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Imagine: No Clintons

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Capital is Lord over all, but, even in a globalized neoliberal world, elections sometimes have non-trivial consequences. The ridiculously long election seasons that we Americans endure when the White House is up for grabs can be consequential too.

There has been one humdinger of a consequence already: the House of Bush has fallen, and all the money that the plutocracy had poured into Jeb Bush’s coffers, technically the coffers of the PACs supporting his candidacy, might just as well have been flushed down the toilet! Hallelujah! Perhaps there is a God, after all.

Well, no so fast: the strange goings on this election season seem more like the doings of the mischievous gods of the mythologies of polytheistic religions. How else to explain the success of that buffoonish Caudillo wannabe, Donald Trump? “Behold I am the Donald, destroyer of the GOP!” And does not the very existence of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are playthings of mean-spirited divinities with uncanny powers and bizarre senses of humor?

Remember too that, unlike the Bushes, the Clintons are still with us. We must therefore also give the Devil his due.

Notwithstanding the ravings of liberal fear mongers on cable news channels, neither Trump nor any other presently active Republican candidate stands a chance of winning the White House this year; not unless God, the gods or the Devil Himself causes the moral and intellectual level of the American electorate to fall off a cliff.

Therefore, the Clintons – Hillary in particular — are the clearest and most present danger now.

***

By “Clintonism,” I mean neoliberalism, combined with liberal imperialist foreign and military policies, plus support for socially liberal domestic policies that most people already favor.

The Clintons themselves are also given to courting African American and Hispanic leaders, while neglecting, and even harming, the constituencies they represent.

Last Spring, I imagined, more or less seriously, that a workable way to hold off the Clintons, and to combat Clintonism, was to support Jim Webb’s campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination.

It wasn’t his politics that appealed, though, from what I knew of it, it seemed that his views on many issues were no worse than Hillary’s. I thought this knowing that, even today, Webb still thinks that the Vietnam War was “necessary,” and that, three decades ago, he was the Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan.

Though formerly a Goldwater Girl, Hillary’s views on Vietnam and Reagan are better than that. But, unlike her, Webb is neither a neocon nor a “humanitarian intervener.” All indications were that he looks at the world with the eyes of a professional soldier, and is therefore repelled by clueless chicken hawks and sabre rattlers – like Hillary and Bill, and Dick Cheney and George W. Bush.

Unlike Hillary too, Webb showed no signs of friendliness towards “malefactors of great wealth.” The former Virginia Senator seemed instead to side with the victims of corporate moguls and Wall Street banksters. His appeal was much like John Edwards’ in 2008; the interests of his rural and working class constituents, and their counterparts throughout Appalachia and in the country’s rustbelts, was, or at least seemed to be, his main concern.

I was impressed too by the fact that Webb is an uncommonly gifted writer; some of his war novels are extraordinary.

He may not regret having supported the Vietnam War or having fought in it. [As a Second Lieutenant in the Marines, he was awarded the Navy Cross for heroism, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.] But, thanks to his experience in Vietnam, he understands, as no Clinton possibly could, what wars do to human beings.

I thought it especially telling that, over the past half century, he has become a close observer and good friend of Vietnam and of other countries in the region. He may not think that he is doing penance, but he has certainly paid his dues.

Positions on “issues” are important, of course; and, on that score, Webb seemed just OK; neither better nor worse than the average Democrat. But a deep and penetrating intellect and a degree of moral depth unrivaled within the political class is important too.

Paradoxically, since Webb is white, Southern and male, there were identity reasons too for imagining that his candidacy could be useful in the struggle to rid our politics of Clintonism.

Although I have no personal attachments to the South, I had high hopes for Webb because he was an articulate proponent of Southern pride, who emphatically rejected the racist practices and attitudes associated with it.

Unlike the Clintons, but like more than a few populists of bygone times, he was, as a Senator, an advocate for the interests of his African Americans constituents.

I imagined that, were he President, the vast majority of African Americans, not just the notables among them, could expect more than Obama-style neglect, or the kind of treatment dealt them in the nineties, when Bill Clinton brought on the mass incarceration of black male youth, ended most forms of welfare support for impoverished families, and cut off opportunities for advancement by instituting economic and trade policies that effectively eliminated union jobs.

In short, I saw in Webb the best, indeed the only, chance of empowering constituencies that the Democratic Party relies upon for votes, but then does nothing for – unless keeping Republicans at bay counts.

