Anybody but Hillary

HillaryClinton-HardChoicesWith the coronation of Hillary Clinton to the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 all but certain, we are getting flashes in the pan of desperate alternatives: thus far Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. I say desperate because the objectives that are floated seem murky. Everybody seems to acknowledge that Clinton would prevail, so what’s the point?

Let’s put aside the goody-goody, Boy Scout line that a primary contest is to be hoped for because it will help Clinton, or because it is some kind of healthy political hygiene. A useful primary effort should be dangerous.

The sort of campaign that can have some constructive effect is one that imposes costs on the front-runner and by extension, the party’s national elite/big donor/consultant machine. One cost is to compete with Clinton in such a way that she is obliged to do things she wouldn’t otherwise do, spend money and political capital she would prefer to deploy elsewhere. A critique of her centrism that effectively alienates potential liberal supporters is the obvious approach. But this would have to be quite a critique, to discourage support to the extent of depressing turn-out in a general election with very high stakes. To be clear, the ideal outcome is not to sabotage her campaign, it is to force her to commit to positions that are hard to reverse later.

Of course candidates’ primary campaign promises are never worth very much. I have a different, principal objective in mind. The Democratic Party needs to reconsider its purpose, since (like the Republicans) it is presently committed to policies that harm the nation and threaten the very survival of humanity. It needs to abandon the religion of deficit reduction. It needs to get serious about public investment, not content itself with a sprinkling of additional money (on top of a reduced baseline). It needs to reject its love for the corporatization of public K-12 education. It needs to reverse so-called welfare reform. It needs to be serious about climate change, rather than embracing the bogus theme of energy independence. And it needs to get out of the Empire business, not the least of which should include refusing to indulge every new barbarity committed by its Israeli allies.

I don’t see Warren or Sanders as especially dangerous for Clinton. I would support either in a heartbeat. They are fine public servants and invaluable Members of Congress, but they are vulnerable to the popular albeit misguided charge of being too liberal for the country. The guy who could really give HRC grief is not them but . . . Jerry Brown. He could outflank her on both left and right, which is both a curse and an advantage. Unlike these others, and unlike HRC, he has actually run things — the state government of one of the largest economies in the world, twice, plus a challenging local government. He has done real things as a public official. You may not like some of it — I sure don’t — but what has HRC done? She led an abortive health care effort and sponsored some bills in Congress. Really, any fool can sponsor a bill, though it took talent to screw up health care in the 90s. What did she do as Secretary of State, besides make speeches? The talk has been that foreign policy was actually run out of the White House, that HRC was more the figurehead on the ship of state, not the captain or the first mate.

I am not nominating Brown as my preferred standard-bearer. He is not an exemplary progressive figure. I do think he is crafty enough to break open the primaries, to replace formulaic debates about gradations of liberalism and centrist clichés with more interesting conversations whose destinations are not easily predicted. That’s what I mean by dangerous. In that environment, a more free-wheeling discussion could flourish, and perhaps other figures could emerge. The biggest enemy of political enlightenment is predictability. Predictability encourages boredom, and boredom precludes rethinking.



Anybody but Hillary — 6 Comments

  1. Amen. Cornel West would often resort to the tale of Charybdis and Scylla when illustrating philosophical points. Odysseus tried to steer a course between the two sea monsters but got too close to Scylla and lost six men.

    The left faces the Charybdis of the “Republicunts” and the Scylla of a Democrat Party that is too wedded to bad ideas and principles. It’s reforms are too weak to prevent Piketty K21’s dystopia.

    If we attack the Democrats too much or effectively we enable the Republicans to gain power as in 2000. If we focus too much on the Tea Party, the Democrats are given a pass.

    However with 2000, the blames lies more with Clinton and Gore than the left. Obama’s ratings would be better if he hadn’t bought into the deficit-reduction nonsense, for example.

    In recent media appearances Hillary has gone on about helping the middle class. Even Republicans do that, but she should be pinned down on what it means exactly and how do we judge the policies and outcomes.

    In an interview with BusinessWeek candidate Obama mentioned that labor hadn’t shared in productivity gains in decades. His presidency hasn’t done much to move the ball down the field on that or inequality which he described as a serious problem in a major speech.

    The expectation is that the Republicans can’t mount a serious challenger. A primary challenger should present the problem as one of a Charybdis and Scylla sort. We don’t want a Republican victory nor do we want a Democratic Party that is giving us a slow death a la Clinton and Obama, that isn’t doing enough to alter the malignant underlying trends.

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  3. Couldn’t agree more. I’ve been thinking fondly of a Jerry Brown run for exactly the same reasons. (If you told me in 1980 that I would be saying this now, I would have asked you to put me out of my misery.) We need to break the Clinton/Rubin/Summers/Goldman-Sachs hold on economic policy.

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