Thinking About Hillary — A Follow-up
Putting it mildly, my piece about Hillary Clinton ended up getting a lot more attention than I ever expected. Quite frankly, the level of interest has been a bit shocking. And perhaps the most shocking thing of all, other than the fact that nearly everyone spelled my name correctly, was just how many people wanted other people to read it. Having people read something you write is very satisfying, but having a large number of people try to persuade others to read it is beyond complimentary. So I want to express my gratitude to everyone, including even the people who got mad and called me names.
And yes, there have been more than a few of those. (Yeesh) Most of the insults were what you would expect. But some were much more, shall we say, creative. So far my favorite insults are, “hack jobber”, “nescient poltroon”, “leftist sherpa” and “feminist mangina”. And I would probably be a lot more upset about those if I had any idea what they meant. And also, if they weren’t so awesome.
As far as I can discern (believe me it wasn’t always clear), most of the anger I received was due to my endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Which was not what I was expecting, given that it wasn’t even the main point of the piece. The second most common complaint, but not by much, came from people who were very unhappy that I had the audacity to ascribe any of Clinton’s treatment to sexism. A considerable majority of those complaints, not surprisingly, came from men. And I would insert a joke about irony here if I could bring myself to find that funny.
Most of the remaining complaints were either about things people thought I said that I didn’t actually say, or things they thought I should have said but didn’t say. And also of course, the whole thing was too damn long. All of which leads me to feel like a few clarifications and responses are in order. And I want to also go into a little bit more detail about why I approached everything as I did, why I think that matters, and what I think about the extremism currently infecting our political process. And yes, this piece is also too damn long. In fact if you were thinking of scrolling ahead to see how long it is — I wouldn’t.
Let’s begin with a few quick responses to some of the comments I received:
How much money did you get paid to write that? — To the (ahem) several people who asked me this, the answer is that I got paid as much to write and post the piece as you got paid to ask me that. Also, really? Calm down. Just because I posted a perfectly reasonable piece about Hillary Clinton, that doesn’t mean that black-bag agents are sneaking me envelopes stuffed with cash. Nobody paid me a dime for that, and nobody ever will. That having been said, if anyone from the Democratic National Committee is reading this, it wouldn’t kill you to send me a cheesecake.
Are you a DNC or Hillary campaign plant? — As far as I know, neither the DNC, Hillary Clinton or her campaign staff have the slightest idea who I am. Although again, if anyone from the DNC is reading this, I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in the DNC bylaws that prevents you from sending a stranger a cheesecake. Just putting that out there…
Did it have to be that long? — Yes. If you prefer your political information in memes, bullet points or two-paragraph sound bites, then clearly I am not your guy. Which is fine. There are a lot more people who do what you like than do what I do. So you’re good to go.
But why didn’t you talk about *insert many items here*? — Most of the people who asked this began by pointing out how incredibly long my piece was, and then followed up by wondering why I didn’t address more issues. There are two reasons for this. First, even someone as long-winded as I am has to pull the ripcord at some point. Second, I didn’t address Benghazi or Honduras or the Clinton Foundation or Walmart or a dozen other things because my piece wasn’t about that. My piece was about fairness, sexism, and reasoned discourse. In the future I may write detailed pieces about those other things. Or, if you don’t think that they are getting the proper attention, maybe you could. You read my piece, I’m happy to read yours. Let me know when it’s ready.
What’s with the language? — As you may have noticed, I’m no stranger to the random F-bomb. Mea Culpa. I could tell you that I’m going to stop doing that. But I’m not going to stop doing that.
Why did you compare Clinton to Trump instead of Sanders? — I did this because Hillary Clinton isn’t running against Bernie Sanders anymore. She’s running against Donald Trump now. Which means that the Hillary vs. Bernie comparisons are no longer relevant to this election. And that is not me mocking Bernie or his supporters. Judging from my comments section alone, nobody wants to poke that bear. That is just me acknowledging reality. I have no major beef with Bernie. If he were the nominee I would vote for him in November. But he had his shot, and as Junior Soprano once famously said, “he couldn’t sell it.” There’s no shame. He did incredibly well. But Democrats had a choice to make and we did. Turn the page.
But wait, couldn’t Bernie still win? — No. I’m sorry, but Bernie Sanders is not going to get a surprise win in Philadelphia. He’s just not. At a minimum, this would require his team to flip hundreds of superdelegates, and although they have every right to try, there’s not even a small chance that will actually happen. And really, considering the fact that both Sanders and his supporters spent nearly the entire primary season complaining that the superdelegates were an undemocratic and despicable tool of the party elite who might usurp the will of the people, I find it numbingly hypocritical that some supporters are suggesting that Bernie’s team should convince the superdelegates to usurp the will of the people. The Democratic Party superdelegates have never once voted against the candidate with the most votes and delegates, and they won’t be starting this year.
