Tuesday, July 12, 2016

This Bernie Supporter Declares For Hillary

With Bernie Sanders' endorsement of Hillary Clinton earlier today, complete with hug, the long-festering and often contentious rivalry at the top of the Democratic food chain is finally over. Funny thing is, someone seems to have forgotten to tell a good many of the Vermont Senator's supporters--at least some of whom have reacted with a sense of indignation and even betrayal. Secretary Clinton, they argue, is simply unacceptable: a candidate whose long record of equivocating on the issues of deepest concern to Joe Lunchbox have rendered her preternaturally incapable of empathizing with us as President.

This has been the mantra within the progressive left throughout the election cycle with nary a pause nor a stolen moment's circumspection. Indeed it may or may not surprise you to learn that your faithful correspondent, here, has distinguished himself as one of the few people he knows who was banned earlier this year from commenting in the discussion fora of all three of the Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and Teagan Goddard's Political Wire, for raising these very sorts of concerns. So I hope it is from that Nixon-in-China platform that I may take a few moments of your time to explain why I, The Key Grip, Dave O'Gorman of Gainesville Florida, am hereby choosing to follow Senator Sanders' courageous lead, and endorse Hillary Clinton to be the next President of the United States.  

To begin with there is the greatly enhanced probability of a Democratically controlled Congress, to consider. Not every Sanders supporter is yet ready to concede that, fair playing field or otherwise, the Vermont Senator had effectively no chance to secure the 2016 nomination for President of the United States. Had he won Iowa, had he performed even respectably in South Carolina, things might have been different. Had he not given that disastrous interview to the New York Post, things might have been different. Had he taken a few more of the big primary states, even by narrow margins, things might have been different. But really, with the rules as they existed at the time he agreed to campaign as a Democrat, the probabilities involved were vanishingly small. Yes, there is a strong argument that the Democratic Party's system of picking nominees needs to change -- but that argument can't be made retroactive to last fall, regardless of who gets on board. This leaves Sanders supporters with a weighty little tidbit of political game-theory to consider: The greater the progressive turnout in November, the greater the chance of flipping control of Congress.

If we believe, as I suspect most people reading these words believe, that Mrs Clinton has a strong inside line on electoral victory, the turnout question ceases to have much relevance on its original terms: If staying home won't cost her the top job, then all it can cost her is the chance to sign better bills into law than the ones likely to come her way from the likes of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. And by the way, it's not as if the legislative priorities of the candidate herself haven't undergone a pretty bracing transformation in the meantime. This is point number two.

The Clinton Campaign has made meaningful strides in adopting progressive policy positions. Like many of the most ardent Sanders-supporters, I've maintained my involvement in the political information culture through the thickest and thinnest hours of the past year, and one thing that has troubled me is the tendency of Clinton-supporters to impose a false dichotomy regarding how best to respond to the challenge from their left flank: "They want us to beg them to vote for her," as one regular commentator on Political Wire recently put it, "and I'm tired of begging, so ... f*ck 'em." You've probably seen similar sentiments yourself -- and if you're anything like me they have probably struck you as a curiously restrictive set of options. Where, I wondered in writing over and over until I got banned for it, was the possibility of winning over those Sanders supporters with some solid movement on policy? For months, the better part of a year in fact, the very idea seemed toxic.

But why? Nobody would have considered the Sanders campaign a failed indulgence in narcissistic ego-tripping if, on the night before the Iowa Caucus, Secretary Clinton had announced that she favors a public option to the Affordable Care Act, free tuition at public universities for in-state families earning less than $125,000, and a $15/hour minimum wage -- and if Bernie Sanders had then immediately called a press conference to announce that he was suspending his campaign. Moreover, those three positions would have cost Secretary Clinton not a single vote from the so-called "Reagan Democrats," all of whom are Republicans now and hate her anyway.

Never mind: Today, with Bernie Sanders standing directly beside her on a campaign stage in New Hampshire, Secretary Clinton presented herself as someone who favors all three of these policy positions, and I hope that even the most battle-hardened of Sanders' supporters are willing to concede that they never imagined any of these outcomes, much less all three. So what of the nagging problem that Secretary Clinton could still reverse herself, or fail to wield sufficient capital in a hostile congress to accomplish them? Well, that brings me to my third argument in favor of supporting her candidacy moving forward.

Coming from Secretary Clinton, a pledge to accomplish these things is no less bankable--not a scintilla--than it was when it was coming from Bernie Sanders. These words will no doubt rankle the most ardent supporters of the Vermont Senator, and I do hope those folks will bear with me, because this isn't about whether Bernie could have beaten Donald Trump: of course he could have. Consider 2008: With a galvanized progressive base behind him, Barack Obama defeated a far more popular Republican opponent, after all -- and in case you've forgotten, Barack Obama in 2008 may not have been as far to the left as Bernie Sanders, but the Clinton team's knock against his electability was the same. If a guy named Barack Hussein Obama can defeat a decorated POW for the White House, let no one tell you that Bernie Sanders couldn't have defeated Donald Trump, because he could have. Would have, even.

No, the reason to take seriously a Clinton pledge to raise the minimum wage, and add a public option to the ACA, and implement free tuition at public colleges, is that the job of running for President and the job of being President are never the same thing. Only the most willfully fatuous among us doesn't understand that a promise to do any of these things is only as strong as the confluence of favorable legislative climate, stalwart public resolve in the face of counter-narrative, and good old fashioned luck. Whatever the Bush II Administration was planning to accomplish, legislatively, it almost certainly didn't plan September 11th -- to pick one random but illustrative example of how campaign platforms can collide, sometimes literally, with the facts on the ground after election day.

