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Saturday, July 09, 2016

Clinton's Reiterations of Long-Held Published Progressive Positions Are Credited to Sanders

Vox today:
On Saturday morning, Hillary Clinton released a new health care policy proposal that emphasized several major progressive priorities, including a public option and increased funding for community health centers. In the proposal, Clinton pledged:
  • To give Americans in every state a "public option" health insurance plan
  • To let Americans as young as 55 years old opt in to Medicare
  • And to double funding for primary care services at community health centers
Now, these aren’t really new ideas for Clinton. She said at a campaign event in May that she supported "the public option, so that people can buy into Medicare at a certain age." And she’s long supported community health centers. But the fact that she’s formally backing these progressive priorities at this moment -- rather than pivoting to more centrist ideas as the general election contest approaches -- is a testament to the influence of Bernie Sanders’s campaign.
It is absurd on its face to attribute positions Clinton has long held to Sanders and not to Clinton herself. Come to think of it, it is absurd on its face to describe old policies as new, though I'll be generous and pretend what is meant is that these re-iterations, in the current context of platform negotiations, are "news."

This sort of absurdity is itself nothing new, however, in the ongoing narrative comparing and framing the relative progressivity of the Democratic candidates for the nomination this election: crediting the progressivity of the platform's healthcare reform language to Sanders but not the party's actual nominee Clinton, whatever her published positions have been from the first, seems to me just the latest false and facile variation on this theme during these negotiations, playing out as well in reporting about the platform language concerning affordable college education, raising the minimum wage, demands for police reforms, liberalizing drug laws, among many other things. The platform's absolute repudiation of capital punishment is one of the few exceptions in which Sanders' view prevailed over Clinton's -- and that outcome thrilled this Clinton supporter. (That and post office banking -- but I give the credit there more to Warren, who I fervently hope but do not expect in the least to be HRC's Veep choice.) Like the denial of enthusiasm and a mandate for the candidate who won more states, more delegates, and millions more votes in landslide majorities, Clinton supporters are used to hearing that the victories of the first woman to win a major party's nomination and likely to win the presidency aren't like the "victories" of the men who have come before her or who compete with her and lose even now.

That Clinton would be pivoting to the center by now after securing the nomination and hence it must be Sanders' presence restraining her certainly reflects long-held and hitherto warranted "conventional wisdom" in pundit circles, but it is worth noting that throughout the campaign Clinton's forceful appeal to Democratic base voters and the Obama coalition suggests that she re-assessed that conventional wisdom in the aftermath of her experience in the 2008 campaign and observing political and demographic changes over the course of the Obama presidency. I daresay it is no surprise that since I don't agree Sanders has moved Clinton substantially to the left because she already moved there herself since 2008 in her published positions neither do I think Clinton needed Sanders to stay to the left where she placed herself from the beginning for reasons that still make electoral sense (and -- dare I even suggest such a thing? -- may reflect her actual convictions in light of her assessment of what is politically possible after the successes of the Obama administration). Rather than insist that Clinton has been moved or kept to the left by Sanders, I would say that the Democratic party has moved to the left better to reflect the needs and aspirations of the majority of Americans and that all the major candidates (I'm including Martin O'Malley) for the presidency this first cycle after the Obama administration reflected that shift from the beginning. That this should have been a cause for celebration among progressives after the long dark night of the Reagan epoch should go without saying. Unfortunately, all too often it has indeed gone without being said.

That the public discourse so long devoted to documenting Clintonian "shiftiness" would dramatize her shifts, whether they are happening or not, or the Sanders or Base forces restraining her imminent or desired shifts, whether they have evidence for them or not, is I suppose no great surprise. The third false commonplace in the article (not included in the already long quote above, follow the link for the whole piece) is the subsequent declaration that Sanders is still to Clinton's left, whatever her "accommodations" of him in re-iterating long-held positions of hers, suggesting once again that the measure of a candidate's authentic "leftness" is how unqualified their slogans are rather than the substance of policies proposed in a diverse society or efforts to mobilize sufficient coalitions to implement actual reforms. Much of the contentiousness of the primary arose from the same absurdity as current declarations about Clinton's so-called "shifts," namely the pretense that Clinton's published campaign positions are significantly to the right of Sanders' in the first place any more than her voting record was.

In her many decades in the public spotlight Hillary Clinton's politics have reflected the demanding contentiousness of problem solving and reform struggle among diverse enormously powerful national and international stakeholders (as an activist First Lady, as a New York senator, as Secretary of State) while Bernie Sanders retreated to a more-than-usually liberal homogeneous white postage stage of a state, Vermont, where he could indulge with few consequences in symbolic stands, protest votes, and scolding. Time and time again progresssivity has been linked via Sanders supporters and presumably neutral pundits to hostility to the kind of pragmatism without which progressive reform is rarely achieved in this unwieldy insulated continent-scaled mess of a republic. Even if I share more often than not a desire to arrive at the ideal outcomes with which Sanders has identified himself, I have never agreed either with those who regard Clinton's pragmatism or her compromises (even the terrible ones) as evidence of her cartoonish hostility to those ideal outcomes nor with those who seem certain that repeated harangues about the desirability of those ideal outcomes somehow brings them closer to realization in a world shared with numerous, powerful, influential stakeholders who simply don't agree or have a vested interest in resisting them.