But what about the suppression, rigged primaries and stolen votes? — Please stop. Really. Just stop. For the small contingent of Sanders’ supporters ringing that bell — I appreciate your passion for your candidate, I really do. And I realize that anger and loss can sometimes drive people to seek answers in odd places when normal channels don’t satisfy. But if a large portion of your worldview relies on conspiracy theories, then you’ve essentially given up on reality anyway. Like Elvis, you’ve left the building. In which case why even worry about elections? Take some time off and enjoy yourself. Those of us still here will take care of things until you get back. Also, we promise to let you know if the lizard people finally tell us how NASA faked the moon landings.
Why so many false equivalencies? — For some people, my insistence that Hillary Clinton was being held to a different standard than her male counterparts somehow morphed into me insisting that, “because they did it it’s ok if Hillary does it too.” I have no idea how anyone connected those dots, because I think it’s pretty clear that this was not the point I was making. And quite frankly, it’s difficult not to see this as either a willful decision to avoid my obvious intent, or a rather transparent attempt to misrepresent my views. Either way, I’d be ok if we all stop doing that now.
Why are you accusing me of being a misogynist just because I don’t support Hillary Clinton? — That’s easy. I’m not.
This last complaint I saw a lot. And while I expected a little pushback, I wasn’t guessing so much of it would be that. So let me address this specific complaint by making two statements:
1) Sexism has been and remains one of the primary engines of anti-Clinton sentiment.
2) You can be opposed to Hillary Clinton without being sexist.
It is entirely possible for both of these statements to be true. Perhaps more importantly, it’s entirely possible for both of them to be true at the same time. We all get that, right? Because either a bunch of people don’t get this, or they are just convinced that I don’t get it. Either way, if you felt like I was pointing my keyboard at you as I was writing my piece, I wasn’t.
Speaking of which, I have been rather amazed at the number of people who assumed that this piece was only about their specific group. Most such complaints of course came from men. (Sigh) And a lot of conservatives assumed that I was just another liberal blowhard accusing them of bigotry. But surprisingly, a fair number of progressives also seemed to assume that the piece was intended just for them. And no small number of Bernie Sanders’ supporters seemed convinced that the entire point of my piece was to paint them all as misogynists.
So I want to make it clear that my piece wasn’t a missile aimed at your specific faction. I made sexism a central theme in my piece because I am convinced that this is a key element informing the way Hillary Clinton is treated. I stand by that. I also stand by my conviction that a double standard applies to HRC and other women in this country who seek positions of power and authority. And if this offends you then you get to be offended, because I am not walking any of that back. And at the risk of seeming snarky, if you read a piece about bigotry and your first instinct is to assume that you are being accused of something, perhaps that says more about you than the author.
Let me be clear — this is not about the specific group you ascribe to. This is about all of us. And yes it’s mostly about men, because most of this problem was created by us, and most of it is perpetuated by us. As men any discussion by us of sexism is easy, because we are exempt from being on the business end of it. We are exempt from the daily indignities. But we are not exempt from the consequences. So gentlemen, if you think you have no skin in the game, think again.
Sexism is not a debate strategy, and it’s not a tool to shut you up. Sexism, like other forms of bigotry, is a societal virus. And to one extent or another, most of us are infected. Our job is not to throw things at people who point this out, and it’s not to pretend that we are fine while we walk around coughing and sneezing on each other. Our job is to get better. If pointing out something as obvious as this is radical or insulting, then I guess that’s me. And if the first thing you want to communicate when faced with societal sexism is denial and self-righteous indignation, then maybe that’s you. But I hope not. Because we need to do better than that.
And now I’m getting dangerously close to mansplaining, and I already have enough people mad at me, so let’s move on…
I support Hillary Clinton for president. I made that clear, and I’m not going to be walking that back either. But my piece was not campaign PR. There was a reason I called it “A Plea for Reason” instead of “A Plea for Votes”. My goal was to express a point of view I had developed, and so I took a position. And a position, in my view, is different than an opinion. A position requires evidence. Therefore, I tried to base my position on real evidence from the real world. And I think I did that. And based on the feedback I’ve been getting, most people think I succeeded. For which I am grateful. But obviously some people also think I failed. And that’s ok too.
