Dealing with politics as a function of contexts rather than individual personalities

ATTENTION CONSERVATION NOTICE: Stop acting like Hillary Clinton is the wicked witch of the west and start seeing her as the product of four decades of backlash.

This is going to be a long post, and I am sorry, but the type of stuff that I am thinking about this morning really is complicated.

I’ve rather had it with the grumpiness around the “Bernie or Bust” people as well was the “Bernie or Bust” people, and it’s because I think it shows an illiteracy about policy and governance really does stand the chance of derailing the considerable good that Sanders has done, but not in the way that most people think.

For one, the “bust” folks are just getting madder and madder. The DNC email leak is being overblown–those aren’t nice emails, but for all the suggestions that were slimy, I don’t really remember any of the suggestions really being used. Were they? In addition to being biased, the suggestions were also…dumb. I thought Clinton handled Sanders with kid gloves, and I am glad she did so, and I think she did for good reasons: she didn’t want him discredited.

So the shrieking surrounding this supposed scandal “THEY RUINED DEMOCRACY” just kind of makes me sad about the state of political literacy. I’ve lamented the loss of government classes in American high schools for years, but one of the major reasons is simply that by getting the “who does what” aspects of civics figured out in high school, you can then teach classes in American politics in college and then cover parties, their histories, what parties do, what they don’t do. You bet there are better ways to conduct democratic elections than with two dominant parties and winner-take-all elections (which reinforce two parties), but as long as there are parties, they are going to be strategizing within the primary system long before they get to the generals.

I’m also fed up with the Sarah Silverman stuff of telling Bernie or Bust supporters that they are being ridiculous. It is rude. You can’t blame a person for being offended at that. Moreover, people with reservations about Clinton aren’t being ridiculous. Well some are: some seem to be a bunch of whiney misogynists who have fallen into a cult of personality around Sanders that he frankly doesn’t want, either, and to his credit, Sanders has never appeared to me to be on an ego trip of “they love me! They love me!” even though many people, including me, love him.

But there those who with good reasons to deplore Hillary Clinton’s record. In addition to Bill’s disastrous concessions to the Republicans in Congress on welfare reform, which you might be able to hold against her, she has been hawkish, a lot like Barack Obama. Where the misogyny shows up is when people ohh and ahh over the greatness of President Obama and then act like Clinton is the whore of Babylon. She at least tried to Obama to intervene in Syria and his hardcore political pragmatism kept him out. But lots of people deplore BOTH Obama and Clinton’s hawkishness, and they have legitimate worries about how she will wield power granted how she did so in the past.

And if you want fewer people to protest, then craft a less horrible set of policies on Israel and Palestine in your platform.

That said, I’m worried that the “bust” people don’t see what Sanders has done here: their best opportunity for continuing the revolution is Hillary Clinton and not bust–Donald Trump. If that wasn’t clear two weeks ago, it’s clear now. Donald Trump won’t “ruin” this country. There will be no political revolution with him in charge. He picked Michael Pence for his running mate. It’s a straight signaling that Trump is going to be a figurehead and the neocons are going to run the show.

It’ll be, instead, 4 and likely 8 years of Donald Trump stomping around and acting important and the GOP, God forbid, potentially having both the presidency and the Congress. That is, indeed, bust, but it will simply involve more of what we saw under President Bush (II). We’ve seen it already, and it’s not political revolution. It’s tax breaks for people like me and appointing more Alitos and Scalias. We’ve seen puh-lenty of this before.

Oh, and it’s Bernie Sanders going on home to become a senator from a small state as a man who once ran a campaign that made people feel good. Now THAT strikes me as a bust.

It’s hard to have a lot of hope and then have those hopes dashed in an election, but campaigns and elections are not governing; they are the build up to being able to govern.

And while I understand Sanders supporters legitimate ire, for those of us who have been progressives for a really long time, it’s just as insulting and irritating to have people who are 20 year olds who have been interested in politics for roughly a year and a half lecture me on how Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama are “just as bad” as President Bush.