Now, I was broadly sympathetic at first to the notion that it is fine to let Sanders supporters take credit for progressive platform victories -- whatever the actual merits of such declarations -- in the interest of party unity in the face of the opportunity occasioned by the Trump candidacy to gain more control at all layers of governance and hence to loosen or even end demoralizing gridlock and solve our shared problems. Pragmatists and diplomatists fudge this sort of thing all the time in the interest of getting results. But it seems to me that the overwhelming majority of Bernie supporters quickly shifted their support to Hillary Clinton prior to these gestures or would have done anyway in the face of GOP ugliness and disarray. Further, it really seems that those who have not already made this shift are mostly not satisfied in any case and hence little likely to do so, and that these are in any case a mostly a noisy minority who are marginal to progressive partisan politics -- Naderites, redditors, Greens, anarcho-whatevs.

What worries me is that these false narrative concessions presumably mobilized to court disgruntled Berners (who are mostly already on board or never will be) may actually contribute to injurious misdiagnoses of the diversity of and, perhaps paradoxically, sources of unity in the existing political terrain, and hence abet reactionary outcomes to no good purpose: and by "false narratives" here I mean those rationalizing white-supremacy as economic precarity, for example, or feeding false equivalence frames or silly serially-disastrous "amplify the contradictions" notions of Democratic and Republican party politics at a time when Democrats are moving left to embrace the progressive promise of the Obama coalition and Republicans represent the most dangerous organized force in the world (not because they are more "evil" than other regressive movements, but because their position within the actually-existing American party duopoly gives them plausible access to unequaled and unprecedented military, corporate, practical, institutional, normative resources to implement world-historical harms and crimes). I must say, that it is a source of flabbergasting amazement to me how many informed and intelligent people seem to attribute to insufficiently pure attestations of ideology what is palpably the result of Republican obstructionism enabled by low-turnout elections, gerrymandering, organized disenfranchisement, anti-democratic legal and procedural gambits, mass-mediated mis-information campaigns, and for-profit hate talk. Meanwhile, the ongoing and far-worse looming reality of catastrophic climate change renders the danger represented by the current incarnation of the GOP nothing less than an existential threat to the living world. 

You know, it is because Clinton's policies seemed to me forceful and substantive and realizable given sufficient down-ticket success, and also because her campaign seemed to recognize the reality and promise and leftward trajectory of the Obama coalition and the diversifying, secularizing, planetizing REAL real America that I supported her from the beginning. Well, there are also issues of performance, temperament, intelligence, competence, and connections to key constituencies and organizations in which she has seemed to me better than any available alternative, and certainly better hands down than the woolly, inflexible, censorious, disgruntled, isolated and isolating Senator from Vermont. I can't say that I like or trust Hillary Clinton as much as I do President Obama (for whom I have plenty of criticisms even while judging him, as history also will do, as the most effective progressive President since FDR or LBJ -- as much an indictment of our country as it is praise of those figures), but I do have reason to hope that she will be a competent commander-in-chief and protect and extend Obama's progressive accomplishment to the good. Of course, having a woman fill the role of President or Prime Minister is no guarantee of progressive outcomes, but I will not deny that I think the occupation of the White House by a woman (even better were there two on the ticket) would be a powerfully positive transfiguration of political power in this culture, and that what seems to me wholesome in this possibility is only amplified by the fact that Hillary Clinton does not seem to me to be conventionally charismatic but is a bit plodding, awkward, careful, care-takengly grandmotherly, conventionally faithful in her public persona. Given the deep problems of the unitary executive in an epoch of industrial-militarism and mass-mediated celebrity unforeseen by the framers of the Constitution I think any changes in our sense of the Presidency provide welcome occasions for intervention and re-inflection of its powers.   

The relentless denial and distortion of what seem to me key realities throughout the primary campaign have been demoralizing and infuriating, especially to the extent that so many of my usual interlocutors and allies seemed to be indulging in much of the worst denialism and distortion, identifying radicalism with anti-pragmatism and purity cabaret, losing themselves in performative contradictions like critiquing the executive through candidate fandom or pretending to reject party politics through doomed and silly efforts to hijack or game party processes. Needless to say, the relentless backdrop of mass-mediated Trump/GOP racism and idiocy together with years of socially mediated documentation of racist policing and gun madness has only amplified beyond bearing the depression and rage occasioned by all this comic-book nonsense and wasted political energy of the primary season.

I suspect that the unqualified canalization of political discourse playing out on twitter, in which I have been too eager a participant myself, only exacerbates the worst of these distortions. I am hoping my twitter feed will stumble back into comparative good sense after the conventions are done and the general election commences, otherwise I mean to purge most of the fauxvolutionaries and just read partisan progressives and real radicals who teach me stuff and productively disagree with my parochialism, almost entirely progressive people of color and queer feminists and environmental justice activists/academics (the best of whom, again, seem to be progressive people of color and queer feminists). While fauxvolutionaries often agree with me on ideal outcomes, at least to the extent that these can be reduced to tweetable slogans of which I have contributed plenty myself, I am exhausted and demoralized almost as much when they agree with me as when they disagree at this point. By way of conclusion, I now realize and lament that it turns out this paragraph has continued the recent rather self-indulgent trend in which comments on apparently any topic seem always to veer me back to this questioning of blogging and microblogging practices as part of what I have long thought of as my own very minor effort to do the work of some kind of public intellectual in this moment and in my position. I could say that this is the last time this will happen, but I fear I would be lying.

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