If you want to take a different position than I did I think you should do that. But simply stating that you are against Hillary because she’s a ”pathological liar” or “war criminal” is not an argument, and it’s not a position. It’s just an insult pretending to be discourse. And while you are entitled to your opinions, you are not entitled to respect for those opinions. There seems to be some confusion on that point, and there really shouldn’t be. Also, while I have a natural curiosity toward other people’s views, if your main communication tactic is calling people names while hammering the “caps lock” key like you’re playing a game of whac-a-mole, you can probably count me out.
I’m interested in people who take a position and then communicate it with logic and reason. In other words, people who actually try. And I’m particularly interested in those people open to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, there are things they think they know that they don’t. Because quite frankly, it seems clear to me that the Internet is full of people who know all kinds of things about Hillary Clinton that they don’t actually know.
And that thought leads me to remember my first college chemistry class. Which is a bit of a non sequitur, but bear with me. It was one of my first classes in college, and I was sitting in a large lecture hall with several hundred other freshmen. The chemistry professor walked in and began his very first lecture by saying, “Do you remember how you were always taught that atoms are like planets, with little electron moons orbiting the nucleus?” We all shook our heads yes, of course, and he followed up with, “Yea, that was all bullshit. We just told you that because it’s simpler to understand and makes our job easier. Actually atoms aren’t anything like that at all.” And then while we all stared with semi-glazed eyes, he went on to talk about electron clouds and probability densities. Or something.
And I remember this because the beginning of my education, my real education, was not me accepting that I didn’t know things. No, the beginning of my real education was the acceptance that many of the things I already knew I didn’t really know at all. And that’s a lesson I’ve tried never to forget. And I don’t think it would be the worst idea to bring a little of this open-mindedness and humility to our political discussions, because politicians and their policies are often not nearly as black & white as so many people want to believe. And quite frankly, reality does not always conform to the narratives we create for the politicians we love or hate.
For example, did you know that Elizabeth Warren was actually a Republican until she was well into her 40’s, and that the main reason she switched parties was because she no longer believed that the GOP was “principled in its conservative approach to economics and to markets?” No? Follow-up question: does that sound a little different than the progressive warrior you created in your mind? Yes? Well, people are complicated, and maybe you don’t know Senator Warren quite as well as you think you do.
Here’s another one — Did you know that LBJ, the president responsible for the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, was actually an unapologetic racist who spent his first 20 years in Congress opposing every single civil rights bill that came up for a vote? Because the same president who arguably made the greatest contribution to civil rights since Abraham Lincoln once told his African-American chauffeur that, “As long as you are black, and you’re gonna be black till the day you die, no one’s gonna call you by your goddamn name. So no matter what you are called, nigger, you just let it roll off your back like water, and you’ll make it. Just pretend you’re a goddamn piece of furniture.”
First of all, daaaamn. Second, how is that possible? Well again, people are complicated. Also, LBJ was an asshole. But he was an asshole that got a lot of the right things done. And sometimes with politicians that’s what matters most. And in the right circumstances it’s enough. And no, I am not asserting that this is the ideal to which we should aspire. But while LBJ’s personality could be a bit of a low bar, his policies were not. And if you are trying to keep your eye on the ball, that is the ball.
I am sure that last statement about policy sent a bunch of people lunging for their keyboards in order to explain to me that Hillary Clinton’s policies are exactly what they DON’T like about her. But it is very clear to me that this is not the case. The vast majority of messages and comments about HRC that I see consist almost solely of either personal attacks, false claims, childish conspiracy theories, assumptions of guilt by association or complaints about legislation passed by her husband decades ago. Almost none of the comments I see (or have received) even bother to address her current policy positions, and most of the small few that do either willfully misrepresent them, assume as a given that they are terrible or dismiss them altogether as mere political expediency. (Side note: I want to acknowledge that I have also received a number of reasonable and cogent comments. And I did very much appreciate those.)
Of course it goes without saying that in the world of social media, almost nobody bothers to back up such claims with even the most rudimentary facts or analysis. It’s as if a meeting was held somewhere in which most of the country decided that when it comes to Hillary Clinton you don’t have to do that. But I wasn’t at that meeting, so if you’ll forgive me I still kind of want people to show me how they know the things that they insist they know.
And that leads me on another quick journey back in time. Years ago I discovered a Biblical/Talmudic historian named Jacob Neusner, an astonishingly prolific author of nearly 1,000 books and papers. Rabbi Neusner has, on more than one occasion, taken issue with his colleagues when he thought they were getting a little loose with their methodologies. And while I’m almost sure he never called anyone a “mangina”, he did at one point become so frustrated that he wrote an entire book to point out these scholarly lapses. The name of that book, which I have also never forgotten, is “What we cannot show, we do not know.”
