Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On the Primary between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

Settle in folks, this is going to be a long one as it will collect just about all of my thoughts about Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders over the course of the primary and get them out of my head so I don't die of an aneurysm. For my particularly anxious readers, let me spoil the ending a bit; as it stands now, I will be voting for Hilary Clinton in the general election. But not without some concerns.

I am concerned, not really by the fact that Hilary Clinton has a long history of connections, both political and personal, with Wall Street, because you could say that about nearly every single mainstream politician in America, but by how she doesn't seem to understand why voters want to see the transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs. When she was questioned about the speech, about why she would take $250,000 from one of the most destructive forces in the American economy, she gave one of her most unsatisfying answers to any question that was asked of her. She took the money because it was offered. Perhaps the only more distressing answer she gave over the course of the primary was about her relationship with Wall Street while she represented them as a Senator in New York. Apparently, she told them to cut it out. Which, if we're to judge from the 2008 housing market crash and Wall Street's subsequent, relentless efforts to suffer no consequences from their (sometimes criminal I would say) actions and endure no reasonable regulations to prevent future crises, they didn't particularly listen to.

I am also concerned, not really by the fact that she used a private email server while she was Secretary of State or even that she used said server in clear violation of U.S. regulations, or even that she and her campaign have offered very flaccid explanations for how and why that choice was made, but, as above, by how she doesn't seem to understand why the American people have a stake in where and how the communications of one its most powerful leaders would be stored. In short, she doesn't seem to get that the American people have a right to know who she communicated with, how she communicated, and what she said as she lead our foreign policy and diplomacy, and the regulations around emails and servers are designed to protect that right. I understand that, in the moment, during a negotiation, secrecy can be vital, but the only way for the people and subsequent leaders to learn from the efforts of a previous leader is if we have access to their process. Not everyone who wants access to her records is on a Benghazi witch hunt. Clinton (and so many, many leaders before her) doesn't seem to understand that we can trust in her ability while rigorously investigating her efforts.

Of course, the whole private email server and the desire to hide her process from public view makes perfect sense if she did in fact sell State Department influence through donations to the Clinton Foundation as she is suspected of doing. So, I'm also concerned that there is a chance both candidates of both major parties will be under Federal investigation while running for President of the United States. (For that matter, I'm also concerned that the beginnings of the Obama drone war were under Clinton's time as Secretary of State which, oddly, didn't seem to come up during the primary, so I won't spend any more time on it here.)

And I'm concerned that the Clinton campaign essentially laundered money through state Democrat committees to avoid all the regulations on individual donations to a campaign. The shifting of money back and forth from PAC to committee wasn't illegal, of course, but it essentially rendered the illegal act irrelevant.

And then there is the constant “evolution” of her policy beliefs, which continued during the primary under pressure from the Sanders campaign. And her reputation as being noticeably vindictive against those who oppose her, a reputation that might have made it difficult for Sanders to built an effective foreign policy team. All of which points to the fact that Hilary Clinton wants to be a powerful steward of the status quo; a status quo that is changing the climate, creating and sustaining vast disparities of income inequality, and moving far too slowly on issues of racial, gender, and other forms of oppression.

Which is not to say that Bernie Sanders ran a perfect campaign or is the perfect candidate. I think his superdelegate strategy is hypocritical (which he has now essentially abandoned). Yes, I agree with him and his campaign that he is a stronger candidate against Trump, but if you condemn the superdelegates for overturning the will of the people when you win the popular vote, you can't turn to them for support when you don't.

