People keep telling me I have to be realistic. But step one of being a realist is acknowledging reality.
I have been pretty vocal in my criticism of Barack Obama over the past seven years. I have reamed the modern day Vichy Democratic party every chance I have gotten. I have stomped on Bill Clinton and Al Gore, the architects of the “new” GOP Lite Dems and lately I have made clear that I can’t imagine a scenario whereby I would vote for Hillary Clinton. I’m tired, I have said, of voting for lesser evils, of voting for people who at best are playing not to win but to lose by less and at worst are just playing for themselves.
None of this is knee-jerk and I have not arrived here in the absence of a great deal of thought and analysis, as my “Shootout at the DC Corral” post from five years ago makes clear. Recently I found myself in a terse discussion about my views with someone I have just met, someone who is more than a little put off by the idealism of my position and who views them as being divorced from an understanding of reality. And, it has to be said, this is someone I like a great deal. I care what she thinks of me.
Those who have been reading me since we launched S&R eight years ago perhaps have the context needed to track the nuances of what I think and why, but if you just met me and this topic breaks out over a beer, I can see how my stance might puzzle or even anger you.
This isn’t the first time I have had this conversation, or one much like it. I was once involved in a variety of political lists, and in those environments the idealism vs realism debates are always near at hand. I have also been down this road with at least two very close friends, neither of whom came within a country mile of agreeing with me. These are smart people, people I respect.
So this isn’t a new issue, nor is it black and white, and it certainly isn’t static.
As I hope the DC Corral metaphor made clear, my issues with the Democratic Party in no way reflects sympathy for the Republicans. Hating guy A doesn’t mean I automatically love guy B. This is why the English language has words like “worse,” which enable us to talk about two things that are bad in a comparative fashion. Getting shot is bad. Getting shot twice is worse. And so on. I can’t imagine that anything I have said, written or thought in the last 25 years or so could be construed by an intelligent person as anything other than an all-in loathing of everything the GOP stands for. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and a host others belong in prison for everything from basic graft to rampant contraventions of the Constitution to war crimes. I hope I have been clear on all this.
In sum: Dems bad. Republicans worse. But still, Dems bad.
Recent events have me thinking about how I might quickly illustrate why I think so poorly of the Democrats, because it would take days to explain it all in detail and I’m sure that if we’re sharing a beer in one of Denver’s many outstanding microbreweries I’m going to wear thin in a hurry. So I have come up with a few brief talking points, and have put them in bulleted form so they can be easily plugged into a PowerPoint, if the need arises.
- The Democrats are relentlessly corporatist. Let’s consider a foundational example that people don’t talk about enough: the Telecom Act. I’ve been accused, more than once, of “hating on” Bill Clinton and Al Gore, but that term suggests that there is no factual justification for my critique. On the contrary, I am pointedly realistic about how they signed the nation’s exploding telecom and Internet infrastructure over to big biz, especially their friends at AT&T. If you would understand why we have lagged the rest of the developed world in online service ever since, start here. We live in a nation where a municipality wants to launch broadband that dramatically outperforms anything you can buy and Ma Bell, Verizon and the rest are positioned to litigate it to death. A Republican might have done the same thing, but Clinton did do it and I am not impressed by “we’re no worse than the GOP.” Have a look at the paper I presented at the Euricom conference in 1997 if you’d like some more insight.
- Where would the Bush agenda have been without vast Democratic support? (Hint: dead in the water.) The Iraq War might have been Dubya’s idea, but it would not have been possible without the Dems. Had all them voted against the war the resolution would have failed by one vote in the House and four in the Senate.
- I’m glad Hillary has apologized for her Yay! vote and has finally come to understand that it was a mistake. Still, it’s hard to forgive people for acts that were so clearly wrong at the time. We need leaders who can see the obvious in the moment, not years later.
- 48 Senate Democrats voted for the Patriot Act. (Landrieu didn’t vote and Feingold opposed.) I’m not an expert on the increasingly arcane character of Senate rules, but the GOP seemed to able to hijack the entire agenda with a smaller minority than 49 throughout the first few years of Obama’s administration, so I wonder couldn’t the Dems have done the same? Regardless, all but one – knowing Landrieu, it’s hard to imagine that she’d have stood with Feingold – thought it was a great idea.
- Had all Democratic senators voted against the FISA extension in 2008 it would have failed.
- Credit where it’s due, though – so far Senate Dems have been standing up to Obama’s unconstitutional Trans-Pacific Pipeline swindle. However, it’s Obama who is leading the Republican charge for this boondoggle, which basically hands all authority for “trade” over to corporations and allows them to operate without public oversight. That Obama has been trying to sneak a secret law past us ought to tell us what we need to know, and then some.
- Significantly, Hillary doesn’t appear to have taken a clear stance on TPP. Why? Is she waiting for the polls to clear up before she “takes a leadership role” on the issue? Or can we interpret her latest bit of intramural diplomacy as being pro-worker? It’s hard to say just yet, and until she steps out front and digs her heels in – publicly and unambiguously – there is nothing in her history to suggest that we can count on her.
- What about the Keystone Pipeline? Well, at first she was “inclined” to support it. These days, she just has no idea.
- Finally, Ms. Clinton has made some recent headlines, hammering Wall Street and being quoted calling for a toppling of the 1%. Okay. This sounds pretty pro-middle and working class. But to what extent do we believe her? I’m reminded of this, which hopefully is self-explanatory:
There’s a lot of 1% in here, a lot of Wall Street.
When it comes to Democratic leadership I’m often told that I need to understand the realities of the challenges they face with the GOP. Yeah, I get that. And then I’m asked to acknowledge the importance of getting elected. You can’t effect change if you lose, so what these candidates do, I’m told, is they play a moderate game so they can get in office, and then they start working for positive change.
In other words, the exact opposite, in every way, of what Obama did.
Public servants have voting records. You don’t get to the strong contender stage of a presidential election without a documented history. What policies have you supported with your votes? What bills have you introduced? Who do you take money from and when I view your voting record whose interests do I see being served?
If you’re asking me to believe that if elected the candidate will then shed that history and begin acting in a way he or she has never acted before, what, besides wishful thinking and faith (and an admittedly justified terror that things will continue the way they have been going), can you offer as evidence for this unprecedented turn? Why, in your view, is this behavior plausible – especially when it would lead the candidate away from the power and money he or she has so aggressively courted in the past? Has there been a Road to Damascus moment I have missed?
I am not intransigent. But I do require evidence if I am to ignore the well established historical record before me.
That, in my view, is the soul of realism.
Smart people acting in good faith may well disagree, and I respect that. But this, at least, is why I think the way I do.