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Sunday, February 21, 2016

An Exchange With Two Readers Who Respect Me But Maybe Kinda Sorta Hate My Support of Hillary Clinton

This is upgraded and adapted from the Moot to this wee, almost throwaway post. In that post, entitled "I Want To Vote For A Democrat" I reiterated a couple of simple points I have been hammering out variations of for weeks by now: "There is a connection between the fact that Bernie Sanders is running for the Senate as an Independent and not as a Democrat RIGHT NOW -- even as he is also running to be head of the Party he has not been a member of -- and the fact that he is running for the Party's nomination using a strategy that eschews the Democratic Party's actually-existing actually-winning diverse Obama coalition." Both of my interlocutors here are long-term and friendly readers of Amor Mundi, and I hope they will remain so. I appreciate their comments and their spirit of engagement over political differences. That we all get a little exasperated about this stuff is par for the course in the opportunistic scrum of partisan contests that are always freighted with intellectual investments on the part of their partisans they can never really truly bear.

Friend of Blog "Lorraine" wrote:
I'm disappointed that Bernie hasn't decided to run for re-election as a Democrat, but it's not a deal breaker for me. I was more disappointed with Barack when he decided early in the general election phase to work with rather than against the status quo campaign finance system. I guess it's a game of chicken. Is taking the high road important enough to risk going into the big arena at a disadvantage (to John*)? I can't answer that. It's the road not taken.

As for Hillary, #IllBeWithHer after she gets the nomination, which I hope she has to fight for. I call that the "shuffleboard strategy." I think, even without my primary vote, probability of Hillary winning the nomination is 100%. I don't see much risk there, as shuffleboard strategy goes.

I still wonder, though, which is the bigger nightmare scenario? A Republican president in 2017, or *still* having an only-centrists-need-apply Democratic Party in, say, 2036? If Bernie wins the nomination and goes the way of McGovern, of course, that gives the centrist scum powerful bragging rights, and I would hate that. But Hillary winning also gives them bragging rights over us. That is probably the main reason going with your program leaves a highly unpleasant aftertaste.

* I assume the new normal is that we're on a first name basis with all presidential candidates?
I replied:

The Democratic Party has moved left over the course of the Obama administration, and the Obama coalition is a progressive one. Hillary's earliest ads and published policies were already very much to the left of her positions in '07. The PCCC is the voice of the DNC now as the DLC was its voice in the dreary days of my early political engagement. Occupy and BlackLivesMatter are real forces. Climate activism and queer feminism will continue to be as well. I think this very encouraging reality has been somewhat obscured by the narrative theatrics of the primary campaign so far.

The General should clarify all that. The GOP plutocratic(Establishment)/bigot(Base) coalition is cracking up before our eyes. A Trump run will leave smoking ruins. The GOP will have to re-invent itself in the face of a diversifying secularizing planetizing New America.

I do hear and respect your fears and frustrations. Things can go wrong. I expect to spend a lot of time protesting the Clinton administration to come. But after a long slog through 80s and 90s and Bush-era politics I feel a righteous wind at our backs and think progressive protest and organizing can proceed with some well-earned joy in times to come.

Friend of Blog "Esebian" wrote:
Hillary has been pro-Iraq, pro-any conflict since then, pro-Big Bank for the entirety of this young century, and in '08 used "hard-working Americans" racist dogwhistle rhetoric in her fight against Obama.

And she's supposed to be the One True heir to his winning diversity coalition?
I replied:

If by "One True Heir" you mean to insinuate that I am supporting a Clinton cartoon with a divine "Chosen One" aura, then obviously I no more think that is true than you do. If you look at Clinton's published positions and explicit campaign rhetoric then, yes, her policy priorities and embrace of the Obama legacy quite straightforwardly indicate that she is appealing to the Obama coalition as a matter of fact, and that she is celebrating the Obama legacy. And President Obama also recognizes that's what she is doing and seems to prefer her on that basis already.

Tad Devine has been open about the fact that Sanders is quite explicitly NOT trying to replicate the Obama coalition, even if he hopes to produce an analogously popular and populist one. Sanders is trying in part to mobilize disaffected working class white voters, among them independents. Sanders has made a class-based pitch to Trump voters on more than one occasion, arguing that his critique is more relevant to their distress than Trump's. As a democratic (eco-)socialist(-feminist) myself, of course I see where he is coming from, but the plain fact is that Trump is more appealing than Sanders to most of those voters (and the election results, both turnout and votes bear this out) because white racist resentment not class solidarity is the sweet spot for that demographic. That voter turnout in the primaries and caucuses is under-performing the Obama excitement in '08 should really trouble those who have accepted hitherto the Sanders proposal that the brute force of millions mobilized by his truth-telling would punch through the stakeholder impasses, institutional hurdles, obstructionist opposition that has stymied President Obama's nonetheless stunning record of achievements (the very record Sanders has castigated as at best a disappointment and at worst some kind of betrayal).