They aren’t and they weren’t. They might not have been great, but they were not President Bush, who thoughtlessly charged into a poorly planned military entanglement that killed thousands and immiserated millions and picked his nose when Americans were dying by the thousands in New Orleans buh buh buh-cuz “small government.” (Yes, Senator Clinton voted for the war, and she was wrong to do so, but there were some good reasons for wanting to intervene in Iraq…but it didn’t have to be the shitshow it was had the president or any of his appointees possessed a scrap of coalition-building capability. Nor, by the way, did she vote to expand a an illegal torture program. That line goes straight to the neocons, and btw all the GOP candidates competed during their debates to be the torturiest of the torturers despite evidence that the program didn’t really work and IT’S ILLEGAL BY OUR OWN LAWS. Like, not like, some sissy international laws, but OUR OWN LAWS.

oh, but BENGHAZI!!!!

And President Bush put Sam Alito on SCOTUS for the next 800 years. That alone should have us calling The Hague.

Now, Obama and Clinton are further to right than what many Sanders supporters want. But here’s the deal: for those of you who didn’t experience what Ronald Reagan did to politics in the US, go out and learn it, because in the post-Reagan years, elections in this country swung so far to the right that only Democrats that walk and look and act Obama and Clinton were going to get elected post Reagan.


And before you say “BS”…go look at this graphic.

The GOP has been dominating elections since 1985 after decades of Democratic control.

Yeah, we used to have a strongish left in the United States, but the backlash against the 1960s embodied in Nixon and carried forward in full expression into the Reagan years dragged the Democrats into political centrism that would have been, fifty years prior, a position occupied by moderate Republicans. Reagan crushed his political opponents. Crushed. Between the cult of personality and his campaign organization, which was impressive, Reagan–and more importantly, his people–owned politics for nearly two decades even after Reagan himself had to ride off into the sunset.

Remember Jack Kemp? No, lots of today’s voters do not remember Jack Kemp or Bob Dole because the voters are too young. They ran against Clinton in 1996, and they lost. Badly. You want to talk about two utterly indistinguishable politicians? Jack Kemp and Bill Clinton. Kemp was supposed to be the future of the Republican Party. Moderate. Young. Good-looking. Smart. Kemp was the whole package.

Gone. Why? Too moderate. The Mitch McConnells and the Lindsey Grahams and the Newt Gingerichs were everywhere. Still are. And the last 5 years, those guys haven’t been far enough right for TEA party types. Ahem. Let me repeat: THOSE GUYS have not been far enough right.

The only Democrats likely to get elected in the 1990s in the post-Reagan environment were the Clintons, and while we can blame money in politics, the bottom line is that if you can only elect relatively conservative people for decades at a time, they are going to be the people who are going to be on deck as experienced politicians when and if you ever hope to carry an election where we get to swing left again.

In other words, the Clintons are and were functions of contexts rather than, simply, bad individuals. Now maybe they are bad individuals. And I do think individual character and positions matter in politics and history. I think the way Bill Clinton treated the women around him is scummy. But those individual traits aren’t the whole story. Individuals step into contexts, and the Clintons’ combination of center-rightism meshed with what just about everybody thought was electable in the 1990s.

See, if you haven’t listened to the Republicans–and whole lot of other people–deride Jimmy Carter for 40 years, you don’t get this.

Sanders reinvigorated with his primary run something that I had seen die in my lifetime: a genuinely progressive Democratic base. Sanders demonstrated that there is a thirst for leftist politics and policy in the United States. He has shown that lefties can be credible, serious candidates for public office. He has shown the Democratic Party the states where it might be possible to get much more progressive people than the Clintons into Congress and into the Governor’s mansion.

Sanders ran as a Democrat because he knew all these things. If I’m tired and pissed off after years and years of neoliberal horse poop, he’s got to be 100 times more so. But I’d rather keep his vision alive by keeping him there, as Clinton’s stalking horse, rather than sending BOTH Sanders and Clinton to the bench and letting Trump and Mike Pence control the court. If that happens, it’ll be all to easy to make it seem like Sanders successes in the primary was the stuff of a cult of personality–a combination of his appealing old Jewish G-Pa personality and her Wicked Witchiness—instead of a genuine ground-swelling of progressive sentiment in US politics that signals to Clinton and subsequent Democrats where the party should go.

It’s very likely that if a Democrat is elected, they will be a one-term president. I would, quite frankly, have that person be Clinton rather than Sanders. She’ll make the SCOTUS appointments I need her to–and more importantly, prevent Trump from making the ones Pence and Co want him to–and exit to her own sunset. A one-term Bernie Sanders sally would be Jimmy Carter and another death of genuine progressivism all over again, and screw that.