Let me repeat that: What We Cannot Show, We Do Not Know.
You see where I’m going with this? I’m sure you do. But as is often the case, this is one of those axioms that nearly everyone agrees is true, and then subsequently agrees to ignore. Because take it from me, when you write a piece about Hillary Clinton you get a lot of people who are very excited to tell you she is awful, but considerably less interested in showing you how they know that. Indeed, the vast majority of the anti-Hillary commentariat function as if their accusations and conclusions are simply self-evident. For all of those people however, let me point out a general rule of thumb: the only thing truly evident about people who think that their positions are self-evident is their own intellectual laziness.
And yes I acknowledge that a small number do attempt to elucidate their objections. But even most of those just throw “the list” at you. And we’ve all seen “the list”. This is the collection of random issues, no doubt copied from Facebook memes, that go something like, “I will never support Clinton because of Walmart, Fracking, TPP and (enter your conspiracy theory here).” And apparently in some circles this is considered to be a very persuasive argument. Except it’s not an argument at all, it’s just an arbitrary collection of topics with no accompanying discussion or analysis. And a list without analysis is not a position, it’s just word salad. More accurately, it’s demagoguery masquerading as conviction.
And what happens if we actually dip our toes beneath the surface of some of these issues? Let’s look at a few examples:
Walmart — At the time she joined Walmart (in 1986) they had no female board members, and in fact had never had any female board members. So does that make her a corporate stooge willing to ignore or even suborn bad corporate behavior in service to her own advancement? Or was she a courageous woman bursting through a major glass ceiling, and then using her new position to influence positive change in a major American employer?
Well this might be something to consider: In 2007 the New York Times reported that people who were actually on the Walmart board with her stated that she “used her position to champion personal causes, like the need for more women in management and a comprehensive environmental program…” If nothing else, anyone familiar with Clinton’s long-time championing of women’s issues will recognize this. And also, her push for environmental issues put Walmart ahead of most other companies of its size at that time. Which is also worth noting. Now in fairness, there is no evidence that she fought Walmart’s anti-union stance very hard. But on the other hand, years later when negotiations had broken down between Walmart executives and the United Food and Commercial Workers union she worked in the background to help broker a meeting to get everyone back to the table.
So maybe, just maybe, her relationship with Walmart was a little more complicated and nuanced than you thought. And maybe this is why you need to put in a little more effort than just saying “Walmart” if you want to use that as an indictment against her.
Fracking — I assume the accusation here is that Hillary Clinton used her position as Secretary of State to pressure countries into dangerous and damaging agreements with American fracking companies, and that she did so as a corporate crony, etc. I say, “assume” because usually I just see “fracking” on a list, as if the reason to be appalled by that is self-evident. But what is most evident to me about this accusation is that it proposes that Hillary Clinton was setting national policy. And unless something has changed since my high school civics class, diplomacy comes from Foggy Bottom, but policy comes from Pennsylvania Ave. Or are people actually trying to assert that Hillary Clinton was pressuring European heads of state on energy policy without the direct knowledge and instructions of her president? Because the last time I checked, Secretaries of State don’t get to do that.
And if this was all about Hillary Clinton, and not the Obama administration, then why has Secretary Kerry continued the promotion of fracking to European governments? You have been reading all about that as well, right? No? How odd. This is generally the point at which I would ask why the administration’s position on fracking resulted in so much more vitriol aimed at Clinton than Kerry, but I feel like we probably already know the answer to that.
And would it be OK if we just considered the possibility that there may have been more at play here than shady corporate cronyism? Are we even allowed to acknowledge issues such as fighting climate change (shale gas=lower carbon emissions), enlarging the global energy supply or helping to free European states that have been held hostage by Russia due to the fact that they are dependent on Russian natural gas? I feel like I need to ask, because if the anti-Hillary commenters are discussing those issues, I’m not seeing it. Listen, are there reasons to be concerned about fracking? Of course there are. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone suggest otherwise. But maybe, just maybe, Hillary Clinton’s involvement in this issue was also a little more complicated and nuanced than you thought. And maybe if you’re going to accuse her of something (other than doing her job), you might want to include a detail or two to back up your position. Otherwise, it just looks like you’re bitching about the way she plays checkers when she’s actually playing three-dimensional chess.