But Webb never found a billionaire to bankroll him, and corporate media showed no interest in his campaign.

Worst of all, after pictures of Dylann Roof, the killer of nine African Americans at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, went viral, Webb’s nuanced and intelligent positions on the condition of rural white Southerners, and on the history of the Confederacy and later-day Southern politics, became the kiss of death.

Roof had photographed himself alongside the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. Thereafter, for a Democrat, all things Confederate became toxic.

After that, Webb’s candidacy was more than just a long shot; it was a non-starter.

***

At first, I thought that the Bernie Sanders campaign was a non-starter too – not because his anti-austerity message wouldn’t be wildly popular, but because, for obvious reasons, he was an unlikely rock star; and because the only way to defeat the Clinton juggernaut was with rock star charisma and money. I was wrong; it turned out he has plenty of both.

I was also wary of how Hillary would play the “glass ceiling” card; I didn’t realize that the younger the target audience, the less effective it would be.

And so, I thought, until December or so, that if anybody had a chance to defeat Hillary on anti-neoliberal grounds, it was Elizabeth Warren. But I was sure too – correctly, it turns out – that she meant what she said when she said that she wouldn’t run.

The situation was therefore glum. A pointless electoral exercise was about to suck up all the political air; and, in the end, we would be left with Hillary Clinton.

At that point, my view of Sanders’ candidacy resembled the thinking of the fox in the Aesop fable who, seeing that he could not reach the grapes that he coveted, convinced himself that those grapes were sour.

I was not the only one to go sour grapes on Bernie; many others were doing the same; some still are.

The temptation was – and still is – hard to resist because, in his case, sour grapes are so easy to spot. Sanders’ “democratic socialism” – actually, old-fashioned New Deal-Great Society liberalism – is better than Clintonian neoliberalism by orders of magnitude, but his views on foreign and military policy are not much better than the average Clintonite’s.   Webb had him beat there. So did Ron Paul; and, on a good day, even his son Rand did too.

But then, as the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary came into view, Bernie’s prospects started to look better and Hillary no longer seemed quite so inevitable. Money flowed into the Sanders campaign – not from Super PACs or plutocrats but from ordinary people. The sour grapes were becoming sweet again.

Even corporate media started paying attention. Before December, they ignored Sanders almost as thoroughly as they ignored Webb or as they currently ignore the Green Party’s Jill Stein.

But once it started to look like Bernie could cause Hillary grief, the regime’s propagandists could no longer pretend that his campaign wasn’t happening. Their pro-corporate ideology didn’t change at all, but they could no longer ignore a story line that promised to boost ratings, and therefore advertising revenue. In their world, the bottom line is all.

The same thing had happened with Trump months earlier. Media moguls didn’t care for him either – they still don’t — but he has been a godsend for their bank accounts. Bernie could be too.

This has come to seem less likely, however, after the Nevada caucuses and with the South Carolina primary looming. The Clintons called in their chits, and the deep, institutional Democratic Party has been more than happy to respond: Harry Reid, Jim Clyburn, John Lewis, the whole sorry crew.

The result: Hillary “won” in Nevada; not by a lot, but by enough for media pundits to say that Sanders has lost momentum; “the Big Mo,” as the first George Bush famously called it.

Of course, it’s not over, ‘till it’s over; there could be major surprises still– especially if more African Americans and Hispanics come to the realization that the Clintons are not exactly on their side.

Don’t count on that, however. Even if the grapes don’t start souring again, the Clintonite party, with corporate media in tow, is ready and able to fight Bernie tooth and nail.

And so it is again looking like Hillary, unloved and even unliked by nearly everyone falling in line behind her, is the inevitable candidate – and therefore the inevitable President as well.

A glum state of affairs indeed!

***

It is not time, however, to abandon all hope, or even to abandon hope in Bernie. Not yet.

Bernie’s prospects could revive; and, even if he craps out, there are still ways to imagine Clintonism’s demise.

No one knows yet how the deep, institutional Republican Party will deal with Trump; it is not impossible that what they do will cause him to bolt, taking his voters with him.

Neither is it impossible that Michael Bloomberg will decide to run as an independent. If he does, it is hard to see how Republican establishment types could prefer Marco Rubio or even John Kasich to him. Many of them might therefore defect from the GOP as well.