Furthermore, I think he could have handled the “Bernie Bros” problem better. It should be noted, however, that the media's coverage of the “Bernie Bros” and Clinton supporters responses to them were at best, lacking in broader context and actual rigorous examination of the phenomenon, and, at slightly worse, lazy clickbait journalism, and, at worst, calculated attempts to deflect and distract from legitimate critiques of Clinton's policies and record. Essentially, a malignant strain of misogyny and toxic masculinity is not a Bernie Sanders problem. A malignant strain of misogyny and toxic masculinity is a left-wing politics problem. (Well, it's an everything problem, but I'm considering a particular version of it here.) It was a problem for Occupy Wall Street. It is a problem in the anarchist community, the communist community, the atheist community, and the scientific community. It is baffling, maddening, and disheartening that essentially every single version of humanism that is active today, in nearly every form of expression or set of priorities, is riven with some minority level of misogyny. Or to put this another way; there is always at least one fucking asshole at every rally and every meeting, who thinks he's the fucking savior of the world and everybody who doesn't bow-down to his bullshit, reductive, rehashing of someone else's ideas is a tool of the establishment or a bitch or whatever, who can't wait to mansplain about NAFTA, and who thinks that because of his awesome politics every woman who shares said awesome politics should want to sleep with him unless she's a dyke or a prude or a secret Republican or whatever. To Bernie Sanders himself, and, I imagine, to many people working in his campaign, these assholes just became part of the scenery.

So, in some ways, I can't blame him for his tepid responses to their antics. Sometimes, it seemed as though Sanders forgot he was talking to a wider audience than he was used to (more on this later) and sometimes that worked for him, as he avoided the word-salad sound bytes so many politicians stumble into when talking to an imaginary focus group, but, in this case it was a wasted opportunity. Sanders had a chance to confront the misogyny and toxic masculinity constricting all left-wing politics, to bring it out into the open, and to invite feminists to offer solutions to the problem. He could have connected it to the misogyny that plagues Clinton from all sections of the political spectrum, and he could have used this moment to change how the mainstream media and the baby-boomers in power talk about and understand online harassment and contemporary misogyny. But he didn't.

I think he missed a similar opportunity for similar reasons in his use of the term “rigged.” Sanders and his supporters repeatedly, relentlessly, sometimes annoying declared that the system was rigged in favor of establishment status quo candidates because, well, it is. As anyone who has done any kind of work with the left, either as a progressive Democrat or with third parties or special interest groups or even in Unions, knows, the deck is intentionally stacked in overt, but also subtle and structural ways against any kind of meaningful change to our political system. But, if you're a moderate Democrat, you would never see those riggings and so Sanders continued use of the term “rigged” looked like an old white man whining about not getting his way.

Most importantly, he could have explained that this isn't an issue of back room cabals, plotting the exploitation of the American voter, or even of top Democrat officials specifically attacking Bernie Sanders (yes, more on Debbie Wasserman Schultz later), but rather a system of assumptions, of bureaucracy, of paths of least resistance all enforced and supported by a corporate media structure beholden to, if not the ideals of contemporary neo-liberal economics, than at least to the economics that preference short term profit over giving voters the information they need to vote in their own best interests.

Some examples. For many independents who live in closed primary states, they didn't even know they had the opportunity to vote for Bernie Sanders when the deadline to change their registration passed. It is also, relatively inconvenient to vote, especially for those more mobile and more economically vulnerable members of society (ie. those populations most likely to vote for a socialist) who either frequently change residence or don't have much flexibility in their work schedules; an inconvenience that can quickly turn into an impossibility if the polling place doesn't have enough ballots or enough stations or enough monitors (or the voting regulations are changed specifically to disenfranchise you, but we're still talking about the Democrats here). Then, of course, there is the access to experts, to other powerful members in society, to lobbyists, to long standing fund raising structures (See above about money laundering) as well as established relationships with the press that allow press secretaries and campaign managers to extort preferential and beneficial coverage in exchange for access.

The rolling primaries, in which a candidate can build up a seemingly insurmountable lead before most the country has voted inherently favors whichever candidate has the most name recognition at the start. Especially when opportunities to introduce lesser known candidates to a wider audience are so few and far between. Which brings us to Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I believe that the paltry scheduling of debates and conspicuously poor scheduling of them on her part was primarily driven, not by a calculated attempt to protect Hilary Clinton (at least not in anyway that can be proven at this point), but because she assumed Hilary Clinton would be the nominee, that there would be no meaningful challenge to her nomination, and that any more than the bare minimum of debates was a total waste of time and money for the DNC. I could even go so far as to say her appalling handling of the data breach was driven more by assuming it was the kind of thing a candidate like Bernie Sanders would do, than any calculated cabalistic attempt to preserve the coronation of Hilary Clinton. And then, there are the super-delegates, which though there are some reasonable arguments for their presence, we have to remember were pretty much invented to prevent a Bernie Sanders nomination. Of course, since they're creation they have never overturned the popular delegate results, but counting them before the convention, both by media outlets as the primaries rolled along, and by the AP when they prematurely called the nomination, contributed to the idea of the inevitability of Clinton.

