Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Arguing Sanders vs. Clinton? Fine. But Take a Clear and Honest Stand, Please.

Since the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic Party and independent voters who swing towards them are in quite a fury over the rivalry between Senator Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State and Senator from New York. They are both personally popular, both have long careers in federal politics - and they genuinely represent different values and priorities. So the good news is the same thing that makes the race so heated: there is an actual choice, and either choice has consequences for the party even if the Democratic candidate does not win the election.

By the way, matchup polls show that either of them are likely to win, as the Republican Party, facing its own difficult choice, stands an excellent chance of nominating a candidate who pleases crowds but will have great difficulty winning a general election. So for the Democrats, it really can be about who is the standard bearer for the party's rank and file. Not just the elites running the party machine, not the high-level donors that finance their preferred spokespeople in the patronage system that has subverted democratic choice, but the people who actually show up and vote.

As I type this quick update, New Hampshire is voting in its primary. I am in Memphis preparing for an audition so I won't look at the results until very late tonight. And I will, because it seems possible that the Democratic Party is actually making an important choice, and however it chooses, it indicates there is a great deal of work to do for those who wish to challenge the established power structure. Even if Sanders pulls this off and becomes the nominee in the end, the behemoth will not be easy to vanquish - and a President Sanders would indeed face a Congress dominated by Republicans calling him a communist (with no regard to what that word actually means).

As the Clinton campaign senses trouble, its surrogates and sympathizers are going negative and making some fatuous arguments. Madeline Albright, who has no lessons for anyone about who belongs in hell, suggested women who support Sanders are going there for not supporting a woman. Gloria Steinem infantilized them, suggesting they only work for Sanders so they can meet boys. (Steinem later said she "misspoke," whatever the hell that means. Didn't Nixon coin that word?)
Regardless of age or sex, there are people who simply feel more comfortable with a candidate who seems familiar even if they aren't "perfect." It's a reflexive conservatism: a president looks and sounds this way, they support capitalism but hit the right notes about compassion and opportunity, liberal sound bites, for "balance," and they stand for putting a kind and gentle, familiar, "likable" face on established power. Their argument is that they are playing the game as it is played and trying to expand its benefits to a greater swath of society. Meanwhile, they deepen privatization, expanding market relations into more and more areas of human life, and cede more autonomy to corporations as with TPP. It is a false balance (capital wins) but a great many people instinctively reach for it. "Grow up," they say, and beckon people to the middle of the road. (Which is actually the most dangerous place to be.) 

Hillary Clinton sells that image very well. Fits the suit, so to speak. It is why I still suspect she will prevail in the end. No matter how much people suffer and grumble about the conditions of their lives, liberals will go for that kind of president every time. It's how they think grownups should vote.

Here is how a friend of mine presented it recently in writing: Electing Bernie does not magically mean all his policies come to pass over night. Those of us who have seen a few elections know this. I tend to wonder, if someone wants Sanders policies so badly, why are they not pushing for far-left, Progressive candidates to be elected in all nationwide elections? Why are they not excited about Sanders being in Congress, where actual legislation gets submitted? 

This is a straw man argument. No one thinks electing a president means everything magically changes for the better. If I felt a president could work magic, my candidate would be Gandalf. Magic is not a basis on which to decide for whom to vote. The candidates present, truthfully or not, what they promise to fight for, a vision, and policies that are plausibly achievable if they are fought for and won.

It is true that more progressive candidates need to be elected, locally especially, and federally when the opportunity arises. (And a lot of people who support Sanders are also active in BLM and/or fights for minimum wage increases, against foreclosures, for single-payer, and doing so as Democrats, Greens, Socialist Alternative members, DSA members, and unaffiliated.) So that is happening and I'm sure they'd love to have more in the ranks. Ah, but there's the rub of this argument. Are you doing that? You say you "like" Sanders and his policies but you aren't interested in promoting those policies or him. But you suggest from your Barcolounger that other people should go out and support progressive candidates.No offense to my friend, but this is a weird argument; and if I didn't know him, I'd suspect it was disingenuous. It goes like this: "I like Sanders, and to show my support I'm going to argue against supporting him, insist on supporting a candidate who is wholly invested in the system Sanders is criticizing, and encourage other people to support Sanders instead of me."

All I ask is for honesty. If you support Clinton, I won't be upset with you, I won't persecute you. But don't tell me you support Sanders in principle but are going to support Clinton anyway, because that is simply an untenable position. They stand for different things and will work for outcomes that are diametrically opposed. Take your stand. If you want a president who is invested in capitalist oligarchy - because it is more predictable, more stable, more beneficial to you, in your view - then take that stand. If you think we need a president who will fight according to different values and humanitarian goals - while we all recognize one president can't achieve them all even in two full terms with a sympathetic Congress - then you need to take that stand.

And once the primary is done, you have a candidate. Is it the one you wanted to work for? Is it the one whose desired outcomes are what you want to fight for? There is a concern among many on the left that supporting Sanders's primary campaign helps build a Democratic Party, which is an organization they cannot support. Others, including the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), hold out hope that the party can yet be claimed as a party that fights for the interests of labor against the dominance of capital.

For the record, I'm not a Democrat and New Mexico, where I live, is a closed-primary state. Moreover, I'm actually tepid on Sanders - this blog is not an endorsement - but I don't have doubts about his integrity, and he clearly represents a rational and (more) humanitarian alternative to the imperialism championed by Clinton and her patrons. If he wins the nomination, I will be surprised and impressed. If he wins, it represents a new generation of active voters who are ready to retire some very old, bad ideas about American politics - and it's high time. 

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