Like most recent left intellectuals I would argue that class politics are stratified by race-sex-gender-age-ability and that useful class critique needs to be intersectional, and in the American case in particular I believe it must foreground white supremacy, given the historical foundation of American Capitalism in slavery/genocide and subsequent segregationist terrorism (which lives into the present in our racist justice/policing/incarceration complex). I am far from thinking Sanders has a racist/sexist bone in his body -- but we are all long past the belief that white-supremacy/patriarchy are merely matters of racist-sexist-heterosexist-cissexist animus. Right? Hello? Sanders' critique takes up intersectionality only superficially at best and his rhetoric is often much clumsier than Clinton's as a result, and his appeal less of a fit with the Obama coalition than hers.

None of this has anything to do with my assessment of her or his "heart," or whether I want to have a beer or be a friend with either of them. I'm not friends with any Presidents. Are you? None of these facile daydreams go into my assessments of which candidate actually on offer would make the better President. When it comes to it, I doubt yours do either. To be honest, I think you pretty much have to be some kind of sociopath to want to be or think you can manage to be a President of the United States in the first place. I'm a democratic eco-socialist feminist queer and I have never once voted for a President in the expectation that they would be a match or near-match for me politically. I think President Obama has been the most stunning, accomplished, progressive President in my whole half-century of life. There are times when I want to just jump up and down for joy at the fact of his administration (whatever my disagreements with this and that decision, some copiously documented over the years on this blog), and times when I think it is an indictment of our system that more Presidents haven't managed to be as or more competent, effective, inspiring, progressive as he has.

Sure, Sanders' deployment of the socialist label is appealing to the likes of another old socialist like myself, obviously, but I don't judge him any differently than I have judged other candidates in the past. I happen to believe that Sanders is temperamentally unsuited to the Presidency, that he doesn't think quickly on his feet, that he doesn't seem to command the full range of topics relevant to the Executive, that he does not seem particularly congenial to facilitating alliances. Yeah, you heard me. I'm not just making an "electability" argument, I actually think or at any rate I fear Sanders would not make a great President. As far as the actual totality of voting records and actual accomplishments goes, I think it is hard honestly to say that Bernie is obviously more progressive than Hillary, and the disproportionate number of endorsements by people in government and progressive organizations seem to indicate pretty clearly which of the two is congenial and connected to the working coalitions that get things done. You are welcome to make a different assessment of these things, and that is well worth debating, but I don't think ideological purity has much to do with any of that. In a nutshell, I don't think Bernie could bring us an inch closer to the socialism he and I both presumably aspire to, while Hillary -- who does not share that aspiration or at least doesn't say so -- might very well get us closer anyway by expanding healthcare access, social security, paid family leave, free community college, and a more progressive tax structure. Maybe this is a bit paradoxical on the surface, but I don't really find it that hard to wrap my head around when it comes to it.

I don't think Hillary is a pure or ideal figure in the way that some (not all, and I don't know about you so you shouldn't assume I am making an accusation you should take personally) Sanders supporters seem to think he is. I certainly don't think Clinton's campaign is Revolutionary! I must say I appreciate that she doesn't imply otherwise. As I've said many times here, I don't think partisan politics is about Revolutions. I think at best parties are sustainable organizing/coalition vehicles for reforms articulated and pressured by radical (and even some Revolutionary) movements on the ground. I actually think it denigrates and undermine radical politics to peddle campaign fandom as a kind of radicalism. That actually offends me as a person of radical conviction. Those (and again I do not mean you, I do not know your feelings on this subject, but I am sure you know what I mean since this sort of thing is rampant right about now whether you sympathize with it or not) who accept the idiotic premise that voting for some celebritized candidate constitutes a Revolutionary activity or that a struggle to become head of a party Establishment is some anti-establishmentarian gesture and then go on to act as though I must be some kind of sell-out or stealth plutocrat in consequence don't offend me so much as make me laugh.

I lived through the Clinton years. Maybe you did, too? I thought Bill Clinton was better but in some ways just a bit better than George Bush Pater. I won't deny I didn't like him a whole hell of a lot. I preferred Tsongas in the primaries (so did my partner Eric, I found out years later) and pinched my nose when I voted for him, the second time around my vote was perfunctory and I was never an activist for him. I always preferred Hillary's politics, her more forthright feminism and progressivism. I marched in Washington to protest Bill Clinton's reluctant but awful gay policies, even as I recognized the organized homophobic environment he was trying to navigate and knew he was no homophobe himself. I was revolted by his Sista Souljah moment, and more disgusted than I can say by his execution of Ricky Ray Rector. Bill Clinton's address of systemic racial violence and poverty and his cultural anti-racism politics played out at one and the same time as all that in his White House. It was much more complicated and frustrating to live through than the retrospective narratives make it now.

