When I commented yesterday on Elizabeth Warren’s speech to the AFL-CIO executive board a few days after the election, I left something out, thinking maybe it wasn’t germane, even though it bothered me. But while driving home last night after visiting my daughter and her family, I decided that it is germane enough (to me anyway) to make an additional comment today. By this point, you’re probably thinking – alright, already. Get to the point!
Ok. I hear you.
What troubled me is that not even a mention of the name Hillary Clinton found a place in her speech – let alone a word of thanks to her after what was an incredibly grueling campaign. Even if Warren disagrees with her positions on one thing or another, or even she thinks Hillary’s words and actions alone sealed her fate on election day (much too simplistic in my view), Hillary, as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, deserved a few words of appreciation in her remarks to labor’s leadership.
She isn’t on the other side of the great political divide that fractures our country. In fact, she (and women and young girls generally) were the object of an unrelieved and vicious attack from the right during this campaign. And at its core was the language of undisguised sexism and misogyny. Indeed it was so pervasive that no documentation is needed to prove the point. Even veiled, and not so veiled, messages of violence came Hillary’s way, including from the president elect.
Nor did Warren convey, in this moment of great unease and a spike in reported attacks against immigrants, people of color, women, and gay people, even a word of thanks to Hillary (or the President) for unhesitatingly standing up to the brazen politics of hate and bigotry of Trump and his gang. No doubt, this principled defense of tens of millions of people by Hillary infuriated the right and it surely hurt her on election day, as a section of voters across the Midwest, and even more so in the South, concluded, with the help of right wing networks on the ground, right wing talk radio and TV, and Trump himself, that Hillary won’t be “their president,” notwithstanding what she said to the contrary.
Of the many qualities that progressive and left leaders and movements should possess, if they hope to become a major player in U.S. politics, and eventually govern, a crucial one is a generosity of spirit. Or, as Michelle Obama said in much more compelling language, “when they go low, we do high.” And if I looked for a New York minute I could easily find a similar remark spoken by Martin Luther King. He had, after all, this spirit by the bucketsful, which explains in no small part why he was able to inspire and lead millions.
To be fair, in her speech, Elizabeth Warren didn’t go low, but she didn’t go high either. And that’s a problem as I see it. Hillary deserved better. She isn’t by any accounting an enemy; nor is she even an unreconstructed neoliberal, unwilling to reconsider and change her views.
Moreover, she has resisted the politics of the Republican right far longer than Warren has, and that should count for something, even if she has shown no desire to challenge the whole system of neoliberal financialization, globalization, and governance. But that’s true about most politicians and people.
Nor is it an unimportant consideration that Hillary would have been the first woman to sit in the Oval office. That too should have been mentioned (and regretted) in her speech.
Finally, Hillary’s – as well as President Obama’s – voice will be needed if we hope to turn back the assault that will come from the Trump administration and the Republicans in Congress. That too should have been in Warren’s speech. The Freedom Train now and for the foreseeable future needs everybody on board who upholds progress, democracy, equality, peace, and decency. And by that measure, Hillary Clinton and President Obama, who command the respect of tens of millions, should be wholeheartedly welcomed. Selective seating that only gives a seat to like minded people is, simply put, stupid and dangerous.
My hope: After a well deserved vacation, both of them will climb aboard as we move into the future.