Please, O God or gods or the Devil, let it come to pass! The GOP “as we know it” is finished, thanks to Trump, but if, in addition, the party splinters apart, its fall will be magnificent to behold.

It would be nearly as wonderful if the Democratic Party would fall apart too. But, unlike Trump, Sanders will not bolt. That is unimaginable.

Indeed, a major problem with his candidacy all along — right up there with his Clintonite foreign policy views — has been that he is soft on Hillary. He has said, from Day One, that, if and when the time comes, he’d back her a thousand percent. There is no reason to doubt his word.

However, if some sizeable chunk of his supporters would bolt nevertheless, all kinds of possibilities would open up. Lesser evilists think that no greater disaster is imaginable. In truth, however, nothing could be better – for the country and, given Hillary’s warmongering predilections, for the world.

Having been Clintonized for so long, the Democratic Party is probably by now beyond redemption. Let Bernie try; and, if he succeeds, more power to him. But the chances are not only that he won’t succeed, but that no one could. The Democratic Party has been part of the problem for far too long to somehow become even a modest part of the solution.

What could Sandersnistas sans Bernie do on their own? The obvious answer is: join forces with the Greens.

The Green New Deal program offers everything Bernie does and more; and Green foreign policy views are what Bernie’s sour grapes critics, myself included, fault Bernie for not sharing.

But how to get from here to there? That is what used to be called the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

The problem is that the Greens are not now, and never have been, a pole of attraction in American politics. I voted for Jill Stein, the Green candidate, in 2012, but whenever I tell anyone who is not already interested in “third party” politics, the inevitable response is “Jill who?” I would give a hundred to one odds that, if asked, this is what many, if not most, of the people now “feeling the Bern” would say about her today.

By running as a Democrat, Sanders avoided that fate, notwithstanding the media’s determination to pretend that his campaign didn’t exist. Had he not run as a Democrat, he could never have gotten anywhere near to where he now is.

But there may be a limit to what anyone, opposed to any significant part of the Clintonite agenda, can accomplish, running as a Democrat.

Perhaps Sanders has reached that limit already. I hope not; I hope that ever-wider swathes of the electorate will still rally to his cause.  The jury is still out.

But if and when the institutional Party succeeds in running the Sandersnistas into a wall, how wonderful it would be if Sanders’ supporters would turn away from the Democratic Party altogether, and do for the Greens, what the Greens could never do on their own. It is far more likely that they will fall into the Hillary camp for lesser evil reasons, but what I am imagining is not out of the question.

Perhaps my hopes are again leading my imagination astray, as happened last spring when I reflected on the merits of Jim Webb’s campaign for the nomination. Perhaps.

But remember, first, that neither Trump nor any of the loony tunes competing against him stands a chance of winning, even running against such an inept campaigner as Hillary Clinton. The allegedly unelectable Bernie Sanders would be a more formidable opponent, but the Republican brand is, by now, so damaged that even Hillary would be a sure winner.

It won’t, but this ought to make the lesser evil temptation less compelling than it would otherwise be.

There is another consideration that ought to have a similar effect, but won’t: that it is not as clear as is widely assumed that, running against Trump, Hillary Clinton would actually be the lesser evil.

It goes without saying that Trump’s express views on Muslims and Hispanics put him beyond the pale – whether or not he really believe what he says. I doubt that he does – I think that he is only working his marks – but it hardly matters. A vote for Trump is a vote for unmitigated vileness.

However, on many pertinent issues – among others, coddling banksters and corporate profiteers, trade policy, overseas interventions, job creation through public works, health care, the provision of social services, and even U.S. policy towards Israel and Palestine – Trump’s views, compared to Hillary’s, are not all that bad.

Again, this doesn’t trump Trump’s racism, nativism and Islamophobia; not by any means. But it does provide yet another reason why even the most fretful lesser evilists should realize that it would not be quite as awful as they think if, running against the Donald, Hillary per impossibile were actually to lose.

Were Sandersnistas and Greens to join together, the American political scene would be a far, far better place.

But because Sanders still has a chance, and because, despite everything, he is a force to be reckoned with in national politics while the Green Party is practically unknown, the time for that is not now.

However, if and when Sanders gives up and folds his campaign into Clinton’s, the time will be right as can be.   We will have nothing to lose but the Clintons and the political culture they have foisted upon us.

ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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