their precious time and influence hammering away at Hillary Clinton, for “emails,” whatever that was supposed to mean. They got hold of it, they reveled in it, they would not let it alone, despite the fact that there truly was no “there” to it. On and on and on. Why? Some hated Hillary, some were jealous of her, some just found this a cheap and easy theme, saving them actual analysis of the issues, and the danger to democracy that Trump presented. “Mean girls” and “Frat boys” would also cover it, but “useful idiots” emphasizes the terrible damage done.

Then we have Bernie Sanders, a man who probably gravitated to Marxism in his formative years, because it was simplistic and Manichean good vs. evil to him. So he found a way to make an actual career out of it, and was a rather harmless gadfly, until he latched onto the times, and made a lot of money and got a lot of acclaim, by attacking Hillary, a Democrat with a 96% or so liberal rating, 70% overall “favorables”as a Senator from New York, and made her the symbol of what he thought was wrong with America. He made Republicans gleeful, and they undoubtedly helped with his funding. And he is so stupid, or stubborn, or both, that he would not stop, even when the primary race was over; because he was getting the adulation and the money which he had always craved. What he achieved was getting Trump elected.

Oh, there are so many others. The term “useful idiot” obviously does not characterize those whom we just disagree with, or who do not understand issues very well. There has to be some additional factor; people who think that they are doing something great and noble, but are actually being used by those on the other side. For me, the last sixty years or so of the so-called Democratic Left, has featured many people who would rather see the Democrats lose elections, because they think that this will ultimately lead to a glorious Left takeover of the party. They are not all like that, but plenty of them are. Ralph Nader predated Sanders, and by himself, he cost Gore Florida, and got Bush elected.

The Left has hated just about every Democratic candidate, starting with LBJ, moving past Carter to Mondale, to Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Hillary. They liked Obama because of the imagery, and because he was running against Hillary, but that faded. They didn’t like Biden, either. They are looking for their version of Godot, and they have largely been happy and self-satisfied to lose elections to Republicans while they continue the grail-like search. Maybe that changed after 2016, but there were a lot of Sanders supporters who attacked every other candidate during the long primary season.

But there is also another kind of useful idiot, the Democrat who keeps believing, or acting as if he or she believes, that the Republicans are mostly decent folks, that they can be negotiated with; that bipartisanship is the way forward. The fact that this again and again proves itself to be not only an illusion, but a destructive one, does not seem to register, or maybe their psyches are already set to ignore the reality of it.

These were people who kept thinking or acting like Republicans were a good-faith opposition, to be negotiated with and compromised with.. Various Democratic leaders, including Senate Majority Leaders and Presidents, kept enabling Republicans by treating them with the consideration and willingness to compromise that Republicans never showed. Why did they do this? Because they projected their own basic decency onto their opposition? Because they believed that somehow by acting nobly, they would cause the other side to act nobly, like in some chivalric story? Because they didn’t like to fight, whereas the enemy reveled in it?

Quickly passing over our memories of the Obama regime, we now come to the events of yesterday, and to Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

Manchin seems simply to be a Moderate Conservative from a very Red State, who is popular enough there to get elected. He recently did again, which should guarantee him some space, but I guess he just believes his own rhetoric, that getting rid of the filibuster would be disastrous, that it would “destroy the country.” I have no idea why he believes that, but he apparently does. Manchin has stood up to twice to vote to impeach Trump; he is not a horrible person or Right-wing Radical, and he is better than any replacement in West Virginia would be. But that is not enough, not in these times. And he seems to show no capacity to rise up heroically in this crucial moment.

So he will not vote to get rid of the filibuster, and so we will have no bipartisan January 6 Commission, even though he insisted that is very important to have one, and that he cannot comprehend why any senator would vote against it. But they did, enough of them to have kept the proposal from even reaching the Senate floor for a vote on the merits, and to force all senators to take a stand.. He simply will not vote to eliminate the filibuster, even just for this bill. So the obvious inevitable effect was that the proposal did not reach the floor, and there will be no joint bipartisan Commission. Does it take a brilliant mind to figure that out? It seems rudimentary to me, but either Manchin cannot do the math, or he is simply locked into a ridiculous position which he will not deviate from.

I don’t want to ignore Krysten Sinema, who apparently has the same view as Manchin, that keeping the filibuster is more important than keeping the democracy. Of course, she would not see it that way, because she may be unable to think one step ahead, just like Manchin. And she may have the added advantage of being able to figuratively hide behind Manchin, who is the focus of things now. Or maybe she would vote to get rid of the filibuster if Manchin would? Do they in essence hide behind each other? We don’t know, maybe because she wants it that way, but the effect is stark and ineradicable, no matter how much she might try to avoid responsibility for it.

