Sunday, January 14, 2018

Considering Reticence

"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of 
dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am 
contradicted."  Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Clinton cultist: [blocks Emerson]

I’m toying with a self-imposed moratorium on mentioning the 
Clintons anymore. Toying.

The reasons are multi-fold, but a big one is I am sick of thinking about them. The topic has also hijacked my blog for too long and postponed completing my second book.

Moreover, polls suggest the Clintonista population is dwindling outside of centrist think tanks. That or they never were a significant voice in the electorate to begin with: Maybe they just had an expensive megaphone. Despite a never-ending slander campaign against Bernie Sanders, he is even more popular than ever, while Hillary Clinton’s numbers have conversely never been lower. Stunningly, her poll numbers are now even worse than Donald Trump’s.(1) This is rapidly aging information, but it still staggers the imagination. That Sanders would have beaten Trump is obvious to every sane observer. Doubting it is like climate change denial. It’s the dishonest agnosticism of the Tobacco Institute’s old bogus claim that nobody really knows if smoking causes lung cancer. The data is in: We know.(2)

To clarify, when I say Clintonistas, I don't mean most supporters. I mean the vicious cultists. Not my friends who said "Yeah, Hillary Clinton's hawkishness bothers me too, but I worry about the Supreme Court" but those who bashed Bernie Sanders and insisted Hillary Clinton was a perfect candidate. I voted for her in the general and still retain those friends. We agree to disagree here, as reasonable people can. Alas, that does not apply to the loonies who call all Clinton critics Putin's stooges. 

There are roughly two kinds of hardcore Clintonistas left: fans and shills. The former’s loyalty is entirely personal - they are emotionally invested in the Clinton family and cannot countenance any criticism of them. No evidence will convince them the Clintons had ever done any wrong or that Sanders did anything right. Just posting a poll can get you blocked.(3) Then there are the shills who want to secure more corporate tax breaks, deregulation, and privatization. They promote the Clintons to foster a favorable business climate for themselves.

Both kinds will always exist to some extent. Like those who still defensively insist the Civil War was fought over "states rights" instead slavery, obnoxious Clinton fandom will persist despite the all evidence against their cherished narrative. As for the shills, they will always exist for the same reasons all lobbyists do - and they are therefore the most dangerous. The difference between centrists and progressives parallels the difference between Republicans and Democrats: They have the money, but we have the numbers. This parallel shouldn’t surprise. It’s actually the exact same struggle.

With these facts before me, the arguments for and against mentioning the Clintons are these:

On the one hand, most Clinton fans are not policy wonks, so they will ignore serious discussions about it. Analysis showed that Hillary Clinton’s TV ads were even less policy-driven than Donald Trump’s - indeed less that any in the last four presidential elections. Hillary may be studious, but apparently her fans are not. They are also proudly “post-ideological” so they will pass on that topic too. They only care if people are being mean to their sacred cows - the Clintons.(4) Leave the Clintons alone and most will probably tune out. And maybe the Clintons will go away if we stop talking about them. Maybe we can mummify this dynasty by keeping mum. Call it a boycott. I doubt it will work, but worth a shot.

On the other hand, it is difficult to discuss the venality of centrism without mentioning the Clintons. After all, centrist Democrats are also called “Clinton Democrats,” so the association is set in stone. And if we want to see what centrism applied looks like, the Clinton years epitomize it for both critics and celebrantsMoreover, centrists are incentivized to mention the Clintons because the family’s fading nostalgic luster is the only thing that can jazz-up their otherwise unattractive schemes. As I wrote twice before, Ronald Reagan’s geniality and charisma helped sell his heartless policies. In that regard, Slick Willie reprised the Gipper. Both exploited voters’ cognitive disconnect between an amicable president and his callous acts. And fans get very defensive of them when you mention unflattering facts.

