Liberal supporters of the Democrats save their nastiest attacks not for Republicans but for anyone who criticizes them from the left. Khury Petersen-Smith says he’s tired of it.
June 30, 2016
They tolerated–barely–the progressive campaign of Bernie Sanders so long as he never came too close to threatening Hillary Clinton’s hold on the Democratic presidential nomination. As dismaying as his on-the-mark criticisms of Clinton’s Wall Street-connected candidacy might have been, he was at least bringing some enthusiasm to an uninspiring election and a stale Democratic Party.
But now, the managers of the Democratic Party machine and their allies in the mainstream media are speaking with one voice: The party’s over.
Those who were excited about Sanders’ candidacy–and the notion that the U.S. political system could offer something besides austerity, war and oppression–should be thankful for the memories of a hopeful winter and spring. But now, goes the argument, they need to accept Hillary Clinton as the candidate to support this fall.
We should all take note that it isn’t the right wing campaigning against universal health care, free college tuition and student loan debt relief, and other planks of Sanders’ social democratic platform as “unrealistic.” They’re too busy scrambling to manage their own crisis in the form of Donald Trump and his impact on the endlessly pathetic and dysfunctional Republican Party.
It is, instead, the Democrats who are doing their best to dash the hopes and lower the expectations of people who dared to think that U.S. politics might have something to offer to working class people, women, people of color or LGBT people.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
HOW WILL they do it? How will the Democratic Party corral a generation that has become aware of and sickened by racist mass incarceration, Wall Street’s dictatorship over the U.S. economy and politics, and permanent war–and get them to support a candidate who has devoted her political career to championing those very things?
One tactic has been to get political figures seen–rightly or wrongly–as the most party’s most “progressive” faces out front in backing Clinton: Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama and, yes, Bernie Sanders himself.
But that’s not all.
Party leaders and their liberal supporters are cynically using outrage at racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, and economic inequality–generated and crystallized by resistance movements, from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter–to shame progressives and leftists into supporting Clinton.
Liberal commentators have in particular targeted Sanders supporters who, disgusted by the various undemocratic maneuvers used against their candidate and by Clinton’s own dismal record, say they can’t stomach voting for a candidate who epitomizes everything Sanders’ “political revolution” was supposed to be against.
But their insults extend to anyone who challenges Clinton and the Democrats from the left and want something better.
In March, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow took to the Times op-ed pages to denounce as “bonkers” people on the left who question whether Clinton deserves their vote in November.
Blow began by recounting an exchange between Sanders supporter Susan Sarandon and MSNBC host Chris Hayes. In the midst of other remarks, Sarandon said that she wasn’t sure what she would do in November if Clinton were the Democratic nominee, but that some argue a Trump presidency would be so over the top that it would force a needed revolution.
Blow hit the roof. “The comments smacked of petulance and privilege,” he wrote scornfully. “No member of an American minority group–whether ethnic, racial, queer-identified, immigrant, refugee or poor–would (or should) assume the luxury of uttering such a imbecilic phrase, filled with lust for doom.”
It was another example of a proven fact about liberalism–Democrats and their media cheerleaders save their deepest contempt not for right wingers, but for those who challenge them from the left.
The idea that the left should hope for a Trump presidency to provoke resistance is wrong. But Sarandon’s aside about that prospect wasn’t the central thrust of her interview anyway. She spoke for the most part about her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, militarized police, sexism and discrimination, and the ruin of the working and middle classes by corporate greed–all of which give her strong reasons to oppose Clinton.
Blow conveniently ignored the political points, while baiting Sarandon–and, by extension, other Clinton critics–along the lines of race, sexuality and nationality.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
BLOW ISN’T the only one. On the blog Bustle.com, Mari Brighe wrote: “The point is that if you’re happy to let a GOP candidate win the presidency because Sanders isn’t the Democratic candidate, you’re not nearly as progressive as you think you are, and you probably should examine your own social privilege.”
Instead of acknowledging the countless actions that Barack Obama’s Democratic Party has taken to alienate previously enthusiastic supporters–the record number of deportations and bombing no less than seven countries in the past seven years, to name a couple–Brighe shifts the blame to those who refuse to ignore these injustices.