TPP (Free Trade) — I am not a professor of economics and I don’t play one on TV, but even I know that the subject of free trade is a matter of ongoing debate. “Debate”, in case you are unfamiliar with the concept, is something that happens when people hold and argue opposing views on an issue. And despite what many of us have apparently been led to believe, it is possible to view free trade as a net positive. For example here’s a data point that might matter: we’ve lost millions of American jobs due to trade with China, and we don’t even have a free trade agreement with them. Which would seem to suggest that you can also lose a lot of jobs without free trade agreements. And at least with free trade agreements you can get some of those jobs back. Or get some new ones. Or something. And not only is China not part of TPP, the agreement has been in large part designed to fight Chinese influence, not increase it. So again, maybe this issue is a little more complicated than we pretend? Maybe other issues are in play? For example, maybe massive wage disparity plays just a bit more of a role than the secret handshakes HRC shares with members of the Trilateral Commission?
And here’s the key bit: while you have every right to take a side in the free trade debate, you do not have the right to pretend as if the debate does not even exist. Because once again the issues here are complex, and are not self-evident. And I’m going to say something a little crazy now, so you may want to sit down: free trade agreements are not necessarily bad just because Bernie Sanders said so. Are you still with me? If you need to apply a cold compress or breathe into a bag for a minute I can wait.
Bernie’s heart is in the right place, but when it comes to complicated economic issues like free trade I find his views too simplistic and one-dimensional. Personally I prefer leaders who inject a little more depth into their positions. That, for example, is one of the main things I like about Obama. Let’s look at the scorecard: Republicans have generally supported free trade legislation across the board. Bernie on the other hand has been a flat “no” across the board. As for Hillary, despite Bernie Sanders’ untruthful claim that she has always voted yes on free trade legislation, she has actually voted yes on some and no on others. In other words, her vote was given on a case-by-case basis. You may take issue with her individual votes, and obviously many people do, but personally I like the idea of a politician whose views are based more on analysis than ideology.
And I make my point about ideology because political parties that want to remain functional need to vigilantly oppose those who would transform guiding principles into inflexible doctrines. I sense an increasing desire among some on the progressive left to do exactly that, and it’s a terrifically bad idea. And really, how is it possible that anyone on the left hasn’t already figured this out? For decades we’ve all had a front row seat to watch the Republican Party eviscerate itself through increasing demands of fealty to unrealistic and ridiculous purity tests. The result has been a ludicrously right wing, anti-reason, anti-science, completely dysfunctional and fully obstructionist movement. And the nomination of Donald Trump is now the final evidence that the GOP is simply unfit to govern. This is not the example we need to follow.
Unfortunately anger often begets foolishness, and right now a surprising number of progressives are just angry enough to mimic nearly every bad process of the conservative right. It’s all there; the rage, the blame game, the demand for unitary views of policy, the brittle outlook that brooks no dissent and the unrelenting accusations of mendacity and betrayal aimed at anyone outside the increasingly small circle of trust. And of course there’s the final cherry on every extremist cake, the conspiracy theories. I’ve been watching this in a state of astonishment for months, all along trying to convince myself that the fever would soon break. And I am still hoping it will. But then again we’ve been waiting for the right-wing fever to break for over a decade, and there’s no sign of that happening either.
We’ve all seen how badly the functioning of our government can be affected when one of our two major political parties gives in to extremism. If we want to see the ramifications of both parties surrendering to this behavior we need look no further than the UK. In an op-ed for the NY Times about Brexit, Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair noted the forces at play in the British public. Speaking of the rise of anger and extremism he said, “The political center has lost its power to persuade…Instead, we are seeing a convergence of the far left and far right. The right attacks immigrants while the left rails at bankers, but the spirit of insurgency, the venting of anger at those in power and the addiction to simple, demagogic answers to complex problems are the same for both extremes…If we do not succeed in beating back the far left and far right before they take the nations of Europe on this reckless experiment, it will end the way such rash action always does in history: at best, in disillusion; at worst, in rancorous division. The center must hold.”
In our own country, faced with serious issues and similar populist anger, both the extreme right and left have done much the same as the UK. And of course, they have both aimed their ideological guns at the usual suspects: the right have essentially blamed everything on immigrants and brown people, and the left have blamed everything on bankers and rich people. Both of these positions are ridiculous and juvenile. And unfortunately, they are also dangerous. But they have the advantage of being simple. And for a depressingly large slice of the electorate, that’s what works.
