On Hillary and Bernie, Part II
Read the original piece here. I published a column last week in which I explained why I, as a progressive, am supporting Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary. The response was genuinely overwhelming, and I'd like to thank everyone who helped spread my article so far and wide.
Many readers agreed with me. Those who did not generally centered their critiques on one of two points. I'd like to address those points now.
I've been accused of fundamentally misunderstanding Bernie's conception of a "political revolution" when I wrote:
I know what a revolution looks like, and this election—using the complicated system of party delegates and the electoral college to choose the leader of one of the three branches of the government of the most powerful empire in the world—is not it. This is politics.
As many have pointed out, Bernie recognizes that he cannot achieve his platform without a new Congress, and this is why he aims to mobilize voters to elect new, progressive officials at every level of government, all of them with a mandate to get money out of politics.
But if Bernie's plan for implementing, say, "Medicare for all"-style health coverage is down-ticket voting, who are these down-ticket candidates? Does Bernie have a bench of socialist candidates hiding somewhere? Has he been identifying and training fellow leftists to pursue office in anticipation of the Glorious Revolution of 2016?
Or is "political revolution" a euphemism for "voting for Democrats"? After observing the Democratic Congress of 2008, and in light of the 148 members of Congress and 38 Senators who have endorsed Hillary, does Bernie really think a mere Democratic takeover is the same thing as his "political revolution"? I doubt it.
But let us humor for a moment the idea that all Bernie needs in order to achieve his agenda is a blue House and Senate.
I simply don't see that happening in 2016, especially in the face of structural factors like gerrymandering. After all, President Obama built one of the most impressive grassroots organizing efforts in history, mobilizing young and minority voters at never-before-seen levels, and yet the Democratic Party has lost 69 seats in the House, 13 seats in the Senate, 11 governors' mansions and 30 state legislative chambers in the past eight years. As Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics told the Washington Examiner:
Obama has the record [for losing state and local races]. When you have midterms like 2010 and 2014, there's almost nothing you can do to overcome that in one election.
I'm inclined to agree with Suzy Khimm's diagnosis of this apparent paradox between Obama's grassroots support and the Democratic Party's failure. In a case study of Florida elections for The New Republic, she wrote:
The disconnect between Democratic success nationally and locally is also partly due to the kind of “post-partisan” candidate Obama sought to be in 2008. Obama’s young, racially diverse base flocked to him precisely because he promised to transcend both parties. Out of necessity—at the time, much of the party establishment was firmly committed to Hillary Clinton—Obama circumvented the traditional party infrastructure with volunteers and small donors that were more loyal to him personally than to his party.
So yes, my original argument assumed that the House in 2017 would still be Republican-controlled, and I stand by that assumption. If that is the case, I would rather have Hillary in the White House. Not because I'm stupid enough to believe that Congress would be more willing to work with Hillary, but because I believe Hillary would be more willing and able to work around their intransigence.
This is where I would locate the major point of divergence between those who agree with me and those who do not.
My argument is that, if Bernie tries and fails, it will be worse than had he never tried at all. It's possible to look at that assessment and say, “Well, we have to try anyway.” That’s fine. I would hope those people could recognize why the rest of us disagree.
If someone disagrees with me, I try not to assume it's because they are less informed about the facts. It might be because they value, rank and interpret those facts differently than I do.
In this case, it comes down to our comfort with risk. And this is, I think, why Bernie's supporters skew younger, whiter and more middle-class than the rest of the Democratic base. They can play double-or-nothing with the president's legacy. I'm inclined to opt out of that game.
I don't think I'm unfairly discounting Bernie's political revolution. I get his appeal. I understand the record he has set for individual donations. As a young, white, middle-class person who is surrounded by other young, white, middle-class people, I'm certainly familiar with the enthusiasm he cultivates.
But enthusiasm at this point in the race is a very different thing from voter turnout in November, and it’s a very different thing from engagement throughout a four- or eight-year presidency at the level that would be needed to scare Congress into passing socialized healthcare.
The most controversial thing I wrote was also the simplest:
I am voting for Hillary because I like her.