It turns out that we’re the real enemies of the oppressed in this country–because we won’t “look past your signs, your ideals, your clever slogans and your movement, and realize that you’re standing on our necks,” Brighe concluded.
Michael Arceneaux, writing for the Guardian, wheels out another old line to claim that the people most committed to the principles of solidarity with the oppressed, here and abroad, are the problem, not the solution. “Cling to your self-righteousness all you want,” Arceneaux writes, “but be very clear that only some people can afford this kind of sacrifice.”
So taking action to make Black Lives Matter, building solidarity with Palestine, resisting Wall Street, defending women’s right to choose abortion–all fights that Hillary Clinton has, during her career, helped to make necessary–are sideshows compared to our concern for our own egos. Arceneaux lectures us to “do something besides pretending that your lack of vote does anything but suit your own moral superiority at the expense of others.”
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
WHAT THESE writers are doing is taking disgust at Clinton’s conservatism and twisting it. They present principled opposition to oppression and inequality as privileged self-indulgence.
But in the face of so many outrages–from legal decisions that blame rape survivors for the actions of their assailants or that further empower already out-of-control police, to the unending destruction of the environment–principled opposition to injustice is something that we need more of, not less.
But the scolders in the service of Hillary Clinton are prepared to demean the awareness raised, for example, by the Ferguson and Baltimore uprisings by trying to harness it for a candidate whose support for the criminalization of African American youth is clear.
These writers are also disregarding what seems to be a greater willingness among progressives and leftists–Black activists in particular–to defy the logic that we have to accept the “lesser evil” to fight the greater evil.
Are they calling Samaria Rice–the mother of Tamir Rice, murdered by the Cleveland police, who has seen nothing but betrayal from politicians–“privileged” for her refusal to endorse a presidential candidate? Similarly, Michelle Alexander, author of the The New Jim Crow, is hardly speaking from a position of blinding self-involvement when she identifies the Clintons as central architects of mass incarceration and calls for a political alternative.
Those who try to shame us into voting for Clinton avoid the substance of criticism so as to avoid acknowledging her long record of political crimes. Adding to those already mentioned, consider Clinton’s call for the detention and deportation of child migrants from Central America in 2014.
Or her personal role in defending and promoting the 2009 coup in Honduras. The coup continues to have catastrophic repercussions in Honduras, including the recent assassination of human rights activist Berta Caceras. Yet Clinton takes pride in her role in in her memoir Tough Choices.
These opinion articles and blog statements that attempt to shame us into supporting a politician we oppose share other features in common. They accept the all-or-nothing, narrow logic of the U.S. elections–the idea that if you aren’t actively supporting a Democrat’s bid for office, then you’re assisting a Republican’s victory.
It isn’t the fault of ordinary people outraged by injustice that the U.S. electoral system is so undemocratic that it offers such a limited “choice.” Perhaps the shamers should examine the hidden-in-plain-sight secret of U.S. “democracy”: Most people don’t vote. An honest look at that reality would reveal widespread alienation from politicians and from a government that is disinterested in representing the will or interests of regular people.
Instead, the blame is heaped on us. This points to the conservatism of writers like Charles Blow. Behind the shaming of Clinton’s critics on the left is an embrace of the status quo.
Thus, in the same column cited above, Blow writes that “there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Not only that, but…there were also 84 federal judiciary vacancies with 49 pending nominees. The question of who makes those appointments matters immensely.”
Yet when you consider the injustice handed down in the Stanford rape case and the countless acquittals and non-indictments of cops who murdered Black people, the undemocratic and oppressive role that courts play in this country should be questioned.
Instead, Blow points to the justice system as a reason to participate in Election 2016. The idea that we should vote for Clinton in the belief that she might be more likely to appoint justices sympathetic to oppressed groups and social movements is a celebration of an arena where we’re powerless.
It’s one of many examples where Democrats implore us to vote for our enemy and hope for the best. Don’t blame us for refusing to do so.