The antidote to this poison is not greater “purity” of doctrine, it’s not a demand for all-or-nothing policy positions and it’s certainly not a surrender to fear and anger. The cure is reason and pragmatism. And if it’s possible to propose a political stand that’s less sexy than that I can’t imagine what it is. But the truth is that politics isn’t actually sexy, and it doesn’t really look like an Oliver Stone movie. Usually it looks more like C-Span. Real politics is “the art of the possible”, which is a fancy Prussian way of saying you’re going to have to compromise. For years an increasing number of conservatives have insisted that compromise is a dirty word, a public display of submission, capitulation or even betrayal. But actually it’s just standard, competent governance. And the inability to acknowledge that is one of the key reasons the GOP can now barely function. Democrats and others on the left do ourselves no favors by following that lead.
When asked in a debate if she considered herself a progressive, Hillary Clinton stated that she did, but that she was, “a progressive who likes to get things done.” And for those who are actually paying attention, this illustrates one of the key characteristics of Hillary Clinton, which is that she is both a realist and a pragmatist. Unfortunately there aren’t many things true believers and ideologues hate worse than a pragmatist, and this is one of the other reasons many supporters of Sanders have reacted to her as they have. From the vantage point of their uncompromising ideology, every moment of realism or pragmatism in her career is now viewed as submission, capitulation or betrayal.
And it’s also probably one of the reasons many Sanders supporters are insisting that they will not vote for her. I’ve seen many insist that they’ll instead try to mobilize support for the Green Party, which is a terrific idea if the goal for your movement is political irrelevance. Others want to start a “third” party, which will probably come as a bit of a shock to the three or four dozen American political parties already in line ahead of them. And finally, I’m seeing many go the “Independent” route, insisting that they are no longer part of the Democratic Party, and warning Democrats that we had better get with their program because the fastest growing segment of voters are “Independents”.
This claim that a growing number of Americans identify as Independents is actually true. And simultaneously it’s also bullshit. Which is a pretty neat trick. Here’s how that works — first of all, the vast majority of people who call themselves “Independents” actually vote reliably Republican or Democrat. So most Independents are Independents in name only. Perhaps even more importantly, if you look at the graph above from American National Election Studies, you’ll see something very interesting about the rising number of Independents. The percentage of voters who describe themselves as Independent has stayed remarkably stable for over 50 years. The real growth among Independents, especially over the last 16 years, has been from non-voters. And here’s a short but valuable civics lesson: your political affiliation isn’t super important if you don’t vote anyway.
Speaking of not voting, I feel like I should address a few paragraphs to the 30 and under crowd, especially those that are Sanders supporters. So for all you young people, this section is for you. I’ve got some more graph candy above. Take a look, because there’s going to be a short quiz. On the left you’ll see a graph put together by the United States Elections Project, which breaks down voting by age over the last 30 years. Notice who’s on the top and who’s on the bottom? Notice how far to the bottom the bottom is? In the last 30 years of voting, the best your age group has ever done was in 2008, and you still didn’t even break 50%. In mid-term elections you consistently hover at or below 20%, and in the 2014 mid-term election that put so many Republicans in office nearly 85% of you failed to vote.
So here’s our quiz:
1) Do you think there is a single politician in the country who doesn’t have a copy of this graph, or one like it?
2) When said politicians are deciding whose concerns to care about, do you think their eyes wander over this graph?
3) If senior citizens are on one side of an issue, and young people like you are on the other, who do you think gets their vote?
4) What percentage of Republican politicians use this graph as their screensaver?
5) When the GOP, especially at the state level, want to put up legislation that they know liberals (and especially young liberals) won’t like, do you think that maybe they schedule it for mid-term elections?
6) When Hillary Clinton found out how much of Bernie Sanders’ support was coming from young people, how many vodka martinis did she have to celebrate?
You know those old people you like to make fun of? The conservative, tea-party seniors who watch Fox News 24 hours a day and say crazy, racist shit at Thanksgiving dinner? Quick note on them: they vote. They always vote. They vote like it’s a goddamn religion. Meanwhile, the vast majority of people in your age group couldn’t find a voting booth with a state-of-the-art GPS stuffed up their ass. Take a look at the graph above again. See the information on the right? It was put together in 2014 by the Pew Research Center. At the bottom of all of those bars you’ll see a segment called “Bystanders.” This refers to people “On the sidelines of the political process who are not registered to vote and pay very little attention to politics.” With seniors that segment is at only 3%. In your age group that same segment skyrockets to nearly 20%. Do you see a pattern developing here?
I realize that it’s difficult to appreciate the value of historical perspective when you’re too young to actually have any. But you know who does have a little historical perspective? Seniors. And maybe that’s one of the reasons they are so serious about voting. Because unlike you, they’ve been around long enough to know that voting booths are the place where shiny new political movements go to die. And maybe they also know that rallies with twenty or thirty thousand people may seem amazing and powerful while you are at them, but voting is the real difference between a large political movement and a large political circle-jerk.
