Friday, July 14, 2017

Hating On Hillary's Detractors: What the Left Really Doesn't Need

Susan Brassfield Cogan has written a brief piece, "Hating On Hillary: What the Left Really Wants." It is, at heart, a plea for an affirmative agenda by progressives, a good idea indeed if progressives want to win, but Cogan weakens her argument with some very wrongheaded premises. Having a little time on my hands this afternoon, I thought I'd address them.

Cogan begins with an unsupportable premise, that, if you're a progressive, Hillary Clinton is 90% your friend and ally. She isn't with you on everything, but she is on most things. It is, of course, impossible to actually quantify something that abstract with a number--that 90% is just an emotional impression, a ballpark estimation. Tasked with coming up with a similar number, a lot of progressives--specifically, those at whom Cogan is aiming her comments--would say Clinton was more like a 20% friend and a very unreliable 20% at that. Just as unquantifiable but their own emotional impressions would be much closer to the truth.

During the 2016 election cycle, it was a common failing in Clintonite commentators to make assessments of Clinton's politics based on policy positions officially advocated by the Clinton campaign and Cogan's own ballpark figure seems to reflect this. If one reduces the official platforms of Clinton and her 2016 primary opponent Bernie Sanders down to a series of simplistic bullet-points, the two would look remarkably similar but such a process conceals far more than it reveals and ultimately produces a gross misimpression. Not all policies are equal; candidates may agree on 9 policies of little consequence but have a fundamental disagreement with one very big, critical issue and on paper, it's still 90% agreement between them.[1] And, of course, one can't take some politicians at their word and Hillary Clinton is one of the best--worst--examples of that. For the whole of her time in the national spotlight, she's been an unprincipled triangulator whose instincts, in a liberal party, are conservative. Her politicking is straight '90s "New Democrat" Dick Morris stuff--throw your own base under the bus in order to portray both left and right as extremes and to position yourself as the sensible center. She looks out for herself before all other things and has never once taken point on any controversial issue, always opting to follow the trends and play it safe. She didn't have some sort of sudden epiphany on gay marriage in 2012 when she flip-flopped on her previous opposition and came out in favor of it; the only thing that had changed was that a majority of Americans had started telling pollsters they supported rather than opposed it. That tide of public opinion changed in 2010; Clinton waited two more years to make sure it was a "safe" position to take. That's how she's always operated. Whenever an election looms, she'll take any position she thinks she must to win. On most of the important ones, she plays the liberal then scurries right back to the right as soon as the election is over. Sometimes, her complete lack of principles is transparent. Clinton joined Sanders, for example, in decrying the corrupting influence of money in politics and endorsing campaign finance reform--for progressives, the single-most important issue in politics and the one around which every other issue turns. Then, out of the other side of her mouth, she angrily rejected the notion that politicians accepted campaign contributions for votes, thus forcefully rejecting the entire premise of reform. So the apparent similarities between Clinton and Sanders in a simplistic paper analysis is very misleading.

Cogan opts to follow the hardest-core (and least thoughtful) Clintonite writers in insisting progressive opposition to Clinton was rooted merely in unreasonable "ideological purity" demands and that's simply not a supportable position. The divisions between Clinton and Sanders were real and substantial.

Cogan's only case for her own assessment that Clinton is a 90% friend is to note several bad things Donald Trump has done since assuming office and to assert that Clinton wouldn't have done those things, a fairly bizarre argument given the context of her own article. Clinton probably wouldn't have done most of the things Cogan lists (though Cogan overstates her case) but Cogan's article addresses a dispute within the Democratic party, a milieu wherein few indeed would ever suggest a Clinton presidency would be worse than Trump. Saying someone is a friend because they'd be better than Trump is setting the bar about as low as it can go, and trying to make an affirmative case for a pol merely because said pol will defend past successes is a reactionary argument. In an article that's supposed to be making a plea for an affirmatively progressive agenda, what's up with that?

Finally, Cogan's fundamentally misguided focus on Clinton critics is worth a few words. It's over a year since the Democratic primary contest ended, yet everywhere Democratic politics are discussed on the internet, people are still getting into vitriolic wars over it. Cogan's own article is a response to this development but for someone with her goal, she's points her finger in a very wrong direction. These fights continue because a mouthy faction of Clinton's die-hards, aware that Clinton's loss indicts them, have decided to make war on progressives, whom they ludicrously blame for Clinton's loss. They're unrepentant, relentlessly hostile to Sanders and his supporters and intent on refighting the 2016 primaries over and over again.[1] Any time Sanders' name is even mentioned in mixed company, they boil out of the woodwork, spewing lies, slanders and nonsense left over from the campaign,[2] damning progressives to hell and making any sort of reasoned discussion impossible. For all their noise, the polling makes clear they're relatively few in number. The monthly Harvard-Harris poll shows Democrats have largely moved on from 2016;[3] while Clinton is less popular than even Trump, Bernie Sanders is now the most popular politician in the U.S. and is, in fact, consistently more popular with people who voted for Clinton than is Clinton herself. Clinton is the political equivalent of a dead woman--she'll never run for office again--but Sanders is not only still a Senator, he's the most prominent exponent of progressive policies in American politics. That's good news for progressive policies--there's no downside to having the most beloved politician working for your cause--but demented Clintonites will have none of that. To the extent that their constant scurrilous attacks on Sanders have any significant impact, they're really just hurting the progressive cause, which no doubt fills them with glee but it should be a matter of concern for a professed progressive like Cogan. For the moment, the overwhelming majority of Democrats are pretty much united. Cogan lists some things she thinks should comprise an affirmative agenda for the political left and they're all things progressives support (though not all things Clinton supported). If, as she says, she wants progressives to stand together and behind them, it would seem a good idea to direct her scolding toward the faction that, over eight months after the election, is still actively--and pointlessly--sewing discord in the ranks.



[1] A much-circulated talking-point during the campaign was that in the years Clinton and Sanders’ respective Senate tenures overlapped, the two voted the same 93% of the time. In reality, the overwhelming majority of those votes--and this is always the case when one goes bulk-rate on the congressional record--are on entirely inconsequential matters. So, again, a misrepresentation.

[1] Clinton spurs them on by turning up in public and, as is her habit over the last few decades, casting blame for her loss in every direction while, herself, accepting no more than superficial responsibility.

[2] Lies, slanders and nonsense I've been addressing in some detail in a string of articles over the last few months.

[3] Some have moved on a bit too quickly. Clinton ran an historically bad presidential campaign and lost to a joke, a protofascist clown, the most unpopular major-party presidential candidate in the history of polling. In the process, she dragged to oblivion Democratic candidates across the U.S., leading to a string of disastrous losses that have left the party at one of its weakest points in its long history. Democrats made some very bad decisions in 2016 and those were just the latest in a long string of very bad decisions in recent years. An autopsy is not only appropriate, it's essential if the party is to learn anything from these mistakes. Unfortunately, those in positions of power within it are largely the same people who have dragged it to ruin; they made sure to keep their own cushy jobs in the important leadership roles and they're not going to be sanctioning any soul-searching that may shine a light on themselves any time soon. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi spoke for the lot of them when, sitting in the smoking ruins of the party left in the aftermath of the general election last year, she declared that she didn't think people wanted the Democratic party to change. Like Clinton herself, they'd rather just blame Russians, FBI director James Comey or anyone else.

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