By Andrew Levine. This article was first published on Counterpunch.
For those who have had enough of the neoliberal turn and of liberal imperialism, and who have no liking for endless wars and for an economy organized around war and preparations for war, the question answers itself. Or, rather, it would, if reason were in control.
However, in the liberal nether regions of the political landscape, reason is not in control. There, distressingly many good and generally sensible people — black, white, and brown — believe that Hillary Clinton is a “pragmatic progressive,” progressive in the way that Bernie Sanders is, though not to the same extent, but that she makes up for the shortfall by being more able to get things done.
They also believe that because she is more “moderate” than Bernie, she would be more electable running against Donald Trump.
That idea is contradicted by an abundance of polling data, but no matter. It stands to reason, after all; evidence be damned.
The idea that Clinton is good at getting things done is more preposterous still.
It is true that she has been around the block many times. But everything she has worked on – as a First Lady, a Senator, and a Secretary of State – has gone awry. The woman is inept.
Is there anything genuinely worthwhile, much less progressive, that she has ever accomplished? Were reason in control at the Democratic National Committee, they could offer a prize to anyone who comes up with an example. Reason is not in control there, however; Debbie Wasserman Schultz is.
More irrational still is the idea that politically Clinton and Sanders are on the same page. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sanders is a twenty-first century New Deal-Great Society liberal. Clinton is the reigning Queen of the neoliberal consensus that has all but quashed the last remnants of the kind of liberalism Sanders promotes.
Sanders’ views on foreign policy and military affairs fall generally in line with the Democratic Party consensus, but at least he is thoughtful and cautious and his instincts are decent. Clinton is one of the wickedest liberal imperialists around.
That is the least of it. From her First Lady of Arkansas days on, she has been a gung ho supporter of nearly every military adventure that the United States has undertaken – until, as always happens, they take such a sour turn that there is no percentage in continuing to defend them.
Her bellicosity was bad enough when the “enemy” was Serbia or Iraq or Libya or, lately, Syria; or when her scheming was confined to countries and regions whose militaries could not fight back and whose peoples could only resist by inflicting terror upon the West.
Now, HRC is becoming bolder.
No longer does she only target the weak and the powerless; she and her co-thinkers, the neocons that the Obama administration never quite purged, are gearing up to go after America’s old Cold War antagonists too.
Hillary’s aversion to all things Russian – much like her servility to the Israel lobby — is longstanding. The Clintons’ efforts to join former Warsaw Pact countries to NATO, and to draw former Soviet republics into the American orbit, are well known.
Lately, though, she has set her sights on Russia itself. The lesson is clear: worry!
The sheer recklessness of this is so obvious that even those who think that electing a woman to the presidency is the most important thing ought to realize that that particular woman is a disaster waiting to happen.
Clinton doesn’t just have it in for Russia. Expect her also to continue and intensify Obama’s vaunted “pivot” towards Asia. This is code for containing Chinese influence. Neocon Hillary has a problem with China too, and it will only get worse.
The fact that Russia and China are world powers with large nuclear arsenals and ample technological and financial means for inflicting grave harm upon the United States and its allies does not deter her.
She is a clear and present danger.
This may seem like an over-the-top exaggeration. But if Hillary becomes the Democratic nominee and therefore the next President, it will not be long before many of her current supporters will find themselves thinking along similar lines. It happened with Lyndon Johnson after the 1964 election; and his presidency, at least, had demonstrably redeeming features.
Why do so many good people not see this coming? Why is all their fear and loathing reserved for Trump?
Part of the explanation is that Clinton has the newspapers, cable networks and broadcast media that set the national agenda under her thumb. The larger problem is that far too many left-leaning people are in denial.
If it comes down to a contest with Trump, perhaps Hillary would be the lesser evil. The Democratic Party and its corporate media flacks are certainly working overtime promoting this idea. They may even be right, though this is far less obvious than is widely assumed.
One grave charge against Trump is that he is, or seems to be, a climate-change denier. But then, so is Hillary – not in theory, of course, but in effect. Compared to Republicans, Democrats talk a good line, but then do precious little about it. In this respect, Hillary runs true to form. Even so, advantage Hillary.
However, on other domestic policy issues – trade, job creation, infrastructure development and even regulation of capital markets — many of Trump’s views, as best they can be ascertained, are more progressive than hers.
More important still, on “regime change” and relations with Russia, the differences between the two are stark, and redound to Trump’s advantage.
One of the many problems with lesser evil voting is that it is often unclear who the lesser evil is. Notwithstanding the seriousness of the Trump menace, it is especially unclear in this case.
Nevertheless, the Clintonized Democratic Party establishment is pulling out all the stops trying to get Sanders supporters and other Hillary despisers to side with the aptly named Queen of Chaos – in order to keep Trump at bay. They are playing the lesser evil card with a vengeance.