What it all adds up to is that no one in the establishment really has to do anything active to prevent a Bernie Sanders presidency. (And their visible attempts often actually made things more difficult on Clinton.) With maybe a nudge here and there, the media, the bureaucracy, and a primary system assuming (or built for) low-voter engagement would take care of everything. They just had to let the system run its course. (Some of you might argue that if this system was so powerful, how come it couldn't stop the outsider on the Republican side, Donald Trump? Well, as I've argued elsewhere, Donald Trump isn't really an outsider. He is a cowardly white businessman who inherited his wealth, assumes his own brilliance, and blames his failures on other people, which makes him, the prototypical contemporary Republican. The only thing different about Trump, is that he stopped using the codes Republicans have used since the Southern Strategy, to try to convince us they're policies aren't racist.) Sanders, perhaps for the first time in modern politics, had a national stage on which to demonstrate all the reasons why we keep voting but so little changes, but, as above, I think he forgot who he was talking to and assumed enough people were frustrated in the same way he was to understand what he was saying.

But, still, despite the rigging and the concerns, I will be voting for Hilary Clinton in November. Here's why.

Living in Massachusetts, in a solidly blue state (though we do like the occasional Republican governor) I have the luxury being able to vote third party without contributing to a Republican White House, and if the Republican candidate were one of the standard issue establishment offers, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or John Kasich, I would most likely be voting for Dr. Jill Stein. But Donald Trump is not one of the standard issue establishment offers. As I've argued elsewhere it is not enough for him to lose the election. We need to show the world that, though he was capable of conning a large enough minority of Republican votes in the earlier primaries to secure the nomination in a crowded field, he never, ever, ever had a chance to become President. And the only way to do that is with a landslide defeat in both the electoral college and the popular vote. America needs to show both the Republican party and the world that we are beyond the racist, xenophobic, and misogynist policies that have been hiding in the Republican platform for decades. (And then we need to punish Republican politicians for endorsing him, but that's another topic.)

But it is also more than just voting against Trump. The status quo, that Clinton is so desperate to steward, shows every sign of finally shifting to to the left. Or rather, the leftward shift of the American people that has been going on since at least Bush's second term is finally reaching such an overwhelming critical mass, aided significantly by the nonsense of Congressional Republicans during the Obama administration, that defending the status quo, means defending gay and trans rights, equal pay for equal work, aggressive environmental policy, fair wages, and a host of other policies and issues that defined the Democrat party until Bill Clinton. So if a bill raising the federal minimum wage lands on Hilary Clinton's desk, I believe she would sign it. Especially if Sanders is successful in using his new influence at the convention to create a progressive party platform. (Which if you're wondering why he is still "in the race," that's why he's still in the race.) Same goes for continued improvements in health care policy, climate change policy, and Wall Street regulation. Furthermore, should Clinton win, there will be significant pressures on her “legacy,” to do the kind of things that Obama and FDR did, which, will, I believe, continue her “evolution” leftward. Finally, if nothing else, and especially if Republicans retain Congress, I think Clinton will be an able steward of the gains made during Obama's presidency. It isn't much, but the alternative is far worse.

There is no such thing as the perfect candidate. Almost by definition, no human being is actually capable of being President of the United States of America. Bernie Sanders better represented my beliefs and would have fought for changes to the status quo we need to continue progressing towards a just society. But, though Hilary Clinton has her flaws, I believe she will, at the very least, protect the gains made during the Obama administration and steward this country through the collapse of the Republican party as we know it to a time when those changes to the status quo are possible.

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