And in regard to so much of the attitude I’m seeing — No matter how much we plead for you to get involved and no matter how fiercely you are courted by politicians, the majority of you steadfastly refuse to express any interest in voting. And yet somehow there is no end to your bitter and entitled disappointment with the American electoral system. Really, it’s like watching a bunch of vegans bitch about how pork doesn’t taste as good as it used to. And quite frankly, it takes a particularly special pair of stones to vote this badly and then have the fucking gall to claim that your vote was suppressed. So here’s your free wake-up call from Uncle Mike: nobody needs to go to the bother of suppressing your vote. You’re doing that just fine on your own. Quite frankly, all anyone who’s worried about the “youth vote” needs to do is let you be you.
History, as the saying goes, is made by those who show up.
Back in the day, a friend of mine (who was in a position to know) expressed to me his experience about the different ways people reacted to taking LSD. “Your brain,” he said, “is like a log cabin. And most of the people who take acid go out onto the front porch for a while, listen to the wind chimes, and then come back inside. A few even go into the front yard and play in the garden. Some however go for long walks in the woods. And every now and then someone goes for a walk in the woods and gets lost.”
If there’s a better metaphor for what happens to people during a presidential election cycle, I haven’t seen it. Based on the length of my pieces, for example, I think it’s fair to say that I’m out in the front yard working on the tomato plants. But a large number of us are also taking long walks in the woods, and looking at some of the statements in my comments section alone, it’s clear that many people are getting lost. We all get a bit ginned up during election season. That’s to be expected. But regardless of how far into the woods we wander, we need to keep an eye on the path home. And “home”, in case this metaphor wasn’t obvious enough, is common sense, reasoned discourse and responsible policy. In other words, and with hat tips to both Blair and Yeats — the center must hold.
Factions with strict ideological agendas love to pretend as if all policy issues, problems and solutions are simple and self-evident. But this is absurd. In truth, our world is now connected by an incredibly complex web of political, legal and economic relationships; a Gordian knot of competing agendas that can quickly take “simple” solutions to very unhappy places. Responsible politicians know this, and the law of unintended consequences patiently waits for those foolish enough to think otherwise. Which is why seasoned leaders like Hillary Clinton often favor nuanced and incrementalist approaches. These approaches are not particularly inspiring, to be sure. They also leave politicians like Clinton open to charges of avoiding necessary change or maintaining “failed” systems. But on the plus side they don’t set the world on fire. And unlike the people screaming at you on the Internet, this is something that government leaders actually have to think about. Because at the level of leadership and decision-making we’re talking about, even well planned and seemingly isolated decisions can sometimes turn pear-shaped in a very big way. Or did you not get the memo from Gavrilo Princip?
Ideological purity may make you feel pretty good about yourself, but the people we place in positions of power don’t have the luxury of living in that type of self-righteous ivory tower. They have to make decisions. They have to form policy. They have to make very tough choices, and they bear the burden of responsibilities that impact hundreds of millions of lives. The president is required, nearly every day, to make decisions on a scale that would leave most of us hiding under our bed, clutching a bottle of Klonopin. Even the most experienced holders of the office pay a price, and very few presidents come out the way they went in.
Toward the end of his presidency Richard Nixon once became so distraught that during a meeting with Henry Kissinger he fell to his knees weeping, and while Kissinger looked on in horror Nixon pounded the floor with his fists, cried out to God and demanded that Kissinger pray with him. During his presidency, LBJ was so traumatized by stress that he had recurring nightmares that he was dead. He would wake in a state of dread and then wander the dark halls of the White House with a flashlight until he found Woodrow Wilson’s portrait. Once found, LBJ would caress the portrait to prove to himself that Wilson was dead and he was still alive. Only then could he go back to sleep. And I remind you that LBJ and Nixon were two steely-eyed sons of bitches, with decades of experience in bare-knuckle national politics.
Speaking of which, have you seen Barack Obama lately? Google a picture of him at the beginning of his presidency, and then compare it to his current state. It’s been less than eight years, and he already looks like his own dad. This is what the presidency does to people. And not just because they find out that all that shit about aliens is true. No, the job itself is really, really tough. It’s like walking around for eight years with an IV drip of chemotherapy and crack, while half the nation yells at you for not getting anything done and the other half yells at you for trying to destroy the country with the things you got done. A toll is taken.