Indeed, centrist Democrats are still talking about how we can learn to win elections from Bill Clinton. Take this imbecilic tidbit in the Washington Post with the headline "What Democrats can learn from the centrists who got Bill Clinton to the White House."(5) It’s imbecilic for two reasons: First, that conceit once again ignores the fact that Barack Obama twice won the presidency decisively. Have they forgotten him already? And second, I think Hillary Clinton already knows these folks and their terrible advice. (The discussion panel in the piece seems to have forgotten that she exists as well.) And what do these geniuses think voters want in a candidate? Someone who opposes “big government,” of course.
Centrists may eventually cash-in on Obama nostalgia in earnest, but for now they are largely still milking Clintonista resentment. But the future transition might prove a bit bumpy - not because Obama is a secret socialist as conservatives claim, but because he has decent political instincts and can see the writing on the wall. Bill Clinton was president when centrism was shiny, new, and poorly understood by most voters so he overtly embraced it. Obama may or may not be a centrist at heart, but he knows the brand is now tarnished and intelligent self-interest suggests holding it at arm’s length. While he was still president, Obama defended the populist label which centrists try to turn into an epithet. (Most of the false equivalencies drawn between Sanders and Trump hinged on distorting the word.) Was Obama expressing a genuine sentiment or practicing political opportunism? It doesn’t matter. What matters is what that says about the American electorate.

Being called a socialist didn’t slow Obama - nor did it slow Sanders for that matter. The only difference is Sanders proudly called himself one. Throughout the primary, centrist insisted Sanders' numbers would tank once voters discovered this. Never mind it’s the first thing people learn about him and his popularly only soared as more got to know him. Socialism was not Sander’s impediment - early lack of news coverage was. He was initially unknown and the media worked long and hard to keep him so.

Hillary Clinton is justly associated with her husband’s litany of policy betrayals because she had claimed co-credit for them. So it was absurd to claim she was a “progressive who likes to get things done” when the centrist mantra - i.e. the doctrine of "Clinton Democrats" - is that ambitious progressive policies are politically radioactive. It's tempting to conclude that Hillary Clinton was the victim of a shift in the national mood and that the Clinton name brand became a drag rather than an asset. But I don't really think that happened. Rather, I think it is now harder to tell the public what it wants - harder to keep people from realizing that other people want the exact same things.

For example, single payer healthcare has
consistently polled well for decades, ranging from fifty four to sixty six percent - but establishment pundits absurdly insist nobody wants it. Weird.

And as I noted above, Ronald Reagan was popular but his policies were not. When I illustrate this, I typically link to a 1986
newspaper article on the paradox. But I previously failed to emphasize two things: First, that the article specifically mentioned Republican discontent too. Second, that the paper was based in deep-red North Carolina so they weren't  quite "Left Coast" Schwarzenegger Republicans.

Back in 2006, the late, great Molly Ivins wrote a scathing anti-Clinton piece stressing that most Americans already strongly supported progressive causes. After ticking off a list of issues, she demanded, "That is the center, you fools. WHO ARE YOU AFRAID OF?" (Emphasis original)

A 2010 study found that 92% of Americans would prefer Sweden's level of wealth distribution and that party affiliation did not impact that preference one way or the other.

[EDIT: There is indeed a longstanding conservative critique of unregulated capitalism.]

Do y
ou know what also enjoys strong bipartisan support according to studies? Opposition to additional military interventionism. One survey discovered that 64.5% of Republicans and 68.8% of Independents shared this sentiment with 78% of Democrats and concluded that Hillary Clinton's hawkishness may have cost her the election. After all, it's a large part of why she lost the Democratic primary to Obama in 2008. Who knew life-and-death issues like war were still important to voters?

In short, the electorate is well to the left of where we are routinely told. I would SO much rather talk about that than the Clintons. But the predictable centrist response would be that taking progressive positions would alienate voters, so we should do what the brilliant Clintons did instead.

That's the problem with self-imposed moratoriums: Those to your right make them challenging to keep.

Errata/Update 01/17/18: 

As originally written, this blog post claimed that two thirds of Republicans liked Bernie Sanders. Of course, it was actually the reverse. Many websites incorrectly reported that the August Harvard-Harris poll showed Sanders' popularity had become bipartisan since their April poll and it had not. That combined with the fraction sticking in my head is my best guess explanation for Sunday's brain fart.

I discovered the goof when going to compare the Harvard-Harris polls with today's Quinnipiac poll. It roughly confirms the previous two polls - although it shows some slight slippage. However, it confirms that women and people of color like him better than white men. Minority support remains especially strong. As Corey Robin dryly quipped, "Either you have a very robust theory of false consciousness to explain this or maybe you should reconsider the idea that Bernie speaks only to and for white bros." I am waiting for centrists to suggest PoC are somehow more suggestible to Putin's propaganda apparatus.