The Gingrich Revolution and Contract (On) America were a horrifying time, and the politics of triangulation in that epoch that gave us welfare reform and the evils (and some virtues) of the Crime Bill were also more complex than they seem in retrospect -- which no doubt helps account for Bernie's vote supporting them at the time. I actually think many of Clinton's judgments were dead wrong, but they remain intelligible to me having lived and obsessed through them day to day. Democrats were seriously under siege and the GOP was rising like a deadly tidal wave. The death dealing madness of the W. years was already prophetically evident with those with eyes to see -- but it seemed like everybody in America was drinking the poisoned moonshine while people with decency and sense were tearing out our hair and staring at one another from great distances with eyes like saucers. I was an undergraduate and queer activist through most of those years, doing sit-ins and marches and clinic defense and needle exchange. That's when I was trained in nonviolence with the King Center, that's when I got thrown in jail during a protest. Soon after I moved to California to study philosophy and queer theory with Judith Butler and discovered my teaching vocation and became who I am now.

In the '08 race I supported Obama and was highly displeased with the racism that circulated through that primary contest. You will possibly be incensed to hear that some of the ugliness of that campaign reminds me a lot of the weird undercurrents and upwellings of racism and sexism that accompany Bernie's campaign now. Then as now I think there is no animus in the candidate, in fact I think Hillary seemed a bit at a loss about it then as Bernie seems a bit at a loss about it now, but I think that the nature of the coalition being mobilized (in both instances working class whites) activates historically-embedded constituency symptoms of white supremacy and patriarchy (though the latter operate/d differently in the PUMAs vs the mansplaining berniebros, to use the media friendly figurations of actually complex realities).

I refuse to indulge the caricatural cartoons of the symbolic politics of celebrity fandom presidential nomination skirmishing. When Bernie says too big to fail is to big to exist and that single-payer is better than for profit healthcare of course I agree with him. You know how you might know? Because I have been saying those exact things as an activist and then as a teacher for over a quarter of a century. Understanding those optimal outcomes is different from trying to build working stakeholder coalitions to reform, expand, and adapt existing institutions and legislation to get from where we are to where we are going.

I think Hillary Clinton's regulatory proposals are better than Bernie's, I think her embrace and desire to build on Dodd-Frank is politically astute -- I think this is exactly analogous to her embrace and desire to build on the ACA to get to universal healthcare. I think Hillary's emphasis on diplomacy and "soft power" and State Department mission to support women and girls all give the lie to charges she is a straight-up war-monger, and though I am of course pleased that she apologized for her part facilitating the ruinous world-historical evil blunder of George W. Bush's war and occupation of Iraq based on admitted lies and war-crimes, I believe her when she says she was giving the Bush administration more credit than it deserved in the expectation that the vote would provide pressure for continued inspections rather than endorsing war as the best option at the time. As far as I can see, my Representative Barbara Lee was the only true hero and visionary on this issue and everybody else was playing catch-up, some a little quicker than others but everybody too damn late. I think the Hillary "warmonger" figuration is a cartoon, as I think the Hillary "bought-and-paid-for" figuration is also a cartoon. But even while saying this I share the worry that Obama's openness to negotiation (so often excoriated as "fecklessness" and "weakness" and "unprincipled") won't be shared by Clinton to the same extent. I hope Clinton's embrace of the Obama legacy and participation in the making of it as his Secretary of State will influence her, but the Imperial Executive is a force bigger than any individual President, and I suspect a stronger progressive Congress and progressive Court are what it will take to check its dangerous tendencies more than any particular occupier of the position could. I also share the worry that Clinton is far from immune to the corrupting influence of the campaign finance system and moneyed-circle in which she moves as spouse of someone on the post-Presidential gravy train. I hope Bernie will continue to mobilize a campaign finance reform movement with the rest of the Warren Wing when he returns to the Senate. I think he can do more good for that issue there than where he claims he wants to be going, to be honest.

It isn't hypocrisy or cynicism or deception that makes me share Bernie's goals but approve Hillary's plans. It is instead, I would say, a recognition that the role of radical education, agitation, organization is to mobilize masses and pressure institutions to change policies and legislation in the direction of progress by way of the ongoing reconciliation of stakeholder differences and problem-solving of partisan reform. Of course, one can get lost in radicalism so that the perfect becomes the enemy of the actually good compromise. Of course, one can get lost in reformism so that what seems possible becomes a monologic celebration of a status quo that actually can and must change. Of course, these dangers are real, but escapes into spontaneisms and perfectionisms and cults of personality and paranoid defensive identity/subcultural-politics and all the rest of those dumb scaredy-cat tricks are unworthy of intelligent people of good will and democratic conviction.

