Originally posted at DailyKos. (But no one read beyond the headline.)
There is a common sentiment being repeated over and over these days among registered Democrats and left-leaning Independents: “If my candidate wins the primary, we all have to vote for them because to do otherwise is to cede control of the White House to Republicans. That’s just unacceptable! You can’t!”
For the last few months this suggestion has been used to subtly undermine my support for Bernie Sanders, almost as if to say, “They’re really the same, so why not just support Hillary?” It’s an annoying ploy, especially because I know that these two candidates are not the same to me at all. One is supported by the people I want to see pay 30% higher taxes and to be regulated and taxed into behaving responsibly. Another is supported by people who currently can’t afford health insurance and struggle to get by on an economy that thinks $7.25 is a reasonable minimum wage. One has supported welfare reform that has contributed greatly to the economic despair of the working class and long-term unemployed. Another has proposed a $15/hour minimum wage and taxes on risky investment trading in order to provide free public college to any American. One is perpetually shifting their stance on issues in order to pander to different voters. Another has maintained their message and fought for two crucial issues – income inequality and political corruption – that could contribute mightily to improving a host of other injustices.
One is Hillary Clinton. The other is Bernie Sanders.
And I’m telling you now, if Hillary wins this primary through means I find unethical or based on the influence of big money, I’m not voting for her.
Stow the opprobrium. I know the argument. If I don’t help elect Clinton, our next President could be Donald Drumpf or Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. Very possibly, yeah. I may be fine with that.
Not because I support any of those devious sacks of shit. I don’t. Not one iota. However, if the election comes down to them or Clinton, I feel like I’m being given a choice between a tall glass of urine or a tall glass of Flint, Michigan drinking water. Neither is good for me and both are inadvisable.
If I vote for Clinton, what do I get? A minimum of four more years of piecemeal legislative progress, if any. The Congress and its gerrymandered majority of Republicans hate Clinton. Just ask FOX News. Just ask anyone. If you think they’ve been obstructionist with President Obama, what makes you think they’re going to do anything cooperatively with Clinton? Their constituents despise Clinton more than they do. They’ll re-elect these fuck sticks in a heartbeat, and add some more just for kicks. The politics of hatred is only stoked by a Clinton presidency.
Furthermore, I won’t get a lot of new progressive candidates for Congress because Clinton’s ability to inspire is mostly limited to inspiring disdain and distrust. I respect her accomplishments, but I have a LOT of doubts and disagreements with her behavior (not her voice or gender, goddammit). I find her disingenuous on her better days, and I”m a dedicated NPR listener. It isn’t because I fall for FOX News propaganda. She has contributed to her own tarnished reputation across party lines. On this side, we use facts to critique her. Things like calling black children “super predators,” supporting a disastrous welfare-reform law, supporting NAFTA and TPP, supporting the repeal of Glass-Steagall, taking tons of money from the morally vacuous giants of Wall Street, etc. I could go on.
My point is, if Clinton did get elected, people like me become disenchanted with the chances of real progressive change in the United States. This is not an exaggeration. When mediocrity provides just enough satisfaction for voters, people become complacent. Those with more ambitious progressive beliefs find their claims muffled by the grandiose announcement of butchered compromises of our goals, e.g., the Affordable Care Act. I was one of those that felt the ACA was a really big accomplishment for Americans struggling to get health insurance. Now that I myself am in the ACA boat, I find that I can’t afford health insurance at all. (I am, however, poor enough to be exempt from the tax penalty.) This propaganda of “accomplishment” defuses real progress, and subdues dissent via truly progressive candidates. They can’t find traction among voters when everyone is on political Xanax.
A Clinton presidency will put us all to sleep. But it’s time we opened our eyes. We’ve been asleep for too long.
