I have been reminded more than once since the Democratic Party debate earlier this week that Hillary Clinton is unreliable, that she is a political chameleon, that she can’t be trusted. My guess is that people on the left said much the same and worse about Lincoln, Roosevelt, and LBJ in their time. So what’s my point? Politics and the process of social change is complex and full of surprises. And one surprise – and maybe it shouldn’t be – is that people and even presidents change, as Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Johnson did under the impact of events and visionary, powerful, and popular movements/coalitions. Of course, if the occupant of the White House is of the left that enlarges the likelihood of change and stretches out the parameters of the politically possible. But if that isn’t the case, it doesn’t automatically preclude a swing in a progressive direction by any means. As in the past, an embedded, sophisticated, and sustained movement of the “immense majority,” to use a term of Marx and Engels, can turn a so-so or even a good president into a transformative one, a facilitator of social transformations. In other words, if we do our part, that is, dramatically grow and deepen the popular movement/coalition in the period ahead, the governing posture of Hillary Clinton in the event that she, not Bernie, wins the Democratic Party nominee next August and then goes on to capture the presidency in November, could well surprise us. Again, it won’t be the first time.
Bernie did well in the debate this week (and I’m happy about that), but it is also the case that Hillary Clinton’s performance was impressive. Setting aside pundits and online/instant polls, I suspect lots of viewers found her depth of knowledge, relaxed style, skillful presentation, and substance quite compelling. Hillary as well as Bernie are responding to a very different (more progressive) political atmosphere in the country, compared to a few years ago, which is to her and his credit. When candidates change their positions and embrace better positions on one issue or another as she has, people on the left should welcome such changes. Locking candidates and elected officials into tightly constructed political categories is counterproductive. It usually reflects political immaturity and little understanding about the complex and contradictory process of social change.
The contrast between the debates of the two parties is quite stark. The notion that both parties and their candidates are the “same” is wrongheaded. There are differences and they were on display last night on a whole range of issues. Undoubtedly, these differences will figure into the decision of the millions who vote in the primaries and general election next year. It’s pretty amazing how much the political conversation and climate have changed, compared to a few years ago when Washington was fixated on deficit reduction. Entitlement reform (read cuts) and tax breaks for “job creators” went unmentioned last night. Economic justice, even to a degree racial justice, money in politics, bank reform, women’s equality, military restraint, privacy rights, and climate change, were front and center. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders acquitted themselves quite well in the eyes of millions, if not the “bubble world” of some on the left. My guess is that a lot of working people, broadly and diversely defined, were generally happy with what they heard. Finally, when taking into account utterly backward positions of and divisions within the Republican Party and the tenor and substance of the debate yesterday, it is hard not to be cautiously optimistic about the outcome of next year’s election.
This is an article that I wrote two years ago; in light of what is going on now in Washingtion, you might find it of some interest. Sam
The settlement reached more than a week ago to reopen the federal government constituted a major victory for democratic governance. It firmly rebuffed a reckless attempt by a small group of right-wing extremists to leverage the routine lifting of the debt ceiling and funding of government operations (what the right wing calls “forcing events”) into something much more serious and consequential.
Defunding Obamacare and winning other White House concessions by undemocratic means was to be but the first trophy in a far more ambitious and longer term power play by a reactionary clique and their big-pocketed financial backers to reverse the 2012 election results (which left them, much to their surprise, in a subordinate position in Washington), disempower President Obama for the remainder of his term, bypass democratic institutions and rules, and, above all, impose its deeply reactionary political agenda on the country – not to mention position itself to gain control of Congress in 2014 and the presidency in 2016.
I just read a thoughtful article by Chauncey Robinson in the PW, posted below. I would only add that when comparing this generation and the zeitgeist of that time with the generation of the sixties and the zeitgeist of that time, it is important to keep in mind the differences in the material conditions in which each generation grew up. I remember a friend in Detroit, for example, telling me a few years ago that he could get fired from one auto plant and go down the street and get hired in another at union wages and a full package of benefits on the same day. Not like that today! And to mention another example, the right wing then was a pale imitation of its current self. Its presidential candidate – Barry Goldwater – had been taken to the woodshed by Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 elections. Without acknowledging such major differences, such conversations may generate heat, but no light. I would further add as a cautionary note that the term generation is a broad generalization that can easily conceal as much as it reveals. Many of the most prominent personalities of the extreme right today – Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, etc. – came of age in the radical, counter cultural sixties.