Their arguments are irrelevant, however, because Trump is not going to win – no way, no how. Republicans may be crazy enough to nominate him, but the broader public is not crazy enough to elect him. George W. Bush, yes, two times even; but the Donald, never.
Even Hillary can beat him.
Trump is so plainly destined to lose that, but for the scare campaign that the Democratic Party is waging, voters could support “third party” or independent candidates – Sanders, should he go for it, Jill Stein, or whomever — without the slightest fear that they might be helping to elect Trump.
Even were the Republicans fielding a less absurd candidate, this would be the case in so-called blue and red states. Voters already know where those states’ Electoral College votes, the only votes that finally matter, will go.
If voters in the dozen or so “swing states” want to hold their noses and vote for Hillary on what they think are lesser evil grounds, let them; there is no need, but if it makes them feel better, they might as well.
It is the people who would not hold their noses, the ones who think that Hillary is OK, that give cause for worry.
Psychologists and others who investigate irrational states of mind should pay special attention to this phenomenon. The fact that it is so widespread explains a lot about American politics today.
For as long as the Clintons have been in public life, morally and intellectually “challenged” right-wingers have opposed them.
The Clintons’ opportunism and dishonesty account for a lot of the enmity they elicit. Right-wingers have a nose for phonies.
However, some right-wing opposition to Hillary and Bill is driven by principled convictions. Those convictions may be (literally) god awful, but at least they are not delusory, the way that liberal support for Hillary is.
Evangelicals who like the likes of Ted Cruz are a case in point; Clintonian social liberalism offends them viscerally and theologically. The “why not Hillary?” question gives them no pause.
Unless they are trying to seem kinder and gentler than they are, or to be “politically correct,” unreconstructed proponents of patriarchal, nativist, and racist attitudes can also answer that question forthrightly.
Within the ranks of the pre-Trump, GOP, there were also a few brave souls who can still be counted on to oppose Hillary for more estimable reasons; Ron and Rand Paul are examples.
Libertarians like them are hardly internationalists or anti-imperialists in the traditional sense; they are more like the pre-War isolationists who thought that, for the sake of its businesses, America should mind its own business. Nevertheless, their views on liberal imperialism and on the Clintons’ neocon predilections are as good as any Democrat’s.
Leaving aside these and other marginal Republican currents, it is hard to see why Republicans are not jumping en masse onto the Hillary bandwagon.
Some of them are, of course; and, in the months ahead, more will follow. But why are so many Republicans holding back?
It can be instructive to put this question in perspective.
In The Communist Manifesto (1848), Marx and Engels famously called the state “the executive committee” of the ruling class. Fair enough, though, as (small-d) democracy advanced throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, political parties representing non-ruling class constituencies did come to play important roles in shaping public policies, and in directing the legislative and executive branches of ostensibly democratic governments.
The modalities differed, and so did the extent to which ruling class prerogatives were affected. The common denominator was just that, in most self-described democracies, the degree of ruling class domination that seemed so obvious to German revolutionaries in the 1840s, no longer seemed self-evident. If the state continued to be the executive committee of (otherwise fractionalized) economic elites, it was only, to use an expression of which Engels was fond, “in the final analysis.”
However, in the United States – with our two semi-established political parties, each run by and for overlapping ruling class strata — the Manifesto’s words have always had a special resonance.
This species of “American exceptionalism” is again becoming the new normal in other capitalist “democracies,” as neoliberal globalization everywhere undoes (small-d) democracy — to the benefit of “the billionaire class,” as Sanders calls it, and the detriment of everyone else.
Democratic procedures are still honored, and skeletal forms of democratic governance remain. But democracy itself is everywhere in retreat.
Political parties still compete, and elections are still held. The executive committee of the ruling class would have it no other way. Competitive elections convey a sense of democratic legitimacy; they also help keep disabling levels of corruption down.
In the United States, the same duopolistic party system has been in place since the Civil War. Two electoral apparatuses compete – not over ideas and policies so much as over the spoils of electoral success. Democrats and Republicans like it that way.
Could this now be changing? Possibly. If sufficient numbers of Republicans, fleeing Trump, join the Hillary side, the duopoly as we know it” would be weakened profoundly – perhaps to such an extent that it would effectively cease to exist.
Why are so many old guard Republicans tempted to flee? This is a question worth pondering.
The problem is plainly not that Trump’s views are anathema to them. He may not be “conservative” enough for many of them, but he is their class brother, after all, and so, in the end, their views align.
Neither is it, as liberal commentators claim, that Trump is a fascist or a proto-fascist.
Trump does draw out the inner fascist – and racist and nativist – in some of his supporters. But it is a safe bet that, for him, it is all about pushing peoples’ buttons in order to gain media attention. The Donald thrives on that; it is his life’s blood.
Does he harbor deep-rooted animosities towards brown and black people or towards Muslims? Probably not. But he knows what buttons to push, and what moves to make. He is, it seems, a creature of the times, the fifties and sixties, in which he came of age. This is very likely all there is to his racism and nativism.