Sinema didn’t even stay for the vote on the bill today, which is incredible. Neither did Patty Murray, they were the only two Democrats who did not stay to vote: Murray had a family emergency and stated her support for the bill. Nine Republicans did not bother to stay for the the vote. And of the six Republicans who actually voted for the bill, that is good, but some of those may be “show votes,” McConnell allowing that, since the lack of 60 votes was assured. The actual vote was 54-35 for the Commission, which is a dead-bang loser in this mockery of a representative Senate. But if Republicans take over the Senate, rest assured that they will get rid of the filibuster, because they are all about power, not about tallying “good sport” points.

Are these two, Manchin and Sinema, “useful idiots,” doing the Republicans’ insidious work for them, without even realizing it? Or are they so afraid of negative reaction from their home state voters, that they would rather just go with the flow, let Republicans filibuster and block the bill, and go on to something else, whatever it is?

They are not helping the cause of democracy; and if they do the same thing with H.R.1, the bill to stop voter suppression, they may well be the deciding factors in the loss of American democracy. And even so, they will apparently refuse to do what is necessary to save it. There are virtually no Republicans like that, who stand behind some vague principle which ends up destroying the chance for the much greater good, but there always are a few Democrats, which, along with the filibuster, gives the Republicans almost absolute power to control everything but budget bills, even when the Democrats hold power.

Do “useful idiots” ever realize their folly? Probably some of them do, but when it is too late. In the ascendancy of Lenin and then Stalin, most of them were executed. That likely would not happen to Manchin and Sinema, but being heroic is almost by definition not just about oneself, it is about the good of many. So retirement in comfort in a land where fascists rule, cannot be expiated by saying, “I never thought they would go that far.”

Recognizing evil is a prime requisite for being a leader. If you do not, or simply try to avoid thinking about it, you pretty much fit the concept of “useful idiot.” They are acting exactly like that to this point. And while I would never attach that term to President Biden, he must now realize what he is up against here; and that hoping that Republicans will relent or turn back from their task of turning the country into a fascist state, is absolute folly, so that whatever he can possibly do to prevent it, must be done, without equivocation. Most of us figured that out twenty years ago

After the vote, Manchin was upset and feels betrayed, as by his statement. Lisa Murkowski is also very upset, and worried about the country. Will Manchin now vote to get rid of the filibuster? Will Murkowski leave the Republican Party? She certainly will not. Manchin might possibly change his mind, but that still leaves Sinema, and any other Democrat who somehow thinks that the filibuster is such a great thing that it is worth handing over the country to the Republicans, to keep it. You either stand up to save democracy, or you do not. If you do not, you are either a traitor to democracy, or an abysmally foolish and stupid person who allows the traitors to win. In other words, you are very useful to them, and you are an idiot. The term manages to retain its relevance throughout the decades.

2 Responses

  1. Then we have Bernie Sanders, a man who probably gravitated to Marxism in his formative years,

    Sanders is not now, nor has he ever been a Marxist. He did at one point in his youth join the YSL, which was affiliated with Socialist Party of America (the party founded by Eugene Debs). The SPA refused to join the International after the Bolshevik Revolution and vigorously opposed the CPUSA for decades.

    This canard is unworthy of you. It’s something I would expect to see on Instapundit or Hot Air.

    • I am sure that Sanders never literally affiliated himself as a Marxist, but reading some of his early comments, he seems to have at one point followed that philosophy. Marxism is not evil in itself, it was the Communist dictatorships which proved themselves to be inimical to any idea of being for the common man, the worker. As you know, Karl Marx was a philosopher by effect, who observantly noted the great disparity and unfairness of economic conditions. His idea of the workers being in charge of their own industries,is not evil at all, it was simply very idealistic and ultimately unworkable. But I have nothing at all against Marx himself.

      You have not read quotes of Sanders where he inveighs against capitalism? Where he criticizes President Kennedy for not praising Castro for what Sanders claimed where the good things he was doing for Cuba? Where you and I differ here, is that you see the term “Marxist” as opprobrious. I don’t, though I do not think the philosophy works; and we all know that Communist regimes were very quickly totalitarian, inhumane, and murderous, just as fascist ones.

      To me, Sanders was a comparatively shallow thinker who, like many of his time, liked declaiming against capitalism and the way things were. That’s no big deal, until he viciously attacked Hillary Clinton for making a speech or two at Goldman Sachs, and unceasingly riled up the Left Wing Democrats against her to such at extent, that many of them did not vote, and so got Trump, a Hitler admirer, maybe the most evil political figure in America history, elected. And he never even apologized for it, for what little good that would do, because Sanders is philosophically and psychologically incapable of it. And now we are one very short step away from being a fascist state; and in my opinion, Sanders was either wittingly, or due to incredible arrogance and spitefulness and short-sightedness, one of the most proximate causes of this awful situation, for which I personally view him with great dislike and contempt.

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