In the 2014 mid-term elections, voter participation hit a 72-year low. The national turnout was 36.3 percent. Why? The New York Times editorial page attributed it to “apathy, anger and frustration at the recently negative tone of campaigns.” Perhaps that’s true, perhaps not. Either way, it was disastrous for progressives supporting the Democratic Party. Control of both chambers of the Congress were now with the Republicans. Obstructionist politics shifted into fifth gear, and this year we’ve got Congress refusing to do almost anything, even critical tasks like advising and voting on replacing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
If you ask what the greatest legislative accomplishment of this Congress has been during President Obama’s second term, the best you can do is the end of “Race to the Top,” the misguided and catastrophic policy that perpetuated the “teach to the test” philosophy initially enacted under George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind.” Other than that, which was a decidedly bipartisan accomplishment, there’s virtually nothing a progressive can say that they’re excited about. The Supreme Court gave us marriage equality, not legislators. If they had their way, we’d return to the halcyon days of pink star patches and Christian reversion therapy. True progress isn’t Congress’ strong suit these days. Grandstanding and obstruction are.
Progress has been made in different venues, however. A shifting public opinion may be the one that matters most.
In his article, “Why Bernie Can Win,” Jacobin’s Matt Karp points out that when Bernie Sanders announced his presidential bid last April, a handful of reporters attended the event outside the U.S. Capitol.
“The next day, media analysts sized up Sanders’ candidacy with the same mix of mild amusement and polite condescension. The best possible outcome for a Sanders campaign, agreed the New York Times, NBC News, and Politico, was that his ‘liberal zeal’ might ‘force Clinton to the left.’
Nine months later, this verdict seems terribly wrong. Not only has Sanders emerged as a serious threat to capture the nomination – his victory in New Hampshire was the largest in primary history – but his impact on the shape of the campaign has been almost the opposite of what experts imagined.”
Sanders campaign has literally exploded the notion of an easy “coronation” of Clinton as the inevitable Democratic nominee. Crowds in the tens of thousands attend Sanders’ speaking events, and a true grassroots campaign has sprung up in less than a year that is pushing the long-standing and well-funded Clinton machine to a dead heat in national polls. To say that Clinton or her advisors expected this would be beyond absurd. No one in the so-called “Democratic establishment” saw this coming. That they didn’t, and that they’re struggling to fend off the challenge from Sanders, has seemingly lit a fire among progressive hopefuls that threatens to undermine the piecemeal and well-funded status quo.
But the fire was not something Sanders started. He may have brought the matches, but progressives have been stacking wood for years. We’ve been throwing our resentments and disappointments with neoliberal compromises and inattention over LGBT equality, the Voting Rights Act, welfare reform, criminal justice reform, healthcare, tax reform, election reform, Citizens United, and a bonfire’s worth of other progressive betrayals. And when this previously little-known old white guy from Vermont stood up and said stubbornly that income inequality and political corruption were the things he would fight for more than anything else, we went and found gas cans. Over 3-1/2 million small contributions to the Sanders campaign later and we’re looking at a flaming tornado of progressive dissatisfaction that is bedeviling Secretary Clinton and her camp.
I attribute this passionate outburst to centrist disconnect with the real concerns and needs of the working class of this country. In other words, after sitting out 2014’s mid-terms in frustration (36.3%, remember?), we’re finally seeing just how little progress the current Democratic establishment can accomplish. Have we really solved health care? God no. The ACA is one baby-step in a marathon. Have we resolved corruption on Wall Street and at the Fed? Another baby-step, and then half a baby step back. Have we ended the corruption of elections and lobbying? Are you joking? It’s gotten far worse, now easily comparable to the oligarchical standards of the 1920s. Today, fear of another recession is being seriously mentioned by more than a handful of respected economists.
This isn’t a personal attack on President Obama. As a person and as the first African-American President of the United States, I have tremendous admiration for him. As a politician, I give him a B/B-. Yes, he’s had arguably the least cooperative Congress in recent history. Yes, he’s been the subject of endless subtle and not-so-subtle racist attacks. Yes, he faces a daily onslaught of propaganda from FOX News, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Donald Drumpf, Breitbart and Drudge that riles up the vilest of hatred for him. I couldn’t have more admiration for the way he has withstood and soldiered on in the midst of this.