This is not to say that the reason to weight Clinton's promises equally with Sanders' is that both would have been valueless. No. Instead these promises serve as markers on the giant felt that is our national agenda. A candidate who says, "Make me President and we will end the war in Iraq and close Camp X-Ray in my first term" probably accomplishes even one of those two things perhaps once out of a hundred times--but in the other ninety-nine he gets us a lot closer than the guy who calls such promises juvenile and reckless. They serve as informal guidance regarding which legislative initiatives will be embraced, and which will be actively resisted, by an elected administration, and as such they steer the much messier and less tractable machinations of the policy wonks in the deepest bowels of government. By saying that she supports a $15 minimum wage, and free tuition for some public university students, and a public option to the ACA, Secretary Clinton sets the same three markers on the same felt as a President Sanders would have on those three points -- and with the same, largely informal result in terms of framing. And with these three issues framed in this way, progressives may look forward to having three fewer fronts on which to fight with representatives from their own party. This is my fourth point.

Secretary Clinton's policy shifts have narrowed the playing field for the remaining and difficult legislative fights that lie ahead. If you've followed the discourse on the Democratic side as closely as I have, you've probably long-since wearied of the mantra that the reason to support Hillary Clinton is that she isn't Donald Trump. As it happens this isn't just a tired argument; it's also a dangerous one -- insofar as it allows the goal posts of the national dialogue to be set up with Donald Trump at one end, and a slightly less scary version of the same agenda at the "other end," as it were.

In political science circles this phenomenon is known as the "overton window" and it can produce some deeply regrettable results, such as a Vietnam-war apologist running against the man who lied about Algier Hiss, and waging the campaign struggle over which of them will do a better job of restoring "law and order" to the nation's dis-empowered inner cities. Absent the movement we've seen from the Clinton camp, as described above, this would have been the reason not to support Secretary Clinton in the upcoming campaign, and I probably wouldn't have -- but a funny thing happens when an otherwise centrist candidate starts cherry-picking progressive causes like this: It frees progressives to oppose that same candidate on the other issues, after the election.

If, as seems likely, Secretary Clinton wins in November, then I submit to you that there is nothing particularly hypocritical about having voted for her, on the one hand, and continuing in our efforts to reform the Democratic party on the subjects of banking, mass-incarceration, and trade, on the other. By moving toward the progressive end of the field on the minimum wage, tuition, and the ACA, Secretary Clinton has permitted the overton window to, in a way, wrap back on itself: The progressives who might not otherwise have supported her may see a tangible benefit from doing so, in the form of a reduced array of battles to be won, as opposed to those we would face in the terrifying alternate reality where the next President has orange hair and a shameless sexual fixation on his own daughter. Make no mistake, this is not saying that the reason to vote for Secretary Clinton is that she isn't Donald Trump; it's saying that only half of the platform she's running on is even objectionable as Secretary Clinton's, anymore. That's a big difference. And that's my fifth and final point.

Last, and certainly not least, is the chance that her victory could empower not just women but us all. As a big fan of comedian Patton Oswalt, I find myself having to lunge for the volume knob on my work computer more often than almost any of my professional colleagues, to be sure. But for one segment of a recent routine of his I catch myself easing the knob up, instead of down: It's the one in which he talks with just his curious blend of hilarity and truth-to-power about how profoundly the country, and with it the world, was changed with the election of Barack Obama as President. "I don't think most people know this," he opines in the linked clip, "but Barack Obama made time-travel cheaper. I used to think I'd have to go back a hundred years to blow people's minds with my time machine, but now I can go back to 1999, and just tell everyone that our President isn't just a black guy; he's a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama. We elected a jamba-juice supplement with a dictator's middle name! That's how great 2009 is! I'm gonna vote for Ginseng Hitler Bee-pollen!"

The point Oswalt makes so eloquently while we're too busy laughing to notice, is that President Obama didn't just become the first Black President: With his election, he became the guy after which it was literally impossible to tell a black kid that he couldn't be President. And if such sentiments would have sounded like ancient history anyway, I will remind you of the 1996 Presidential election campaign, during which Collin Powell was approached by the Dole campaign, and he turned down the Vice President's job ... on questions of safety. You read that right: A four-star general, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, with Mother Theresa approval ratings, felt he couldn't accept an invitation to run for Vice President, in 1996, because he was black -- and his wife feared for his safety

That, friends, that is how much Barack Obama's election to the White House changed the game. And not just for blacks, either: For everyone. All of us win when merit is the guiding determinant of success, in favor of the confederate aristocracies so tenaciously preferred by our learned colleagues on the other side. 

When a black guy can be President, it's less of a stretch to imagine that a public-school-educated nitwit with an economics degree might someday get a book advance. Or a date. Almost anything is possible. And by securing the victory most of us expect of her in November, Secretary Clinton will accomplish the same thing and then some. Her victory will mean that neither skin color nor gender can impede a person from aspiring to literally the highest possible achievement in the world. Merit will have won out over aristocracy and aristocracy will never, ever, recover. And good riddance.

I freely acknowledge that Secretary Clinton is a flawed candidate. I still disagree with her, to varying degrees of alarm and even vehemence, on finance reform, pending trade laws, and military adventurism -- particularly in the Middle East. But between the likely force-multiplication of a united campaign, the policy movement we've already seen, the narrowed playing field for the remaining fights to come, and the profound implications her electoral victory would have for the causes of equality and merit, I am proud to consider myself today not just a Bernie Sanders supporter, but a Hillary Clinton supporter as well. 

She's earned my vote, and I'm proud to say I'll be casting it for her this November.

Dave O'Gorman
"The Key Grip"
Gainesville, Florida    

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