Friday, November 11, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s Maginot Line (or How Do We Fight and Win Tomorrow's Political Battles?)

Generals who plan to fight the previous generation’s war are bound to lose. Hillary Clinton had 8 years to crate a presidential campaign, and she spent 8 years building a political Maginot line.
Hillary’s primal political experience at the national level was the DLC of the 90s. After being kicked around by Regan's Republican Party, the Democratic Party essentially followed the “New Labor” model of cozying up to big business and the moneyed elite, at the expense of the working class And labor unions. Essentially the DLC Democrats split the baby in half, trying to be “Republican Light”… pro business, but with liberal social values. And with the charismatic Bill Clinton leading it, this was enough to keep the executive branch, even if it meant losing legislative branches of the government.  The 1990s Gingrich revolution was possible because Democrats abandoned its labor and working-class base.
So it was utterly predictable that the centerpiece of Hillary Clinton’s Presidential bid was the Clinton Foundation. Cozy up to big money. Get the support of the moneyed elites. Signal, both in dog whistles and in overt speeches, that the wealthy and the powerful have nothing to fear from a Clinton White House… she was one of them.
The problem is she did this in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis. She did this in the wake of President Obama winning 2 elections on the promise of CHANGE.  One of the Cornerstones of her presidential bid was something that worked in 1992, but was surely going to be an Achilles heel in 2016. She could have spent 6 years building up a populist base… building up a coalition that could splinter the lower class/lower-information foundation-stone of the republican party. Instead she went with what she knew.  It probably seemed like a safe bet.
But then she went on to make another “safe bet.”  Her time at the State Department could have been spent building up her bonafides as a genuine progressive leader in the realm of foreign policy... she could have been a vocal counterpoint to Obama’s hawkishness… but instead she was the vocal hawk in the Obama administration.
This hawkishness was a cornerstone of Clinton’s Campaign. If you are going to be a woman, and want to have a chance of leading the free world, you better be ready, willing and able to bomb the shit out of everyone and everything. That seems to have been the conventional thinking of her campaign.  Her foreign policy was a weird fusion of Neo-Con imperialism, and Cold War Democratic “pragmatism,” which, given the absence of a cold war, required reigniting one. 
This foreign policy can be summed up quite clearly, by her campaign speech on Israel. Again… she went with what she knew.  She went with what worked in the 90s. She promised another 4 years of the same foreign policy.. the same wars… the same bombing and the same imperialism. The same surveillance state and endless war on terror.  It is unsurprising that in a “change” election, promising more of the same wasn’t very compelling.
Another cornerstone of her campaign was “another 4 years of Obama… I’m sort of like Obama, right?”. The expectation that the racial coalition that Obama had put together would turn out in full force for her… because she was a minority too(?!).. a woman. But turnout was lower for her among these ethnic voting blocks then it was for Obama… In large part because of the economic and foreign policy triangulation she chose.  And the women? White women voted for trump at a 53% rate. There was a serious misunderstanding of gender solidarity in this country… at least in the context of presidential elections.
And finally, the main message of her campaign seems to have been “That other guy is scary and horrible and incompetent. So you better vote for me or else.” And she wasn’t wrong… Trump, or (frankly) any other republican who was running was scary and horrible and incompetent.  But this was the central message of the John Kerry campaign, when Bush won a second term. It was not a compelling campaign message then, and it wasn’t in 2016.  It’s a message that one goes with when one has nothing better to offer.  Vote for me or else we will lose Obama Care… we will lose the right to Abortion… we will lose the racial and gender equity we’ve gained… etc etc. 
Except most of the people she needed to convince and excite and get the vote of were not the beneficiaries of these “gains.”  Its hard to get an abortion in Red States. Racial Equity and justice isn’t terribly visible when the police continue to kill POC with impunity, literary every day. And throughout the rural red states where governors refused to expand Medicare coverage, Obama Care isn’t something to protect, because it hasn’t done anything for most people.   This fear that she shamelessly stoked (Russian agent! Putin! Putin!!) was ultimately not compelling enough, to enough voters.

I hope the Democratic Party learns the right lessons from this defeat. And to be frank… after 30 years of watching the democratic party form a circular firing squad, and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, I’m not terribly hopefully.
But I have children. I’m fighting now, for their future. I don’t have the privilege of despair or denial or disengagement. The struggle is long, and exhausting. But I’ll keep fighting. I am tired, and filled with rage and horror and frustration.  I had hoped that the Bush Regime would be the most horrible thing that I would have to explain to my children.  It turns out it is not. There are far worse horrors in the world, and they are banging on our doors.
But I will keep fighting. I hope others are willing to continue as well, with eyes wid open, and a willingness to face hard truths about our Maginot Lines and conventional wisdom.

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