1) But I suppose that is to be expected when guilt trips and fear are all you have to motivate voters. Many held their tongues before Election Day and their noses in the voting booth. For months, they were told to shut up and now they had no reason to remain silent. People resent being told to shut up - all the more so if it still gets them nothing. It’s a form of buyer’s remorse.

2) From early on, Sanders beat Trump in the overwhelming majority of match-up polls by comfortable margins - an average of +10.4 points. By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s chances were always dicey - so much so that her campaign bolstered Trump's bid for the GOP nomination because other Republicans were far more formidable. Marco Rubio would have beaten her. John Kasich consistently crushed her by +7.4 points. Who? I already forgot what he looks like. Exactly. Any candidate with double-digit net negative “strong favorability” rating is by definition a terrible candidate. That Trump then had even worse numbers than Clinton did does not make her a great candidate or seal the deal.

3) I have twice been de-friended on Facebook for posting these charts (from hereshowing that economic inequality continued to climb during the Clinton Administration. Who can look at this chart and still insist that wealth was distributed more equitably during Bill’s tenure? Well, I now know of two. Don’t they know that is in part why Robert Reich resigned as Clinton’s Secretary of Labor? Reich was pushing to address this issue while the rest of Clinton’s cabinet rolled their eyes. If the stock market was happy, then the economy must be. (And if you agree, they you must love Trump.) [EDIT 02/05/18: One year in, the market belatedly turned on Trump with the single biggest one day drop in history. Twitter has been brilliant. But the fact stands that the stock market is how conservatives measure the economy.] Reich felt like he was talking to a brick wall. (Inequality for All , 59:45.) 

Sharing such unattractive facts can get you blocked. Just imagine if I had mentioned when Bill Clinton was basically Pharmabro - or more accurately, the pharmaceutical industry's callous enforcer. I'm sorry, but if you hate Martin Shkreli you have to hate Bill Clinton too. At least a little.

4) Their sole policy yardstick is “Are you for or against the Clintons?” Hence they make reflexive false equivalencies between critiques from the left and ones from the right – even though they are mutually exclusive. The right thinks the Clintons are too liberal while the left thinks they are too conservative. These are the opposite arguments. Moreover, the right’s strange take is rife with bizarre conspiracy theories like Benghazi or the stupid lunacy that Hillary ordered Vince Foster murdered and made to look like a suicide. By stark contrast, the left says she is a corporate Democrat and the epitome of establishment Washington - which she definitely is. She vacations annually with war criminal Henry Kissinger for fuck’s sake. And, yes, I once got blocked for just mentioning Henry Kissinger.

5) Of course, the corporate media's complicity cannot escape comment. Newsweek seems especially keen to slander Sanders. Last August, they ran a sleazy piece with the click-baity headline "BERNIE SANDERS VOTERS HELPED TRUMP WIN AND HERE'S PROOF." It breathlessly emphasized that ten percent of Sanders' primary supporters crossed the aisle and voted for Trump in the general election. But it turns out that percentage of defections is par for the course in presidential elections. And buried at the bottom of the article is a disclaimer that destroys the whole premise:
While much was made of the so-called Bernie-or-bust phenomenon, the number of Sanders supporters who crossed party lines to vote for Trump in 2016 may not be that unusual. A 2010 study in Public Opinion Quarterly found that in the 2008 election 25 percent of those who voted for Clinton in the Democratic primary ended up voting for Republican John McCain, rather than Barack Obama, in the general election.
In other words, Democratic defections were two and a half times greater in 2008 than 2016. Sanders primary voters supported Clinton more loyally in the general than Clinton primary voters supported Obama eight years before. That little fact should stop centrist stone throwing, but the article was written to encourage it. The NPR article's language was slightly better and WaPo's slightly better still. All three articles acknowledged the study, so all three should have concluded there was no relative effect. Baseline normal conditions should not cause catastrophic failure. That's like saying the ship sank because "a wave hit it." If that's what happened, it's a shitty ship and the wave is not at fault.

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