For those who see Hillary as nothing but a corrupt, crooked old crone (but no sexism here, amiright?), such a statement is inconceivable. But I stand by this, as well.
I see something in Hillary that I like. I see something in Hillary that I relate to.
Some have accused me of allowing my vagina* to unduly influence my vote, to which I have to reply: Yes. Sure. Guilty as charged. In the words of Jessica Valenti:
Only in a sexist society would women be told that caring about representation at the highest levels of government is wrong.
So yes, I think there's something unique about having a feminist woman president that can't be matched by having a feminist man be president. Self-representation matters.
Others have simply accused me of being duped by an untrustworthy and regressive cartel boss who would as soon shoot me as have my vote...or something. Because if a woman seeks power, there must be a flaw in her moral compass.
But the idea that Hillary is a closet neoconservative is based almost entirely on impressions of her husband and his tenure, not of her. It's an idea based on an inherently sexist standard. It's an idea Karl Rove and other Republicans have spent millions trying to inculcate.
On the merits of her own voting record, Hillary was among the most liberal Senators, to the left of John Kerry, Joe Biden and Barack Obama. I can't find a shred of evidence that she has ever engaged in a quid pro quo with a donor, and I'm not going to blame the woman simply for having wealthy donors. If you had been the First Lady of the United States and the Senator from New York, rubbing shoulders by necessity with the filthy rich, and none of them decided they liked you enough to donate to your campaigns, I would probably assume there was something really wrong with you.
So where does that leave us? Benghazi? Give me a break.
Look, I really like Bernie, too. When he first announced his run, I donated and was sure I would end up voting for him in the primary. I love the crank and the dishevel (although I recognize he can only be those things in public because he is a man), I love the debate side-eye, I love the bad dancing on The Ellen Show.
So I actually envy the Hillary haters. It must make things easier to see this campaign as a contest between a perfect candidate and an irredeemable one, rather than as a relative evaluation of two compelling but flawed candidates. But I do not have the easy out of proclaiming that I could never, would never vote for one of the candidates.
Ta-Nehisi Coates has recently been getting a lot of flak from Bernie supporters for drawing attention to Bernie's comparative lack of imagination on racial justice when contrasted with his platform on economic justice. The problem, Coates clarified yesterday, is one of disappointment with what has been billed as a campaign of perfect possibility:
I thought Sanders’s campaign might remind Americans that what is imminently doable and what is morally correct are not always the same things, and while actualizing the former we can’t lose sight of the latter.
I've become unconvinced that Sanders has the potential to reach a balance of those two things with which I would be comfortable, and so I am placing my eggs in the basket of the former. I'd like a president who is focused on achieving the imminently doable while the rest of us engage the difficult and ongoing work of agitating for the morally correct.
That means I'd like a President Clinton.
So would 18 of the largest unions in the country, the mayor of Flint, Michigan, Planned Parenthood, and even, according to the rumors, Elizabeth Warren. It's time we recognize that people on the left can have heartfelt and thoughtful reasons that pull them all over the number line between Hillary and Bernie. It has very little to do with depth of progressive commitment or moral fiber or ties to The Establishment™.
None of this means I don’t sometimes doubt my decision to vote for Hillary. It doesn’t mean I can’t be talked out of it. But I also think that, if I settled on Bernie, I would still wonder if I was doing the right thing. I would doubt that, too.
That might be the hardest political feat of them all—making room for doubt and its cousin, humility, in a space built for ego and zero-sum games.
None of us find doubt very likable. But it's necessary.
On the Democratic nominee, no matter who he or she is:
Please, for the love of God, just vote for them.
Yes, even if it's O'Malley.
If we can't agree on that much, then none of the rest of it really matters.
Jacqui is a terrible dinner party guest—she only knows how to talk about politics and religion. On a typical Friday night, she can be found binge-watching her current Netflix show of choice, playing Civilization: The Board Game and drinking <$8 bottles of champagne.
*I'd just like to note that not all women have vaginas, but I am a woman who has a vagina, and so the accusation is generally framed in this way.