Trump’s Islamophobia is probably opportunistic as well.
Much has been made of Trump’s views of women. They too seem to harken back to the fifties and sixties – not to the June Cleaver days exactly, but to the dawn of the Playboy era. Trump is a braggart and a showoff, with money enough to sport supermodels galore. His motto might be: if you can buy it, flaunt it.
This is unseemly, of course, but it does not show that Trump is an inveterate misogynist or that, were he President, he would undo the advances of the past fifty years.
Trump the politician is going after the votes of the old and the old at heart, the men (and women) who yearn for the good (that is, the bad) old days. And Trump the showman gravitates towards the outrageous. But his views are probably not that unsual; more likely, they are of a piece with the average Republican’s.
Therefore, Republicans really have no quarrel with Trump’s politics. What makes the Donald a non-starter, for them, is his temperament and his demeanor. In a word, he is too un-Presidential to pass muster.
He is narcissistic, thoughtless, impulsive and egotistical; and, above all, he lacks the gravitas that Americans expect a President to exude.
Moreover, as a real estate tycoon and casino developer, he is reported to have had a shady past that could damage not only his own candidacy, but also the candidacies of others running on the Republican line.
None of this was a problem when his idea was to flip off the political class, and to draw votes from an electorate full of justifiably disgusted men and women.
It will be a problem in November, however; because, when it comes down to it, no sane person, no matter how pissed off, would really want a billionaire reality TV star, a huckster and a buffoon, representing the United States before the world.
Obama’s election was supposed to be good for African Americans generally and for young black men in particular; perhaps it was – psychologically.
In much the same way, and with about as much justification, Hillary’s supporters say that her election will do wonders for women and girls.
What would a President Trump be good for? Empowering bullies? Legitimating political incorrectness?
Trump’s views on war and peace and on messing with Russia and other nuclear powers are less dangerous than Hillary’s. But is there anyone who could rest easy knowing that the Donald’ hands are on the nuclear codes?
Why, then, are Republican grandees and the rank-and-file Republicans who think like them not flocking to Hillary’s side?
Some of them may be worried about what would happen to down-ticket Republican candidates if Republican establishment types conspicuously support a Democrat, especially a hated one, for the top job.
We should not forget too that irrationality is a bipartisan affliction, and that Hillary brings it out by the truckload. Many Republicans might just not realize how much Hillary could do for them and for the interests they serve.
There is also the plain fact that old line Republicans want their broken party back. Why wouldn’t they? It is their thing; and it has worked well for them in the past.
Nevertheless, the fact remains: were reason in control, Republicans would see that, unlike Trump, Hillary might as well be their standard bearer. She is, after all, the plutocrat’s best friend, and she is more than hawkish enough to satisfy the bloodlust of even the vilest warmonger.
Except for one thing: the expectation that signing on with her would deliver the coup de grace to the GOP.
Not all Republican stalwarts are ready for that. To get to that point, they would have to overcome longstanding habits of mind and, in some cases, deeply entrenched family traditions.
Unintentionally (most likely), but decisively, Trump wrecked the GOP. But for the world historical consequences of his machinations to register fully, more time must pass.
Sanders gets it right: “we, the people,” a lot of us anyway, are ready for a “political revolution,” a radical change of course.
Trump tapped into that feeling too. Because corporate media couldn’t get enough of him, and because they ignored Sanders as best they could, he got even more mileage out of peoples’ disgust with the status quo than Bernie did.
And so, as of now, it is the Republican, not the Democratic, Party that is coming undone. How ironic that the party with fewer deluded constituents is poised to be the first to go!
There is still a chance, though, that the Democratic Party too will splinter apart or otherwise change beyond recognition. All it would take is for the people feeling the Bern to make it happen.
The world would be a better place if they did. The Democratic Party is very likely unsalvageable. Let the Clintonites have it; they broke it, they deserve it.
Unfortunately, though, the chances that this will happen in time to affect the November election decisively are poor – unless Bernie, the man of the hour, lends a hand.
Too bad that there is no reason to think that he will; that, though sorely provoked, he has so far shown little interest in taking the Democratic Party establishment on.
There is a chance, though, that, not wanting to let perish all that his campaign has achieved, he will at least not stand in the way of Sandersnistas intent on taking the Democratic Party over or, failing that, on bolting free from its hold.
Let (comparatively) enlightened Republicans who cannot abide Trump make Hillary the billionaire class’s savior. That is what she is anyway, whether they like it or not.
The important thing is to persuade those Hillary supporters that are still amenable to thinking rationally to wipe the scales from off their eyes, the better to take consciousness of the reasons why the “why not Hillary?” question answers itself.
Getting clear on that is indispensable for moving the movement that the Sanders campaign got going forward, and therefore for continuing the struggle to get the United States and the world off its Clintonite (neoliberal, interventionist, militaristic) course.
ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).