Which is also why people in a position to know, those political “elites” everyone loves to hate these days, talk so much about “temperament” during election season. They know that while votes are what get you into the office, the necessary temperament is what enables you to actually function and get something done once you’re there. And preferably without having a nervous breakdown. Which is relatively important, because as most experienced political operatives will tell you, having your president turn into Jack D. Ripper halfway through their first term is less than ideal.
Which brings us to Donald Trump, a man so temperamentally unsuited to the office of the presidency that he makes Rick Perry look like Winston Churchill. Ignore for a second the unrelenting and unapologetic racism and misogyny. Turn a blind eye for a moment to the vacuous responses to policy questions, the ludicrous position statements and the clear sense that he lacks the slightest understanding of statecraft. Look past the fact that weeks before he even officially becomes the GOP nominee, he has already insulted and infuriated some of our most important trading partners and allies. And, if possible, set aside for just a moment the fact that he is so pathologically narcissistic that his first response to the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history was to pat himself on the back, and his response to the historic Brexit vote was to point out that the British pound’s worst collapse in decades was going to make him a lot of money.
Consider instead a temperament that falls so short of the mark that he can’t even get a large segment of his own party’s leadership to stop insinuating that he is mental. Ponder for a moment the reality that this buffoon who would be king is so intolerable that he is actually driving numerous prominent Republican leaders to join a “NeverTrump” movement that rejects their own party’s nominee! Think about the fact that the same man who has spent months insisting that he can go to Washington and bend Republicans and Democrats to his will, can hardly even find a fellow Republican willing to speak at the convention in which he will be nominated. Witness for a moment the unbelievable fact that a large number of prominent Republicans have stated that they’re simply skipping the convention altogether. Skipping their own convention! It’s astonishing, and unprecedented, and for anyone paying attention, indicative of what we could expect from a Trump presidency. (Spoiler Alert: clusterfuck)
And yet even when presented with a candidate this horrible, and a campaign this far off the rails, there are a surprising number of progressives who insist that there is no real difference between Republicans and Democrats. Personally, it amazes me that anyone who has not been in a medically induced coma for the last sixteen years could think this. But it does happen. So if you are one of the few who are having a hard time seeing the difference, let me help you out.
The average Trump gathering looks like a Klan rally with less linen. The average Republican gathering looks like a NASCAR festival that got crashed by members of the country club you and I aren’t allowed to join. Bernie’s gatherings look like a cross between a suburban PTA meeting, a Burning Man planning committee and the checkout line at Whole Foods. A large Democratic gathering? That looks like America.
And do you think that happened by accident? Because it didn’t. That is the result of long, difficult and sometimes testy coalition building. And successful coalition building doesn’t happen when you’re more interested in turning allies into enemies than in turning friends into allies. And it certainly doesn’t happen when you’re more interested in bending people to your will than compromising and getting something done. For those of us who are Democrats, it is our very great fortune that Donald Trump doesn’t understand this. For all those new “Independents”, perhaps it’s something worth considering.
And finally, for those progressives who insist that there is no difference between Hillary Clinton and Republicans. You know who does see a difference? Republicans. And in fact they seem to think there’s a pretty big fucking difference. Which may have something to do with why they have spent tens of millions of dollars and unknown thousands of man-hours over a multi-decade period on a single unrelenting enterprise: convincing anyone who would listen that one of the most qualified public servants in America is actually a lying, corrupt she-devil. And clearly, for at least for some of us, it was money well spent. But can we maybe ask ourselves one, simple question? If Hillary Clinton and her policies are truly no different than the average Republican politician, why have Republicans spent nearly 25 years doing everything in their power to destroy her?
Perhaps, using the locution of conspiracy theorists everywhere, it’s one of the biggest “false-flag” operations in American history. You fools! Perhaps it was never really part of the GOP strategy at all, but just something that the bankers and 1% created to make it look like the GOP was destroying her. You fools! And now because we think the GOP hates her we will elect her president and she will insure that the bankers and 1% take over the world. You fools!
Or maybe we’re not insane, and this is obviously ludicrous. Maybe Hillary Clinton is nothing more than what she appears to be, a pragmatic Democrat doing the best she can to effect incremental and responsible change within the constraints of the real world. Maybe the fact that she and Bernie Sanders voted the same 93% of the time means something. And maybe that, along with her real record, means we don’t have to continue rewarding decades of GOP propaganda by acting as if any of it is genuinely true.
Maybe, finally, we can wake from this ridiculous dragon-lady fever dream and realize that, like the atoms of my freshman chemistry course, she was never really anything like that at all. It’s just that for a powerful group of people with a very specific agenda, this version of Hillary was simpler to understand, and made their job easier.