Walk and chew gum at the same time. Hillary isn't a monster. Bernie isn't a saint. They are both politicians. Bernie can seem comparatively more pure because he retreated to a small white homogeneous more liberal than average New England state while Hillary entered into politics on a national and international stage and then stayed there as New York Senator and Secretary of State where the scrum is uglier, the accomplishments harder fought, and the compromises leave scars. The very thing that makes so many dismiss her is the thing that leads me to embrace her. Most of the rest is silly kid's stuff.

The Republicans are putting forth near-textbook fascist exemplars up for the Presidency. Polls declaring Bernie a better match against Republicans do not reflect the avalanche of flaming shit that the GOP has yet to hit him with in the hope against hope Democrats will be foolish enough to choose him over Hillary (which is why they are also cutting commercials and spending money to support his nomination): Bernie Sanders is a grousing short-tempered petulant disheveled superannuated avowed socialist who has repeatedly and recently promised on tape, ready-made for negative ads, to raise middle class taxes. Maybe he could still beat an opponent as execrable as Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, but the gamble is real and the stakes are horrifyingly high. When I complain that Sanders is a grousing short-tempered disheveled superannuated avowed socialist, you should take note that I am all of those things myself, and I rather like all that about him. But I also know what goddamn country I am living in and unicorns are not indigenous to the landscape. A strong Democratic Party with a brilliant pragmatist at the helm, a woman presiding over a rainbow coalition that reflects the reality of America, needs to be there to put up the pieces and move the Obama legacy and coalition forward. People who know better need to stop fooling around.


Lorraine said...

I agree that Clinton has the better resume. Sanders has more experience in politics, but Secretary of State probably should be more impressive than House and Senate service. Unfortunately it also highlights her neocon tendencies, particularly US recognition of the Honduras coup. You could say the cabinet members serve at the pleasure of the president and all that, but the Nuremberg defense only gets one so far. Clinton is also a better match for the Obama coalition, and that coalition has a two-term president to show for itself. Can't argue with success like that. Sanders, I think, has a support base that heavily overlaps the Obama coalition. Question is whether it adds more than it lacks. I'm guessing the voters too young to have voted for Obama, and whatever previously non-voting citizens Sanders can bring to the table probably don't add up to a huge number, but would he alienate so-called swing voters in huge numbers? I don't know. As for right-populists, I wish he weren't really trying to court that group. While elections strictly speaking are a numbers game, some supporters are more of a liability than an asset, even though they add to the vote totals. I hope 2016 will be the year that left-populists stop being seen as a liability, (a constituency that candidates are better off snubbing than trying to impress) and right populists start being seen that way.

I don't believe that what I have described as the shuffleboard strategy harms the liberal cause or the Clinton general election candidacy. I'm not worried about the risk of it working too well. Based on primaries/caucuses so far, Clinton has decisively more momentum. I do believe that "Bernie or Bust" does harm the shuffleboard strategy (as it explicitly rejects that strategy). I also believe that a highly coordinated campaign of aggressively and relentlessly characterizing Sanders supporters (in general) as white, male, affluent etc. does harm the liberal cause and Clinton's candidacy, because it's more obvious to me that Sanders is more liberal than Clinton, than it is that Sanders appeals to more privileged voters. Some studies/poll interpretations claim that Sanders support correlates negatively with voter income, for example. The idea that liberalism and elitism go together is a decidedly conservative idea that doesn't deserve the amount of dignity that Clinton's supporters appear to me to be giving it. So, I wish a certain non-silent non-majority among Sanders supporters would cut it out with the Bernie-or-bust rhetoric, and I also wish a certain vocal minority of Clinton supporters would stop elite-shaming the liberal faction of their own candidate's general election coalition.

Dale Carrico said...

You say many reasonable things here, including things about foreign policy that also worry me. I fear the Bernie coalition doesn't overlap with the Obama coalition so much as it overlaps with the Ron Paul coalition when it comes noisemaking. From my perspective the good news is that once the primary schedule delivers enough delegates to Clinton (maybe even by March 15) the reddit contingent will crawl back under the floorboards and the story becomes Trump racist fascist idiocy versus Obama passing his baton to America's civic-minded grandmother. The Obama coalition is larger than it was when it won twice before and the Southern Strategy is a recipe for the GOP dwindling into a neo-confederate rump, so I am hoping a solid Senate win and a House in play results in November to break the obstruction and perhaps preside over the dismantlement of jerrymandering/disenfranchisement two years hence and Dems can go back to arguing for good government, with a nice stimulus and green jobs program to kill austerity (and here's hoping the EU gets the message this time).