Hillary Clinton: The Real Revolutionary Candidate
As many of you probably assume from the title, I am an unapologetic Hillary Clinton supporter. I am also a PhD candidate in American history. I spend my time teaching undergrads and arguing with grad students about race, class, and gender. This is the work of a grad student. When discussing an argument the question is whether or not it adequately addresses race, class, and gender. I continue to think about these issues outside of the classroom. Therefore, in examining the presidential candidates’ platforms I investigate them to see if they discuss race, class, and gender enough. Bernie Sanders has recycled class rhetoric for this election but continues to privilege it over race and gender. It’s a tried and true way to rile up supporters, but not particularly new or effective in enacting a real revolution.
When this election cycle started I was a Hillary supporter, but I was a Hillary supporter focused on her record on race and gender and admitted that although she was also strong on class issues, Bernie was stronger. When I discussed my support for Secretary Clinton with others, I was often told that the only important issue in the race was income inequality and that now isn’t the time to talk about race and gender. I was told that I was mistaken and naive if I considered anything but class issues and that Bernie’s plans were the only way to help poor women working three jobs. I was told that women are equal and that the only ways to fix the ills of society was to get money out of politics. I felt pressured to moderate my support of Hillary by consistently conceding that Bernie Sanders was better on income inequality. My ideas that there were other important issues in this campaign could only be presented as footnotes.
As the months have passed, I’ve begun to question the premise that Bernie Sanders is better on income inequality. Does he really offer a uniquely revolutionary program?
American history is a history of class struggles, beginning with the unsuccessful Whiskey Rebellion in 1791. Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, and FDR all talked about class struggle. FDR was perhaps the most successful president in restructuring class in America, but he passed his reforms to sustain capitalism during a depression, not to overthrow the existing system. It’s important to note that none of these presidents sought to break down barriers for women and racial minorities the way Hillary does.
Bernie Sanders is just another American politician in a long line of American politicians to blame all our problems on the elite and to trumpet a call for class reforms. His approach makes people feel like they have something to fight for, but it doesn’t do much more than that. It is not particularly revolutionary and it doesn’t have a good record of accomplishing much change.
In contrast, the history of feminist and civil rights movements in America shows that these are movements of incremental change, small successes, and permanent progress. To accomplish real change in the “established” power structure, we must focus on issues that affect women and people of color. Our justice system will not stop criminalizing and jailing people of color unless we eliminate racial disparities in sentencing. Our police will not stop killing black people unless we demand an end to racial profiling and hold them accountable when they do. Women will not be protected from rape and sexual assault until we make education about rape culture a priority. Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights are not safe unless we elect people who prioritize fighting for these rights.
A common criticism by Hillary critics is that she is too pragmatic and therefore isn’t advocating for real change. But what is more important, advocating for real change or accomplishing it? Hillary doesn’t employ Bernie’s enraged rhetoric about the evils of Wall St., but she does have a detailed plan about how to regulate it. Her plan doesn’t resort to reinstating a law from the 30s. Instead, she proposes new regulations and solutions. In a similar way, Hillary’s plan for affordable college doesn’t promise free college for all, but its net effect will be to provide more access to higher education by providing a loan free public education.
Hillary also proposes solutions for people kept in poverty because of systematic racism and sexism. How helpful will new jobs be for those of color in poverty if potential employers are racist or if they are denied mortgages? Even if we regulate money in politics, racist gerrymandering and voter ID laws will still control the outcome of elections unless we work to specifically fight those problems.
What kind of change do we really want? The American dream is rooted in capitalist goals of owning a nice home and a nice car. Will these goals suddenly change because Bernie Sanders is president? Do we think that the deeply ingrained materialism of American culture will just disappear?
Hillary’s incremental approach is more consistent with the structure of American society. Her focus is to remove systematic barriers to achievement so that all people have the same opportunities. For example, let’s eliminate the school to prison pipeline and ensure pay equity. Let’s focus on ensuring access to reproductive health for all women. Let’s focus on voting rights and passing laws prohibiting gerrymandering. And yes, let’s institute more controls on Wall Street and banks as Hillary wants to do. These are all achievable goals that don’t demand a radical tearing down of society or a class war but that will provide new opportunities and real change to the power structure in America.
I am a progressive, and I do want revolutionary changes. I don’t want extreme class rhetoric to distract everyone from working to break down the barriers of systematic racism and sexism. And I don’t want extreme class rhetoric to supplant practical ways to limit the power of Wall Street and banking. Hillary Clinton is the progressive candidate advocating a real revolution that includes solving problems of economic inequity without ignoring other inequities of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identification, and one that protects the lives of people of color as well as our growing list of victims of gun violence. Only Clinton’s policies will really bring about the America I want to live in. Hillary Clinton is the real revolutionary working to address race, class, and gender.