A Reflection on History, Standards, and the Establishment

Detail of cartoon by Matt Bors, via Daily Kos, 23 March 2016.

“Hillary Clinton is indeed, as her critics claim, part of the “the establishment.” Like all women of lofty ambition, she is keenly and woefully aware that in 2016, less than a century out from women’s suffrage, pioneering into a space formerly only occupied by men requires an acceptance that gender constrains one to work within the system, rather than from outside of it.”

Katie Massa Kennedy

Two generally grim thoughts arise and insist:

• The nagging feeling that my fellow liberals are about to blow our best opportunity in generations, and seemingly because the GOP has decided to run dangerously out on a limb, and we want a little bit of that spectacle for ourselves.

• The nagging feeling that it isn’t blindness toward history driving the liberal need to endanger this chance, but, rather, the proposition that some will do anything to keep a woman out of the White House.

The political problem is an historical question; after spending generations finessing compromise in order to simply stay in office and keep a liberalized hand in the game, Democratic supporters have wearied, and seeing Republicans so far out on a limb want to do a bit of inching for our own part. It isn’t that a certain platform is disdainful, but, rather, that it is a hard sell to win the White House, an even harder sell once it wins the White House, and unless this is genuinely the miracle year in which the Democrats elect the Socialist while flipping both chambers of Congress to a Democratic majority, there is simply no way to sell twenty trillion in spending, higher taxes across the board, and an expectation that we will magically achieve what has never been done before; those of us who chuckled at the Republican four percent derby find ourselves now scratching our heads at presuming everything will work out for the sake of 5.3%.

In itself, that is a political challenge.

And this is a year in which it seems especially cheap to jump on the bandwagon criticizing the Democratic candidates’ conduct toward each other, so it feels especially odd to worry not about the politician but, rather, the people supporting the campaign. While it’s true I’ve really, really tried to stay out of this contest, political reality becomes discouraging when the candidate can’t explain how it works and the supporters won’t even try.

Ask about unprecedented GDP growth, I hear canned recitations about how lovely Scandanavia is. Ask about history, and one of my friends starts shouting; his advocacy comes down to one shouted phrase, now: “Hillary Clinton is not on your side!” Actually, that’s supposed to be written in block capitals with sharp brackets for accent. And that recollection brings us back to Katie Massa Kennedy, who tries to explain to liberals how “vitriol toward [Hillary Clinton] is hurting women―and speaks to something deeper”.

The Progressive Left’s blitzkreig against Hillary Clinton is unprecedented. She’s been branded a “neocon”―this, in spite of a senate voting record netting an 83.9 percent “liberal score” from the National Journal (considerably higher than that of 2000 democratic candidate Bill Bradley or 2004 candidate John Edwards), a coveted “F” rating from the NRA, and an OnTheIssues.com calculation of “more liberal” than Barack Obama.

She is singularly delineated as “bought by Wall Street”―even with former Democratic nominees Al Gore and John Kerry receiving millions in campaign contributions from the so-called “big banks” during their presidential runs, including hefty sums from both Goldman Sachs and Citigroup.

When Republicans launched their dubious investigation into a “corrupt,” “manipulative” and “dirty” Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server while Secretary of State―regardless of Colin Powell implementing the same practice during his tenure―this character assassination, quite troublingly, inspired many liberals to co-opt these very words, rewarding the carefully-crafted Republican fallacy and giving them new life in the progressive sphere.

It is a damning indictment, a discussion of unfortunate necessity, and sickeningly familiar. What Massa Kennedy describes is pretty much how the liberal anti-Hillary discourse goes, and yes, this is a problem.

It is one thing to prefer one candidate over another. It is another to disdain a particular candidate. But when the liberal discourse is reduced to parroting Republican hyperbole, we’re doing it wrong.

An aspect of history that simply confounds the liberal anti-Hillary bandwagon: We will not find a candidate who is “pure”. Purity tests are for Republicans who have spent decades telling us what we see isn’t really what’s happening only to (ahem!) be surprised when they (cough!) finally find out what they’ve been doing all along. We ought not be surprised to hear certain hatred from the right wing; there is no place in liberal discourse for such disgrace.

But if we want a super-liberal Democrat who has never made a hard vote on behalf of compromise, our field shrinks to none.

So it seems at least somewhat useful to consider a world without the Democrats we have.

In my lifetime, liberalism has been nearly the Devil itself. People can invent, for instance, any tale they want, but we use the word “progressive” these days because “liberal” is still a filthy word.

And these generations of compromise are as near to bearing their intended fruit as possible; the proposition is to cut down all the apple trees just before the harvest in order to plant Dippin’ Dot trees. We are as close to the payoff as possible, so let us walk away and seek a new deal.

And let me just say this, please, because someone needs to say it: The proposition that Hillary Clinton would work this hard, for this long, making that many compromises and outright sacrifices, only to win the White House and then blow it all is so damn stupid we might wonder why anyone would be expected to believe it.

No, really. This is how you get within reach of the White House. And this notion of leftist purity demanding one refuse to work within the system is part of the reason liberals are constantly limping across the finish line; we’ve been having this bitter argument for nearly a century at least.

One should never propose that the issue of compromise is off-limits; to the other, though, if we intend to have this discussion about compromise, we ought not pretend it is new. That wrinkle, demanding outrage for allegedly unprecedented behavior that actually has a long history, should be left to Republicans.

For years, Democratic supporters have held faith in holding the line. We are mere months away from potentially winning one of the most important prizes in American history. If we intend to walk away, it would be better to do so for a reason; otherwise, it’s just an excuse.

It is easy enough to observe blindness to history. It is also easy enough to observe misogyny. In the end, as Katie Massa Kennedy explains:

Hillary Clinton is indeed, as her critics claim, part of the “the establishment.” Like all women of lofty ambition, she is keenly and woefully aware that in 2016, less than a century out from women’s suffrage, pioneering into a space formerly only occupied by men requires an acceptance that gender constrains one to work within the system, rather than from outside of it.

So the next time you say, “I hate Hillary Clinton,” ask yourself why.

All she ever did was everything she needed to in order to help keep Democrats in the game. For whatever reason, we are to hold this fact against her. It kind of reminds me of the schoolyard, when one of the outcasts achieved “cool” status, so the rules for being “cool” had to change.

It is possible to defeat Hillary Clinton without the sexism. That our discourse should flee this path is itself significant. For Republicans, sure, the misogyny is expected. For liberals and Democratic supporters, though, to witness this denigration is more than simply disappointing; it starts to feel like betrayal.


Image note: Detail of cartoon by Matt Bors, via Daily Kos, 24 March 2016.

Benen, Steve. “The perils of ‘wishful thinking'”. msnbc. 16 February 2016.

Massa Kennedy, Katie. “Your Gleeful Liberal Takedown of Hillary Clinton Is Affirming Institutional Sexism”. The Huffington Post. 22 March 2016.

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