But we want political progress, not just a brave individual. We’re not getting it, and part of the reason is because President Obama is no less beholden to the monied interests than Clinton is.
It’s not “politically correct” to say that. The Democratic establishment counts on us attacking those who don’t group Obama’s personal bravery and solid character together with his party’s legislative accomplishments. That paradigm is shifting. Progressive Democrats and Independents are strong-minded enough now to recognize the centrist propaganda that is attempting to stifle real activism for change. We can praise Obama as a man and also question him as a politician. That’s not the same as condemning him, as Secretary Clinton might seem to suggest in recent debate appearances. Wrapping herself in this misconstrued logic is her latest attempt to thwart Sanders, who has very good reasons for his instances of disagreement with Obama’s policy. We don’t buy it. That kind of blind party loyalty has led us to this dismal status quo for America’s non-millionaire/non-billionaire class.
Aside from Obama’s historic wins in two elections, progressives have seen the steady demise of their political power in the states and in Congress. As the New York Times pointed out in November of 2015, “Democratic losses in state legislatures under Mr. Obama rank among the worst in the last 115 years, with 816 Democratic lawmakers losing their jobs and Republican control of legislatures doubling since the president took office…” Under Obama, we have seen the Republican control of governorships grow from 22 to 32 since 2009.
Inspiring leaders were in short supply prior to this historic Republican ground gain. What we had were Clintonian centrists with spotty progressive credentials, as well as some former progressives who have simply been in office too long and have fallen prey to the temptations of big money. As Eric Lipton and Eric Lichtblau of the Times pointed out last week, even the Congressional Black Caucus has become a “fund-raising powerhouse” of questionable ethics. Despite taking substantial donations from “cigarette companies, Internet poker operators, beer brewers and the rent-to-own industry” the CBC leaders claim they are “unbossed and unbought.” How that is defies plausible explanation among honest progressives.
The gist is that the Democratic party brought this on itself. A similar fracturing of interests is happening, quite obviously, in the Republican party. The Democratic party, perhaps out of good manners, has just seen its supporters be patient longer than the Tea Party voters. Our patience was not rewarded, at least not through official channels.
We have been rewarded, in large part, because of our dissent. When you go back to those dismal voter participation numbers, what you see is that the result left only the most loyal establishment Democrats to drive voters. They didn’t. What we have now is the public vivisection of the status quo, a “money, mo’ money” status that has led us to Bernie Madoff, Martin Shkreli, “The Big Short” and too-big-to-fail banking firms that are now bigger and more risky than they were before the Great Recession. We can see the bones of corruption beneath the layers now, and we are finally infuriated. We’re ready to act, en masse, because eyes are opening to the lies and the manipulation that so transparently attempts to keep a candidate we like from even appearing on t.v. We don’t trust the previously trusted voices, and we find more and more often the ties between the the naysayers and the money behind the curtain.
So, when you tell me, if Clinton wins the nomination I should vote for her for the good of the nation, I am beginning to think otherwise. The way I see it, a vote for Clinton is a vote for apathy, like choosing a player to “block” your opponent on Hollywood Squares. There’s nothing inspiring about that strategy.
If Clinton loses to a Republican in the general election, the Democratic party as we know it will begin to fade. The average age of the three top Democratic leaders in the House today is 75. Clinton herself is 68. After losing the presidency and the two chambers of Congress, these Democrats won’t have a lot left to sell to the struggling workers of America other than some emasculated notion of being “the opposition.” The withering party will have to begin the process of metamorphosis in earnest. This time, the name Clinton – or even Obama – won’t likely be on the marquee.
Yes, after four years of virtually unfettered Republican leadership, American politics will be a swirling cesspool, and working Americans and every conceivable minority will be miserable and disenfranchised. However, when society is at its worst, historically, the greatest and most inspiring leaders arise. Why? Well, when we’re sitting close to a fading campfire, we tend to get close because so little heat is generated. When that campfire transforms into a bonfire, however, we tend to step back, well-warmed, and with a crowd gathering around us.
Should Clinton become the nominee, I vote for the bonfire.